Sunday, June 06, 2010

Fiji's interim govt is missing out on demonstrating democratic


Pacific Beat, Radio Australia - June 4, 2010

The decision by Fiji's military regime to retract an invitation to the Forum's Ministerial Contact Group to visit the country is now a familiar pattern of behaviour according to a political observer.

Interim Prime Minister, Commodore Frank Bainimarama cancelled Foreign Minister, Ratu Inoke Kubuabola's invitation extended at last weeks meeting of the Contact Group in Auckland.

Fiji born Brij Lal has been following events from his desk at the Australian National University and says this is not the first time the Commodore has cancelled invitations for observers to go to Fiji.

Pacific Beat has been attempting to speak to the interim Prime Minister, Frank Bainimarama, but he has been unavailable.

Presenter: Geraldine Coutts

Speaker: Dr Brij Lal from the Australian National University

Listen:Windows Media

LAL: No it's not a surprise, it's unfortunate. This is not the first time that he has done. Remember sometime ago, when the Commonwealth envoy went to Fiji, Paul Reeves, they told him only to see certain people and not others and in this instance, he has prompt his own foreign minister who was sent to New Zealand to meet with the ministerial contact group and he agreed to a delegation of the MCG visiting Fiji to see things for themselves and to engage in a broad based dialogue about what was happening and you get a sense of what was happening on the ground and the interim administration plans for returning the country to parliamentary democracy and the commodore decided that he said the minister had already made up their minds and therefore there was no point in them going to Fiji. But I think he has missed a great opportunity. I mean he could have used this opportunity to show the visiting group what's happening on the ground and to make an assessment for themselves. But again, it's unfortunate that one more overture through the interim administration to engage in a dialogue has been treated in this fashion.

COUTTS: The point there, of course, was that New Zealand and Australia and other members of the Ministerial Contact Group said that Fiji has made no improvement towards democracy and Commodore Bainimarama has contradicted that, so you think they should have been allowed in to have a look?

LAL: Exactly, I think this would have been one way forward for the commodore to tell them this is what I have done, this is the plans I have for this country, this is what's happening. But my sense really is was not so much that Australia and New Zealand had made up their mind, it is that in fact no progress has been made in Fiji, there is nothing to show. For example, you recall that he said late last year that a national dialogue forum will start in January or February to discuss issues surrounding a new Constitution and so on, but nothing has happened. There was talk about starting work on the new Constitution, the review and so on, again absolutely no movement. The economy has not improved, so I think it was more a sense that there is nothing really to substantiate his claims that the country was doing very well and so he decided to prohibit them from coming into the country.

COUTTS: Do you think there is a fear on the interim government's part still that any ministers who go as part of the contact group meeting still might want to have an audience with ousted prime minister Qarase.

LAL: I think this would be very important for any outside independent group to go and make an independent assessment of what is happening and as part of that process of consultation, they would naturally like to have discussions with a wide range of stakeholders and that includes Mr Qarase, the deposed prime minister as well as the leader of the Fiji Labour Party, Mr Mahendra Chaudhary, as well as trade unions and NGOs and so on, so they can make a reason and comprehensive kind of judgement about what's happening, rather than simply listening to one section of the community. And I think any effort with tries to curtail meetings with a wide range of people will simply not succeed and it will not fool anybody.

COUTTS: Is this also a statement from Commodore Frank Bainimarama that he has lost faith in his own foreign minister, Kubuabola, having accepted the invitation for him to go and now him counter demanding that on the foreign minister's behalf?

LAL: Oh well, this is not the first time that this has been done. You will recall early in the year when Mr McCully and Inoke Kubuabola met. There was some understanding that I think a public servant will be sent to New Zealand to man the New Zealand High Commission there, but as soon as Mr McCully left the military regime, nominated Major Leweni or now Lieutenant-Colonel Leweni which was completely unacceptable to the New Zealand Government. So and this is the second time and what it tells you really is the commodore is completely in charge and may be there are signs of tension between those who come from a civilian background and are interested in exploring opportunities for engagement and dialogue and the hope of slowly taking the country forward and those with a military mind set, who want to have it their way, in other words, monologue not dialogue, and I think that there may be something to this. But again this is unfortunate if the military or the military regime speaks with discordant voices. It sends the wrong kind of signals. Meanwhile the country continues to drift.

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