Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Ratu Tevita Mara Well Received in Successfull Visit to Wellington

Ratu Tevita with Sai Lealea (Wellington Fiji Democracy & Freedom Movement)

Despite the cold, frosty and windy reception with the weather, the visit to Wellington by Fiji Pro-Democracy Advocate, Ratu Tevita Mara, was well received and supported.

In his two days in Wellington, Ratu Tevita was able to meet with Tangata Whenua, Foreign Affairs officials, MPs, pro-democracy supporters and the Fiji community. He also had extensive coverage with the media fielding interviews and queries about his visit and his meetings.

Ratu Tevita Addresses Public Forum at Victoria University

Ratu Tevita with Rajesh Singh (left) & Sai Lealea (right) with TVNZ Reporter

Ratu Tevita arrived in Wellington on 20 July and began his engagement early the next day with Tangata Whenua in a Powhiri (Maori Welcome) at the Pipitea Marae (pictured above) in Wellington. Maori elders at the Marae warmly welcomed Ratu Tevita, who was supported in the Powhiri by his relatives from the island in Lakeba in Lau, who live in Wellington. It was a cold and chilly Wellington morning but the warmth and friendliness of the welcome more than mitigated the adverse weather conditions. Also supporting Ratu Tevita was Sai Lealea, Interim President of the Wellington Democracy and Freedom  Movement, and Rajesh Singh, Former SDL Minister in the 2006 Qarase government.

Elders at the Marae reminded Ratu Tevita of his late parents' link to the Mare when they were present at its opening some years back. A good hearty breakfast was provided by the hosts following the traditional hongi (rubbing of noses) and exchange of waiata (traditional songs) by both parties. The Fijian contingent also performed a lakalaka (Lau standing dance) during breakfast in honour of the hosts and visitors.

Rajesh Singh responds to questions at the Public Forum at Victoria University

Next engagement was a Radio NZ interview with former All Blacks halfback, former MP and NZ Ambassador to Zimbabwe, Chris Laidlaw. Laidlaw queezeed Ratu Tevita about his involvement in the Military Council and on the situation back in Fiji, including how likely Fiji was going to have Elections in 2014 as stated by the illegal PM, Bainimaramara. As stated previously by Ratu Tevita, he made it clear it was unlikely Fiji will have elections given current indications by Bainimaramara and his policy of currying favour with rural people with development projects, who in turn appear happy not to have elections. Ratu Tevita again reiterated the need for NZ to further tighten sanctions gainst Fiji as current ones seem to be working and are hurting the regime in Fiji.

Reporters flanked Ratu Tevita Mara (right) and Rajesh Singh (left) on way to meet MFAT Officials in Wellington 

The next appointment took the group to the Head Office of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. On the way there, TV crews and reporters flanked Ratu Tevita asking him questions on his way into the meeting. It was a full and friedly meeting with candid exchange and discussion of various issues. The group canvassed with officials a number of ideas on how further pressure can be directed at the regime in Fiji and those in and from NZ who support it. As well, suggestions were also made on how foreign aid could be adapted to ensure it continues to benefit citizens directly and away from the illegal regime.

It seem clear, though disturbing, that officials do not appear to be very well informed of the situation on the ground in Fiji. Ratu Tevita took time to relate the worsening situation in Fiji to officials in the knowledge briefings will be provided to Ministers after the meeting. To this end, the draconian effect of the PER on day to day life and interaction of Fiji citizens was also highligted to officials, especially in drastically restricting flow of information about the regime and its regressive policies.

Raru Tevita with Admirers at Victoria University

On the foreign policy front, Fiji's tilt towards the North, especially China, and its membership of the Non Aligned Movement was also discussed. The group regarded this as a retrograde step for Fiji and unsupported as Fiji has historically valued its close links to allies such as NZ and Australia. For its part and as expected, NZ reinterated its support and readiness to offer support in efforts to return to democratic rule. All in all, it was a full and frank exchange of views about the situation in Fiji and options for moving sooner to democrartic elections. It is wonderful to know that despite current situation in Fiji and the rule of an illegitimate regime, NZ officials remain steadfast in their desire and readiness to support Fiji reclaim its place among civilized nations.

The afternoon programme began with an interview with TV New Zealand before a press conference and public forum at the Victoria University Law School. Facilitated by Sai Lealea, Ratu Tevita again fielded questions from TV and radio journalists along lines previously pursued. The role of the military was among the topics raised including the need to relook at how military officers are trained and educated on matters of leadership and ethics.

The meeting was also told that a legal framework already exists to facilitate return to democratic rule - namely the 2009 Court of Appeal Ruling. Indeed Ratu Tevita confirmed that the Military Council had in fact advised Bainimarama to follow through on the ruling as a way out for the military and the regime at the time. Bainimarama, in collusion with Aiyarse Khaiyum, instead advised the President to abrogate the Constitution and put in place his illegal regime.

Attendants at the Wellington Public Forum with Ratu Tevita
The public forum at Victoria University concluded about half an hour before the final event for the day began at the Pipitea Marae. This was the evening with the Fiji Community. In spite of the harsh winter weather in Wellington about forty members of the community attended. Members of the media were requested to leave the meeting though one-on-one interviews with community members or others were made available.

Matters close to Fijians living overseas dominated questions raised with Ratu Tevita. This included changes to Fijian land use and the general weakening of Fijian administration structures and their cultural identity as indigenous people. For his part Ratu Tevita called for unity among Fijians in effotrs to remove the illegal regime. He also asked that information be shared back with relatives, friends and families in Fiji for them to know what exactly has been happening on the ground in Fiji as the PER has made it difficult for them to know of the truth.

Throughout, Ratu Tevita was adamant that:
  • he was not involved in any acts of torture while with the military;
  • he is ready to answer allegations and face the consequences of his part in the 2006 coup;
  • he has no intention of entering politics.
Fijians who attended the evening with Ratu Tevita were grateful of his openness in sharing with them information about developments in Fiji, his role in the military and his vision to return Fiji to democratic rule. It was evident, some have not heard aspects of what Ratu Tevita had to share and are now better informed and able to play a part in moving Fiji towards democratic rule.

Fiji Community Members at Evening Meeting with Ratu Tevita

Two more meetings were scheduled the next day before Ratu Tevita had to return to Auckland. An early morning meeting with Maori Party Co-Leader Hon Tariana Turia, involved a very good discussion about the situation in Fiji and ideas on how the Maori Party could offer support to the cause. Hon Turia indicated she will be briefing the PM of the meeting and also suggested further engagement with Maori in future. Again, Ratu Tevita, with Sai Lealea, were able to share information on how further pressure can be placed on the regime in Fiji, especially its supporters who live in New Zealand.
Ratu Tevita with Fiji Community Members in Wellington

It can be said Hon Turia was horrified to learn of the steps undertaken by the regime in Fiji to tear down Fijian administration structures and practices in the name of achieving "equality". Such policies have been labelled elsewhere as "cultural genocide" and it is clear Fijians will not tolerate such a move under a democratic government. In all, Hon Turia was very warm and supportive of the delegation with commitment for further engagements in the future.

Ratu Tevita with Hon Tariana Turia (Maori Party Co-Leader)
A final meeting in early afternoon with the Hon Marion Street, Labour's Foreign Affairs Spokesperson, unfortunately had to be cancelled as Ratu Tevita had to be in Auckland for his trip to visit the Maori King at Ngaruwahia.

by Sai Lealea
Interim President
Wellington Fiji Democracy & Freedom Movement

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