Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Europe cancels sugar grant, Fiji regime remains defiant

“There has been no civil disturbance among Fijians of either Melanesian or Indian descent. The army is well-disciplined and trained and it’s there to ensure law and order and the people have respect for this,” says Alton Shameem, president of Fiji Club of New Zealand.

By Pippa Brown: Pacific Media Centre

Thousands of Fiji Islanders will be hit by the European Commission’s decision to cancel a grant worth more than $US31 million to help the Pacific country’s ailing sugar industry just days before the harvest is due to begin.

But Fiji still refuses to be bullied after this month’s suspension from the Pacific Islands Forum on May 2 after ignoring a deadline by the Forum to set a date for elections this year.

Regime leader Commodore Voreqe Bainimarama maintains his stance that elections will not be held before 2014, allowing changes to the electoral system to be put in place.

He claims he is providing a better system for the Fiji people and calls the system under the previous Laisenia Qarase government biased and racist.

Bainimarama says he has extended the current media ban in an effort to maintain calm within the country.

Alton Shameem, chairman and president of Fiji Club of New Zealand, says Bainimarama is on the right track bringing democracy to Fiji the way western people want it.

Shameem is among people from Fiji who agrees with the media controls Bainimarama put in place and says Fiji needs to proceed quietly, step by step and not rush things.

He says it takes time to take a country to “freedom” and that is why the elections are not being held until 2014.

‘Anzac bullies’
Both Australia and New Zealand are refusing to engage in dialogue with Bainimarama’s regime in the absence of any internationally recognised government.

Shameem says countries like New Zealand and Australia have a condescending attitude and are trying to sabotage Bainimarama’s ideals and make it harder.

He says the foreign policies of both the Labour and National parties are similar but says the previous Labour government acted as “a very hard bully”.

Shameem thinks the New Zealand and Australian governments are deliberately acting to keep Fiji subservient.

“Fiji is a good country with lots of resources. It is doing well and they don’t want it to prosper,” says Shameem.

He says New Zealand and Australia are threatened and do not want Fiji to be “democratically independent”.

Earlier this month, leaders of the Māori Party were invited to visit Fiji but New Zealand Prime Minister John Key banned ministerial members from making visits to the military dictatorship, even in a private capacity.

The Māori Party says it does not necessarily support the Bainimarama regime as it is unclear what the interim government is doing.

The party still plans to send a delegation on a fact-finding mission to get an understanding of what is happening at grassroots level.

It does not agree with the way the New Zealand government is dealing with Fiji as being the right way forward.

Support for regime
Most Fiji Islanders support the Bainimarama regime, claims Shameem.

“There has been no civil disturbance among Fijians of either Melanesian or Indian descent. The army is well-disciplined and trained and it’s there to ensure law and order and the people have respect for this,” he says.

“The army is not committing ethnic cleansing or genocide. It is there to protect all Fijians.”
He claims New Zealand and Australia have made up their mind to bully the people of Fiji.

He cannot understand why the New Zealand government is doing everything to "make life hell" for the Fijians.

“It’s the everyday people that suffer like the vulnerable and the poor. Why are they making it harder for them,” he says.

He thinks that the Pacific Islands Forum have been pressured by New Zealand and Australia.
“Look at Tonga. It doesn’t have democracy and no one is saying anything about that,” he says.

A few days ago, Fijilive reported that Tongan Prime Minister Dr Feleti Sevele had asked for a rethink on Fiji’s situation after being suspended from the Forum. He thought Australia and New Zealand were acting with a heavy hand.

Chinese influence
China’s aid programmes have resulted in a sevenfold increase in pledged aid to Fiji since the coup - from $US23 million in 2006 to $US160 million in 2007.

China is ambitious to be a super power and is moving closer to the Pacific, says Shameem.

He says recently $NZ280 million was awarded to Chinese companies to build state housing in Fiji.

“The real losers will be Australia and New Zealand,” he says.

Shameem says there has been a clamp down on media because foreign media have been seen to be agitating and not telling the true Fijian story.

Most foreign journalists are “parachute journalists”, he claims.

“They think they can fly in and be experts. People can see through the fact that they are trying to just promote themselves.”

Squatter problem
Shameem claims references to an increasing squatter problem is just western media blowing it out of proportion.

“In Fiji, you can’t buy land - especially the Indo-Fijian population. When the land leased for farming expires, they need to go somewhere. The Indo-Fijians have never wanted to take land by force,” he says.

Shameem says this is a byproduct of the Qarase government which made a “real mess of everything” with allegedly corrupt and racist appointments. And it is why Bainimarama has needed to interfere.

Bainimarama did not necessarily want to go into politics, says Shameem. He is an army man and that is why he is direct.

He is not a politician but circumstances mean that he has been thrust into this situation.

Shameen says there is no undercurrent of tension. People are happy but there will be a group with a vested interest.

Bainimarama wants to give power to the people. Democracy is about people like you and me.
“Fiji is progressing fast,” he says.

“The Fijians are everyday people who just want to put food to the table,” says Shameem.
Bainimarama is a good guy, bringing democracy, doing the right thing and making life better for the Fijians,” he says.

Dr David Robie, associate professor in communication studies and director of the Pacific Media Centre at AUT University, says the regime is saying the colonial system has failed Fiji and past politicians have failed to deliver to their people.

He believes the regime is moving toward China and Asia, particularly.

“I don’t think our political advisers are reading the situation particularly well.

Fiji is vitally important to the rest of the Pacific and excluding it is not in the region’s best interests. If we aren’t careful, it will dramatically change the balance of power in the region,” he says.

Pippa Brown is a Graduate Diploma in Journalism student and she is on the AUT Asia-Pacific Journalism course.

Europe cancels Fiji sugar grant
Fiji tightens grip, plans own media

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