Thursday, April 30, 2009

The Civil Service Coup cuts deeper into Fiji’s soul.

Fiji experienced its seventh coup since 1987 as civil servants over the age of 55 years were forcibly retired by the Bainmarama government.

The forced retirement came into effect today April 30th, 2009, in effect making today the last day for over 2000 men and women who have spent most of their working life serving their country as teachers, nurses, doctors, police officers and in the many ministries and departments of government.

In some instances, the forcibly retired civil servants only received their termination letters towards the end of today, crushing the hopes of possible reappointments on contracts. All handing over to subordinates was hurried through today with all retiring staff forced to vacate their offices and desks by the end of work today.

The immediate vacuum of senior civil servants, especially in the education sector with a high number of principals/head teachers and vice-principals/deputy head teachers ending their careers on this sad note.

Ordinary Fiji citizens are struggling to comprehend the logic of the forced retirement. Apart from the impact on government provided services, the effect on families in terms of income will further impact the struggling economy. Even more worrying is that many civil servants housed in government quarters will be forced to immediately vacate their homes.

The forced retirement came into effect just twenty days after the Good Friday abrogation of Fiji’s Constitution by Fiji’s President, who subsequently reappointed the military council-run interim cabinet of Military Commander Voreqe Bainimarama.

There are also rumblings that the retirement age may be further lowered to 50 if Fiji’s economic situation does not improve.

Ignore Australian leader, says Fiji PM

Radio Australia News: Thu, 30 Apr 2009 14:27:00 +1000


Fiji interim Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama says his country should not listen to Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd's calls for the United Nations to stop considering Fijians for UN peacekeeping missions.

Fiji Broadcasting Corporation reports Commodore Bainimarama says Mr Rudd is not the UN.

The Fijian leader said he should not be listened to until the organisation itself comes out with a statement along the same lines.

He says it will be up to the UN to decide what action to take.

Mr Rudd said earlier this week that Fiji would no longer be considered for United Nations peacekeeping duties.

Excerpts of Joint Press Conference with the Prime Ministers of Australia and PNG discuss Fiji situation

PM RUDD: Good morning ladies and gentleman and it's a pleasure to have here in Canberra, in the nation's capital today an old, old friend of Australia, the Grand Chief Sir Michael Somare, Prime Minister of Papua New Guinea. I've known the Chief for a long, long time, he has known successive Australian Prime Ministers for an even longer time, going back to the days of independence in the mid-1970s and Chief, you are a welcome guest in Australia and we are privileged to have you with us today.

We have had a good meeting this morning about the future of the Australia-PNG relationship. This is a relationship rich in history and a relationship with a rich future because what we do together is important not just for our two peoples but also important for the wider Pacific region.

...

The Chief and I also discussed today our new Pacific Development Partnership. This is a new framework for development cooperation between Australia and Papua New Guinea and also an important framework for Australia's development cooperation relationship with other Pacific Island countries. What we're seeking to do is to anchor our Pacific Partnerships for Development in lifting the major development indicators across the region. Development indicators in terms of education achievement, health achievement, health outcomes, child and maternal health as well as a range of other clearly measurable indicators.

And one of the indicators that we've agreed to frame within our Pacific Partnership for Development for Papua New Guinea for the future is to raise the level of primary school participation from its current level of 53 percent to 70 percent by the year 2015. This is going to take a lot of work but until we get school education right in all the villages across Papua New Guinea and up the level of attendance in schools and then there will be big challenges for the future and I appreciate very much the Chief's support for that particular initiative.

The Chief and I also discussed today the importance of our wider region, the Pacific Island Forum and within it of course recent developments in Fiji. Papua New Guinea has taken a strong line on the question of Fiji and the actions taken by the Fijian Government. In particular the most recent decision by the Fijian Government to suspend its Constitution, to suspend press freedom and also the assault which has been delivered to the independence of the judiciary in Fiji. These decisions have received appropriate condemnation from around the world, including on behalf of our Government as well.

What is necessary is this - that the declaration that we arrived at conjointly in Port Moresby earlier this year concerning Fiji's actions and Fiji's automatic suspension from the Pacific Island Forum to take effect as of 1 May proceeds.

Fiji has not responded positively to the suggestions that were made by many of the Pacific Island leaders in the period since January for them to return to democratic rule and to announce a timetable for an election. In fact the Fijian Government have gone in precisely the reverse direction.

Therefore, two important milestones lie ahead of us. One is Fiji's suspension from the meetings of the Forum and that is a decision which was taken by leaders back in January to take effect from 1 May in the absence of Fiji taking any steps to the contrary, like announcing an election date.

The second of course lies in Fiji's future status within the Commonwealth. Australia's position is hardline and that is that you cannot sustain within a family of democracies within the Pacific Island Forum or a family of democracies within the Commonwealth a Government like that of Fiji which simply treats with contempt the most fundamental democratic institutions and press freedoms of its people.

...

Chief, this has been a good discussion. We appreciate very much the work which we undertake together within the South Pacific and I would acknowledge your continuing leadership across the region, particularly in dealing with difficult questions like Fiji. Over to you Chief.

PM SOMARE: Thank-you Prime Minister. I have only a few comments to make. All I want to say first is it's always, every year, we always renew our acquaintances between Australia and ourselves. Australia has been our very close partner and friend, partner since before independence and after independence and continues to give us the support, give us support to Papua New Guinea and budgetary support in support in all fields. Particularly in terms of our relationship it has been an excellent relationship that we've had. We have small ups and downs but all the governments that there have been in Australia, in my role and other Prime Ministers who have come in Papua New Guinea, our appreciation and our thanks to Australian people and Australian governments for always giving us support.

In terms of our trade relations and all, we have discussed these issues between the two of us. There is a lot of good will and good understanding between Australia and us. Australia's trade with us is always, we take it as a number one, as paramount to us because they are a very close neighbour, much closer than anyone else and we have always seen it as very important for us in Papua New Guinea.

We are now trying to divert ourselves in trying to make sure that you know, we, with our technical assistance program, we talked about education earlier on this morning and education, we just want to place more emphasis on primary and secondary education and of course up to tertiary education. I think that's an area where we have an understanding now and I'm sure that the Ministerial Forum in June when it meets will come to some of the final conclusions of our understanding and MOU to reach an agreement on.

...

On the other matter like Fiji, we've taken, I've been very vocal in the Pacific about Fiji's situation. And I have been trying to get the leadership of Fiji, political and military interim Prime Minister Bainimarama now has been declared. And we are not very happy with Fiji because now they've suspended the Constitution, and you have a country that has no constitution, no common law system and a legal system, that was suspended, and I think it's not very good.

All the Pacific leaders are not very happy with the outcome of what has happened in Fiji. We always, I've always said the door is open for Fiji to negotiate with them and to make sure that people of Fiji are given an opportunity to stay within the Forum.

But I think the exercise they've taken recently, particularly the suspension of the Constitution and dismissal of the judges, leaves no room for others because what's in Fiji now without a legal system. Legal system in many democratic countries are very important. People have to work within the framework of a constitution, and if you don't have a constitution, how do you administer, how do you make things work in your country.

So we are disappointed, but I'm hoping that there's still room for them to reconsider. But I think Forum has taken the stand, the Forum gave an ultimatum that if Fiji does not agree to set the date for elections, then the Forum has no option, Forum has to declare for its suspension.

I think the majority, most Forum members have taken that stand, apart from two or three leaders have some reservation about the suspension of Fiji, but I think the outcome recently would now make them also realise that how important it is to have a country with a constitution, and constitutional framework and strong legal system.

So with Fiji, as I said you know my view has been that I've been giving, and the Australian Government, particularly the Australian Prime Minister - Kevin has been very flexible because of my demands for what I think we could reach the decision on Fiji, and so is the new Prime Minister of New Zealand and then Prime Minister Helen Clark. They have always been flexible, particularly when I made an appeal to give an opportunity to Fiji to come back.

Now Fiji has decided. You know opportunities are given, even the Australian Government went to the extent to allow Fiji to have its diplomatic mission still operating in Australia. And so is New Zealand.

They've all bent over backwards. We have bent over backwards. I have. I've tried my best, but they've decided to suspend the Constitution, which is not in the books of those who like to profess democracy in their respective countries. So with Fiji that's something that Fiji themselves will have to decide and let the Forum, but the Forum has made its mind and the Forum will now be looking at next Forum meeting what would happen to Fiji. That's on the question of Fiji.

On the media, on the media front, I think I believe that the media was, our media's always, Australian media everywhere in Papua New Guinea and Fiji and Samoa and Tonga, everywhere. Media also have a responsibility too. Free press comes with the responsibility. And sometimes when you are dealing with countries, that societies which are different, when you're dealing with those countries you find that though suddenly something has happened to the press. And it's always asked what the press do.

You have to have some responsibility when you are writing or when you are criticising certain countries. Of course on the very tense issues, you must be a little bit cautious, because sometimes people are people and they retaliate in their own way. And that's what Fiji has done with the press. Now, I think our PINA association has come out, PINA is the Pacific Island News Association, Papua New Guinea and Fiji have come out to condemn what has happened, but it's a military government and sometimes very difficult.

And I always say this, someone with a gun in his hand, a rifle in his hand, it's very difficult for him to decide that's his fighting weapon. The Fijian Prime Minister has used that and got rid of the press. We're not very happy with what has happened.

I get it all the time in Papua New Guinea. Press doesn't give me a good run at all in Port Moresby. Never give me a good run.

I sympathise with him because they don't understand a lot of these things. So I just forgive them for their wrongdoings, for what they write about me, because they don't even know me. They think they know but they don't. So with the press, that's my view on press in Fiji.

So all I want to say is thank-you very much Prime Minister Kevin Rudd for inviting me to come down and work, I mean be with you today and wonderful hospitality that you've extended to me yesterday and today.

And I'll be also travelling to Melbourne. I don't why you organised this, but I am going down to Melbourne also and then to Townsville. The Victorian Premier asked me to be included in the list of people visiting the State. So I'll be in Melbourne and of course Queensland, always up there. I'm going up to Townsville to look at the flood-affected areas and the fire in Victoria. Because we did, Papua New Guinea did give some support for the national disaster that affected Victoria and northern part of Queensland.

So I've been invited to do that so, thankful that your hospitality has been extended to me and my delegation, and Australia I think, you can rest assured that that will be extended to you when you make your next visit up to Papua New Guinea.

PM RUDD: Thanks very much Chief and before we take two questions a side, I should also acknowledge as I did at the time in the Australian Parliament, the contribution which was made by the Government of Papua New Guinea to the victims of natural disasters in Australia, for which I'd again publicly like to acknowledge my thanks.

Now, questions.
...
JOURNALIST: (inaudible) what are some of the likely tough measures you will take against Fiji (inaudible)

PM RUDD: Well the decisions that we took in Port Moresby in the meeting chaired by the Prime Minster of Papua New Guinea was clear cut.

The communique issued in Port Moresby at the time went to the whole question of if Fiji does not announce a timetable for elections within a reasonable period of time, then Fiji will automatically be suspended from the meetings of the Forum and Forum bodies.

That was a decision taken, taken unanimously in Port Moresby, giving Fiji a final opportunity to do the right thing.

What the Fijian Military Government decided to do was exactly the reverse. The wholesale assault on the constitutional integrity of the Fijian state by the suspension of the constitution, the wholesale assault on press freedom by the wanton acts against journalists, both print and electronic, in Fiji and furthermore, the assault on the independence of the judiciary. Fiji has therefore done this to itself, in warranting suspension from the Pacific Island Forum.

Let us be clear about this. In the history of the Pacific Island Forum - I stand to be corrected on this chief, you have been around longer than I- but this has not happened with any other state before. This would be a first. The Pacific Island Forum has been around for a long time and we pride ourselves in one thing: we are a family of democracies. We have our problems, we have our challenges but we are a family of democracies.

And an important member of our family, through its military leader, has turned his back on the way in which this community of states chooses to organise its democratic affairs.

The second thing I referred to in my remarks before is what the Commonwealth now chooses to do. There is an important meeting of the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group, from memory on the 15th of May.

Important decisions will need to be taken then about Fiji's future status.

Also, there is one further point, and that goes to the United Nations, over recruitment arrangements in relation to peace keeping forces which come from Fiji. The revenue remittances to Fiji from Fijian forces working with UN operations around the world are important sources of revenue back into military families in particular within Fiji.

Through our own interventions with the United Nations and supported by New Zealand and other countries, the United Nations now is not going to engage future or new Fijian troops for new operations.

There is a question which now arises, given the actions taken by Fiji on the 10th of April, as to whether there should now be a further tightening on top of that, of the approach taken by the UN.

What is the common denominator with all these things? It is to send a clear cut message to the people of Fiji, the people of Fiji with whom we have had a wonderful relationship over so many decades, that the military Government which now presides over them is unacceptable because of what it has done to traverse, what it has done to traduce I should say, basic democratic principles.


Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Chaudry urges return to democracy

Former Fiji prime minister Mahendra Chaudhry is calling for an end to military rule in Fiji as the country faces further isolation.Fiji has been given until Friday to return to democracy or face suspension from the Pacific Islands Forum and other penalties.

Mahendra Chaudhry is urging military leader Frank Bainimarama to return the country to democracy. He told Radio Australia's Pacific Beat Programme that further isolation will be harmful for Fiji's population and wants to work with Fiji's interim administration to end military rule in the country.

"I'm asking for the process which was in place before the scrapping of the constitution to be resumed," he said.

"We had political parties which were working with the interim administration to workout a roadmap back to democracy and the issues which needed to be discussed and agreed upon have to be referred for mediation by a joint team from the United Nations and the Commonwealth Secretariat."

Fiji Law Society president questioned

ABC Asia Pacific News
Last Updated: Tue, 28 Apr 2009 14:55:00 +1000

The President of Fiji's Law Society, Dorsami Naidu, says he has been called in by the military for questioning.
It adds to reports of escalating tension in Fiji.
Local media reported that the Secretary General of the nationalist Yanua Tako Lavo Party has been arrested.
Police told Fiji TV he was in breach of Public Emergency Regulations.
Dorsami Naidu says he has no intention of responding to the military's request.
"They want me to go there, they're not telling me why they want me there so I don't see any reason to go to the military camp for that reason so I haven't responded," he said.

UN will reject Fijian peacekeepers

ABC Asia Pacific News
Last Updated: Tue, 28 Apr 2009 14:06:00 +1000
The United Nations is to stop recruiting Fijian soldiers for peace-keeping operations, says Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd.
It follows Fiji's recent suspension of its constitution.
Fiji has been high on the agenda for talks in Canberra between Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd and Papua New Guinea's Prime Minister, Sir Michael Somare.
The Pacific Islands Forum is set to expel Fiji on Friday and the Commonwealth is considering action.
Mr Rudd says important remittances to Fijian military families for their roles in UN operations will now also be cut off.
"Through our own interventions with the United Nations and supported by New Zealand and other countries, the United Nations is now not going to engage future or new Fijian troops for new operations," he said.
Sir Michael Somare is in Australia for political and business meetings.

Black Arm Band

We wear it because: * WE want PEACE for Fiji * WE say no more illegality and end the COUP CULTURE * WE want our HUMAN RIGHTS respected * WE want a FREE MEDIA * WE want youths to play a bigger role in national politics Join us today, WEDNESDAY 29th April to MAY 29th. Get your black bands made and wear them. fijiyouthsunited@gmail.com

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Rumblings of Civil Unrest

NADI
TVNZ Online/Pacific Media Watch:
There are warnings of civil unrest in Fiji amid a climate of censorship and intimidation of people who dare to challenge the unelected government.

The Pacific nation is effectively under martial law after Frank Bainimarama dumped the constitution and the judiciary and delayed elections for five years.

Fiji's political crisis doesn't make local headlines - in fact it is not in the paper at all.

There is no space for speaking up and people have to be prepared for
the consequences.

Following comments he has made, Dorsami Naidu of the Fiji Law Society
says he has been contacted by the military, "asking me to come to the
camp and they haven't given me any reasons so I refuse to go."

Unsanctioned comments can cost people two years of their freedom and
while intimidation hasn't stopped Naidu, many others are too scared to
speak up.

Under the military rule in Fiji it is illegal to hold a meeting. If it
involves the media or the conversation is about politics people have
to apply for a permit.

To avoid censorship, ONE News broke the rules and met with Fijians in
private.

One woman wished to remain anonymous due to feared repercussions of speaking up. "I do have fear, I do have anxiety about what they will do to me. I do not believe to be silent is the way out of it," she says. She supports a speedy return to democracy. "The president has clearly committed treason in our view," she says.

And talking of Bainimarama: "We think he is arrogant, we think he is power hungry. In our view he is very dangerous." The chance to voice her true opinion brought her to tears. She said she feels suffocated and oppressed and believes the only place the current regime is driving her country, is down. She fears more civil strife.

"I am hoping that we will remain focused that there is one common enemy and that is the military and their leaders."

Naidu also has concerns about stability. "It is very unstable though there appears to be a calm. It is a non-functional society," he says. Naidu believes the way out of the mess his country is in is to is appeal to some within the government who may secretly doubt Bainimarama's master plan. Everyone has a conscience and these guys are very concerned otherwise they wouldn't be closing down the media."

Others are urging New Zealand tourists to stay away to starve the government of tax dollars, saying it is a necessary sacrifice and one they hope will bring the people of Fiji swiftly back to the ballot box.

MILITARY NOW THE FACE OF FIJI TOURISM AS NUMBERS FALL

by Martin Kelly, editor, Travel TrendsSYDNEY
TT Online/Pacific Media Watch:
Could this be the ultimate definition of optimism? Tourism Fiji’s regional director, Paresh Pant, told Travel Today he remained “confident” of boosting sagging visitor numbers ex-Australia.The number of Aussies who travelled to the troubled Pacific nationfell by almost 9000 – more than 30 percent - for the first two monthsof 2009.And that was before the military rulers of Fiji sacked the judiciaryand expelled media.Not withstanding all of this, Pant said Fiji’s Aussie visitor numberswould bounce back thanks to the ‘Stimulate Me’ marketing campaign and20 percent devaluation of the Fiji dollar.Sure thing. And pigs may fly.Then again, what else is he going to say? He reports to a militarydictator. Yes sir, no sir, three bags full sir.
APIA
Savali/Pacific Media Watch:
Prime Minister Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi is disappointed with recent
comments made by American Samoa congressman Faleomavaega Eni Hunkin on the situation in Fiji.

Faleomavaega appears to have been won over by Fiji strongman Commodore Frank Bainimarama after meeting with the unelected Fiji Prime Minister in Suva last week.

Addressing a committee meeting, chaired by Secretary of State Hillary
Clinton in Washington, DC, on Tuesday, Faleomavaega accused Australia
and New Zealand of “heavy handed tactics” in pushing democracy in Fiji.
Faleomavaega told the committee that Fiji was not ready for democracy
and elections.

“Faleomavaega has been in the (U.S.) Congress for a long time and
therefore is far removed from the reality of Pacific politics,” says
Prime Minister Tuilaepa. “Perhaps he (Faleomavaega) has forgotten that Fiji has been independent since 1970 and its Legislature, Judiciary and the
Executive branches of Government have been functioning until the
Military started to meddle with the affairs of Government — a responsibility it was least capable of performing.”

The leaders of the Forum (not just New Zealand and Australia ), the
Prime Minister said,“have been unanimous in their condemnation of this
military dictatorship in Fiji and now a mere congressman in Washington
is barking up the wrong tree.”

Tuilaepa said: “I would’ve thought Faleomavaega should comment on
American Samoa — U.S relations he is far more familiar with. Not the
complex issues in Fiji he does not understand.” “The good congressman completely ignores the fact that the regime in Fiji is a military dictatorship. And that Bainimarama’s regime has been engaging in a ruthless crackdown on dissenting public opinion and complete suppression of the media. Is not freedom of speech, freedom of the media and engaging in free and fair elections hallmarks of American democracy?,” asks Prime Minister Tuilaepa. Faleomavaega told Congress, “For too too long…we’ve permitted Australia and New Zealand to take the lead even when Canberra and
Auckland operate with such a heavy hand that they are counterproductive to our shared goals.”

Prime Minister Tuilaepa believes Faleomavaega should be spending more
time contributing to the Territory’s constitutional commission review
later this year, in which Governor Togiola Tulafono has taken the
lead, instead of “meddling in matters that are beyond his
comprehension.”

“He should’ve had the courtesy to talk to his governor and myself to
see what policy, ideas that we have on Fiji .” Prime Minister Tuilaepa attended the American Samoa Flag Day celebrations last weekend. Faleomavaega was also there. “He (Faleomavaega) must always remember that he is American Samoa’s representative to the U.S Congress and that his priority is voicing to Congress issues that affect his constituents in American Samoa. After all they’re the ones who voted him to office.”
Similar voting and elections that brought Faleomavaega to office time
and time again, Tuilaepa added, have been systematically deprived by
the military junta to the people of Fiji.

“It’s therefore ironical, even hypocritical that he (Faleomavaega)wants to deny the people of Fiji the same rights.”

Fiji Defence Minister Attends UN Security Conference in Tonga

NUKU'ALOFA
RNZ Online/Pacific MediaWatch:

Defence Minister Ratu Epeli Ganilau is attending aUnited Nations conference on security governance in Tonga this week -the first international meeting for a Fiji government official since the constitution was revoked.The minister says he is ready to answer any questions at the conference regarding the military's role in past coups and the takeover of December 2006.He says the size of Fiji's military does not need to be cut, despitethe military playing a major role in three of the four coups in the last two decades.The conference, which starts on Monday, will look at securitychallenges in Fiji, Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands, Tonga andVanuatu.Meanwhile, Fiji government spokesperson Major Neumi Leweni says the UNhas set a precedent in not stopping participation from countries suchas Pakistan and Zimbabwe, so Fiji will not be excluded frompeacekeeping missions.As at the end of March, Fiji was contributing 282 soldiers and policeofficers to UN peacekeeping missions

Church column pulled by Fiji's military censors

Updated Fri Apr 24, 2009 3:09pm AEST
Fiji's censors have struck again, this time a Methodist Minister has fallen foul of the military regime for making a brief mention of the economic slowdown in his column titled "Prayer is Action". The offending column was pulled from publication in the Fiji Times, and the Reverend James Bhagwan has now stopped writing his column altogether in protest to the ban.
Presenter: Geraldine Coutts
Speaker: Methodist Church of Fiji Minister Reverend James Bhagwan

REV JAMES BHAGWAN: The words that they didn't like were, what I understand, was the story did not meet the, their criteria because I intimated that there was a local financial economic crisis as well as there was some political situation going on in Fiji and that was all I was saying, was that given the global and local economic challenges and situation that we're struggling in, in Fiji at the moment and the current political situation that prayer is very important aspect to give people the opportunity to feel that there is something that they don't have to be frustrated or feel impotent, that prayer is a form of action that they can take.

GERALDINE COUTTS: You've also had some strong things to say about, I suppose, a parallel between the Easter celebrations and what you think's happening in the country at the moment.

REV JAMES BHAGWAN: I led a Good Friday service here in Suva and immediately after the service finished I walked out to hear the President abrogate the Constitution. Being in the frame of mind of just coming and, after commemorating the crucifiction of Christ, not a far jump for me to assume that that was the day the nation was crucified as well. And you know, the feeling of people around the town, the looks on people's faces, the pain, the very sad thing is that people are not able to, if we are not able to articulate our emotions, express ourselves, that frustration builds up and my concern is that if people are not allowed to express themselves verbally, then what happens? What other avenues do people then express themselves. If it's physically, and they're not allowed to do that on the street then they may do that at home to the members of their family as well.

GERALDINE COUTTS: Your column has been censored. Are you not going to do the column anymore, and how does that compare with the journalists who are trying to work full time at this now?

REV JAMES BHAGWAN: My heart really goes out to the journalists and those working in the media under these extremely bad conditions. I mean, to have people coming in and deciding what articles to run, what don't run, the subeditors have to work extremely long hours until the censors are satisfied that that's the paper that they want to go out. I really feel for them but I don't feel comfortable writing a column that does not express my true feelings. And so, there are other ways to do so, the Internet is still free to the people so until they cut us off from that one, I'll go on the Internet.

GERALDINE COUTTS: You mentioned there, Reverend Bhagwan, that your letters didn't meet their criteria. What is the criteria that the censors have imposed?

REV JAMES BHAGWAN: Well, basically that, you know, there are no insightful comments and you know, we don't basically want, well, they don't basically want us to discuss anything of a political nature.

Friday, April 24, 2009

FIJI, THE TROUBLED NATION’S SITUATION

AUCKLAND (TVNZ Online/Pacific Media Watch): The weekly Marae magazine programme featuring Maori affairs and issues broadcast a panel discussion on the Fiji crisis on Sunday.The panel comprised regime Prime Minister Voreqe Bainimarama’s older brother, Sefanaia; former Fiji Broadcasting Corporation Ltd chief executive Sireli Kini and Nik Naidu, spokesperson for the Coalition for Democracy in Fiji (CDF).Wide-ranging views were given on the Appeal Court judgement ruling the regime illegal on April 9, the subsequent abrogation of the constitution by the President, Ratu Josefa Iloilo, the reappointment of Bainimarama as prime minister and censorship of the media.The programme is available on TVNZondemand [@ 10min].

China's help may harm Fiji

Article from: The Australian
AS Chinese leaders like to see it, China gives aid without any political strings attached. But when you suddenly start bankrolling a pariah military dictatorship, does that argument really hold any water?
In the year following the 2006 coup in Fiji, Chinese aid pledges increased seven-fold. That is, from about $US23million in 2006 to a staggering $US161 million in 2007. A lot of that aid was not dispersed immediately, but what news escapes from Fiji these days suggests China has kept up its commitment to roll out the promised funds. The Fiji Electricity Authority and theChinese Development Bank signed a $US70 million loan agreement to commence the construction of the Nadarivatu Hydropower project. Chinese loans are also helping to fund other infrastructure projects in Fiji.
The relative weight of China's aid program in Fiji is worth noting. Whereas Australia is still the largest aid donor in the Pacific region as a whole, its 2008-09 aid program for Fiji is a rather meagre $26.9million. As the interim regime in Fiji has been isolated by Western nations in an effort to help the people win back their democracy, China has stepped in to fill the donor void.
Although funds from China have yet to make a measurable beneficial impact on Fiji's economy, the symbolism of Chinese aid is important. While the international community has been shunning Fiji's interim government, Chinese Vice-President Xi Jinping met Fiji's President Josefa Iloilo and interim Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama when he visited Nadi on a transit stop on February 9.
Bainimarama's regime has been pursuing a look-north policy since his relations with Australia and New Zealand fell apart after his December 2006 coup. Unlike Australia, New Zealand, the EU and the US, China refuses to comment on the domestic political affairs of other nations. In its dealings with Fiji's interim government, Beijing has not mentioned the importance of democracy nor linked its aid to elections. Bainimarama has portrayed China as Fiji's saviour to his supporters and to Fijians concerned about their next pay cheque.
Fiji's economy deteriorated rapidly in the first quarter of 2009. A perfect storm of devastating floods in January, the negative impact of the global financial crisis on demand for tourism and exports, and ongoing loss of business confidence following the coup had already hit Fiji before the April 10 abrogation of the constitution made matters much worse. The Reserve Bank of Fiji had already forecast a contraction of the economy; exports and investment were already lower than expected. Official foreign reserves have plummeted to just 2.7 months of import cover.
Fiji's relative size and strategic importance in the Pacific mean that the wider Pacific Islands region will suffer from its economic decline. Preventing the collapse of Fiji's economy is critical not only for Fiji but for the stability of the region. Fiji clearly needs financial assistance, and quickly. But it is important that assistance is provided in a manner that helps the people who need it and does not simply prop up Bainimarama and his coterie.
China has chosen to step up its aid to Fiji and take on the mantle of major donor. Its track record elsewhere suggests China has neither the will nor capacity to assume responsibility for fixing things if the country implodes. Australian and NZ officials have realised this and recently we have seen the question of China's role in Fiji raised with senior Chinese officials.
If China wants to be taken seriously as a responsible international actor, it needs to behave in a mature way in Fiji. Fiji's interim government will almost certainly request more financial assistance from China to help it respond to its liquidity crisis. China is likely to be willing to help.
Beijing knows the Fiji economy is in trouble and, as an investor in the island nation, will be keen to do what it can to help Fiji avert a financial catastrophe. The financial assistance Fiji requires, however, is beyond the capacity of any single donor, even China.
Rather than offer more bilateral assistance, China should be encouraged by Australia and others to direct new assistance to Fiji through international financial institutions. This would be consistent with the commitments made by the G20 leaders in London to increase the resources available through the international financial institutions so those institutions can help developing countries cope with the global financial crisis. It would send an important signal to Fiji's interim government that its only option is to deal with the international financial institutions and adopt the disciplines they recommend to stabilise the economy. And it would fit squarely with G20 leaders' efforts to integrate China into co-ordinated responses.
Looking at China's engagement with other regimes (Sudan's and Burma's, for example), the prospect of it changing its approach might seem far-fetched, but Fiji is a little different. Relatively, China doesn't have that much to gain from Fiji. China also wants rewards from Australia (such as approval for resources investments), which offers some room for compromise. For China's policy in Fiji, these changes would have few costs and some important benefits.
China doesn't have to be the bad guy in Fiji. If it chooses to deliver its aid through responsible international systems, it has the chance to have a real development impact in Fiji, enhancing its reputation in the region while demonstrating a maturity befitting a great power.
Jenny Hayward-Jones is program director of the Myer Foundation Melanesia Program and Fergus Hanson is a research fellow at the Lowy Institute.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Prayer is Action

The Following Article was banned from publication in
The Fiji Times (for 21/04/09) by military censors
under the Public Emergency Regulations Decree 2009
(It was considered seditious)

Last Friday I attended my first parent teacher interview, which also coincided with Children’s Day. Even though my children are only in kindergarten, it was good to get feedback from the teachers as to how my son and daughter are developing, both in terms of learning and activities and their interaction with other children. As the only parent who is a “talatala,” I was asked to take the devotion for the children and their parents. It was a wonderful experience for my little four-year old son to assist me by saying the prayers after my short reflection. I had a glimpse of how my father must have felt when I assisted him in his services.

We often look at our children and see their potential for greatness. We see a future prime minister, a future doctor, the next Serevi, the leaders of tomorrow. But we must always be mindful that it is not so much what we say to them but what they see in us, what they see us do, that makes the lasting impression. The future prime minister can just as easily become a future murderer and the successes of tomorrow can always become the criminals of tomorrow.

That evening I led a second devotion, this time for the local Methodist Youth Fellowship. These young Christian men and women gave up their Friday night to kneel in solitary prayer and open their hearts to their God and pray for their families, their friends, and perhaps more importantly their nation.

Despite what some say, prayer is action. These young people in their chain prayer believe that the best and most peaceful action they can take during this time is prayer.

Many of you may remember the Peace Vigils during the political crisis of 2000 and since during times of upheaval. Men, women and children of all races, religions and walks of life gathered at the Holy Trinity Church in silence, with some spoken and sung words as well to pray, reflect, meditate and support each other.

One of the organisers of the Peace Vigil said, “To "keep vigil" is to watch and to wait. It is a time to step away from busyness and to tend to our spirits. For many of us the recent events have not allowed much time to think.
Prayer vigils are a time a time to stop for a moment, to find within ourselves the peace we want to see take shape in the world, to calm the mind, to listen for the still small voice inside that help us faithfully respond to the events around us and not just to react.
Often this is a time of silence but silence is not passive. It is a component of non-violence. It is in the stillness that the seeds of hope and the seeds of action are sown. And silence is not isolation, for when women come together for peace our silence can resound throughout the nation. Our silent vigil is our active demonstration that non-violence is a critical requirement for sustainable peace.”

We all know of the difficult days ahead, the global and local economy is struggling and looks get worse before it has any chance of getting better. There are many reasons to throw our hands up in the air in frustration and give up. We may feel powerless in our own situations but through prayer we can not only receive strength, we commit our concerns to a higher power, a God that moves in mysterious ways. Hearts can be touched, minds can be changed and relationships can be changed by the power of prayer.

Wherever you are, whoever you are, whatever faith journey you travel, you have a space where you worship, where you can join with others to either silently reflect and meditate or actively pray for the nation.

When you pray, please do not just pray for yourself and your families, your village or community. Do not just pray for the people you know and the needs that you have. Remember that as you pray, others whom you may not know, whom you may never meet, may be praying for you. Please pray for all those in positions of community, religious and national leadership.

There is a well known prayer by the theologian Reinhold Niebuhr that I would like to share with you:
God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change;
courage to change the things I can;
and wisdom to know the difference.
Living one day at a time;
Enjoying one moment at a time;
Accepting hardships as the pathway to peace;
Taking, as He did, this sinful world as it is, not as I would have it;
Trusting that He will make all things right if I surrender to His Will;
That I may be reasonably happy in this life and supremely happy with Him
Forever in the next.
Amen.


May the rest of your week be blessed with love, light, hope and peace.

Until today I had a weekly opinion column, “Off the Wall with Padre James” in The Fiji Times. I received no monetary gratuity from the newspaper and considered his writing as part of his pastoral responsibility. The “Off the Wall” column will not appear in the Fiji Times or any other local publication until the immoral and draconian intimidation of the media by the current regime ceases.

Resurrecting Hope

When some one we love dies, when we are confronted with an uncomfortable truth or when something we have toiled over fails it is very hard to hold on to the hope of a better tomorrow.

For Christians, the crucifixion of Good Friday is not a full-stop but a marker that points to the empty tomb. The redemptive action of Christ on the cross is not complete with out the resurrection.

On Easter Sunday morning I woke my children up while it was still dark. They were sleepy but very excited as this was the first year where they had understood the significance of Easter and were keen to celebrate Jesus’ resurrection and, it must be noted, the Easter-Egg hunt that was to follow.

So in the pre-dawn light we gathered at Suva Point; members of Dudley and Wesley Churches, singing hymns of praise to God, to the Risen Lord. Other Christians from different denomination also gathered to worship in word and song, to pray and baptise.

I would like to share with you some excerpts from my Easter Sunday reflection given in the cool sea breeze as dawn broke ushering in the new day and symbolising a new life.

In Luke’s Gospel (24:1-12) we find the women who on being told that Jesus has risen, recall the prophecy and rush to tell the good news to the disciples. We also find the disciples reluctant to believe both the women (an issue that still lingers), as well as the truth. Peter rushes to the tomb but only peeps in and walks away wondering what happened.

What type of people are we then, when faced with the confusing situation that our we find ourselves in? How do we ensure our hope remains resilient in the midst of the storm now brewing?

With the resurrection, Christians can look to a new future, with a new hope which is Jesus Christ. His conquering of sin and death reminds us that the kingdom of God is at hand and that we are citizens of that kingdom, where an eternal constitution has been written in His blood.

My favourite hymn is one that is hardly sung. In the Methodist English Hymnbook it is hymn #900.

“I vow to thee, my country all earthly things above.
Entire and whole and perfect, the service of my love.
A love that asks no questions, a love that stands the test;
that lays upon the altar the dearest and the best.
A love that never falters, a love that pays the price;
a love that makes undaunted, the final sacrifice.

But there’s another country I’ve heard of long ago.
Most dear to them that love her, most great to them that know.
We may not count her armies; we may not see her king.
Her fortress is a loving heart, her pride is suffering.
And soul by soul and silently, her shining bounds increase.
And her ways are ways of gentleness, and all her paths are peace.”

Just as the rising sun beckons us to a new day, so the Risen Son beckons us to a new life. In the resurrected Lord we are a new creation.

Let us not be like Peter, spending our days wondering what happened and what will happen. Let us live the commandment of the Risen Lord to love each other as He loves us. Let us spend time expressing our love of God in the love of our neighbours, regardless of how many walls are built between us. Let us gain strength, not in force of arms, but by the power of prayer. And let us share the peace of God with each other in practical ways.

The living Jesus takes hold of our tired lives and breathes into us His power.

He takes hold of our sinful lives and offers a wonderful new beginning through forgiveness.

He takes hold of lives that appear lost and gives them new purpose and meaning even in the most difficult circumstances as we face in Fiji today.

He comes to challenge a selfish world with the possibility of a new beginning which involves love and concern for others.

Despite all the uncertainty that faces this nation, we have two certainties that we can look to: the empty cross on which Jesus died for us; and the empty tomb which tells us that He is not there.

The Resurrection of Jesus may be a once in history event, but that does not mean that resurrection cannot take place in our lives, in our families, in our communities, in our nation and in the world daily. Hope may wither, it may die, but it can always be resurrected. Hope, like love and truth is eternal.

May your week be blessed with light, love, peace and hope.

Politics and Truth

We are in the middle of the most significant week for Christians around the world. Holy or Passion Week, runs from Palm Sunday, marking the triumphant entry of Jesus into Jerusalem; and Easter Sunday, which marks His resurrection. Between those two Sundays lie betrayal, arrest, torture, humiliation, the excruciating pain of crucifixion, the despair of rejection and finally death. As Christians we believe that Jesus, the Christ – the Messiah, the anointed one, the Son of God – died for our sins and rose again on the third day in triumph over sin and death.

The season of Lent and especially Holy Week tends to be the busiest time for those who serve God in the Church. There are extra services, special prayer meetings and gatherings as Christians use this time to strengthen and renew their spiritual life. This Holy Week, the Dudley Circuit has been focusing on the characters around the cross. On Monday night we reflected on the materialism of Judas, last night we examined the role of Caiaphas – the High Priest, tomorrow in what will be my third service for the day, we will reflect on the denial of Christ by Peter, on Good Friday as we meditate on the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross, we will reflect on those who gambled for His garment. On Easter Sunday those of us from Dudley and Wesley Churches in Suva who can wake up literally at the crack of dawn will join in a special Sunrise worship at Suva Point. All are welcome to attend the Holy Week services tonight and tomorrow night at 7pm and on Friday at 9am and the Easter Sunday Sunrise Service at Suva Point beginning at 6am.

Among the themes of betrayal, greed, persecution, suffering and redemption, today’s “character around the cross” and theme focus on “Pilate: Truth and Politics”.

In his book, “Characters around the Cross” Tom Houston writes about Pilate:
“His character was generally regarded as coarse, tactless and very obstinate. These are not dissimilar to the characteristics you find in people who are thrust into positions of authority which exceed their natural ability.”

Of course Pilate did some good things, building an aqueduct to bring water into the city. However he chose to pay for it with part of the Temple tax. This caused a riot and he sent his own people in plain clothes, with clubs and daggers, and many were killed in the stampede. The story of Pilate and Jesus is the story of a man desperate to hold onto his power and before him, the Saviour who is the exact opposite in nature. It makes the words of Philippians 2: 6-8 even more meaningful. Houston comments, “There you have two people: Pilate with the rank to which he never should have risen and Jesus with the rank to which he should never have descended.

The issue of truth and politics resonates two thousand years later and thousands of kilometres away from Palestine/Israel. In Pilate we can see the characteristics of many of those who struggle to maintain or attain power in our nation.

In light of the intimidation and veiled and overt threats made against those who have committed to speak truth to the unjust power structures that shape our nation, we recall that in response to the Jesus’ statement that he had come to speak about the truth, Pilate responded, “What is truth?” It seems that this is the same question that the Pilates of Fiji ask today.

Hannah Arendt writes that the politics of the lie we experience today day is very different than the traditional political lie. No longer is the lie a necessity in diplomacy and statecraft to protect secrets or intentions that had never been made public or could not be made public. The modern political lie deals not at all with secrets but what is generally known. According to Arendt, “All these lies, whether their authors know it or not, harbour an element of violence; organized lying always tends to destroy whatever it has decided to negate, although only totalitarian governments have consciously adopted lying as a first step to murder.”

Today it is not only the political lie we have to contend with but also that issues of security and public order may be used obstruct the process of truth-telling.

The American theologian Stanley Hauerwas writes: “In order to expose the small as well as the big lies a community must exist that has learned to speak truthfully to one another. That community, moreover, must know that to speak truthfully to one another requires the time granted through the work of forgiveness. Such patient timefulness is a gift from the God the community believes has given us all the time we need to care for the words we speak to one another. Any politics absent such a people quite literally is doomed to live lies that are the breeding ground of violence.”

Jesus said, “You will know the truth and the truth will set you free.” (John 8:32)

May the rest of your Holy Week be blessed with love, light, peace and courage to live as truthful community.

Speaking Softly vs Carrying a Big Stick

There are days when I look at my children and think about how, as “fruit-salads” (much more pleasant to the ear than their political correct ethnic label of “Indo-Kailoma-Chinese-I Kiribati-Samoan-Fijian”) their dealings with their relatives on both sides as they grow will be filled with the complexities of not just the Parliament of Fiji but the Pacific Islands forum.

Every week they engage with cousins, aunties and uncles and grandpas, nanas, nanis, and the odd papa-dada who speak to them in a variety of accents and languages. Yet despite all of that communication is able to take place, with meanings and symbols understood and relationships created and nurtured.

It is then surprising and worrying to some extent that there seems to be some serious misunderstandings when it comes to political parties, NGOs, CSOs, the military and maybe even the Church and the media defining terms such as “dialogue”, “forum”, “peace” “reconciliation” and “democracy”.

I believe it is not just a matter of which dictionary is picked up when discussing these terms. Perhaps it is that the definitions are used in different contexts. A peace enforced by weapons and the threat of violence may be acceptable to the military but not to the Church or NGOs. By the same token a democratic government in which some parties such as the SDL are banned from participating in may also be acceptable to the military but not to the political parties – certainly not the SDL. Reconciliation and forgiveness cannot take place if amnesties are given beforehand. A true dialogue cannot take place where only one party’s issues are discussed, or when both parties are less interested in listening to what each other has to say than waiting for their chance to speak. A forum which excludes representation of the minorities and marginalised of society can never hope to have the mandate of all the people.

When my children and their relatives communicate, they may struggle but the love that they have for each other enables that communication to happen, no matter how long it takes for the message or ideas to get through. Because both parties are open to each other: recognising, respecting and in this case loving each other, they make the effort to understand and be understood.

This is true communication: speaking out of love. When concerned citizens and organisations speak to each other on issues of justice and peace, they speak out of love. Clearly those who speak out of their concern may not speak out of love for the military junta, but it needs to be acknowledged that they are speaking on behalf of the people they love and because they love their country.

It can not be denied that there are those who speak out of love for themselves or their positions but such shallow loves never resonate or ring true.

Last Friday, I was saddened to hear the comments of the acting Commander of the RFMF on the radio. Colonel Driti’s terse voice was warning people who make statements that are perceived to be “anti-Military”. If only these statements and many like them were received in the same spirit in which they were made.

Perhaps the acting Commander has translated the old adage of “children are meant to be seen and not heard,” into “political parties, NGO’s and concerned citizen’s are not meant to be heard or they will no longer be seen.”

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, in The Cost of Discipleship writes:
“The followers of Jesus have been called to peace. But when he called them they found their peace. But know they are told that they must not only have peace but make it. And to that end they renounce all violence and tumult. In the cause of Christ nothing is to be gained by such methods. His kingdom is one of peace, and the mutual greeting of his flock is a greeting of peace. His disciples keep the peace by choosing to endure suffering themselves rather than inflict it on others. They maintain fellowship where others would break it off. They renounce all self-assertion, and quietly suffer in the face of hatred and wrong. In so doing they overcome evil with good, and establish the peace of God in the midst of a world of war and hate. But nowhere will that peace be more manifest than when they meet the wicked in peace and are ready to suffer at their hands. The peacemakers will carry the cross with their Lord, for it was on the cross that peace was made. Now that they are partners in Christ’s work of reconciliation, they are called the sons of God as he is the Son of God.”

This may be the exit strategy the RFMF seeks. It is certainly better than waving a big stick.

Molotov Cocktails

I really am not sure what was more worrying in the news this long weekend, the fact that there were firebomb attacks, or that by describing the contents of the firebomb in detail, the media unwittingly gave everyone who wants to know, terrorists and inquisitive children alike, the know-how to produce this dangerous and easily manufactured weapon.

The firebomb, commonly known as a Molotov Cocktail was used as early as 1915 by Taiwanese rebels fighting the Japanese; by Spanish nationalists under General Francisco Franco fighting the Soviet-supported Spanish Republicans during the Spanish Civil War in the late 1930’s and received its name when the Finnish Army fought the Soviet Red Army in the Winter War of 1939. At that time the Foreign Minister of the Soviet Union was Vyacheslav Molotov.

The Molotov Cocktail has been identified with resistance movements, anarchists and riots against the establishment ever since, which is why I find its attempted use over the weekend so worrying. It is a symbol not just of resistance but of frustration. The choice of targets, the deafening silence from the ensconced establishment most familiar with this type of device is sending mixed signals at a time when the leaders of this nation are preparing for the biggest exercise in trust since the Deuba Accord of 1987, which once achieved was promptly betrayed.

So the message seems to be, “Speak out against us and we’ll get you.” However, the “us” seems to be less concerned with the fact that they are not the only ones being spoken of. Speaking truth to power means that all who are in positions of power are held accountable by the people.

The prophets of the Judeo-Christian tradition spoke truth to those who held and abused religious, political, military and economic power. They were persecuted and yet continued to speak for they felt called by God to do so, uttering the prophetic statement, “Thus saith the Lord…”

I am not suggesting that all journalists, pro-democracy activists and concerned citizens are divinely inspired, although that would be a wonderful breakthrough. So far the only the Police Commissioner has made that claim. However they express their faith or spirituality, these people have been moved by reason, morality, compassion, a sense of justice, the zeitgeist, or have discerned by reflection and prayer to speak at a time when others are honestly, to afraid to do so. They speak out of love for this country. They need the support of the community to whom and for whom they speak.

The old adage of “Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me,” does not hold true anymore. We all know that words can hurt as well as heal. However we are also learning that those who are hurt by words can use sticks, stones and firebombs. Even more worrying is that this is what our children are learning.

Bob Cass offers a lesson in how to fight so that everyone wins.
“Healthy relationships aren't conflict free; they're conflict resolving. The problem is: we fight for victories instead of fighting for solutions. The result is: one wins, one loses, and the relationship suffers! Here are some practical insights for fighting so that the relationship wins:

Firstly, differences are inevitable, normal, and potentially beneficial. They're inevitable, because relationships bring together very different people. They're normal, because all relationships, including great ones, experience them. They're potentially beneficial because, handled effectively, relationships grow through them.

Here are three conflicting handling styles:
(a) The avoid style. These are the 'don't want to rock the boat' and 'let sleeping dogs lie' people. They fear confrontation, so they bury their feelings, not realising they're buried alive and will rise again down the road. They go from clam-up, to build-up, to blow-up, inviting physical and emotional illness. Meanwhile offenses accumulate, unaddressed issues multiply and unfinished business erodes the relationship.
(b) The attack style. These are the 'get them before they get you' people; ruthless fighters who refuse to give in, they inflict terminal wounds on each other.
The Bible says, "If you keep on biting and devouring each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other" (Gal 5:15 NIV). Attack leads to counterattack, both sides 'dig in' and nothing gets resolved.
(c) The approach-assert style. These are the 'no price is too high for a good relationship' people. They're sensitive to the feelings of others, yet insist on dealing directly with important issues. They avoid blaming, confront the issue, not the individual, and invite others to partner with them in solving the problem and saving the relationship!

To the perpetrators of the fire-bombings and other violent acts of intimidation, please remember this: As long as you hate your enemy, a jail door is closed and a prisoner is taken. But when you try to understand and release your foe from your hatred, then the prisoner is released and that prisoner is you.

May the rest of your week be blessed with he courage to speak the truth in love and the peace to hear and accept the truth.

The Courage to be Vulnerable

Last week a bold step was taken by the Commodore Bainimarama in the first step of the President’s Political Dialogue Forum. Although the PPDF is sanctioned by His Excellency the President with the assistance of the Commonwealth and United Nations, it is Commodore Bainimarama who must now remove his armour and allow himself to be vulnerable and open to others if this process is to have any chance of success.

At the same time the parties invited to the PPDF need to ensure that they focus not only on their own political survival but the hopes and realities of the constituents they will compete to represent when elections finally take place.

Webster’s dictionary defines dialogue as, “a frank [no pun intended] exchange of ideas or views on a specific issue in an effort to attain mutual understanding.”

While there is a fixed agenda for the forum, the inclusion of the “democratic experience in Fiji” should provide the space for such a frank exchange of views. However for any “exchange” to take place, those sitting at the table on which the future of Fiji rests need to practice active listening – taking onboard what other parties are saying, rather merely waiting for their chance to speak.

The decision to include 15 representatives of civil society and non-governmental organisations is also to be commended. Although the process in which these representatives will be chosen may be somewhat flawed, the fact that they are being given room at the table allows more voices, particularly of women, young people and all minority communities to be heard by those who will shape the future of our country.

At this point the question that needs to be asked is, what about the largest non-governmental and civil society organisations in the country – the faith-based organisations? The Methodist Church can be seen as Fiji’s largest civil society organisation, and with other churches and religious organisations probably have the biggest mandate out of any other CSO or NGO. Will their voices also be heard?

After all, as Jane Goodall, the British anthropologist, wrote “Change happens by listening and then starting a dialogue with the people who are doing something you don't believe is right.”

St. James wrote, "The wisdom that is from above is... peaceable" (James 3:17 NKJV). In “The Message,” Eugene Peterson paraphrases this Scripture: "Real wisdom, God's wisdom, begins with a holy life and is characterised by getting along with others. It is gentle and reasonable, overflowing with mercy and blessings, not hot one day and cold the next, not two-faced.

Our representatives to the PPDF can develop a healthy, robust community that lives right with God and enjoys its results only if they do the hard work of getting along with each other, treating each other with dignity and honour" (James 3:17-18 TM). Notice, getting along with others can be "hard work".

To those who have the accepted the responsibility to genuinely enter into dialogue with those you would not normally sit at the table with, if you find yourself getting worked up about some issue, ask yourself, "If I give in to these emotions what will the result be?" When you're stressed out you lose your joy, and when you lose your joy you lose your strength because "the joy of the Lord is your strength" (Nehemiah 8:10 NKJV). So those who will speak and listen for us at the PPDF need to pray, exercise self-control, and keep their peace.

However one of the most important decisions in the build up to the PPDF is by the news media. Since 2006 the news media in Fiji has found itself struggling with its role as a channel of information for the public and having a peace /democracy agenda. If this process of dialogue is to truly bear a lasting fruit, journalists and editors need to ask themselves where their focus is. Is it going to be on little facts or a greater truth?

Little facts will rely on leaked information, comments while the dialogue forum is still underway – much the same as giving process reports on any experiment. The focus on the greater truth will look at the end result of the experiment and the outcomes of the dialogue process. The sharing of public views and information for the sake of transparency is a very important part of this process. At the same time the respecting of the boundaries of a “sacred space” in which people can safely and freely express themselves is also integral to this process.

There is much that can happen to compromise the dialogue process, by participants, supporters, observers and those merely waiting the outcome. However one thing is certain – we stand on the precipice, at the edge of the abyss. Only by building bridges of peace and unity can we hope to cross safely over to the new dawn that awaits the all people of Fiji.

May the rest of your week be blessed with love, light, peace and the courage to be open to the views of those different from you.

Pierce Souls

On Saturday night the old dogs howled into the night. On Sunday morning, it took time for the church to fill up for the 7.30am service. My mother was sad that her favourite player Peni Rokodiva was not able to play in the quarter finals. I even found myself using rugby metaphors in my sermon on “Prayer, Love and Service”. No one was even in the mood to joke that perhaps the Fiji team had given up the Melrose Cup for Lent.

Perhaps it was unfair for the unsuccessful 7's team that they carried to Dubai more than just the hopes of the rugby loving public for a back to back World Cup victory. They were burdened with the weight with the hopes of the entire nation – not just for victory but for anything positive on which we could cling to in these dark and uncertain times for Fiji.

A visitor this country recently asked me what kept us Fijians positive as we live under a totalitarian regime. After cautioning him to be wary of who he asked this question to - unless he wanted to be one of the few, the proud, the deported/expelled, I gave him my response. I first said that although we live in a “Coconut Republic, where election timetables, Public Service and Board appointments, and perhaps soon even laws are written in the sand; and the even though our children were now forced to make a pledge of allegiance, that could very well go against religious beliefs, and sing a national anthem that has yet to be translated into every language (including Rotuman and Chinese); I did not think that the current regime had reached the level of Stalin's dictatorship and his “Great Purge” of the late 1930's nor were we being commanded to call our fearless leader, “Der Fuhrer” - well not yet anyway.

But how do we keep positive? Well, we find joy and laughter in the smallest things, a silly commercial on television; any of our teams winning any sports match; the Phantom exacting “Jungle justice” in the comic section of the Fiji Times, and the like. We now cling to these small things more than ever, because, frankly speaking, that is all we've got.

We are not treated to powerful, emotive and inspiring speeches by our fearless leader, or any of his speech writers. There is not even any worthwhile propaganda that we can at least buy into, unless you count the NCCBF theme song.

That is why the Rugby Sevens World Cup meant so much to everyone. And why our unexpected loss has been perhaps more devastating to the national psyche than New Zealand's exit from the 15's World Cup in 2007, which sent many New Zealanders into depression and into psychotherapy. In Fiji we don't even have the luxury of feeling sorry for ourselves nor the money to pay for psychotherapy, so we drink kava, breaking many self imposed bans along the way, and complain about the team and the coach and the FRU.

On Saturday night, immediately after the Fiji vs Kenya game we switched to Serevi LIVE on Mai TV to see an emotional Dr. Serevi thank the team and their families for their sacrifice and enduring criticism in the build up to the tournament. Watching the dignity with which he responded to questions from Stanley Simpson and comments from the public, many of which were critical of the FRU and the management of the unsuccessful team, I reflected on what it was that made us as a nation pin our own personal hopes for the future on this sports tournament.

I believe that the political crisis in Fiji, has not just destroyed democracy, hacked away the role traditional institutions and attacked our right to not just the facts but the truth, it has also amputated the arms with which we can reach out to each other in peace, severed the tongues which cry out for mercy and justice. More importantly it has pierced our hearts and wounded our souls – the soul of this very nation.

It is because of this that it is not just the 7's team that was “clueless” (to borrow a word from Mr. Simpson at Seven) on the field against Kenya. Because the soul of the nation has been pierced, time and time again by those who are either responsible for protecting it or for nourishing it – we have become a clueless nation. Drifting on the tide.

The same visitor who asked me about our nation's positivity, asked me about the leaders of tomorrow. Those who could offer a fresh perspective, a new style of leadership that was less about struggling for power, and more about healing the wounded soul of our nation. A leadership that was less about doing what they wanted and more about listening to the people. A leadership that had learned from the mistakes of the past.

To you my brothers and sisters of Fiji, I tell you where such a leader can be found. You can see them any time you want to, without even making an appointment. All you have to do is take a long hard look in the mirror. Each one of you is that leader. It's up to you to start acting like one.

May your week be blessed with love, light, peace and the courage to respond to the cry of the wounded soul of our nation!

Fathers and Daughters

Last night my small family gathered together for a time of devotion and reflection as we remembered the death of my father, Benjamin Bhagwan, five years ago. As we began our devotion, it dawned on me that my two older sisters, Lois and Sharon were away; both overseas in the line of duty, so to speak.

My relationship with my father, as an only son was of course very special. However I never could understand the way my father doted on his two daughters, until of course my own daughter, “Cyclone” Antonia, was born. As much my “ballerina princess” fights with me and chooses her mother over me in everything except giving her treats, I understand why my father adored his two girls, no matter how difficult they were. I also understand why my father was tempted to erect a barbed wire fence around our compound and caused many young men of Lautoka to walk quickly by our house (on the other side of the road),when his little girls began to blossom into the beautiful women they are today.

Given the situation our country, with the stories of rape, child abuse and incest constantly being brought to our attention, I am often tempted to enact security measures for my three-year old girl that would put our Fearless Leader's triple layer of personal protection to shame. Thankfully my “ballerina princess” is also a “warrior princess,” as her older brother is reminded on a regular basis.

Last week I received an email about an initiative called the Father and Daughter Alliance (FADA).
The “Father and Daughter Alliance (FADA) is a team of traditional and concerned family men/fathers who have seen the light on these issues, appealing to the father’s heart in other men in developing countries so they can help their daughters and other girls enroll and complete primary education and then access the same educational, economic and societal opportunities as boys.

Girls account for more than one half of the approximately 75 million children out of school. Though major gains have been made to narrow the gap in girls education, the World Bank states that “in developing countries, girls lag behind boys” and “many more girls drop out along the way than boys.”

The reasons why? Girls have to take care of relatives as well as cook for, serve or work for their families. Then there is the lack of appropriate sanitary/bathroom facilities, sexual harassment, adverse cultural practices and distance to schools.

It is also partly because of this lack of education, that many girls end up in domestic servitude, early marriage, abused and/or neglected, trafficked and prostituted, genitally mutilated, unable to access opportunities and continually dependent on others for all their needs.

Of the 774 million illiterate adults worldwide, 64% of them are women. Thus the vicious circle continues, particularly as countries move toward a knowledge society, since an illiterate mother is far less likely to send her daughters to school.

In her book, Strong Fathers, Strong Daughters, Dr. Meg Meeker, a pediatrician, asserts that teenage girls are twice as likely to stay in school if their fathers are involved in their lives.

So far, the heavy burden in the struggle for girls’ education has been carried mostly by women in conjunction with NGOs, governments and multi-lateral organizations, and they have done heroic work with amazing results. But, more work is needed.

Men in the meantime have stayed on the sidelines. As we approach International Women's Day on Sunday, March 8th, let us respond to the need for traditional, and even religious family men/fathers who have seen the light on these issues to get involved and help those other men see the advantage of allowing and encouraging their daughters and other girls to access education, and eventually economic assets, and opportunities socially and politically.

For more information log on to: www.globalfada.org

This Friday, Christians around the world will commemorate the World Day of Prayer, prepared by women of Papua New Guinea on the theme, “In Christ We are Many Members Yet One Body.” In their different churches, of different denominations in different countries, they will remember that though divided by geography, language, dogma and doctrine, they are all part of the same Mystical Body of Christ.

Let us this weekend, in the midst of our Rugby Sevens World Cup hype, remember that we are one nation, and as men and women, equal members of the human race – the only “race” that matters.

May the rest of your week be blessed with love, light and peace - for both women and men and all children.

Sacrificing Our Egos

Today is Ash Wednesday, which marks the beginning of the Christian season of Lent. From early this morning Christians have been attending Ash Wednesday masses and special services, with many being marked with a cross of ash on their forehead as a sign of repentance.

During this time many Christians will give up many things. Some will stop smoking, or drinking kava, or other drinks. Some will give up chocolate, some meat, while others will fast from sunrise to sunset.

The Methodist Church in Fiji and Rotuma has also called on its members to fast and pray for the Church and the Nation during the month of March. For members and clergy alike, this commitment to fasting and abstaining from the consumption of kava will be put to the test daily and especially on weekends and during the upcoming Rugby 7's World Cup. The challenge will be faced by those who prefer to put tradition and culture ahead of their faith.

I reflected on the significance and challenges Christians face during the Lenten period as I prepared my sermon for tonight's Ash Wednesday Service at Dudley Methodist Church (7pm, corner of Amy Street and Toorak Road – All Welcome).

The most difficult thing I find during this period of introspection, self denial, repentance and sacrifice is that sometimes we often goes through the motions without committing ourselves to the deeper significance. Or we do the bare minimum required of us and feel as if we have paid our dues. We may fast all day and yet feast all night. We may give up many things but we find it very difficult to sacrifice our pride or our arrogance.

Jesus asks us (Matt 9:13) to learn the meaning of the statement, “I desire mercy not sacrifice,” (Hosea 6:6). What is the point of our fasting and denying ourselves of material excesses when we still allow our egos to get in the way of our relationship with others?

I address those of our nation's leaders, popular and usurper alike, who are Christian:
Are you willing to sacrifice your ego this Lenten season?

Are you willing to sacrifice hidden agendas and sit around the table to enter into dialogue and find a way forward for this nation?

Are you willing to sacrifice your own status and authority for the sake of those who have neither status no power?

Are you willing to sacrifice your fears in order that the hopes of others may live?

Are you willing to sacrifice your might for peace?

To those who today will pledge themselves to fast or sacrifice for the next six weeks until Easter Sunday:
Will you sacrifice your prejudice and really love your neighbour?

Will you sacrifice your thirst for revenge in order to receive mercy and forgiveness yourself?

In the Bible we read of Lamech, who was a descendent of Cain, one of Adam's sons. Now when Cain killed his brother Abel, God put a mark on him, saying that if anyone killed Cain they'd pay for it seven times over. One day somebody hurt Lamech, so he gave in to resentment, killed the offender, and said, "I have killed a man for wounding me... If Cain is avenged seven times, then Lamech seventy-seven times" (Gen 4:23-24 NIV). In Lamech's mind he was absolutely justified. The man who did him wrong had it coming.

The philosophy of Lamech is: if you hurt me, I'll hurt you. And not just once, but seventy-seven times over. The spirit of revenge is never satisfied. Simply stated: It doesn't work!

Like Lamech, Peter had been hurt by someone close to him, and it happened more than once. So he went to Jesus and asked, "How many times do I have to forgive this man? Seven times?" (Matt 18:21 NIV). Peter thought he was being extremely generous and expected Jesus to pat him on the back. So he probably wasn't too pleased when Jesus deflated his ego by saying he must forgive the offender, "not seven times, but seventy-seven times" (Matt 18:21 NIV). Where did Jesus get that number? From the Old Testament. Jesus knew the Scriptures well so He chose it deliberately. He was doing away with the philosophy of Lamech! "Peter, you can follow in the footsteps of Lamech and retaliate, or you can follow Me and keep extending forgiveness - but you can't do both!"

This Lenten season, let us sacrifice our egos on the altar of peace and reconciliation.

May the rest of your week be blessed with light, love, peace and the desire to put service before self.

Perseverence

Recently I read an article in which the author referred to Fiji as in danger of becoming the “Burma of the South Pacific.” I was reflecting on this as I sorted through some books over the weekend when I found an old favourite, “Tales Worth Telling,” by Asian evangelist, G.D. James. In this book, given to me by my late father, when I found an interesting short story that resonated with the article that I had just read. However after reading, laughing and putting it aside to include in this week's column, it was promptly repositioned by either the matron of the house, or her “energizer bunny” of a grandson. Below then is my interpretation of the story:

The benevolent dictator of a developing country was walking along a river, when he saw a shiny coin at the bottom of the river. Thinking the river shallow enough he waded in but soon found himself out of his depth. Soon treading water in combat boots began to tire him out and just as he was about to go under, three little boys passed by and, seeing a man about to drown, jumped in to help and succeeded in pulling the man to the bank of the river. The rescued man was so happy to be alive he promised the three boys anything they asked for.
“I would like a bicycle please,” said the first boy.
“I would like a bicycle too please,” said the second boy.
“And I suppose you would like a bicycle too,” said the soaking wet dictator to the third boy.
“Actually, I would like a military funeral, if you don't mind. I'm sure you can arrange that,” replied the third boy.
“Of course I can arrange it,” said the dictator, “but why on earth would you want one?”
“Because,” answered the boy, “when my parents find out who I just helped rescue, they're gonna kill me!”

As someone who believes himself to have heard and is doing his best to respond to the call to speak truth to power and act for and in peace, one of my personal struggles in trying to understand our political situation in Fiji continues to be the concept of a Just War and the Doctrine of Necessity. As human beings who for the most, yearn to live in peace and harmony with each other, the question is, “Do the ends justify the means, or a the means and methods used just as important as the desired result.”While for me the answer is and always will be the latter, I understand than many of us may wrestle with this question for a long time.

Recently someone labelled me a hypocrite for supporting a peaceful resolution to the current political, social and cultural conflict in Fiji and a return to democracy, while still often wearing a polo shirt given to me during my visit to the 2FIR “Fiji Batt”in Sinai as part of a visit to the Holy Land. I point out to them that it was a gift given in love and appreciation for a sermon I preached and as a fellow Fijian in the Holy Land. It is one of the only souvenirs that I have to mark this pilgrimage and I remain firm in my support of the peacekeeping role and abilities of the RFMF, although I continue to pray for the same level of peaceful negotiation, conciliation, and compassion which they display as Observers in the Sinai Peninsula, could be practised in their own homeland which they rule through superior force.

I then asked my accuser, if he had a Fiji rugby jersey. As a die-hard Fiji fan, his response was a resolute “yes!” accompanied by the sort of look reserved for members of the family who are a little “slow on the uptake”, or to coin a common Fijian expression, “tubelight.” He challenged me by asking if I also had one, and I professed my allegiance by regaling him with a rather long and winding story about how my dear mother-in-law had given me one as a gift and how I wore it with pride in England.

“So what's your point?” asked my now curious accuser (and possibly you the curious reader). I asked him what he thought of the recent situation at FRU House regarding Serervi, the Fiji Sevens team and their recent Serevi-less performance. Once my accuser vented his frustration and calmed down. He asked me again, “So what's your point?”I asked him if he still cheered for Fiji during the recent IRB Sevens tournaments. He answered, “Of course!” I asked him if he still wore his Fiji rugby jersey when he watched. The answer was the same. I responded, “It's the same with me, we may not like the coach or the management, or the members of the team and all the problems they have at home, but when they go out to represent the country, we support them all the way.” I'm not sure whether the look in his eyes, as he walked away, was one of illumination or confusion.

US President Abraham Lincoln once said, “Do I not destroy my enemies when I make them my friends?” Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jnr. commented that this statement was an example of “the power of redemptive love.” But loving our enemies is a very difficult thing to do. We may do it once, we may do it twice but if our enemies continue to treat us badly, it becomes harder and harder to keep loving them. Initially we may speak truth in love, but eventually it becomes truth in anger, and things spoken in anger, even the truth are often received in the same anger.

So for us to love our enemies, to remain kind and conciliar in the face of oppression, repression and somewhat forced liberation, requires perseverance. The kind of perseverance that can last five or ten years.

An obstacle of persevering in the face is of adversity is the fact that many of us have a lifestyle of giving up, of apathy. A little boy was promised an ice cream cone if he was good while accompanying his grandfather on some errands. The longer they were gone the more difficult the boy was finding it to be good. "How much longer will it be?" he asked. "Not too long," replied the grandfather, "we've just got one more stop." "I don't know if I can make it, Grandpa," the little boy said. "I can be good. I just can't be good enough long enough." As children we can get away with that, but not as mature people, and certainly not if we expect to succeed in what God's called us to do. We are a people who live with hope. We must continue to hold on to hope.

Key to perseverance is resiliency. Harvard professor George Vaillant identifies resiliency as a significant characteristic of people who navigate the different seasons of life from birth to old age. In his book Aging Well he writes, "Resilient people are like a twig with a fresh, green, living core. When twisted out of shape the twig bends but it doesn't break; instead it springs back and continues growing." That's an excellent description of perseverance. Another is the coconut tree. It gets knocked back and forth by the cyclones we face, but it never breaks. We must not become dry, brittle and inflexible. We must draw on God's grace and endeavour to bounce back no matter how we feel.

World champion boxer Mohammad Ali said, "Champions aren't made in the gyms, they are made from something they have deep inside them - a desire, a dream, a vision. They have last-minute stamina. They have to be a little faster, and they have to have the skill and the will. But the will must be stronger than the skill."

May the rest of your week be blessed with love, light, and peace!

A Saqamoli for Your Thoughts

I am sure that many of us a grateful for the fact that there is no such thing as the Thought Police here in Fiji. We may be punished for our written and spoken words, our meetings or marches, perhaps even our You-Tube broadcasts; but as yet the Public Order Act, Public Service regulations, and other ad hoc means of censure have yet to design a means of detecting and apprehending thoughts that go against the thoughts of the ruling junta and its fearless leader.

A number of books and films, point to the future in which thoughts and intentions are not only monitored but controlled. While, this is yet to happen, in Fiji at least. It's not hard to see where this would lead us.

Could, for example, the coups of 1987, 2000 and 2006 been prevented, had we known what was being thought by the “masterminds”. Could the recent centipede attack which has delayed our elections been avoided, had the victim known the intention of the centipede in question. Would the relatives of happily newly-wed couple from Qauia have filed the missing persons' report if they had bothered to read the mind of the couple, or in fact realised that most couples do not sit down and drink grog or whatever with their friends on the evening of their marriage.

If a thought monitoring system was introduced, would the statement “a penny for your thoughts” be contextualised into “a saqamoli for your thoughts” and then actualised into a thought-tax or thought fine depending on what you thought of the current regime. This may have been the thinking behind the much discussed back-pay or the much deferred pay-rise.

Reality is such, that too often we have experienced, and on occasion are guilty ourselves of, one thing being done or said while another thing is being thought. We call the art of discerning what is thought from what is said or written or done, “being able to read between the lines” or in literary and dramatic circles “read the subtext”. Some legal eagles, interim or otherwise, refer to it as “reading the small print”(in our current situation the small print can only be read by reversing the Hubble Telescope).

I suggest that if we gave this process some serious thought (no pun intended – I think), we could begin to really understand the apparent contradictions by our fearless leaders.

For example, if those affected by the floods could read the minds of the junta, they might be able to understand why despite having a military-run government, the military – did not immediately deploy its extremely capable sappers (engineers) and other troops to assist during and following the natural disaster. They might have been able to find out whether the junta can only think of one type of clean-up at a time.

We, the people, would know through this process, that when the “March '09” election promise was made, our fearless leader was actually thinking “March '19,” or perhaps he was thinking that in March '09 he would make an announcement about when he actually thought elections might possibly be held, or be given further thought.

If journalists could read the minds of those they interview, they would not find themselves being attacked for misquoting. If Russell Hunter, Evan Hannah and Rex Gardiner could read the minds of the Government, they would have booked their tickets, said their goodbyes and had time to do some duty-free shopping before being “expelled”.

If the Auditor-General could read the minds of the Military he would be able to understand how (and hopefully why) they processed their fearless leader's back pay. If we could read Mr. Vatuloka's mind he wouldn't even have to make his report public.

Perhaps we would know whose words are being spoken by whom. Our fearless leaders would not have needed a Charter process or even response form as they would be able to know exactly what people thought of the Charter.

FICAC could save time by frog-marching all those under investigation and charge them for thinking in a corrupt manner.

There is a famous saying that “the mind is a terrible thing to waste”. It is usually used in reference to those who drop out of school, abuse various substances (although not many dare apply it to those minds wasted by excessive kava-drinking) or turn to a life of crime. However, many of us who consider ourselves educated, intelligent or wise waste our thoughts. Einstein, I believe, once said, “Small minds discuss people. Medium minds discuss events. Great minds discuss ideas.” If this is the case then perhaps the greatest waste is those great minds that discuss ideas which only serve the interests of a few.

But we are also a nation of great non-thinkers, of people who like to speak before thinking. The lesson of “engaging the brain before opening the mouth” has been lost on many who, to use a non-military term, prefer to “shoot from the hip” or perhaps “fire from the lips”.

Just as physically we may be what we eat, so psychologically we may just be what we think. If we continue to think of ourselves as oppressed and powerless, should we be surprised when leaders act like tyrants and despots?

We may like to think that while we may be able to control our actions and our speech, we cannot control our thoughts. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Nineteen-year-old Liu Shih-Kun was an esteemed concert pianist in China until the Cultural Revolution banned all things of Western influence. Refusing to renounce his beloved music, Liu was deemed an enemy of the people, beaten and imprisoned. There he languished in a tiny cell with no books, no paper, and even worse - no piano.

Six years later, for propaganda reasons, he was asked to play in Beijing with the Philadelphia Orchestra. After years without an instrument to practise on, he performed brilliantly. And 18 months later when he was finally released, he again played flawlessly. That Liu survived is remarkable; that his hands continued to move as if they'd never stopped playing is amazing.

His secret? Stripped of everything musical, for seven and a half years Liu disciplined himself to shut out negative thoughts and practise hour after hour on an imaginary piano.

In a country that craves, peace, reconciliation and a united positive future, how many of us practice thinking positively, practice peace and imagine a reconciled and united nation to the extent that we can manifest it in reality when the opportunity comes?

A well respected counsellor says: "We don't realise the extent to which our own thinking contributes to our mental anguish. The earlier you stop 'thought attacks' the easier it is to regroup and get back on track.

Now, while the concept is simple, it's not easy to implement. Once you start paying attention you'll probably discover you have a lot more 'thought attacks' than you can possibly imagine." Police shout "Freeze!" when they want to stop a suspect and protect themselves. And you can freeze out harmful thinking by capturing every thought and making it "obedient to Christ" (2 Cor 10:5 NIV). Paul says: "This is not a wrestling match against a human opponent. We are wrestling with... spiritual forces" (Eph 6:12 GWT).

Your thoughts have power. To win over them, you must submit to Christ and control what you allow your mind to dwell on.

Think about it.

May the rest of your week be blessed with light, love, peace and positive thoughts.