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February 17 2014

Will Fiji Become Australia's New Best Friend?

A visit by Foreign Minister Julie Bishop to Fiji has caused much speculation about the future of Australian's relations with that Pacific islands nation. On 15 February 2014, she met with Prime Minister Commodore Frank Bainimarama who has been in charge of the military-backed government since a coup in late 2006.

Many have been left wondering what secrets their pleasant exchange might be hiding:

PM Bainimarama meets Australian Foreign Minister, Julie Bishop

PM Bainimarama meets Australian Foreign Minister, Julie Bishop
Fiji Ministry of Information's Facebook Photos

Her visit received a mixed reception on twitter. Ron Cato seems content with developments:

Martin John Carter definitely favours the change:

But others are antagonistic:

Greg Ross suspects a connection with Australia’s asylum seekers policies:

Keith Jackson who blogs at PNG Attitude has his own ideas about Australia’s motives:

Keith also retweeted this addition to the asylum seeker theorizing:

At Pacific Scoop, Scott MacWilliam wonders about how easily old foes might be reconciled if there are democratic elections in Fiji:

Despite all their previous rhetoric about the need for Fiji to return to democracy, would Australia (and New Zealand) accept an electoral victory by their erstwhile enemy, no matter how this is achieved?

In the event of Commodore Bainimarama making a successful transition to elected prime minister, could he make a trip to Australia, and be photographed alongside Prime Minister Tony Abbott, Bishop and Immigration Minister Scott Morrison? Would the picture be attached to an account of how Fiji has now agreed to establish a detention centre, paid for by Australia with employment for surplus to requirements Fiji military personnel?

The Fiji Labour Party opposition has election concerns as well:

As might be expected from the name, Fijileaks is very unimpressed by the thaw in relations:

At their link, they have some advice based on the foreign minister’s reported remarks:

The Gullible Her Holiness “Bishop”: “At the meeting, Commodore Bainimarama discussed the election process, and indicated he was prepared for whatever role resulted, even if he were to lose the prime ministership”.
Fijileaks Editor to Bishop: “Oh, Yeah, Dream On!”

Fijian lawyer Richard Naidu has a dream of his own:

January 21 2014

Pacific Climate Warriors: “We Are Not Drowning, We Are Fighting”


“We must draw on our heritage and ancestral strength to defend our homes.” Photo by Navneet Narayan for 350.org

This post was written by Fenton Lutunatabua for 350.org Pacific and is published on Global Voices as part of a content sharing agreement.

For many years, the story told about Pacific Islanders is one that portrayed them as mere victims, a far away people who cannot do anything about the causes or realities of climate change. The media has portrayed Pacific Islanders as helpless victims ready to drown with their islands or become refugees.

So in a move to change this narrative and harness more support from people around the region, a new campaign has been launched by 350.org in the Pacific vowing to make 2014 the year that people of the Pacific Islands stand up for themselves in the face of threats to their land and ocean from climate change.

The #StandUpForThePacific Campaign will seek to call upon people throughout the region to pledge their commitment to be active in 2014 in standing up for the Pacific Islands in the face of the regions biggest threat: climate change.

The campaign will allow Pacific Islanders to be positioned within a unified narrative of cultural revival and strength, as Warriors of the Pacific, prepared to rise up to protect their land, ocean and identity.

Already more than 600 people have taken a pledge, to make 2014 the year that the Pacific Islands stand up for ourselves in the face of climate change, and in the face of the fossil fuel industry. Together we will change the narrative from that of “they are drowning victims” to they’re powerful, peaceful warriors, drawing on our cultural strength to confront the fossil fuel industry that threatens our very existence.

As we get further into 2014, we’ll be turning the pledges into action, pressuring multinational corporations that operate in the Pacific Islands to divest from the fossil fuel industry. Let’s just say, if they don’t they will be confronted by peaceful, warrior action.

Below a series of photographs depict the warriors from various islands calling upon the people of the land and the sea to become Warriors of the Pacific, regardless of their profession, gender, age, location or creed…

Pacific islanders rising

“We are ready to draw on our traditions and cultures and ignite our warrior spirit to defend our island homes.” Photo by Navneet Narayan for 350.org

Pacific islanders rising

“We will draw on our cultural truths and use that in this fight against the fossil fuel industry” Photo by Navneet Narayan for 350.org

Pacific islanders rising

“We are prepared to work with our Pacific Islander brothers and sisters to take out fight to the big polluters” Photo by Navneet Narayan for 350.org

Pacific islanders rising

“As Pacific Islanders we are ready to take our message to the fossil fuel industry” Photo by Navneet Narayan for 350.org

Pacific islanders rising

“We know we are the least contributors to climate change and yet we are the most affected, we also know what needs to be done and how to get to that end goal of creating a future we all deserve” Photo by Navneet Narayan for 350.org

October 29 2013

TribeWanted: Sustainable Eco-Tourism Communities

A new model of self-sustainable eco-tourism is enjoying great success thanks to online supporters from around the world. From Sierra Leone to the heart of Italy, these are locally managed communities that welcome motivated visitors to take part in both the fun and the work at incredibly beautiful sites.

Tribewanted @ Monestevole, Italy

Welcome @ Monestevole

It all began in 2006 with an online community or “tribe” called TribeWanted started by social entrepreneurs Ben Keene and Filippo Bozotti. Their mission was to build a sustainable tourism community on the Fijian island, Vorovoro, in partnership with villagers.

The campaign caught fire and within a few weeks 1000 people from 21 countries had supported the project with an average of $250 each. Over the next four years, a rotating group of 15 tribe-members, built the cross-cultural island community together with the landowners and 25 Fijian employees.

This success story soon led to the creation of new eco-villages in John Obey Beach, Sierra Leone in 2010 (check their beautiful videos here) and Monestevole, Italy in 2013.

These communities are funded by worldwide members, starting at £10 ($12) per tribe member per month. Members can then vote on new locations and money surplus distribution, visit Tribewanted.com sustainability experts and content, top up their credit and stay at any location for less.

Dinner at TribeWanted in Monestevole, Italy (photo by Ariel Parrella, CC BY)

Dinner at TribeWanted in Monestevole, Italy (photo by Ariel Parrella, CC BY)

In the ‘Green Heart’ of Italy

Over a few, rainy days in early October I traveled with my daughter and a group of 15 other people (mostly Germans) to the new “eco-tribe” in Italy to experience this communal living experiment.

We helped with farming activities and hearty meal preparation, played music together and spent time wandering and marveling over the beautiful scenery.

It's a collaborative, social experiment based on a simple truth: another world is possible, here and now. When you build a sustainable business model around conviviality and sharing, people can actually put into practice a new lifestyle around this belief.

Here is a video introducing the TribeWanted Monestevole community, near Umbertide (Umbria, Italy). To learn more check their Facebook page.

“Where We Feel at Home”

Co-founder Ben Keene explains in his personal blog earlier this year how the overall structure of the community influences the experience of visitors:

Each project has had its successes and challenges. But what has connected them all is a sense that, together with our local partners and supportive members we’ve created places where we all feel at home. Like a part of us has always belonged there – even though the language, diet and culture may seem very different to the place we might normally call home. And because we feel ‘at home’ we’re open to engage with different ideas, foods, experiences, and people as well as rejuvenate and play. With the leadership of our local teams and communities we’ve been able to reinforce the importance of protecting cultural heritage as well as the natural environment and resources.

To underline their commitment to improving local quality of life in “tribe” locations, 30% of all membership fees go towards community projects for health, education, conservation, enterprise and clean energy. Members and visitors are also encourage to engage in these issues during their stay and when they return home.

The next step is to expand TribeWanted with 10 new locations, through partnerships with other eco-tourism projects and by scaling the innovative membership model.

A crowdfunding campaign for equity in Tribewanted Ltd is currently underway on a new platform, Crowdcube, and there is already planning underway for new communities in Mozambique, Laos, Nicaragua, the United Kingdom and Bali.

If successful, this crowd funding effort will help push forward a broader approach to eco-tourism and toward a more participatory culture across the globe, as Filippo Borzotti says in an update on the crowd-funding campaign:

We also think this goes beyond tourism, we are investing in a lifestyle. We like to think we are ahead of the curve: living sustainably and promoting green energy and green architecture, local food, public water, minimizing waste and minimizing our carbon footprint; we want to be an example for how hopefully we will all live in the next 50 years.

April 02 2013

‘Tribewanted’ Creates, Connects Eco-Villages

Renewable energy, permaculture and green building, along with local traditions and eco-tourism: welcome to Tribewanted – an online community launched in 2006 based on the idea of “global citizenship” and harnessing the energy of social media to meaningfully connect and practice positive behavior change. Thanks to crowdfunding strategies, the project plans to build 10 eco-villages around the world: after Vorovoro (Fiji Islands) and John Obey (Sierra Leone), a new village just launched in Monestevole [it], in Umbria, the heart of Italy. Connect with Tribewanted people via web, Facebook or Vimeo.

December 18 2012

Fiji Hit by Strong Cyclone

A 170-185km storm-force winds hit Fiji causing power outages, flooding and structural damage in the island. Photo by Brendan O'Farrell, Copyright @Demotix (12/16/2012)

September 03 2012

2012 Paralympics: A Successful Start, Remarkable Stories

This post is part of our special coverage London 2012 Olympics.

[All links forward to French articles unless otherwise stated] 

From August 29 until September 12, 2012, 4,200 athletes from 166 countries will take part in the 14th edition of the Paralympic Games in London and compete in twenty disciplines .

Here is a video presenting the Paralympic Games by  paralympicSportTv [en]:

The organizers needed 15 days after the London 2012 Olympics to rearrange and make infrastructure accessible.

Charles El Meliani on JOL press writes that a record number of tickets were sold for these games:

Londres a fait des efforts colossaux en matière de billetterie, mettant sans cesse en avant les Jeux paralympiques dans tous ses points de vente. Avec un résultat impressionnant : au total, ce sont déjà près de 2,3 millions de tickets qui ont trouvé preneur. Sur 2,5 millions mis en vente. En bref, ces Jeux pourraient bien se dérouler à guichets fermés : exceptionnel.

London has put forward tremendous efforts in terms of ticketing and exposure, consistently showcasing the Paralympics in all of its vending outlets. The results are impressive: in total, almost 2.3 million tickets have already been sold out of the total 2.5 million initially planned. This games could very well be a sellout:  just amazing.
The Burkina Faso delegation during the opening ceremony of the Paralympic Games

The Burkina Faso delegation during the opening ceremony of the Paralympic Games. Screenshot of a video of the ceremony provided by paralympicSportTv

The competing athletes are not all born with disabilities. Jacqueline Mallet on the blog ‘Province de l'équateur' explains and illustrates some remarkable stories in the following post ‘“I was given up for dead”: the incredible destiny of disabled athletes‘:

Certains de ces sportifs ont grandi avec leur handicap, tandis que d’autres ont dû apprendre à le surmonter à la suite d’une guerre ou d’un accident. Frappés par le destin, ils ont trouvé dans le sport un moyen de se reconstruire.

Some of these athletes have grown with their disabilities, while others have had to learn to overcome it as a result of war wounds or accidents. Struck by fate, they found in sport a way to rebuild themselves.

Mallet also writes about the journey of several athletes: Martine Wright, a survivor of the London bombings; Derek Derenalagi, a soldier born in Fiji, given up for dead; Rim Ju Song, the first North Korean participant who, a few months ago, could not swim; and Hassiem Achmat, who survived a shark attack.

Another blog post entitled ‘A war mutilated Afghan en route to the London Games …‘ shares the story of Malek Mohammad, an Afghan athlete who lost both his legs in 2005 when he stepped on a land mine near his home in Kabul.

Afghan swimmer Malek Mohamed at home before the Paralympic Games.

Afghan swimmer Malek Mohamed at home before the Paralympic Games. Screenshot of a video of Malek Mohamed provided by AFP on Youtube

In the blog post ‘Once a war victim, now a paralympic hero‘ [en], Damon van der Linde in Freetown, Sierra Leone, tells us about  the story of Mohamed Kamara who was only four years old when he was captured by rebels during the civil war. They eventually cut off one of his arms during his captivity.

On the France Handicap Info website,  Stéphane Lagoutière writes:

L'autre grande star de ces jeux seront bien sur les déficients mentaux, avec un retour après 12 ans d'absence.

Of course, the other big events of these games will be the return of the mentally challenged to the paralympic Games, the athletes are back 12 years after they last took part in the games.

In France, only a regional television channel will broadcast all of the events.

On Twitter, user @ThePositive1 posted a picture of the Jamaican team.

This post is part of our special coverage London 2012 Olympics.

December 02 2010

Fiji: Fiji Water agrees to new tax and re-opens plant

By Michael Hartsell

Fiji Water may not leave Fiji after all.

Less than 24 hours after closing its bottling plant because of a new government tax it called “discriminatory,” Fiji Water decided to reopen for business in Western Viti Levu. In perhaps a conciliatory gesture, representatives of the US-based premium water company also met with Fiji’s Attorney General Aiyaz Sayed Khaiyum and leader Frank Bainimarama, who came to power in a 2006 coup.

The decision was hailed by Bainimarama, not least because Fiji Water’s 400 employees will keep their jobs but the additional tax revenue could add another $11.7 million US to government coffers. Fiji Water said it would comply with the country’s Water Resources Tax that charges $15 cents (8 US cents) per liter if it extracts more than 3.5 million liters per month. The company presently pays .18 US cents per liter of water it extracts. Fiji Water complained the tax was unfair because it set the 3.5 million liter threshold because no other bottler on the islands extracts that much. The bottlers falling under the threshold will continue to pay .11 cents (.06 US cents) per liter.

Display of the Fiji brand of water, photographed at a Manhattan deli, by Verne Equinox at Wikimedia Commons

About face? This reversal caps a very public fight between the country’s largest exporter and Fiji’s government, which began November 18 when the government deported Fiji Water's local representative for allegedly interfering in the country’s internal affairs. One week later, the government announced the new tax on water bottlers during its 2011 budget statement. A few days later, the company said it was shutting the doors to its bottling plant, canceling all contracts and halting several development projects.

Bainimarama then hit back with stinging criticism claiming the company makes millions in the US and other countries, but pays less than $530,000 US in corporate taxes per year. He also claimed Fiji Water under-prices its exports from Fiji by selling the water to a sister-company based in the US.

The company did not respond, but has long stated it is a good corporate neighbor, contributing $70 US million in export revenue to Fiji and provides the country with millions of dollars in development and education projects, along with supporting an estimated 4,000 people.

On to leases
Now Fiji Water’s tax status has been cleared up, Bainimarama said the government will begin reviewing lease payments of multinational companies making large profits using Fiji land. He used Fiji Water as an example, claiming the company pays $11,000 (about $5,500 US) to lease the land for its bottling plant, up from $5,000 in 1995. The country is home to a number of international resorts, all of whom make deals with local landowners for renting the land their buildings sit on. In most cases, non-indigenous Fijians cannot own land, unless in designated areas, which make up less than 10 percent of the country’s territory.

This revenue will come in handy in an economy the International Monetary Fund recently said contracted three percent in 2009 and will move up to zero-percent growth this year with one-percent growth estimated for 2011. On top of that, Fiji must repay $300 US loan to the IMF in September 2011.

Square-bottle blues
In the blogs, there was not much sympathy for the US-based bottled water company.

Anonymous posted a comment in Coup 4.5

Of course Fiji Water would reopen, they are raking in millions. It really is money for nothing for them. These people are billionaires…They WILL NOT close their money making machin. John Cochran talks about caring for the people of Fiji and it's economy..all they are caring about is filling their own pockets.
So is Frank..hopefully the 15% tax will go towards the econmy and its people as opposed to lining Frank and his cronies pockets.

Duna, commenting in Fiji Today, wrote:

Understating value minimises tax liability here and import taxes elsewhere.
Fiji Water benefits.
A carton of Fiji Water is invoiced at 25 to 40 dollars US.
The windfall profits are made there while Fiji gets peanuts.
Fiji does not have clearly defined laws on transfer pricing hence the “resource” tax.
I see this being remedied shortly.

Water under the bridge? Forget it, commented in Fiji: The Way It Was, Is and Can Be:

What the hell is going on with Fiji Water? One can only conclude that the backlash it's faced in the past 24 hours has forced it into this humiliating backdown.

US sites like Mother [Jones] have seen a wave of damaging comments from American consumers about Fiji Water's efforts to avoid tax by basing its operations in European tax havens and the Cayman Islands. Does this have anything to do with this extraordinary about face?…

Fiji Water needs to apologise to them and the nation in the traditional Fijian manner for their appalling breach of etiquette. I want to see them grovel or leave the country for good after this disgusting episode. It will certainly take them a long time to rebuild the trust of ordinary people, let alone an angry regime.

Fiji Water might be a good product but its owners are utter bastards for taking a whole nation to the brink to avoid having to pay us for a fair share of a national resource. Shame, shame, shame.

Kiwi Water?
Talk in Fiji has shifted to ways Fiji Water could get around paying the taxes. One rumor is Stewart and Lynda Resnick, the millionaire American couple who own Fiji Water, purchased in 2008 Spring Fresh brand of bottled water, based outside of Christchurch, New Zealand.
The purchase of the company in 2008, months after the Fiji’s government first proposed a levy on water bottlers, has not gone unnoticed by some bloggers and forum posters.

real jack, postulating in Fiji Board Exiles:

what we achieved is a phyrric victory…

to pay that tax they need to produce 3.5 million litres per month.

so what this effectively means is that to AVOID paying that tax - which they have clearly stated they cannot afford, they will NOT produce 3.5 million litres per month

what that means is that out water production COMES DOWN and our water exports COMES DOWN.

these guys exported $130 million worth of water last year - they do close to 60 million litres of water which is about 5 million litres a month.

which means that they will have to come down to 40 million litres of water a year to get under that 3.5 million litres per month.

thats a drop of 20 million litres. possibly more.

that 20 million litres will have to come from somewhere - because they will need to meet their distribution agreements - and that somewhere is their acquifer in New Zealand.

what this means put very simply is (a) we have a drop in our water exports - meaning less money coming to Fiji; and (b) the Govt doesn't get its hands on that 22 million in taxes it was planning to get out of that tax.

there is no win win.

Fiji Water wins.

Photo used in this post is by Verne Equinox at Wikimedia Commons

November 30 2010

Fiji Water closes the tap and leaves Fiji

By Michael Hartsell

Fiji Water has left Fiji – at least for now.

In a brief, but pointed quarrel with Fiji's government, the US-based premium water distributor that makes up 20 percent of Fiji’s exports has decided to cease operations here and cancel outstanding development projects. On Monday, November 29, the company laid-off nearly 400 people at its bottling plant in the mostly rural Ra Province in Western Viti Levu, Fiji’s largest island. A reporter for the Fiji Times estimates the closure could affect 4,000 people.

Photo from Flickr by swanksalot

The public skirmish started on November 18 with the deportation of Fiji Water's local representative, whom the government later claimed interfered in the country’s internal affairs. Then on November 26, Fiji’s government released its 2011 budget, announcing a new Water Resources Tax, which increases the .11 cent per liter levy to 15 cents per liter for any company extracting more than 3.5 million liters per month. The company called the tax “discriminatory” and “untenable” because it singles out Fiji Water. Per the new code, those companies not hitting 3.5 million liter montly quota will continue paying .11 cents per liter. Presently Fiji Water presently pays 1/3 of a cent per liter, according to news reports.

This is not the first time the two parties disagreed over taxes. The company, founded in 1996, was given 12 years of tax free status. When that ended in 2008, Fiji's government tried to levy a 15 cent per liter tax on all water bottlers. Fiji Water, along with local bottlers, fought against the tax and the company temporarily shut down its bottling plant. The government eventually backed off the plan.

If Fiji Water does in fact shut down its operations, it will be the second international corporation to leave FIji in 2010. In June, the government decreed that 90 percent of media outlets must be held in local hands, forcing Rupert Murdoch's News Corp. to disinvest from the country's largest and oldest newspaper, the Fiji Times.

Monday's news became a battle of statements to the press. John Cochran, President and COO of FIJI Water began:

We consider the Government's current action as a taking of our business, and one that sends a clear and unmistakable message to businesses operating in Fiji or looking to invest there: the country is increasingly unstable, and is becoming a very risky place in which to invest.

He did, however, hold out support for finding a solution with the government.

In a statement, Fiji’s Frank Bainimarama countered:

The Prime Minister said that “as usual Fiji Water has adopted tactics that demonstrate that Fiji Water does not care about Fiji or Fijians. They have made statements about supposed instability in Fiji and know it is not true, yet do so because they simply do not want to pay the new taxes.”

…The Prime Minister said that if Fiji Water is no longer interested in Fiji then the Fijian Government, following cancellation of the leases, “will call for international tenders from credible and reputable private sector companies to extract this valuable resource.”

Crosbie Walsh, writing in Fiji: The Way it is, Was and Can Be worries about the path the two parties are taking:

The news that Fiji Water will withdrawn from Fiji is more than a disappointment. It is a major blow to the workers in Ra province and the Fiji economy.

I am encouraged by their comment that they are “willing to work through the Water Resource Tax issue with the government as it would be their preference to keep operating in the country” but find their comment on Fiji being “an increasingly unstable country” extraordinary.

At this stage it would appear the company and the Government are both calling each other's bluff. Not always a wise move when so much is at stake for both parties.

In a comment to the above post, Wai ni mate said:

It's amazing, Croz, how many people here are siding with the capitalist running dogs of Fiji Water when they use their power to trash the country's reputation and deprive us of a fair share of a natural resource that arguably belongs to all. What's wrong with you guys? Wake up! Never mind the odd community project in Ra. Does anyone ask how much tax these guys are paying on their international sales beyond the country's shores? Where are those profits going? Luxembourg? The Cayman Islands? You can bet your bottom dollar the [ Fiji Water owners Stewart and Lynda]Resnick's have sophisticated tax minimisation schemes to sequester their global profits from the US tax authorities as well. These guys have tried to call Frank's bluff but they're about to get a rude shock. He isn't going to cave in, especially to bullies who insult his country and damage its economy. The Resnicks seem to think they can sell water from their operation in New Zealand under the Fiji Water brand. Go for it. They evidently don't just regard Fijians as stupid but every other bastard in the world with a bottled water fetish. Time to show these LA thugs the door.

From the blog Discombobulated Bubu:

With a regime that likes nothing better than to bully the populace and kindly investors that really do care about providing jobs and community support to the Fijian people, we will also say goodbye to the amazing image of Fiji that the brand that was Fiji Water provided gratis to the world. Not to mention the tax that this company paid that used to help our economy.

Anonymous commented in the blot Coup 4.5:

Thats exactly the right kind of response to an ill thought, money grabbing policy made by the idiots in the military regime. That's what happens when you bankrupt the country and try and steal from private enterprises through unfair taxes. What a nice message this sends to potential investors in Fiji….come and invest so we can tax the hell out of your profits. Good on John Cochran for making a stand although rather belatedly….I guess you only take action when they come for you!

Another comment from the blog had an idea for the future of Fiji Water.

Finance it for people of Ra to own the resource, the business and all the money

Photo from the Flickr page of Seth Anderson used under CC License

November 26 2010

Fiji: Government explains deportation of Fiji Water boss

By Michael Hartsell

David Roth, Fiji Water’s local representative, was kicked out of Fiji because he was interfering with the country’s internal affairs, says military leader Frank Bainimarama.

Bainimarama, speaking over the weekend during a trip to China, said Roth was acting in contradiction to his work visa. He did not elaborate on details, but Fiji’s leader said the representative to the US-based premium water firm was “had been acting in a manner prejudicial to good governance and public order by interfering in the domestic affairs and governance of Fiji.”

Photo from Flickr by dlisbona

Since Roth left the country November 18, Fiji’s government has tried to paint the squabble as an issue between an individual and the state. Permanent Secretary for Information, Sharon Smith-Johns said the government was not targeting the multi-million dollar water company that bears the country’s name. She also reassured the business community of the islands’ favorable investment climate.

Taxing situation
Fiji Water began distributing to the United States in 1997 and can now be found in 40 countries. The company was bought for an estimated $50 million USD in 2004 by the US billionaires Stewart and Lynda Resnick. That year it won the US Secretary of State’s Award for Corporate Excellence for bringing sustainable jobs to Fiji. Fiji Water currently ships $150 million USD per year, employs 350 local workers and spends an estimated $1.3 million USD a year on development projects. “However, this is a lot less than the 30 per cent corporate tax it would normally pay,” Hamish McDonald wrote in the Sydney Morning Herald.

Fiji’s government originally provided the start-up company with tax free status until 2008. That year the Bainimarama government proposed 20 cent per litre tax over all water bottled in the country. Bottlers bristled at this and Fiji Water shut down its plant in the Yaqara valley for a few days during the dispute, which the government eventually backed down. With a $150 million bond payment coming due next year for Fiji’s government, McDonald speculates Bainimarama could be re-thinking the tax plan.

However, the action is not unanimous. Ratu Epeli Ganilau, Fiji’s minister of Defense and Immigration, resigned from the government, claiming differences stemming from the Roth affair. Rumors persist that he was ordered to sign Roth’s deportation papers and refused.

Paradise for business?
Crosbie Walsh, author of Fiji: The Way it Was, Is and Can Be, said the government did itself a great disservice in the Roth affair.

I have to agree with readers that whatever the cause, Government has made a serious mistake in deporting the Fiji Water CEO. If he was really interfering in Fiji's internal affairs in a major way, whether it was purely personal or whether it was a tax issue involving Fiji Water, is beside the point. The matter could have been dealt with much better, and at a better time.

It would seem Government is unable or unwilling to handle criticism or questioning of its position without over-reaction. The signal they have sent to investors and the international community is not very reassuring, especially with Fiji Water being an American company and America's recently inferred more conciliatory towards Fiji. Kid gloves are needed in diplomacy not mailed fists.

Walsh does concede that this situation could be similar to the recent standoff between Warner Brothers and the government of New Zealand over the US-based entertainment company's refusal to pay taxes (and follow labor laws) if it decided to make two films based on the Hobbit in the country. In the end, the government ceded to many of Warner Bros. demands to keep production in New Zealand.

In a comment, Proud Fijian partially agreed.

Only difference is Warner Bros has a choice to take the movie elsewhere. Fiji Water is Fiji Water.

We need investors in Fiji who are willing to contribute to the economy in paying taxes. What makes us think that this will stop investors coming to Fiji.

Actually by doing this we choose who we want as business partners to invest in Fiji- ethical companies with a win-win approach.

In Fiji Board Exiles, real jack argues Fiji’s government has hurt itself toward outside investors by making the fight personal.

yesterday [Permanent Secretary for Information] Sharon Jones made a release saying that they will explain to the business community that the situation with Roth is merely between the Govt and Roth. tsk tsk tsk - its probably the stupidest statement she has ever made - she doesn't seem to realise the implications and significance of that statement -

what she is basically saying is that the Govt can target individual persons and that once the govt targets individual persons like Roth there is no right of recourse to the law or the Court - which is exactly whats happened to Roth.

this is a terrible statement for a govt to make - because it means that Govt is in the business of persecuting people - that Roths removal was persecution.

In Fiji Today, sa rauta vinaka said Roth should have been fighting a different battle.

I mite share some sympathy for Roth’s expulsion if he had lobbied for a quick return to parliamentary representation and democracy for the people of Fiji INSTEAD of using his paid dumb stoogies (ganiluas & naulukaus) to keep all his freeby arrangements with the IG. As for the sponsorships they’ve done around the country, my neighbour tells me that is peanuts and loose change for them.

Photo form the Flickr page of dlisbona

November 20 2010

Fiji: What does government want from Fiji Water?

By Michael Hartsell

Bloggers and cyber talking heads are speculating whether Fiji’s military government sent the local head of Fiji Water back to the United States.

A government spokeswoman confirmed that the water company’s head of external affairs, David Roth, left on a plane to Los Angeles Thursday night (Fiji time), but would not elaborate on his departure. Fiji’s military leader, Frank Bainimarama, is in China until next week and the spokeswoman said he will address the situation when he returns.

Photo from the Flickr page of Magpie372

Two days before Roth left, Ratu Epeli Ganilau, Fiji’s minister of Defense and Immigration, resigned from the government, claiming differences stemming from the Roth affair. Rumors are flying that Ganilau, who is a personal friend of Roth and his family, refused to sign deportation orders for the Fiji Water executive.

Ganilau has told media outlets that he resigned willingly and that differences existed between him and the government regarding David Roth. But he would not elaborate further.

Fiji Water began bottling in 1996 in the Yaqara Valley in northern Viti Levu, Fiji’s largest and most populated island. One year later, it began exporting the water to the United States. Today, the company has a loyal – if not affluent – following and consumers can find Fiji Water in more than 40 countries. According to its own numbers, Fiji Water generates roughly 20 percent of Fiji’s export income and employs 350 people locally.

The Australian newspaper speculates Roth was may have been expelled by Fiji’s military government which wants to make the position local or perhaps even attempt to access the aquifer where Fiji Water draws its product.

So far, no proof of Roth’s alleged expulsion has surfaced. Nor has any news relating to further government action. TheMax, a commenter on the blog Coup 4.5, told everyone to take a deep breath.

What's the fuzz all about? It's not as if Fiji Water was told to shutdown.

The current leadership have its reasons for wanting Mr Roth removed from Fiji. It could be a matter of breach of work permit or a serious national security issue. We will just have to wait and see when the PM Mr Bainimarama returns from China and clears the air.

Maybe Rt Epeli Ganilau valued his friendship with the Roth's more than doing the right thing as Defence and National Security Minister for this country.

Mr Roth is just a worker at Fiji Water, the company owned by American billionaire couple Stewart and Lynda Resnicks. So for all of you folks jumping up and down, just relax and do your job.

If Roth was actually deported, writes Alohabula1 in Fiji Board Exiles, then the government may have made a major public relations blunder.

We all know Fiji Water did more for branding Fiji internationally than any product that Fiji has ever exported. As far as marketing goes that is a Herculean accomplishment. However it has a flip side which will read internationally as Fiji Water Head has been deported from Fiji for no legitimate reason. This does not conjure up the pretty label images of lovely waterfalls and coconut trees and tropical flowers. It conjures up images of instability, treachery, betrayal, extortion of a legitimate investor. If Fiji does not do something about changing this around quickly several things will happen in rapid fire.
1. Who will ever buy Fiji water again if it is illegally taken away from the investor?
2. What has been previously stated by other poster is it will scare off every investor for the next 20 years.
3. What is the image the world will have of Fiji.
4. Fiji water has done enough PR and community services in Fiji to at least come off favorably in the international view and this is their reward?
5. Doesn't the Fiji govt make tax money from Fiji water, this does not seem like a good time to cut their own income?

More than two years ago Fiji’s government tried to bring about a 20 cent per litre tax on Fiji Water, but the motion was defeated in cabinet after a lengthy fight. Rumors then persisted the water bottler threatened to cease production if the government went ahead with the tax.

Mera Fiji Mahan, aargued that the company maneuvered itself into a corner.

The truth is, they've run foul of the political maneuvering that won them their treasured ‘tax-free' (or pretty close) status.

They deplete our aquifers, sell themselves as a green company, litter our shores with plastic, buy off govt. officials… and now they find themselves unable to buy the govt.

October 27 2010

Video: One Minute Jr video nominees for 2010 Awards

By Juliana Rincón Parra

one minutes jr logo

The nominees for each of the 3 categories in the One Minutes Jr project competition 2010 have been selected. In each of the categories of  (Self)-portrait, Inside-Out and One Minute of Freedom there will be one winner who will be awarded a JVC Piscio HD Hand-Camera.  The nominees are all participants of the international, arts-based initiative of oneminutesjr, which organizes 5 day workshops for underprivileged or marginalized youth between 12 and 20 years old:

The oneminutesjr. holds 5-day workshops where the youth are taught basic camera and directing skills, story-telling, teamwork and how to think creatively about issues and representation.  Each participant develops his/her own story based on the workshop theme and produces a sixty-second video that is screened at the conclusion of the workshop.

A full listing of the nominees can be found on the UNICEF website. The videos can be viewed on the oneminutesjr site or some can also be found on their YouTube channel.

Following are some of the nominated videos, each one lasting no more than one minute in length. The winners will be selected by a jury and announced on November 10th.

Mama, about adoptions, was made by Wolf Artem from Ukraine, and is nominated for tha category of (Self)-portraits:

Also in the same category is Greetings from Kosovo by Suada Jahirovic on forced migrations:

In the Inside Out Category is Paper Wings by Nargiz Zeynalova from Azerbaijan,  showing the issue of females and education: since I couldn't find an embeddable video for this entry, please click through to view it on the oneminutesjr site.

Also in this category is Taim Nogut , a story on suicide by Louisah Enos from Papua New Guinea:

And in the One Minute of Freedom category; Focus by Ryan Forde in Guyana tackles the subject of education:

Last but not least, focusing on water conservation is On the Last Drop by Tolib Homitov from Tajikistan:

Don't forget to watch the videos made by the remaining award nominees who share their views of the world from places such as  Uganda, USA,  Barbados, Vietnam and Fiji.

September 03 2010

Fiji: How committed is government to 2014 elections?

By Michael Hartsell

A reader to the blog Fiji: The Way it Was, Is and Can Be, offers suggestions to increase the military government's commitment to elections in 2014 and thinks there is not a proper dialogue on the future of the country because media censorship remains in place.

Has Rupert Murdoch declared war on Fiji?

By Michael Hartsell

The four-year battle between the Fiji Times and Fiji's military government will soon come to a head as new media laws will force the sale of the 141-year-old paper that is owned by Rupert Murdoch's News Limited.

The Media Industry Development Decree, passed in late June, stipulates that 90 percent of ownership of Fiji's media companies must be made up of Fiji citizens. While Rupert Murdoch declared US citizenship in the mid-1980s to get around foreign media ownership rules in that country, there has been no talk of the Australian-born media mogul becoming a Fiji citizen.

Thursday, August 26 marked the deadline interested parties could make bids to purchase the Fiji Times. This comes at the height of a months-long war-of-words between various Australian publications — mostly owned by Murdoch's companies — and Fiji's government. “News Limited, which owns the Fiji Times, continues to wage a hostile media campaign against Fiji, this time directly targeting the nation’s tourism industry and economy,” Fiji's Permanent Secretary for information, Sharon Smith-Johns told Radio Australia's Pacific Beat program.

Smith-Johns specifically referred to an article by former Fiji Times Editor-in-Chief Rory Gibson writing in the Murdoch-owned Brisbane Courier-Mail, comparing Fiji's present government to a “military dictatorship little better than any apartheid regime operating in South Africa's dark ages.”

Smith-Johns wondered aloud if the Australian government was behind some of the bad publicity Fiji's government has received.

Questions have been asked here, is the Australian Government behind it? The Australian Government has turned around and said that it will not penalise Fiji, but obviously now News Limited certainly is. It's attacking our economy and it's attacking our tourists. It's a concerted campaign. It's not just one story, it's several stories that have been run in quite a few different papers.

Bloggers who cover Fiji (and their commentors) wonder whether Fiji's military government will weather the poor public relations storm by forcing the sale of such a well known newspaper.

A comment from FRE in the Fiji Today blog.

Imagine the adverse publicity that will occur if the dictatorship actually does force the Fiji Times to close. There would be headlines in all the newspapers in both Australia and New Zealand. The credibility of the dictatorship would be severely damaged.

Can the dictatorship actually afford that damage? Is the dictatorship so blind as to be unaware of the consequences?

The battle between government and media behemoth also spurs a debate on the often inflamed coverage of Fiji in the mainstream press around the Pacific. The Fiji Democracy Now Blog complains that Smith-John's words are also inflamatory.

But we cannot let the latest public pronouncement get away, which asks us to believe that, somehow, Rupert Murdoch’s vast media empire, News Ltd, has become a “tool” of the Australian Government. The mouthpiece states: “It begs the question that most in Fiji are asking. Is the Australian Government using News Limited as a tool to punish Fiji and cripple our economy?” Wow! Has anyone told Rupert that his multi-billion dollar company is actually the PR lackey of the Aussie government?

A commenter to the blog Fiji: The Way It Was, Is and Can Be defends Smith-Johns, but points out that objective reporting and Fiji's future is more important than the current tussle.

[Smith-Johns is] saying the articles are deeply biased and could impact negatively on tourism which employs many thousands of Fiji citizens.

One looks to the mainstream media for information, balance and objectivity but with almost all News Ltd articles (and indeed most other foreign media reports) on Fiji, this has generally not been the case. Rory's piece is hyperbole, not journalism as I know it.

This is not about whether you or I support or oppose the 2006; it's about trying to understand the situation and help it move forward for the benefit of all Fiji citizens.

September 02 2010

Does Fiji's media decree affect organization websites?

By Michael Hartsell

At the end of July, blogger Jonathan from Oceanic: User experiences from the South Pacific, discovered that bloggers and website administrators are effected by Fiji's new media laws compelling media outlets to register with the government.

Restoring Fiji's mangroves

By Michael Hartsell

The blog Fiji Shark Diving explains how the group created the project Mangroves for Fiji, which will offset their carbon footprint and help restore the country's disappearing mangroves, protecting land from soil erosion, serving as fish nurseries and creating a great carbon sink.

August 13 2010

Blogger questions Fiji spokesperson on lifting media regulations

By Michael Hartsell

Blogger Crosbie Walsh interviewed Fiji's Permanent Secretary for Information on why the government has not lifted the Public Emergency Regulations after the country passed new laws governing the media.

July 01 2010

Fiji: Will new media laws lead to better reporting?

By Michael Hartsell

Claiming it will introduce media transparency and responsible reporting, Fiji’s government enacted new media rules, establishing a code of conduct for journalists, strengthening local ownership stipulations and creating a set of fines and prison terms to be levied against reporters and media institutions for potentially breaking guidelines.

The wide-ranging decree covers everything from advertising to children to overseeing news content, largely adopted from the proposal released in April. Ostensibly, Fiji's government will forbid news and media organizations from broadcasting content against the public interest, the national interest or anything that creates communal discord in the Pacific nation divided roughly 60-40 between the majority indigenous Fijians and the largest minority group, ethnic Indians.

The decree creates a media development authority, which will register and oversee media operations through the ministry of information. The power to interpret and apply most media law will be left to a media tribunal, appointed by the country’s President, which will investigate complaints from the media authority and the general public. The tribunal will be able to force corrections in news stories, impose fines and propose prison terms to reporters, editors and media owners for breaching media codes.

The government left its proposed media ownership rules largely the same, stipulating all directors and 90 percent of “beneficial shareholders” of media organizations must be Fiji citizens who have spent three of the past seven years in the country, staying at least six months per calendar year. As pointed out by Fiji’s Attorney General Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum, the ruling directly affects the country’s oldest newspaper Fiji Times, which is owned by Rupert Murdoch’s News Limited. The company has 90 days to comply with the new rule, he said.

International reaction
Much like April’s draft, international observers largely decried the new law. The International Federation of Journalists says it merely codifies the strict Public Emergency Regulations that have been in place since the country’s president abrogated the constitution and appointed the Bainimarama government to a five-year term. In a letter to Fiji’s leader Frank Bainimarama, Reporters Without Borders said the new law “marks a dangerous step backwards for press freedom and media development in Fiji.” Blogger Crosbie Walsh understands problems could exist implementing the decree, “but it is not the draconian document its critics would have their readers believe.”

Cross ownership
“Section 39 sub-section 4 of the decree states that no person may act as a director in more than one media organisation and they have been given 12 months to comply with the cross ownership requirements in the Media Decree,” writes Coup 4.5.

However, the blog points out Fiji's leader Frank Bainimarama is responsible for the following posts:

Prime Minister and Minister for Public Service; People's Charter for Change; Minister for Information and Archives; Minister for Finance and National Planning and Sugar; Minister for Provincial Development, Indigenous and Multi-Ethnic Affairs. The dictator is also the Commander of the RFMF.

And, Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum's current portfolio reads like this:

Attorney-General, Minister for Justice, Electoral Reform, Public Enterprises and Anti-Corruption, Industry, Tourism, Trade and Communication.

Coup 4.5 continues:

In defending the media degree, the regime’s media propagandist [Minister of Information, Sharon Smith-Johns] pointed out similar legislations etc abroad. The difference is most legislations have come from governments who were given the democratic mandate to act and not through the barrel of the gun.

In any case, while Sharon-Smith Johns was busy defending the section on cross-media ownership in the decree, she herself was running around to other assignments, in her capacity as Acting Permanent Secretary for Information, National Archives and Library Services of Fiji.

What difference is there in her holding the various portfolios, which is closely related, and by those who equally have vested interests in cross-businesses?

One worry about the cross media ruling centers on Mai Life, a cultural magazine co-owned by Richard Broadbridge, who also runs the private television station MaiTv.
From the blog Babasiga:

MaiLife is a great magazine with informative stories, is on the move with today's Pacific world, is inclusive of stories about a variety of Fiji people. We do want it to survive the decree's subsection about cross media ownership…

And of course, the Fiji Times owners/staff will have to seriously comtemplate their future as well. I do not like monopolies and want diversity of views in the media, but this is an organization of long standing in Fiji and a reputable newspaper. Certainly it runs rings about Fiji Sun with its little stories of watermelons and so on. Of course there is a trade-off when overseas companies do business in Fiji, but the journalists are local and about two hundred people do have jobs! The Australian media (radio, TV, and print) have had a field day criticizing what has happened, or might happen in three months. A more balanced view is that local ownership shared with overseas investors is desirable but how to get the right balance is debatable.

The real fight?
Some commentators debate whether the new media rules will professionalize reporting. However, many see this media law as about a fight between the Bainimarama government and its nemesis the Fiji Times. Some feel it is a brave institution fighting for freedom. However, in some quarters, few tears will be spilled for the paper's potential demise in its current state.

In a comment on the blog Fiji: The Way It Is, Was, and Can Be, Joe said:

Now it hurts, doesnt it? The writing was on the wall for a long long time. All that was asked of the media was for a fair and balanced reporting. They (one in particular) chose to ignore it, now pay the price, or on the contrary, the employees will pay the ultimate price. Nobody messess with a military. They dont say “this” and do “that”….

June 15 2010

Fiji: Tackling the land tenure issue

By Michael Hartsell

Because of its ties to ethnicity, culture and a growing import food bill, land tenure is one of Fiji’s most pressing problems. The country’s military-backed government will soon attempt to reform the country’s land tenure system, which has largely remained untouched since the mid-1970s, shortly after independence from Great Britain.

By law and through very complicated traditional arrangements, indigenous Fijians own roughly 87 percent of the land on Fiji’s 300 islands. The government owns six percent and the remaining portions can be bought and sold by people of any ethnicity. This has left the Indo-Fijians, who make up around 40 percent of the population and are descendants of the country’s indentured servants brought over by the British to work in sugar and copra plantations, largely landless.

Fiji’s post-independence government thought it had brought stability to the land tenure issue in 1976 when it created a system for 30-year leases and a secure rental structure. However, Fijian landowners long complained their rents were meager, especially when the government negotiated those rates. When the majority of leases came due between 1997 and 2001, landowners only renewed about one quarter of the contracts. Half of the land was rented to other tenants and the remaining 30 percent was never re-allocated.

This forced farmers of both ethnicities streaming into the cities looking for work. The lost leases also helped bring the downfall of Fiji’s sugar industry, which once amounted to 12 percent of the country’s GDP and employed nearly one-third of the population. Today, it has fallen to around three percent of GDP. At the same time, Fiji’s food import bill has increased dramatically. Fiji’s government has attempted to become more self sufficient by funding projectsto grow crops for domestic use.

Crosbie Walsh says the government needs to tread lightly and summon as many stakeholders as possible before passing any reform, especially if it is thinking about allowing international investment in land-based businesses.

“The need to make better commercial use of native land is irrefutable,” he writes in Fiji: The Way It Was, Is and Can Be:

But (and it is a big But) with these important provisos: The native landowners and their land must be protected from fiscal and environmental abuse; the grassroots (mataqali) owners must benefit substantially from the arrangements and be included in the land management; current farmers on leasehold land should have opportunities to participate, as must local investors.

And the foreign owners must be minority owners; their venture must bring obvious benefit to Fiji; they must employ and train local people as much as possible; their venture should have provisions for the sale of shares leading to ultimate local majority ownership — and they must pay taxes. A large bond to ensure these conditions are not breached is a must.

Even after acknowledging the urgent need for action on land and a number of other important issues, I think most proposed legislation benefits from prior wide public consultations. It will be interesting to see how the new rules “shape up.”

The blogger Corruption Fighter, writing in Fiji Democracy Now, says the government’s plan will most likely fail because leaders don’t understand the real problems tied to the land tenure issue and Fiji’s sugar industry.

What Frank [Bainimarama, Fiji’s self-imposed leader] doesn’t understand is that ALTA [1976 law setting 30-year leases and rents] rent setting arrangements provide little incentive for landowners. Unless rents are indexed regularly, they drop in real value….

Under ALTA, indexation is made according to a formula that requires the unimproved capital value of the land to be recalculated. It’s slow and has generous appeal provisions which have allowed many tenants to escape with very low rents, at least until the NLTB did its job and reviewed them.

In 2001 Padma Lal of the Australian National University and Mahendra Reddy of the USP estimated the average rent for a hectare of land was $66.63. This was a small component of the average cost of production cost which they estimated to be $2188 per hectare. Since then, production costs have risen steeply, especially the cost of fuel and fertiliser after the devaluation last year. But have rents increased to keep pace with the costs of everything else? No, because under ALTA this cannot happen.

What the sugar industry needs to survive is large farms, with farmers who can afford to use machinery and the optimal amount of fertiliser. Such farmers with higher productivity would be able to afford to pay significantly more in rent for the the land they use.

The blog Fiji Today posted rumors of some of the proposed changes the government would like to make. They title the piece:

We hope the land rumors are wrong as it would be a recipe for disaster.

June 13 2010

Fiji: Priorities questioned for boarding school

By Michael Hartsell

Just a week after Fiji's Ratu Kadavulevu School was closed by the health department because its kitchen wasn't up to code, the country's largest boarding school dedicated a new chapel at the cost of about US $500,000. Wendy, writing in the blog Babasiga, asked why the school kitchen wasn't fixed earlier in the year.

May 25 2010

Fiji backs down on suspending Parliamentary pensions

By Michael Hartsell

Fiji's government has overturned the practice of suspending pensions to former Parliamentary leaders who have been critical of the present regime. This announcement “is the sort of forward-looking conciliatory acts we need to see more of,” says blogger Crosbie Walsh. Coup Four And A Half says the government has “done a u-turn.”

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