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November 20 2013

COP19: Fasting For The Climate

Filipino lead negotiator Yeb Saño. Photo from Flickr user under a Creative Commons license (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

Filipino lead negotiator Yeb Saño. Photo from Flickr user under a Creative Commons license (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

Yeb Saño, leader of the Philippines delegation at the United Nations Summit on Climate Change in Poland (COP19), has decided to stop eating until he sees real solutions from negotiators at the summit. He wants the process to bring “climate justice to the poorest countries,” and links Typhoon Haiyan, which has left more than 4,000 people dead and 4 million displaced, to climate change.

Saño started using the hashtag #FastingForTheClimate to expand his cause on the web:

Other climate negotiators, like Pablo Solón from Bolivia, used Twitter to support Saño:

Saño has also been quoting Mahatma Gandhi, relating his teachings to his personal fasting:

But the fast for the climate has gone beyond Twitter and reached the blogosphere. 

David Tong, a lawyer for international human rights from New Zealand and a fellow for the Adopt a Negotiator Project, blogged about his concerns regarding the way his government is reacting towards climate change issues. He also mentioned Saño in his text:

I’m ashamed of my government because they laughed when Russel Norman of the Green Party of Aotearoa New Zealand linked Typhoon Haiyan to climate change.  They laughed.  They mocked him.  They yelled “shame”.  Let me say that again: when Yeb Saño was quoted in the New Zealand Parliament, people laughed. The worst typhoon ever recorded hit last weekend.  It killed over 10,000 people. 478,000 people have been displaced. Real, human, people, with families and children and lives and loves.  Philippine lead negotiator Yeb Saño is one such real person, and he pledged to fast until a deal was done for all our futures. And my elected leaders laughed.  No one here in Warsaw is laughing.  In fact, 30 or more people are joining Yeb in his fast.

Carlie Labaria, a development specialist from the Philippines, is also blogging for Adopt a Negotiator Project. One of her last posts describes the current situation in her home town, comparing it with her disappointment about the current resolutions from the climate talks happening in Poland:

I think about my Mom and Dad and little sister, my hometown, the people of Visayas especially Tacloban and Panay. How much more suffering do the leaders of the world need to behold before they finally realize that addressing Loss and Damage is about survival, dignity, and justice?

During the summit, hundreds of politicians discuss ways – and ideally reach agreements – on how their countries can act to prevent climate change from causing more extreme weather events. But every country has its own interests, so reaching an agreement is a slow process that takes more time than is always expected.

There are two days left before climate talks are over in Poland, and Saño is still fasting. He also started an online campaign to pressure governments to take real action at the summit.

Saño wants “a new mechanism under the UN Convention on Climate Change that allows poorer nations to reduce losses related to climate change”. At the UN process, developed countries are assumed to be largely responsible for the effects of climate change due to the large amounts of carbon that they emit year after year.

The results of these talks will be key for the success of ongoing negotiations in the next summit, which will take place in Lima, Peru, in 2014.


Reposted bycheg00 cheg00

July 18 2013

TERRA 815: WildFIRE PIRE: The Core of the Problem

WildFIRE PIRE is a National Science Foundation five-year project that is an international partnership coordinated by the Montana Institute on Ecosystems and Montana State University that focuses on the causes and consequences of fire in the past, present, and future. Scientists from research universities and agencies in the United States, Tasmania, and New Zealand have combined efforts to compare how past fire occurrences have influenced climate change and what these patterns can tell us about the future. With the primary areas of study in the Yellowstone Ecosystem, Australia’s Tasmanian conservation areas, New Zealand’s forests, and Patagonia’s wild places, the project is exploring how wildfires, which are often devastating, are related to climate change. What is the fire history of New Zealand's unique landscape? Fire scientists from around the globe converge on New Zealand's many lakes extracting sediment cores that tell the story of New Zealand before and after the arrival of Maori and European settlers.
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Reposted bySchrammelhammelMrCoffeinmybetterworldkonikonikonikonikoniambassadorofdumbgroeschtlNaitliszpikkumyygittimmoe

May 10 2013

TERRA 810: WildFIRE PIRE: A Ring of Fire

WildFIRE PIRE is a National Science Foundation five-year project that is an international partnership coordinated by the Montana Institute on Ecosystems and Montana State University that focuses on the causes and consequences of fire in the past, present, and future. Scientists from research universities and agencies in the United States, Tasmania, and New Zealand have combined efforts to compare how past fire occurrences have influenced climate change and what these patterns can tell us about the future. With the primary areas of study in the Yellowstone Ecosystem, Australia’s Tasmanian conservation areas, New Zealand’s forests, and Patagonia’s wild places, the project is exploring how wildfires, which are often devastating, are related to climate change. Produced by: WildFIRE PIRE

February 01 2013

TERRA 803: WildFIRE PIRE: A World On Fire

WildFIRE PIRE is a National Science Foundation five-year project that is an international partnership coordinated by the Montana Institute on Ecosystems and Montana State University that focuses on the causes and consequences of fire in the past, present, and future. Scientists from research universities and agencies in the United States, Tasmania, and New Zealand have combined efforts to compare how past fire occurrences have influenced climate change and what these patterns can tell us about the future. With the primary areas of study in the Yellowstone Ecosystem, Australia’s Tasmanian conservation areas, New Zealand’s forests, and Patagonia’s wild places, the project is exploring how wildfires, which are often devastating, are related to climate change.

June 18 2012

Rock of ages: Australia's oldest artwork found

Archaeologist discovers Aboriginal rock art made 28,000 years ago in Northern Territory cave

An archaeologist says he has found the oldest piece of rock art in Australia and one of the oldest in the world: an Aboriginal work created 28,000 years ago in an outback cave.

The dating of one of the thousands of images in the Northern Territory rock shelter, known as Nawarla Gabarnmang, will be published in the next edition of the Journal of Archaeological Science.

The archaeologist Bryce Barker, from the University of Southern Queensland, said he found the rock in June last year but had only recently had it dated at the radiocarbon laboratory of New Zealand's University of Waikato.

He said the rock art had been made using charcoal, so radiocarbon dating could be used to determine its age; most rock art is made with mineral paint, so its age cannot accurately be measured.

Barker said the work was "the oldest unequivocally dated rock art in Australia" and among the oldest in the world.

The oldest known rock art is in Spain, where hand stencils and red discs made by blowing paint on to the wall in El Castillo cave are at least 40,800 years old, according to scientists using a technique known as uranium-thorium dating.

Sally May, an archeologist from the Australian National University who is not involved with Barker's research, said his find was "incredibly significant".

"I don't think it will surprise anyone that rock art is that old in Australia because we know people have been here a lot longer than that, and there's no reason to believe they weren't producing art," she said.

Barker said he had found evidence that the cave where he found the rock art had been occupied for 45,000 years. © 2012 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

April 26 2012

In praise of … Nina Katchadourian | Editorial

'What is art?' asks one of her constructed sentences in the Sorted images of book spines. 'Close observation,' is the reply

Faced with a long flight, many people take a Valium and doze. Nina Katchadourian, flying from her native California to take up a residency at Dunedin university in New Zealand, retired to the lavatory equipped only with her phone camera and objects found on the plane, along with a black scarf, which she draped on the wall opposite the mirror. Then she created a series of Flemish portraits. "What is art?" asks one of her constructed sentences in the Sorted images of book spines. "Close observation," is the reply. She is funny, provocative, and often unsettling. A vitrine containing a stuffed pet dog resting on a plump cushion was rejected by San Diego's museum of natural history. An outdoor installation involved playing recordings of UN interpreters mimicking bird calls through speakers hidden in trees, while another, Mended Spiderwebs, is a series of images of webs painstakingly repaired with red thread. It's a whole new way of seeing. © 2012 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

January 09 2012

COP17: Young Trackers Share Final Thoughts on Climate Change Talks

Adopt a Negotiator Project trackers updated their blogs daily during the two weeks of climate change talks at the United Nations Conference on Climate Change, COP17, held from November 28 to December 9, 2011, in South Africa. Trackers followed negotiations from their regional perspectives, writing in languages like Portuguese, Spanish, Chinese, French, Polish and English.

One of the major results of the conference was the second commitment of the Kyoto Protocol, the only legally binding international treaty to reduce green house emissions. However, the commitment was weak, as major polluters like Canada, US, Japan, Russia, Australia and New Zealand refused to sign into this second period.

Climate activists and organizations of civil society were disappointed about the outcomes of the conference, especially because countries agreed to a new legal instrument that will replace the Kyoto Protocol by 2020, when urgent action is needed.

Here are were some of the most relevant conclusions written by the trackers:

South Africa tracker Alex Lenferna reports on the final events in the post “An Interim Disappointment at COP 17″:

I should be on a bus home now; instead I’m sitting in the ICC waiting for the proverbial white smoke to emerge as ministers try to bring COP17 to a close. Last night was supposed to be the closing night for COP 17, but there has been much disagreement among the global community around some very problematic texts that are being discussed around long-term cooperative action and the Kyoto Protocol…

Farrukh Zaman, following Pakistan, writes in “Decisions at COP17: Delayed or Derailed?”:

So while the delay has happened at COP17, let’s hope the negotiations don’t get derailed by postponing them till next year. But just one thing of caution, even though time has and is running out, we don’t need haste decisions; rather we want fair, ambitious and balanced package out of Durban. If that can’t happen here, then COP bis can be our last resort.

France tracker Sébastien Duyck in “Endless conference towards an agreement on never ending negotiations” concludes:

Regarding negotiations for a comprehensive agreement that would include legally binding targets for emissions reduction, the Presidency proposes yet another extension of the discussions. This approach convinces few among the observers still in the conference venue. It appears that we keep relaying on the same solutions (creating a new ad-hoc working group…), despite the fact that they have already been tested repeatedly in the past and have not delivered any successful outcome since the adoption of the Kyoto Protocol in 1997.

Daily Trackers meeting - COP17, Durban. Photo by Andrea Arzaba

In “Do białego rana. Noc kobiet” (”Until dawn. Women's Night”), Milosz Hordun, Poland's tracker, says:

Ta noc należy do kobiet. Po pierwsze jest Maite Nkoana-Mashabane, przewodnicząca obradom. Zdecydowanie zmęczona ostatnimi dwoma tygodniami. Stara się skutecznie prowadzić strony do celu, udowadniając że afrykański COP może być skuteczny i przełomowy. Często jednak się gubi w procedurach, musi prosić o wsparcie sekretariatu. Jest Conni Hedegaard, unijna komisarz. Także na jej twarzy maluje się zmęczenie. Widać, że trudno jest jej znosić ogromną presję psychiczną, związaną z rozbratem między oczekiwaniami wielu Europejczyków oraz środowisk ekologicznych na całym świecie a możliwościami negocjacyjnymi.

This night is a women's night. First of all, there is Maite Nkoana-Mashabane, who chairs the session. She is definitively tired from the last two weeks. She does her best to lead the two sides towards a common goal, proving that the African COP may be successful and become a turning point. However, she gets lost in the proceedings quite often; she has to ask the secretary for help. There is also Connie Hedegaard - European Commissioner [for Climate Action]. Though tiredness is written all over her face, too. You can see how difficult it is for her to handle this enormous pressure as there is a gap between what many Europeans and environmentalist through the globe hope for and negotiating possibilities.

Priti Rajagopalan, from India, summarized the conference's accomplishments in the post “COP17-This is what happened“:

5.18am, International Convention Center, Durban

The verdict is out. What was accomplished at Durban.

1) Something called the Durban railtrack or trackroad ..oh, wait…platform.
2) Empty second commitment period
3) Empty green climate fund
4) Sleepy people most of whom had left by the time the final verdict was given.
5) How manipulative, apparently transparent democratic , multilateral process works.
6) People are looking for CBDR and Bali. If someone finds it, please return it.
7) Unclear mitigation target.
8) Massive failure of a peaceful kind.

To read other final posts of trackers following the United States, Mexico, Australia, China, Canada and New Zealand, among many others,  visit Adopt a Negotiator Project webpage.

Andrea Arzaba participated in COP17 as a Young Tracker for Mexico [es].
Thanks to Krzysztof Pawliszak for translating Milosz Hordun's quote.

July 01 2011

New Zealand's island ruled by artists

A stone's throw from Auckland, the bohemian enclave of Waiheke Island has become a gallery-rich art destination. Our writer follows its sculpture trail

My first impressions of Waiheke Island are coloured by the sight of bare bottoms, all brightly painted in tinges of lime green, lemon yellow, electric blue and blushing pink. Sailing in from Auckland on the hourly Fullers ferry, we pass underneath a whole hillside of these cheeky sentinels, life-sized human figures standing stock-still and buck naked on the headland above Matiatia Bay. They were carved from wood and screen-printed to look three-dimensional by a sculptor named Christian Nicolson. His installation, titled Barebottomland and inspired by the Spike Milligan story Badjelly the Witch, was selected to open the biennial Sculpture on the Gulf festival which ran earlier this year.

There is talk of making it a permanent fixture, a way of saying "Welcome to Waiheke" that encapsulates the spirit of the place. Which is not to say the place is a nudist colony (though two of its 100 white sand beaches do operate a "clothing-optional" policy). It is merely to suggest that this island is ruled by artists and artisans.

The sculpture festival was founded by the Waiheke Community Art Gallery in 2002 as a showcase for the local creative element, who have turned the landscape into an open-air exhibition space. Following the coastal trail between the various featured artworks is like taking a nature walk through some parallel world where eight-foot totems of Super Mario – created by 13-year-old Timothy Sang – are built out of giant Lego blocks and planted on the clifftops.

A gigantic marine fossil seems to float over the harbour with an exoskeleton of electro-polished steel. Luminescent boats shaped like fallen leaves are anchored to the shore below. Some of these pieces were made by competing sculptors from Auckland – which is visible in silhouette as the sun goes down, just 18km across the Hauraki Gulf – or other parts of New Zealand. But this year's first prize goes to Denis O'Connor, who has lived on Waiheke for more than 40 years, and is sometimes given the credit for establishing it as a bohemian enclave.

"I came over with the dropout generation," says O'Connor, lying back on the grass beside his winning entry, a horsebox filled with chalk-like etchings and inscriptions – a metaphor for the mind of the artist that he has titled the Tangler's Cave. "At that time, a lot of us were getting pretty fed up with the city, and Waiheke was known as a haven for what you might call 'alternative lifestyles'. Aucklanders used to joke that they could see a constant cloud of pot smoke hanging over the island." The population has since grown to around 8,000, with another 3,400 arriving every summer to occupy their beach houses and holiday homes, the oldest of which are traditional New Zealand "baches" – simple huts with timber walls. And with O'Connor leading by example, the "dropouts" have become considerably more productive. Local art is now a viable industry, and hundreds of islanders make a living in it. The thoroughfare of Oneroa village is lined with shops and galleries full of their work. "For many years, Waiheke was a refuge," says Olivier Duhamel, who sculpts in bronze at a gallery called Bodyscape (+64 9 372 7220, "But recently it's been growing into an art destination. People are coming over specifically to buy here."

Around the corner at the Toi Gallery (+64 9 372 2962,, which showcases the work of Sally Smith, among others, I am told that an artist named Chris Bailey is so in demand that they can barely keep his pieces on display. Invited to visit Bailey's nearby workshop, I find him carving out a headstone for a recently deceased family member. "My heart is in the stone," he says. A hulking Aucklander of mixed Irish and Maori descent, with a punch-bag hanging next to his workbench, he first came to Waiheke to escape the gang culture of the city's west side. "I basically reinvented myself, away from all my peers," says Bailey. "This island lets you do that." Having subsequently learned the tool-making techniques of his Te Aupouri ancestors, he started carving native wood, granite, andesite and basalt, based on tribal designs for weapons, paddles or anchor stones. "I love how all that stuff was essential, but also beautiful." That stuff is now fashionable, for lack of a better word, and therefore marketable.

While we're talking, he receives a phone call to tell him that his entry for the sculpture festival has already been sold. "I've got goose bumps, mate," he says. "Every sale means I can pay a few bills, and order in some new stone."

Most islanders will tell you that Waiheke is becoming more affluent, and many have turned to making their own breads, olive oils, sheep-milk cheeses and other high-end comestibles, to capitalise on the recent influx of wealthy retirees from the mainland. According to Denis O'Connor, these newcomers "either loosen up, or get divorced".

My hosts seem to belong in the first category. Gene O'Neill and Liz Eglinton were living what they call "corporate lives" in Auckland until 10 years ago, when they quit their jobs and built a guesthouse on 16 acres of island hillside, facing west toward the city and the sunset.

Modelled on Waiheke's old-style bach accommodations, but a great deal more luxurious, their Te Whau Lodge makes a tasteful and respectful case for gentrification, with nothing but local produce in evidence – from the soaps to the seafood and the wine cellar. Sitting in the hot tub on their sun deck with a glass of syrah, I can't see any signs of imminent class war. "Not likely," says Liz. "There's a pretty healthy relationship between the islanders and the people bringing money in."

The view is even better from the fine-dining restaurant on the Mudbrick estate (+64 9 372 9050,, one of several boutique vineyards that began taking full advantage of Waiheke's warm and breezy micro-climate in the 1970s and have since covered swathes of the island in world-class bordeaux and chardonnay grapes. But for the first time during my stay, it begins to rain, and the low clouds pour down over Church Bay, obscuring Auckland in the distance. "Great," says my waitress, and she's not being sarcastic – residents depend on these showers to fill their water tanks. "That's how you tell a weekender from an islander," she says. "The tourists hate the rain, but we bloody love it." © Guardian News & Media Limited 2011 | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

February 25 2011

New Zealand: Video of Christchurch after the Earthquake

Written by Juliana Rincón Parra

Director Logan McMillan took out his camera and went to the streets of Christchurch to document the damages of the devastating earthquake that hit New Zealand on February 21st.

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

October 17 2010

Bangladesh: Celebrating Cricket Victory

By Rezwan

Faisal Caesar at All Round View describes how Bangladesh cricket team triumphed over New Zealand by beating them 4-0 in an ODI series.

September 08 2010

China: Afterthoughts following the New Zealand earthquake

By John Kennedy

Like 7-year-old Julie Murphy getting her lemonade stand shut down earlier this summer, news of the earthquake last week in New Zealand inspired countless discussions all across the Chinese Internet.

For Sina blogger and Christchurch resident Sun Jiayang, this was her first earthquake:


Reading Chinese reports, all seem highly favorable of New Zealand's response to the earthquake. For sure, the scale of this earthquake was roughly the same as that of the one in Haiti; yet no one died, and only two were injured. You can't deny that this was a miracle. One reason being that Christchurch has nearly no tall buildings, another being that the earthquake took place just after entertainment venues closed for the night; one hour earlier and the situation would have been completely different. Rescue teams were quickly dispatched, a great relief to residents who showed no signs of panicking. Aside from drinking water being quite scarce, that is, and shops being despicable in raising the price of water so high.

More of Sun's photos can be seen here.

The minimal damage done and lack of deaths directly caused by the earthquake, writes Sina blogger Vast Digital Ocean, was less of a miracle than the result of solid preparation, from schools to building standards:


We will never forget how, after the Wenchuan earthquake, it was discovered that schools which collapsed had previously been reported as unsound, that steel wire had even been used in place of steel bars in concrete bases; we paid a particularly devastating price as a result of those tofu-dreg schoolhouses. And in New Zealand, responsibility for any problems which do appear is firmly placed on the builders, architects and government personnel who gave approval.


Further, the degree to which the public is informed about protection against earthquakes is also key. According to experts, based on the experiences of past major earthquakes, 90% of deaths take place when people run outside and are crushed under collapsing walls and buildings. In earthquake-prone Japan, earthquake response drills are held every year so that when earthquakes do strike, the public won't panic. While China does at present place significant emphasis on earthquake response education, campaigns promoting earthquake response know-how lack both continuity and breadth. Many people aren't clear on the theories regarding how earthquakes occur, and thus are prone to believe earthquake rumors.


Just what does “people as the base” mean? The experience of the New Zealand earthquake gives us an ample explanation. One statistic suggests that of earthquakes over the past fifty years of similar scale, deaths incurred in developing nations have been more than 20 times higher than in developed nations. As the planet has entered an era of seismic activity in recent years, strengthening and spreading earthquake response education has become extremely important; this earthquake in New Zealand serves as a most telling instruction.

While not everyone has forgotten the lives lost in the devastating earthquake in Sichuan, in the two years since, have building standards improved? This is the angle Sina blogger ‘Traveler for Life' takes in his September 7 post, ‘Can the zero-death miracle of New Zealand's earthquake be copied?':



Speaking plainly, the prime minister of New Zealand said, ‘We were very lucky that no lives were lost in the earthquake.' To see the prime minister attribute this miracle to “luck”, and not factor in wise government policies and what not, leaves me scratching my head. That someone so honest and straightforward can end up as head of a rich nation leaves me even further surprised.

Getting to my point, can or cannot New Zealand's miracle be copied? My response to that is pessimistic. Just like Han Han's life cannot be copied, nor can New Zealand's miracle.


Why is my view on this so pessimistic? Due to excess negative stimulus, I just can't be optimistic. When I see developers using bamboo sticks in place of steel bars in Anhui, I have to ask, are buildings where materials have been skimmed like this able to withstand an earthquake? No. Yet even this week, in the ancient dynastic capitol of Xi'an, steel bars on the building supplies market were discovered to have been pulled extra thin to save costs. And reportedly, these bars are being used in around a hundred different workplaces. With these deadly bars being used in the building of commercial housing, some people are laughing while others are distressed. When the next major earthquake strikes, even god won't be able to protect us.

September 03 2010

Fiji: New protections for anti-government bloggers?

By Michael Hartsell

Cafe Pacific's David Robie explains how Reporters Sans Frontières new tool could help Fiji's anti-government bloggers (among others) by creating a high-speed anonymous network and providing a website to host forbidden material.

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.

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

USA: Indigenous Rights Declaration under Reexamination

By Simon Maghakyan

Almost three years after rejecting the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) in September 2007, the United States government is now asking for input from Native American leaders, renewing their hopes that the election of President Barack Obama may help open a path to ratification. The declaration calls for “reasonable reparations” for stolen indigenous lands, but not at the expense of violating a nation-state's territorial integrity.

Only three other countries initially opposed the declaration, which is legally non-binding yet provides solid framework for respecting and advancing collective indigenous rights. Two of these, New Zealand and Australia, have since changed their mind, leaving the U.S. and Canada as the only “no” voters. (Eleven others – Azerbaijan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Burundi, Colombia, Georgia, Kenya, Nigeria, Russia, Samoa and Ukraine – have abstained from voting.)

An ongoing mountain carving of Crazy Horse in the Black Hills of South Dakota, a few miles away from Mount Rushmore. The Lakota say this is sacred land that was stolen from them. © Simon Maghakyan 2010

On June 4, 2010, the U.S. State Department announced that public input should be be sent to the email address by July 15. Earlier, an official State Department blog post promised a review process:

On Tuesday, April 21, U.S. Ambassador to the UN Susan Rice announced the U.S. decision to review our position regarding the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples at the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues. President Obama has promised greater engagement with federally recognized tribal governments, and improved communication with Native American tribes is a prominent theme in the Administration.

It was also in April that New Zealand became the second country, after Australia, to endorse the Declaration after an initial vote of “no.” But not everyone thinks New Zealand made the right decision.

Indigenous Maori opposition politician Nanaia Mahuta, whose Labour party voted against the document in 2008, claims the government is stressing the “symbolic” nature of the Declaration. She writes on her blog:

Under the veil of secrecy the Minister of Maori Affairs signed the Government up to the UNDRIP. National Ministers were quick to downplay the move as “aspirational” and “non-binding”! The PM must have stressed that point at least three times during question time. The test for National is whether they intend to leave this document as a symbol of aspiration that has no currency in New Zealand or whether they intend to deliver any of the expected outcomes which the MParty allude to?? […] A whole heap of window dressing of empty promises and hollow gains – meanwhile Maori unemployment continues to rise…

If like New Zealand and Australia, the U.S. ratifies the declaration, which seems to be the likely scenario, Canada will remain the only “no” signatory. On the blog of the Center for World Indigenous Studies, Fourth World Eye, Rudolph Ryser describes Canada’s reasoning for being against the declaration, and concludes that change will come from indigenous peoples themselves, not from governments.

The symbolism of indigenous peoples sitting in the UN General Assembly Hall is powerful, but there is no substitute for the exercise of political authority. States like Canada and the United States will continue to offer platitudes and tired expressions of confidence for the future development of native peoples, but only vigorous political action by indigenous peoples will force the respect and lawful acceptance of indigenous peoples sitting at the table of decision-making they so richly deserve.

On progressive activism blog Docudharma a writer by the name “winter rabbit” offers several arguments for why President Obama (alternately known as Awe Kooda Bilaxpak Kuuxshish – his adopted Crow tribe name) should ratify the declaration. One of several links in his post goes to a news story from 2009 that quotes the South Dakota attorney general for saying he has never read the original Ft. Laramie Treaty from 1868 that guaranteed ownership of the Black Hills to the Lakota, before it was eventually seized when gold was discovered there.

It is unclear whether the adoption of UNDRIP would compel South Dakotans, among other Americans, to rethink indigenous rights in their country. But the fact that the U.S. is asking input from Native Americans in the reexamination process is encouraging.

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 29 2010

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.

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