My Visit to Fiji #1
By Crosbie Walsh
If you've been wondering why there have been so few postings lately, I was in Suva for ten days, from Thursday 25th October to Sunday 4th November. I did not announce my visit because of personal threats by the more extreme of the anti-Bainimarama people writing on this and other blogs.
The Ministry of Information paid my travel costs, five days accommodation at Holiday Inn, they provided a vehicle to take me around, and gave me the temporary use of a tape recorder and a “dongle” to avoid the hotel's high charge for internet access. Vinaka, Sharon, Sharleen, Don and the three drivers, especially Freddie.
My wife joined me on Tuesday and we paid all her costs. She proved to be even more helpful than usual. Without her, I would not have known that the only remaining laundrymat is in Raiwaqa and it takes ages to spin dry clothes. I would not have known about changes in the market or tasted vakalavalava again. Nor would men and women in the street have been quite so free to tell me what they think. Looking a little doubtfully at me, an iTaukei waitress told her she did not like the government because of low wages, high costs and possibly being stood on at the Barracks if she spoke her mind. Others told me they were happy with the government
I know that some of you are thinking: He who pays the piper calls the tune. Fair enough. But I accepted the MOI offer on the condition that I could interview people of my choice. They not only honoured this stipulation; they provided the transport without which I could not possibly have interviewed close to 40 people.
Half of those I interviewed were either in or supportive of government, and half were neutral, undecided or opposed. I talked with the PM for a long 40 minutes, the Attorney-General and two Cabinet ministers, four permanent secretaries, Prof Yash Ghai and two other members of the Constitution Commission, and people from business, Qorvis, the NZ High Commission, the universities, the trade unions, the military, two NGOs involved in constitution education, the media (Fiji Times and Fiji Sun), the judiciary, the religious community, and one chief, Ratu Joni Madraiwiwi.
I did not attempt to meet any of the leaders of the old political parties because their views are already well known and I thought I'd gain nothing from interviewing them. I tried unsuccessfully to speak with Raman Singh of the NFP and Krishna Datt, a former prominent FLP MP. I would also have liked to talk with someone from Multi-Ethnic Affairs, the Ministry of Lands and the US Embassy, but I ran out of time and the brain can only take in so much in a day. But I did talk with people from the Ministries of Trade and Industry, Health, Education, the iTaukei Land Trust Board, and Legal Aid. I'll be publishing reports on their work over the next few weeks.
Having now "set the stage" I'm almost ready to report. Tomorrow, after golf, I'll start with some general impressions.