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SUVA, Fiji Islands (December 12, 2001 - Oceania Flash/SPC)---A "troika" of European Union representatives based in Suva on Tuesday reiterated the EU's position that a total of over US$ 20 million worth of bilateral aid to Fiji would remain frozen pending a Court ruling in February regarding the constitutionality of the current government.

The delegation, which consisted of European Commission Pacific delegation head Frans Baan, British High Commissioner Michael Price (representing the current Chair country of Europe) and French Ambassador Jean-Pierre Vidon, called on the State House and was received by Fiji's Vice President Ratu Jope Seniloli.

"In essence, we have explained to His Excellency the Vice President of Fiji the European position, which is that cooperation between EU and Fiji will remain partially suspended until the foreseen court case in February," Baan told Oceania Flash in an interview.

The current government of Fiji stems from the general elections that took place in September, sixteen months after a coup that overthrew a democratically elected government.

Prime Minister Laisenia Qarase's Soqosoqo Duavata ni Lewenivanua (SDL) party won 32 seats in the 71-member House, while deposed Prime Minister Mahendra Chaudhry's Labour Party secured 27 seats.

However, SDL formed a government relying on smaller parties and independent MPs. It does not include Labour MPs.

Since then, Labour has been contesting the constitutionality of the SDL-led government. It invoked the 1997 Constitution, which stipulates that any party obtaining at least ten percent of the seats in Parliament must be invited to join the government.

The matter is to be heard in court in February.

"The EU, however, has acknowledged the fact that according to our information, the elections have been free and fair. But there is one outstanding question, and that is the constitutionality of the formation of the present government. That is the main condition (that must be resolved) for cooperation with Fiji to re-start," Baan said.

This affects three major programs of bilateral cooperation with Fiji, he added: the funding for the construction of a bridge on the Rewa River (near the capital Suva, and an essential link to the nearby Nausori Airport) for some 22 million Fijian dollars (US$ 9,651,400), funding for the upgrading of the capital's rubbish dump in Lami town (17 million Fiji dollars/US$ 7,457,900) and the planned construction of a teachers college in Lautoka (in the west of the main island of Viti Levu) for about 8.5 million Fiji dollars (US$ 3,728,950).

"This means for these three projects, preparation is still going on, but no final decision can be made as to their funding until the Court ruling, or if another political solution is found here in Fiji, that solves this problem."

Baan, however, stressed that other EU funding, such as regional projects based in Fiji or the preferential sugar deal with Fiji, are not affected.

"The sugar protocol has always continued to provide substantial support to the Fijian sugar industry. EU buys Fiji sugar at preferential rates and this, in fact, brings a yearly income of roughly 100 million Fijian dollars (US$ 43,870,000)," he pointed out.

"We never suspended this simply because this would have had disastrous effects on Fiji’s citizens."

Other regional-oriented programs, although based in Fiji, have not been affected, such as a recently announced six million Euro (US$ 5,356,440) package to build a campus for the Fiji School of Medicine, which provides medical training for students from the Pacific islands.

"Fiji still continues to benefit from those regional projects based here," he said.

Earlier this week, Commonwealth Secretary General (and former New Zealand Foreign Minister) Don McKinnon paid a brief visit to Fiji and indicated that the Commonwealth was ready to welcome Fiji back into its fold, but awaited the crucial constitutional ruling on the current government line-up.

In September, Australia lifted altogether its sanctions imposed on Fiji in the wake of the May 19, 2000 coup that overthrew Indo-Fijian Prime Minister Mahendra Chaudhry's democratically elected government.

"In a sense, the EU’s position is half-way, because, just like the Commonwealth, we are very interested in finding resolution of the constitutional problem with regard to the government. That is why the new decisions have been made conditional on the outcome of the Court case. But, at the same time, it is also true that the EU has continued to be present in Fiji with major contributions through the sugar protocol. So it means it is in a position that is in the middle."

Fiji's Foreign Minister Kaliopate Tavola was reported as saying, in response to the announcement, that "there is not much Fiji could do at present but accept the EU’s position, which affects development plans."

The EU’s position is expected to be scheduled for re-assessment by the end of the first quarter of 2002.



SUVA, Fiji Islands (December 12, 2001 - Sun/PINA Nius Online)---All major European Union funded projects in Fiji are on hold pending the outcome of the Fiji Labour Party court challenge against the formation of the Soqosoqo Duavata ni Lewenivanua (SDL) Party led government.

A European Union delegation yesterday informed the President, Ratu Josefa Iloilo, that all legal processes, including the outcome of the court challenge, must be adhered to before the funds are released.

Head of European Union delegation based in Suva, Frans Baan, said projects affected include the $22 million Rewa Bridge project, the $17 million environmental program and the $8.5 million Human Resources Development Program focusing on Lautoka Teachers College.

[NOTE: Fiji $1.00 = US$ 0.4387 on December 12, 2001]

Foreign Affairs and External Trade Minister Kaliopate Tavola said it was an "institutional decision from the EU Council and there was nothing Fiji could do to reverse that."

Mr. Tavola said he was optimistic that a decision on Labour's legal challenge to being left out of the multiparty Cabinet would be made by February.

Mr. Baan said the sugar protocol and trade-related programs were not suspended when the coup crisis hit Fiji last year because of a consensus locally and internationally that this would be disastrous for Fiji's people.

For additional reports from the Fiji Sun, go to PACIFIC ISLANDS REPORT News/Information Links: Newspapers/Fiji Sun.

Pacific Islands News Association (PINA) Website: 

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