FIJI VICE PRESIDENT IN, OUT OF JAIL TOPS 2004

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SUVA. Fiji (Fiji Times, Jan. 2) – Another year has come and gone, leaving behind events that will forever be a part of Fiji's history.

The jailing of Vice President Ratu Jope Seniloli, a Cabinet reshuffle, the stand-off between the military and Government, water problems, the billion-dollar drug haul and flash floods around the country grabbed the headlines in 2004.

Competing for space were the continuing war in Iraq, the US elections and most recently the earthquake and massive tidal wave that smashed across Asia, killing thousands of people.

And then there was the end of an era with the loss of two of Fiji's greatest nobles.

At 11pm on Sunday, April 18, Fiji statesman, Lauan paramount chief and great leader Ratu Sir Kamisese Kapaiwai Tuimacilai Mara died at Suva's Private Hospital. He was 84.

Prime Minister Laisenia Qarase summed up Ratu Sir Kamisese's life when he said, "We have lost a giant among men. For as long as many of us could remember, he dominated our national life. His leadership was marked by discipline, vision and a keen and penetrating intellect. His dedication to this country was total. He worked tirelessly to make a unified nation from different communities; a nation to stand tall as a model of progress and harmony."

Three months later, on Wednesday, July 21, Ratu Sir Kamisese's widow, Ro Lady Lala, died in her sleep at the Suva Private Hospital.

Ro Lady Lala held the traditional title of Roko Tui Dreketi. She was the paramount chief of Rewa and the head of the Burebasaga Confederacy.

In Lau she was the Radini Nayau and Radini Lau.

A week before Ratu Sir Kamisese's death, a tropical depression caused major flash floods around the country.

It was a bleak Easter for many as lives were lost, homes destroyed, properties damaged, crops uprooted and many areas made inaccessible.

Areas badly affected were Navua, Naitasiri, Tailevu North and Ra with damage exceeding more than $4 million.

Throughout the year the country suffered piped water shortages.

Thousands of people had to go without fresh water because of the disruption in water supply.

The disruption was caused by the sudden increase in demand brought about by the increase in population and insufficient capacity of some of the pumps supplying water to densely populated areas.

With the increasing demand from people for improved water supply, the Government through the Ministry of Works - Water and Sewerage Department has carried out feasibility studies and put in place 20-years Master Plans for most populated centres.

In 2004, the financial burden and taxes on the people of the country was enormous.

Apart from the Basic Tax and PAYE, there was Value Added Tax on goods and services.

And then there was the increase in electricity tariffs, bus fares, fuel and education.

Throughout the year, Telecom has been trying to justify to the Commerce Commission increases in line rentals.

In sport, Fiji climbed to the top of the world when home-grown Vijay Singh dethroned Tiger Woods as the world's best golfer.

In doing so, the Lautoka-born hero became the first player to win more than $10 million in a calendar year, winning nine tournaments.

In boxing, New Zealand-born Kalivati Meehan, whose mother is from Ovalau hit the headlines with his shot for the world heavyweight title. Unfortunately he lost to Lamon Brewster.

And Fiji bowler Caucau Turagabeci won a bronze at the World Bowls in Scotland, but it was enough to give him the Sportsman of the Year Award.

But a number of pressing issues on the political and economic front still need to be resolved.

Among these are the issues of expiry of the Multi-fibre Agreement (MFA) next year, a global deal through which Fiji garments enter the US under export quotas, the deteriorating sugar industry and its restructuring and the increasing poverty level.

No significant improvement has been made in this sector although government, political parties and stakeholders promised to find solutions.

The debate on whether to have ALTA or NLTA raged throughout the year, with the land issue a major impediment to economic growth.

Unofficial statistics from non-government organisations reveal 35 per cent of Fiji's people live in poverty.

On the bright side, the construction and tourism industries experienced a boost in investment but they were not been able to reduce unemployment significantly.

Overall, global economic and financial conditions improved in 2004. The International Monetary Fund projected growth for 2004 at around 5 per cent, the highest for nearly three decades. Growth prospects for Fiji's major trading partners were positive.

The domestic economy recovered well since the decline of 2000. We have been able to achieve a better average growth rate under a stable economic environment. Tourism continues to be the main driver of growth for 2004. Like previous years, it is the largest contributor to economic growth, investment and foreign exchange earnings.

Investment in additional up-market hotel rooms, the entry of new carriers and the recent approved destination status granted by the People's Republic of China indicate bright prospects for this sector.

It was another successful year for movie making with the successful shooting of Anaconda 2, and there are plans for further film production in the country.

Next Year will be interesting to see if the new Home Affairs Minister will be able to bring to an end the bad blood between Government and the military.

This may be a source of concern given the army's track record in the past to take things into its own hands rather than letting the Government of the day solve major issues or letting the law run its own course.

In September, an internal police row over how the $16m Agriculture Scam should be investigated resulted in the removal of the head of the unit investigating it.

Throughout the year, Police Commissioner Andrew Hughes' performance and no-nonsense attitude continued to win public support.

The abuse of government procedures, poor revenue collection, irregularities in project management and blatant abuse of resources, facilities and funds were issues raised by the Auditor-General in his 2003 report.

It highlighted misuse of money by several senior public officers who are now facing investigations by the Public Service Commission and the courts.

It caused the resignation of the only Indo-Fijian Minister in Cabinet, George Raj, who was entitled to travel business class to India but opted for economy class travel and failed to return the difference to State coffers.

Ministry of Labour chief executive Brian Singh faced the same fate when the Public Service Commission suspended him pending investigations into public services offences relating to his travels abroad. Mr Singh was later sacked.

Immigration director Joe Browne was demoted after taking a trip overseas without authorization from his superiors.

In October, Government's $700,000-sponsored Reconciliation Week suffered heaps of criticism from non-government organisations, religious and political bodies.

Many thought the money could have been used in bettering the life of those badly affected by the events of May 2000, instead of splashing it on fancy outings at Albert Park.

One clear message that has come out of it is that the nation has a long way to go to achieving national unity and racial harmony.

Then there was the jailing of Vice President Ratu Jope Seniloli, Naitasiri paramount Ratu Inoke Takiveikata, Deputy Speaker Ratu Rakuita Vakalalabure and three others for taking illegal oaths during the May 2000 crisis.

The jailing had a lot to say about the independence of the judiciary in Fiji.

There had been a lot of publicity on Ratu Jope continuing to receive his salary as Vice President while sitting in jail.

He forfeited this after his appeal in the Court of Appeal was denied but he then was released on a Compulsory Supervision Order in circumstances that are still being questioned.

And then there was speculation on Ratu Jope's successor, which saw the military being targeted as once again the culprit most likely to influence the President's choice.

However, the Great Council of Chiefs endorsed the President's nomination - Ratu Joni Madraiwiwi - to widespread acclaim.

Ratu Joni is seen as a unifying force in a country divided in every which way.

It was like manna from heaven for a nation starving for some semblance of self-worth.

The number of local men going joining local agencies for recruitment to Iraq and Kuwait continues to increase - not so much for employment but for better pay. More than 2000 locals have gone and returned including soldiers serving with the Fiji Army.

There had been a lot of ongoing media reports and misconceptions about the employment of Fiji workers with the PWC as facilitated by Meridian Services Agency Ltd.

However, Government cleared the contracts after verifying them individually as required under the Fiji Employment Act.

Government could be receiving about $40 million in remittance annually - which could become the country's third biggest foreign earner.

On the political front - the bickering between Government and Opposition at Veiuto continued non-stop just like previous years, 2004 was no exception.

The multi-party Cabinet issue is still before the courts and with no chance of the parties reaching an amicable solution, Fiji Labour Party leader Mahendra Chaudhry has opted out. He is now back as Leader of the Opposition.

A by-election was held early December for the North East Fijian Urban Communal constituency and saw the Soqosoqo ni Duavata ni Lewenivanua claiming victory but the poor turnout at the polls is a major concern as Fiji builds up to the 2006 elections.

And then there was the reshuffling of Cabinet which saw the removal of some, the transferring of others and addition of new ministers.

While the Prime Minister thought it was good to move ministers around, it's still unclear whether the real reason was because of to non-performance of those who were initially in the positions.

2004 has been interesting, with many ups and downs - many old problems remaining unsolved, many promises unfulfilled, many questions remain unanswered and most of all full of surprises.

Let's hope 2005 will be better.

January 3, 2004

Fiji Times: http://www.fijitimes.com/

 

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