SUVA, Fiji (Dec. 31) - A few days before the coup of December 5, 2006, this newspaper warned that such action would be nothing short of catastrophic for Fiji. We derive neither pleasure nor satisfaction from being proved right. More than a year on, the landscape is bleak. The economy shows little sign of the promised 2008 recovery. The tourism industry continues to struggle. The sugar industry is on its knees.

The civil service, a major target in the clean-up campaign, remains as bloated as ever.

As more thousands of young people emerge from the education system seeking employment, they are met by sympathy and little else. The best and brightest seek migration as their only means of progress.

The promised evidence of corruption in the Qarase government has not been forthcoming and the much vaunted Fiji Independent Commission Against Corruption has proved largely ineffective and certainly one-sided. The legality of its very existence remains in doubt.

The Fiji Human Rights Commission - to whom so many turned as a means of having their rights upheld - has emerged as little more than an apologist for some very serious wrongs.

If an election were held tomorrow, the government of Laisenia Qarase would be returned amid popular acclaim.

How could so much have gone wrong?

The military launched its coup on the grounds that the SDL regime was corrupt and racist, that its qoliqoli and reconciliation Bills would damage the nation and that it was hell-vent on polarising the country on racial lines.

There was (and is) a deal of public sympathy particularly for the second two grounds.

The doubts began, however, as early as Christmas Eve 2006 when a group of quite innocuous democracy activists were beaten, humiliated even tortured by the military.

Those doubts were underscored when interim Prime Minister Commodore Voreqe Bainimarama announced that his Cabinet would contain a smattering of failed would-be politicians along with the leader of the electorally defeated Fiji Labour Party and a few senior colleagues.

Journalists and editors were threatened and assaulted.

Two deaths in or as a result of military custody turned doubts into fears for many in Fiji. One of the difficulties appear to be that while we have a Cabinet that is supposed to set the course for the country's progress, we also have a more shadowy military council whose role as well as its membership is only guessed at.

There appears to have been the notion that a country could be run and governed on similar lines to a military establishment. That notion appears to have died but it has been a lingering and costly demise.

But all is not lost. Or at least it needn't be.

If what has become known as the People's Charter can be seen as a credible statement of the wishes and aspirations of all of the people of Fiji and if the army, the politicians, the professions and the wider world can accept it as such and act upon its recommendations we will have taken a major step forward. The military assumed power quite rightly citing the people's need for transparency, accountability and good governance. The practice apart from the preaching of all three would do just about everything to restore that early support.

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