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Shamima Ali says Pacific governments disallow opposing views

By Alex Perrottet WELLINGTON, New Zealand (Pacific Scoop, Sept. 6, 2011) – A Fijian human rights advocate has slammed "paternalistic" Pacific governments during a discussion on leadership at the Lowy Institute conference in Auckland yesterday.

Addressing Pacific Islands Forum delegates at the Pullman Hotel, Shamima Ali, executive director of the Fiji Women’s Crisis Centre, spoke on the issue of leadership and what was lacking in Pacific countries.

She attacked "some" Pacific governments for not being consultative and inclusive, particularly when it comes to women.

"Often in the Pacific, we leave ourselves in the hands of our leaders," she said. We have patriarchal government structures that don’t allow for questions and opposing views. It provides a fertile ground for self-serving, opportunistic and ‘old-boys club’ style of politics."

Ali qualified her attack by telling fellow panelist Samoan Prime Minister Tuilaepa Lupesoliai Sa’ilele Malielegaoi that he had a strong following in Fiji among anti-coup supporters.

[PIR editor’s note: In an interview, Shamima Alik talks about the conditions of political and human rights activists in Fiji, about her friends being subjected to torture, and the climate of intimidation and surveillance that activists now live under. She also urges the Australian and New Zealand governments to maintain tough policies against the regime.]

She also encouraged listeners to "find out about the reality in Fiji and support us in our efforts to return Fiji to democracy".

Tuilaepa had waxed lyrical about the many virtues of the Samoan government and its policies of accountability and transparency, but in the questions that followed, he admitted there were issues with the youth in the Pacific and more had to be done to harness their potential.

He argued for greater funding and and for the "beefing up" of leadership programmes among Pacific youth.

"With a large number of young people in the Pacific Islands, youth organizations need to organize them into programmes of interest, mainly involving sports and religious activities."

He said this required a lot of resources and it was worthwhile for countries like Australia and New Zealand to invest more.

"In Papua New Guinea there are over two million youth without employment," he said. This poses a big threat to the stability of governments if we do not take care of their future."

Tuilaepa also called for more accountability and transparency in the region, particularly in regard to the distribution of donated funds.

"We must ensure that donor resources are applied for the purposes for which these policies were developed," he said.

In what appeared to be a subtle but strong reinforcement of his own record following last year’s stoush with New Zealand’s TV3 and Campbell Live over its report on the allocation of tsunami funds, Tuilaepa repeated that his government had in place "very rigorous" systems of accountability and transparency.

He also stressed the ongoing involvement and partnership with donor parties if countries like Samoa are going to meet their development goals and achieve "quality of life for all people He said although it was hard in practice, the goal of his government is to ensure that "no group is left out of the benefits of development. What is good for Apia is also good for the rest of Samoa," he said.

Also speaking at the panel was Cook Islands Finance Minister Mark Brown, who gave a financial summary of the state of the nation and argued that the Cook Islands was certainly on the map as a "large ocean state" rather than a "small island state".

Brown argued for more investment, particularly in human capital and developing new leaders in the country.

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