Update please:

So what’s happening to the setting up of the PACP (Pacific Group of the African, Caribbean Pacific Group of States) Secretariat following a meeting in PNG in November last year?

Well, sources from a state capital said nothing much has progressed. “It’s in PNG’s court and we’re waiting to hear from them.” At that PNG meeting, Prime Minister Peter O’Neill offered to host and fully fund an interim PACP Secretariat after disappointment with the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat.

The PNG meeting emanated from a PACP leaders decision in the Cook Islands last August where it was agreed that a special non-Forum meeting of PACP leaders be convened to consider PACP matters including Fiji’s participation. At that PNG meeting, Fiji was back into the PACP fold and that a decision was also made to move all EPA business from the Forum Secretariat to the PACP Secretariat.

Word is that PNG has asked that the secretariat be headed by a Fijian. Fiji’s foreign ministry, WHISPERS understands, has been headhunting for a suitable candidate. One of the frontrunners for this position is a former top civil servant. Hope the Fiji government appoints the right person to progress EPA business between the Pacific and the Europeans which is now at a very crucial stage.

Travel ban…

PNG PM Peter O’Neill has laid down the rules and he is not mincing his words. If his ministers don’t toe the line, they know the repercussions. O’Neill, has banned his ministers and other government officials from travelling overseas for work and this, he says, could save about 40million kina (£12m). He said the move was aimed at cutting costs but also ensuring officials stayed focused on their work. Investigations had shown travel funds had been abused for trips which brought “very little or no benefit”, he said. Any official travelling without his permission could face dismissal. O’Neill came to power in August last year promising to make the government more transparent and “stamp out corruption wherever it occurs”. Last year, campaign group Transparency International ranked Papua New Guinea as the 150th most corrupt country in the world, out of 176 surveyed.

Paltry pensions:

A rather revealing fact about Fiji’s national pension scheme—the only one in the country—is that it pays out a lowest annuity that translates to F$5 a month, hardly enough for a person to live on in a day. To make matters worse, pensioners who are receiving that paltry sum cannot benefit from the government’s welfare programmes due to a piece of legislation that prevents double dipping. On the other hand, the fund has slashed its pension rate, which saw some members at the top-earning bracket losing over half their normal monthly take-home pension packet. The reasons were spelt out clearly to members in a series of public presentations by officers of the fund. What got some pensioners infuriated is how the pension fund has gone out of its way to preach about the necessity of pension reform yet firmly clams down when questioned about its approval of huge loans to troubled companies like the national airline and a string of hotel projects. If the fund is able to explain why it has decided to increase pensions to $100 a month for all those that earned less than $100, surely it could explain why it approved a $200 million loan to an airline that was running on losses two years in a row. As usual, the fund insists it is bound by confidentiality clauses.

Loans for free?

Still on that pension fund in sunny Fiji, alarm bells are already ringing over why it has not been paid a single cent by a major local hotel that it supposedly owns. Over the years, the project’s developers had borrowed over F$300 million from the fund, which they could not pay and their failure had forced the fund to step in and take over its management.

Stuck with a troubled project and a “largely unsecured” $300 million loan that must be paid off, the pension fund had revealed in 2011 that it had made provisions in 2009 for impairment to the tune of over $200 million for the project. In 2011, an independent valuation valued the property at a little over $100 million.

Could this be why the now restructured loan is being heavily criticised in some circles? In its 2012 annual report, the pension fund has revealed it will waive interest on over $200 million of the loan, the repayment term being a big fat “indefinite”.

The remaining $100 million is separated into two loans: Loan 1, comprising F$60million, is to be paid at a rate of 8 percent per annum over a repayment term of 26 years; and Loan 2 will see $40 million being paid at 8 percent per annum for 26.5years.

Unfortunately, members who have had their pensions reduced and are up in arms over its impact upon their ability to enjoy their retirement are not eligible for such free loans.

Furore over indigenous designs:

So one would naturally expect that a certain regional airline with a new corporate logo borrowed from local culture to protect its business interest and apply for copyright ownership over the designs.

WHISPERS was slightly surprised at the furore that has been created over this by locals who feel the designs should not be owned by the airline. After all, it’s not the only company doing it in the region. A handful comes to mind, especially those that have raked in millions of dollars using local traditional knowledge to develop their products without any benefit going to traditional owners. 

The protestors of the airline’s new logo are said to have drafted a letter to mobilise support and get the powers that be to do something about the imminent plunder of local designs. WHISPERS wonders what the ministry responsible for protecting indigenous knowledge is doing about the matter. It had launched not too long ago a very comprehensive plan on how indigenous knowledge would be protected and how traditional owners would benefit from businesses using their intellectual properties. 

Calling, calling sponsors:

A certain island rugby nation has been on a spiral trend lately in both fifteens and sevens. What is interesting is the fact that it was not attracting sponsorship. Would the current consistent losses affect any chances of enhancing that? One telco company that had given a substantial long-term sponsorship to the game has revised its contract for this year. And guess what? The telco sponsorship is less than what was initially negotiated. This after they got rid of the sponsorship’s chief negotiator.

Beijing’s loo rule:

Authorities in Beijing have set new standards for public toilets, including a stipulation that they should contain no more than two flies. The BBC reports that the new rules, published by the commission of city administration, also set standards on odour and cleaning litter bins. Toilets in places such as tourist spots must comply with the new standards. The BBC’s Michael Bristow said Beijing public toilets are not known for their welcoming appeal. “People often smell them before they see them,” he said. Authorities say the regulations are aimed at places such as parks, railway stations, hospitals and shopping malls.

Jobs for wantoks:

What do you do when a fellow expatriate is head of two boards? Controls the chips and hands out the lollies to your kinsmen? A certain expatriate has been doing just that in Fiji for a while. He has had a hand in helping put a fellow countryman to chair an important public utility. And that’s not all—the fellow countryman has brought in another countryman to understudy the chief executive of the public utility, who is a local chap.

Word from insiders is that the expatriate chair will make a move soon to remove the chief executive—and put his own countryman there. An audit has been conducted to see how the current CEO is shaping up and some findings of this audit has found its way into a local newspaper. Interesting to find out— how this has been leaked—when WHISPERS has been told that only two copies of the report are available.

Deal goes bad? A certain computer company in the Pacific is laying off 30 employees after a lucrative contract to provide software for a government agency was yanked from them. Despite the contract being signed and sealed, the company got a shock when they were told it has been handed to an Asian company without any explanation. Is it that a breach of contract?

Backyard bomb...

A family living in Lae was forced to remain indoors after a large wartime bomb was unearthed in their yard. Resident Martin Sana said workers were repairing water pipes at his home when they found the bomb.

They decided to dig the bomb out using spades rather than an excavator. After 21 years of living in the house, the family had no idea the bomb was in their yard, according to The National newspaper.

Faleolo goes digital…

Well, the Faleolo International Airport is moving with the times…it has gone digital. In conjunction with Go Advertising, the Samoa Airport Authority (SAA) recently launched digital flight arrival and departure information.

The network comprises five 43-inch and two 47-inch digital screens. Three are placed above the check-in counters; two in the main waiting area for arrivals with another two above the counters for passport control. The screens will show flight information, updated each day direct from the Flight Tower. 

Still on Samoa…

The latest we hear about Samoa’s acquisition of Pacific Forum Line (PFL) was that it took a loan of $2.8million to buy PFL from the Unit Trust of Samoa (UTOS). Then they announced their new purchase—and after they were questioned about where the money came from, they rushed to parliament to pass a bill to establish the law where the government could borrow from UTOS. Talk about turning the process on its head!

Currency hiccup…

Fiji has just recently introduced its newly designed currency. Those who have been travelling out of the country particularly to Australia have been experiencing minor hiccups if they wanted to change their new Fiji currency when they arrive at Australian airports or even the banks.

Apparently sources have told WHISPERS that the Oz financial institutions had not been advised about change—hence the reservation to change the new Fiji dollars. There was no problem, however, if you wanted to change the old notes.

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