Apr 26, 2017 Last Updated 9:25 AM, Apr 12, 2017

Time for the churches to speak

THE church continues to play an integral part in community life in the region more than 200 years after the arrival of the first missionaries. From Rapa Nui (Easter Island) in the east to Papua in the west, villagers continue to flock to church for week day and Sunday services and offer God the produce of their plantations and fishing grounds.

From Tonga in the south to Palau in the north God remains a central part of the lives of people in government, commerce and everyday life. Throughout the region the church continues to hold influence over village elders, government ministers, national sports representatives and children.

Since the advent of Christianity many of the Pacific’s diverse peoples have come to believe that their future success, failure, happiness and security are determined by how well they serve God today. Much comfort is gained in communities by inviting the local cleric to invoke God’s blessings upon communal or national projects. That is why it is so important for our church leaders to speak out on issues of importance.

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Prepare for the worst

IN October 1972, Hurricane Bebe ripped through Fiji leaving 13 people dead in her wake. This was – at the time – the greatest natural disaster to have been visited upon the country. Just two years after independence Bebe was the first hurricane to challenge the scant resources of a fledgling nation which could no longer rely upon the resources of the United Kingdom. It was a tremendous test on the people, the emergency services and the leadership of what was the Pacific’s newest democracy.

Fortunately, larger countries like the United States, Australia and New Zealand rushed to Fiji’s aid providing emergency supplies, helicopters and trucks as part of the massive relief effort. Today Fiji continues to owe an immense debt of gratitude to her friends who answered the call at a particularly critical time in the history of Fiji.

For without the help afforded by these larger nations and many of our smaller neighbours, the path to recovery would have been much more difficult. After Bebe came larger hurricanes and cyclones such as Lottie, Meli, Eric, Nigel, Joni and Kina. And then last year there was Winston – Category Five, the strongest in history to hit Fiji.

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STOP the rot

Fiji TV board a disgrace to media

THE continued interference by Fiji Television’s board and management in the running of its newsroom is disgraceful. Once a proudly independent news company, Fiji TV has been gradually stripped of its best people until it is a mere semblance of what was a fierce advocate for investigative journalism and free speech.

Since December 2006 the company has been under sustained attack, its market share diminished by unprecedented legislation designed, it could be argued, to cripple a successful company and boost a State-owned entity. Its independent news division which dared to ask questions of all those in positions of responsibility has been crippled. Key staff have been dismissed – among them senior journalists Merana Kitione and Anish Chand.

The former was forced out for the mere fact that she was married to a National Federation Party official. The latter was a long-time colleague of the same official. Harangued by government officials, abused at press conferences by senior Cabinet ministers, the Fiji TV team has pushed on, testing the draconian Fiji Media Industry Development Decree to the limit. Obviously the refusal to simply roll over and die has not been received well by those in power.

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Strengthen the borders

IT has taken an Iranian asylum seeker to show just how porous the region’s international borders are. Loghman Sawari broke out of Papua New Guinea and into Fiji, crossing at least five border checks in the process. In PNG he would have had to get past an airline clerk, a security office, an Immigration official and a final pre-boarding check.

Once in Fiji Sawari would have been screened by Immigration and quarantine officials. At no stage in this short-lived bid to escape Manus did alarm bells start ringing nor did any one of those officials think that this person was a threat. It is safe to assume that controls at the border of two of the region’s largest and most advanced nations cannot prevent the flow of illegal migrants. Even when Fiji’s administration placed travel bans on individuals after the illegal overthrow of the country’s government in 2006, people were able to escape the clutches of the regime. Lieutenant-Colonel Roko Tevita Uluilakeba Mara has a high-profile post in Tonga, lifted to asylum courtesy of a Royal Tongan Navy patrol boat just off Fiji’s maritime border.

The one thing Fijian immigration officials do well is to round up people when the need arises. Their swift action saw Sawari ambushed on the Queen’s Highway as he travelled with his lawyer to meet Immigration Director, Major Nemani Vuniwaqa in Suva. Bundled kicking and screaming through Nadi International Airport, he witnessed first-hand the efficiency of deportation at the hands of Immigration officers supported by police.

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Juffa stands his ground

Vocal governor an example to all

THE Pacific need more legislators like Gary Juffa, Governor of Oro Province in Northern Papua New Guinea. He is a one-man army fighting to rid his country of the scourge of corruption which has deep roots and threatens to destroy the country from within. Juffa’s latest action has been to expose the construction of a provincial drug storage facility in his province at the cost of around $AUD217,000. This facility – basically a warehouse – has not been completed because the contractor was a local nurse with no knowledge of building or carpentry.

The situation has been compounded by the fact that the nurse was paid for five years while not doing any work for the Health Ministry. PNG’s central government paid upfront for the drug storage facility which is meant to house medicines and equipment for distribution to small, remote centres.

These centres are pivotal points for the health and wellbeing of a community which mainly lives in rural areas from which it is expensive to travel. A year after Juffa raised the matter with Health Minister Michael Malabag there has been no investigation into how the contract was awarded.

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