May 12, 2021 Last Updated 12:56 AM, May 11, 2021

New Zealand’s Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has shared more details of how her country plans to support Fiji in fighting transnational crime.

In a statement to media during her official visit to Fiji today, Ardern noted that both countries face “the  scourge of those who seek to profit on the misery of others through drugs like methamphetamine. None of us are alone in that battle.”

She has provided more detail of the NZ$11 million in assistance first announced last year. From May this year, $1 million will be used to enhance forensic labraotries in Fiji, which she says are critical in successful prosecuting drug traffickers once seizures are made. New Zealand will also fund four full-time police mentors to work with the Fiji police force, provide technical assistance to the ‘proceeds of crime’ unit, fund trained tracker dogs and help develop a police leadership development fund.

Ardern has acknowledged the support Fiji showed during the terrorism attacks on Christchurch mosques on March 15 last year.

“I want to thank Fiji for the.. friendship you extended to us in our darkest of hours, particularly when you yourselves lost your own in that attack. I want to express to you sadness and sorrow that that happened on our soil, but our thanks for the friendship you have extended.”

Ardern will visit the  Lautoka Jame Masjid Mosque on Thursday. Fijians Ashraf Ali Razat of Narere, Imam Hafiz Musa Patel of Lautoka and Ashraf Ali were among the fifty-one who were killed in the shooting. Patel had been the Pesh Imam, leading services at Lautoka Jame Mosque for 25 years.

Also on the agenda during today’s talks was the Pacific Agreement on Closer Economic Relations  (PACER Plus). Fiji is still to ratify that agreement; Ardern says her government believes it presents an opportunity to spread economic prosperity  in the region.

Prime Minister Voreqe Bainimarama says the world “badly needs more leaders like Jacinda.”

He says Fiji is proud to be on the right side of history alongside New Zealand in pressing for urgent action on climate change by passing a Climate Change Bill later this year. Last  November New Zealand’s parliament voted to commit the nation to reduce its carbon emissions to zero by 2050 and meet its commitments under the Paris climate accords.

Ardern will be chief guest at a state dinner this evening.

Bainimarama apologises

By Samisoni Pareti

“My conscience is clear,” Fijian opposition parliamentarian Pio TIkoduadua told Fiji’s Parliament before the ruling party of Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama used its majority to pass a motion demanding that both he and the prime minister should apologise or face a 6-month suspension from the house.

Parliament voted 27 to nil for the motion to be carried. It took place moments after all the 24 members of the opposition, led by Opposition leader Sitiveni Rabuka walked out of the parliamentary chamber.

Their amendment motion had been defeated minutes before this.

In keeping with the privileges committee motion, Bainimarama gave his “unreserved” apologies soon after the vote, and the house was adjourned soon after.

"I fully admit that I momentarily and spontaneously let my emotions, and my love of family, get the better of me. My actions were not appropriate and should not have happened," the PM told the house.

With the prime minister offering his apologies, he escapes the 6-month suspension penalty the privileges committee had recommended. Tikoduadua on the other hand now faces the six-month censure if he does not offer his apologies in 24 hours.

When the house began its session on Friday morning, the three members of the ruling party in the 5-member privileges committee had moved the motion that Tikoduadua and the Prime Minister must offer public apologies or face a six-month suspension from the parliament.

The two opposition members of Adi Litia Qionibaravi and Mosese Bulitavo, who stood in for his leader, Sitiveni Rabuka, did not add their signatures to the report.

The censure relates to an incident outside parliament house last month in which Bainimarama physically and verbally assaulted TIkoduadua following a heated debate in the house.

When asked to intervene, Parliamentary Speaker Ratu Epeli Nailatikau asked that both men appear before the privileges committee; Bainimarama to answer to the assault allegations, and Tikoduadua for making personal attacks against the prime minister during a parliamentary debate.

The house sat for the entire day to deliberate on the committee’s motion, with the opposition responding with its own amendment motion seeking to only censure Bainimarama with a 2-year suspension.

The two-year timeframe was the same penalty the Fiji First Government in the previous parliament had meted out to opposition MPs of Ratu Naiqama Lalabalavu, Ratu Isoa TIkoca and Roko Tupou Draunidalo.

Before debate wrapped up with right of replies from Ro Filipe Tuisawau of the opposition and Mahendra Reddy of government, Tikoduadua spoke to say that he could not apologise for something he never said or had intended to say.

The house he made reference to, Tikoduadua told parliament was the First First Party, and it was not directed as alleged by the ruling party, at the prime minister’s home or family. As proof, he never uttered the words family or home, the opposition MP said.

Video on Fiji’s PM is out

By Netani Rika

VIDEO footage has been released of Fiji’s Prime Minister, Rear-Admiral Frank Bainimarama, assaulting Opposition parliamentarian, Pio Tikoduadua.

The footage – taken on a mobile phone outside Parliament – shows Bainimarama, accompanied by bodyguards, approach and push Tikoduadua on the chest.

In the fracas, Tikoduadua’s glasses fall from his pocket to the road.

After Tikoduadua retrieves the glasses, Bainimarama verbally abuses him and his shouting, while inaudible, is picked up by the camera.

The matter was reported to police two weeks ago.

Bainimarama and Attorney-General, Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum, denied the incident took place as described by Tikoduadua.

The new footage which was released on several social media platforms appears to support the Opposition’s claims that the MP was assaulted physically and verbally.

The incident occurred minutes after Tikoduadua – a former military officer and later member of Bainimarama’s Cabinet – called Bainimarama out on violence against women in Parliament.

Sayed-Khaiyum claimed in a media conference that Tikoduadua had attacked Bainimarama’s family.

Bainimarama claimed after the incident that he spoke harshly to Tikoduadua who then crushed his own glasses.

By Nic Maclellan in Funafuti, Tuvalu

Fiji Prime Minister Voreqe Bainimarama has again called for a 10-year moratorium on sea-bed mining, at a time that many Pacific island nations are preparing for new frontiers of resource exploitation in the marine environment.

Speaking in Tuvalu this week before the 50th Pacific Islands Forum, Prime Minister Bainimarama called on fellow Forum island states to “support a 10-year moratorium on seabed mining from 2020 to 2030, which would allow for a decade of proper scientific research of our economic zones and territorial waters.”

There is growing pressure from French, Canadian and US corporations to advance the deep-sea mining (DSM) agenda, as well as interest from the China Ocean Mineral Resources Research and Development Association. Just as energy corporations are looking towards deep-sea oil and gas reserves, companies are developing technology to exploit mineral ore deposits found on the ocean floor, including cobalt crusts, seafloor massive sulphides and ferromanganese nodules.

Fiji’s call for a moratorium comes as community groups across the region are campaigning against potential environmental hazards of deep-sea mining, especially to ecologically sensitive hydrothermal vents. A report from the Guam-based Blue Ocean Law argues: “There is a general failure to incorporate sufficient environmental protections, as well as the norm of free, prior, and informed consent for indigenous peoples, who are most likely to be impacted by DSM. In the 21st century, and under well-established norms of international law, these omissions represent serious violations of international legal obligations.”

Bainimarama’s call comes the same week as major restructuring of the Nautilus Minerals corporation, which has been planning to commence mining off the coast of Papua New Guinea, under a world-first licence issued by the PNG government.

Fiji and oceans policy

In recent years, Fiji has taken a leading role in ocean policy at the United Nations, working with other Forum island countries through the Pacific Small Island Developing States (PSIDS) group.

In June 2017, Fiji and Sweden co-hosted the high-level UN Conference on the Oceans and Seas in New York. This conference issued a call for action, highlighting action on ocean acidification, plastics, and overfishing. UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres appointed former Fiji UN Ambassador Peter Thomson as the UN Special Envoy on the Ocean.

This global campaigning is also translating into domestic legislation. Speaking in Tuvalu this week, Prime Minister Bainimarama said: “In addition to playing a leadership role in the global Ocean Pathway, we are also developing a National Oceans Policy, under which Fiji plans to move to a 100 per cent sustainable managed  Exclusive Economic Zone, with 30 per cent of this being earmarked as a marine protected area by no later than 2030.”

Under the Forum’s “Blue Pacific” agenda, island nations are seeking to draw the links between oceans and climate policy. Bainimarama noted that Fiji was working with the Republic of the Marshall Islands in the Pacific Blue Shipping Partnership to develop “a blended and innovative finance structure to support the decarbonisation of domestic marine transportation fleets and facilities in Fiji and across the region. This means replacing inter-island ships with more efficient hybrid ships, thereby reducing fuel costs and emissions.”

Pacific DSM initiatives

Under the provisions of the UN Convention of the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), many Forum island countries with large EEZs have been in discussions with transnational corporations to partner in deep sea exploration for maritime resources. Under UNCLOS and the authority of the International Seabed Authority (ISA), developing countries can also partner with overseas corporations to licence exploration in “The Area”, international waters that include vast arrays of minerals in Pacific Ocean areas such as the Clarion-Clipperton zone.

Nauru has long been a champion of DSM – at last year’s Forum leaders’ meeting, Nauru President Baron Waqa hosted a side even with ISA Secretary General Michael Lodge and Samantha Smith, the former Head of Environment and Social Responsibility with the deep-sea mining corporation DeepGreen.

This new frontier has drawn in regional organisations, to address legal, technical and regulatory issues around DSM. Boundary limitation is a vital concern as Pacific nations seek to increase potential revenues from fisheries and seabed mining in their Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZs). From 2010-16, the European Union funded the Pacific Community (SPC) to develop model DSM legislation for Forum member states, with many civil society groups concerned this work was promoting rather than regulating DSM.

The SPC Maritime Boundaries Division has also been engaged in technical work to clarify borders between independent island states as well as with colonial powers like France and the United States (for example, Vanuatu and France have been involved in a decades-long dispute over Matthew and Hunter islands).

There are tensions between the administering powers and territorial governments over the control of seabed minerals in the remaining colonies in the region. With an EEZ of nearly 5 million square kilometres, ocean-floor resources could be vitally important for the newest Forum member, French Polynesia. However, as the French government moved to amend French Polynesia’s autonomy statue earlier this year, France’s constitutional court ruled that rare earths can be classified as “strategic metals”, which come under the control of the French State rather than the Government of French Polynesia.   

Independence leaders have long argued against the French State’s control of strategic metals, with former Senator for French Polynesia Richard Ariihau Tuheiava telling the UN Special Committee on Decolonisation in 2017: “We have continually emphasised the critical nature of the resource question as a core issue for our future development. Whether or not these resources are considered in Paris to be ‘strategic’ is irrelevant to the applicability of international legal decisions which place the ownership of natural resources with the people of the non-self-governing territories.”

Collapse of PNG initiative

Early initiatives to begin sea-bed mining in the Pacific have not come to fruition. This week’s set-back to a major project in Papua New Guinea provides a salutary warning about the complexity and potential costs of DSM.

Under a licence issued by the PNG government, Nautilus Minerals has long planned to mine seabed minerals beneath PNG’s Bismarck Sea. However, with widespread community resistance, falling share prices and the loss of a specialised support vessel, Nautilus constantly pushed out the date for commencement of mining.

In February this year, Nautilus filed for court protection from its creditors under the Canadian Companies’ Creditors Arrangement Act (CCAA), and the Canadian-based company was later delisted from the Toronto Stock Exchange. This week, major shareholders MB Holding and Metalloinvest have moved to take control of company assets at the expense of major creditors and smaller shareholders (The PNG Government holds 15 per cent equity in Nautilus’ PNG subsidiary and the Solwara 1 project through the company Eda Kopa).

The looming collapse of the Solwara seabed mining initiative has been welcomed by civil society groups in Papua New Guinea, which have been campaigning against potential adverse impacts on ocean ecology.

Jonathan Mesulam of PNG’s Alliance of Solwara Warriors stated: “We rejoiced when the company filed for protection from creditors in Canada. Our opposition and our court action have helped push it to that point. Communities across Papua New Guinea want to see the nightmare of deep-sea mining removed from PNG waters. We will re-double our efforts to ensure that the new Nautilus will never operate at Solwara 1.”

Fiji’s call for a moratorium on DSM will be debated in the corridors at this week’s Pacific Islands Forum, but there’s a way to go before all Forum member countries are willing to delay action on the supposed ocean El Dorado.

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