Thursday 16 Aug 2018 | 07:44 | SYDNEY
Thursday 16 Aug 2018 | 07:44 | SYDNEY

Australia and Fiji both clouding the atmosphere


Jenny Hayward-Jones


15 July 2008 13:04

Australian Foreign Minister Stephen Smith is in Fiji for the Pacific Islands Forum Ministers’ Ministerial Contact Group’s talks with the Fiji interim government. Interim Prime Minister Commodore Frank Bainimarama has to convince the Contact Group of Fiji’s readiness to hold elections by the end of the first quarter of 2009. Having failed to impress the EU last week, he will have to improve his diplomatic skills if he is to keep any faith with the region.

Fiji’s cause will not be helped by the unfortunately timed departure from office of Fiji's most senior civil servant, Permanent Secretary in the Office of the Prime Minister Parmesh Chand.  It is not clear whether Chand was asked to leave office by Bainimarama or left of his own accord, frustrated with the behaviour of his political masters. Chand was a widely respected and very competent civil servant and provided perhaps the only source of sensible advice to Commodore Bainimarama. Whether he was sacked or resigned, Chand’s departure will have a damaging impact on the interim government’s capacity to administer the country, communicate effectively with its neighbours and make the necessary preparations for a return to democracy.

While I’m on the subject of unfortunate developments, the Australian Government’s decision to place Iqbal Jannif on the list of Fiji nationals banned from entering Australia because of their associations with the interim administration is perplexing and disappointing. Jannif is the Chairman of the Fiji Institute of Technology Council, former Chairman of the Fiji Chapter of Transparency International and a former President of the Fiji Australia Business Council. 

Australia’s travel sanctions, on which Stephen Smith said he would be 'unrelenting', extend to individuals accepting positions on boards that govern state institutions. The sanctions have damaged the interim government but they have also hurt committed and respected individuals who are exerting a positive influence on governance in Fiji, and businesspeople who are sustaining Fiji’s economy. A more selective means of applying sanctions might encourage those in Fiji who are trying to move the country forward.