Friday, April 1, 2011

Fiji meeting would be a farce if it were funny

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via discombobulated bubu by discombobulated on 29/03/11
EDITORIAL : Reproduced from The Canberra Times

BY HELEN HUGHES
30 Mar, 2011 04:00 AM


The Prime Minister (unelected) of Fiji, Commodore Voreqe Bainimarama, has succeeded in attracting the leaders of the Melanesian Spearhead Group to an unofficial summit in Suva. The state dinner tomorrow would be merely a burlesque Gilbert and Sullivan scene if Papua New Guinea, Fiji, the Solomon Islands and Vanuatu were not the poorest and worst governed independent states in the Pacific.

Bainimarama, the incipient Colonel Gaddafi of the Pacific, is seeking regional and international endorsement. Indonesia and East Timor have been invited to be observers at this summit.

Indonesia is attending to shut down the Spearhead Group's support for Papuan independence in Irian Jaya. Vanuatu, the Papuans' sponsor, is not happy, but will be attending.

The Solomons Government, beholden to Australian aid for its very existence, tried half-heartedly to postpone the summit, but Derek Sikua has already arrived in Suva together with Michael Somare, who is enjoying a two-week holiday while suspended as Prime Minister over the filing of incomplete or late returns on his assets and business dealings.

Bainimarama's summit agenda is clear. He wants to annoy Australia. He also wants to gather enough international support to maintain Fiji's participation in United Nations police actions because these are not only a major source of income for his armed forces, but also enable them to proceed to lucrative private policing jobs wherever violence reigns.

Being denied aid has become secondary because China has stepped in to support Bainimarama's regime.

''Melanesia'' is an anthropologists' construct that has no economic and little other sense. In the arcane world of United Nations politics, it was promoted as a ''region'' to create jobs for bureaucrats, academics and other consultants. A trade agreement covers negligible actual trade. Pacific islands export raw materials to more developed economies and import manufactures and services from them.

Small elites in governments and the public services, expanding into business, have become wealthy. They live in modern houses, travel and educate their children so they can pass on their wealth. But more than 80per cent of Papua New Guineans, Solomon Islanders and ni-Vanuatu exist at subsistence. Women work gardens, but most men are without income. Education is minimal. Women die in childbirth in the bush. HIV/AIDS rages in Papua New Guinea. It is almost the only country in the world where average lifespan is declining.

The Bainimarama Government, meanwhile, is reducing Fijians' living standards toward subsistence levels. Vanuatu is relapsing after a brief boost from a US aid grant. Australia cannot be absolved from the disaster of which these four states are the leading edge. It played a major role in structuring post-independence parliaments and public services that have played a major role in the failure of development. It has been the dominant aid donor, but has subsidised international aid agencies such as the World Bank to lead programs that paid for the elites at the cost of islanders' living standards. This is the cause of government dysfunction.

Most islanders have seen nothing of the more than $100billion of aid the highest per capita that has flowed to the Pacific. Aid has widened the gap between the living standards in the independent Pacific states and the rest of the world. Only a few countries in Africa have done as badly.

Australian aid has created multiple organisations such as the Melanesian Spearhead Group. Where one modest council would have sufficed, these organisations and their many offshoots provide hundreds of highly paid positions for skilled islanders, denying their services to their economic, health and other ministries. Their many meetings provide travel, hotel and shopping opportunities for politicians and officials.

It has been evident for years that Pacific meetings deflect energies away from development.

Under Bainimarama's leadership, yet another meeting is turning ugly.

The Spearhead Group's new headquarters in Vanuatu is a present from China.

China's advisers to Bainimarama will be keeping a watchful eye on the proceedings in Suva.

If Australia has any interest in the South Pacific not becoming a Chinese lake, the Department of Foreign Affairs should be paying greater attention than collecting votes for a temporary seat on the Security Council.

Emeritus Professor Hughes is a senior fellow of the Centre for Independent Studies.

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