TOPICS: Fiji sanctions could hurt wrong people

With the international community clamping a range of sanctions on Fiji’s military regime, there have been warnings that such action could harm the civilian population, or lead to further tension in the South Pacific island nation that saw its fourth coup in less than 20 years on Dec 5. Prof. Biman Prasad who teaches economics at the University of the South Pacific said the international community should be mindful that sanctions could be counterproductive at the time when a constitutional solution to the crisis was being sought. He was reacting to the New Zealand government’s announcement that it would exclude Fiji from a recently established guest worker scheme for short-term seasonal workers from the Pacific, and stop issuing scholarships to Fiji students. Prasad said New Zealand’s decision to suspend Fiji from the guest worker scheme was unfortunate as it comes at a time when the country is in great need of such employment creating initiatives. He said the move would have no effect on the military which toppled Fiji’s elected government but punish the poor and the unemployed.

Earlier, the Coalition for Democracy and Peace, consisting of citizens’ groups and non-government organisations, said the poor would be most affected by sanctions imposed by New Zealand. “Removing scholarships and access to guest work scheme will affect poor people and not the military,” the group said in a statement. “This shifts the negative impact of the military takeover on to ordinary citizens.” Australia suspended support for Fiji’s public sector reform, the electoral office and assistance to some agencies in the law and justice sector such as the police and prisons, while the US suspended $2.5 million in military-related assistance to Fiji. There are also question marks hanging over a $350 million EU sugar industry rehabilitation aid package following the union’s resolution to suspend non-humanitarian aid to Fiji. Prasad said the industry had already been hit by an expected decline in world sugar prices from next year and that the suspension of the EU assistance scheme would choke it to death with severe economic, social and political implications.

Meanwhile, a group of Indian academics, religious leaders, political and cultural representatives have called for the formation of a multi-racial organisation to look into the crisis. The group, which met in the Fijian capital Suva recently, said the failure of existing institutions and political parties to resolve the crisis caused them to make the call.

The army had alleged that the government of Laisenia Qarase was corrupt and that the coup was a ‘clean-up campaign’. The resolution said “in order to create a genuinely inclusive and cohesive society, it was important for every individual, every organisation and all the stakeholders to work together.” Summit participants “called for a speedy return to democracy and parliamentary rule” and those involved in the crisis asked to respect the Constitution and to find solutions to the crisis within the constitutional framework. —IPS