Jul 05, 2020 Last Updated 11:48 AM, Jul 5, 2020

InDepth: Life during the lockdown

  • Jul 06, 2020
  • Published in May

For over two months, Fiji’s Permanent Representative to the UN, Ambassador Satyendra Prasad has been largely confined to his home, He describes life during the COVID-19 induced lockdown in New York, and how it is likely to impact on multilateralism and the representation of Pacific Island states at the UN and at other international global negotiations and fora.

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“I’ve been so fortunate that I’ve been able to chase a rugby ball around the world, so I’m hoping for the women’s competition it will follow the men’s and be equally successful,” says Mel Kawa, captain of the Melbourne Rebels team.

Kawa has now played her first season for the Rebels after playing in France, Fiji and elsewhere in Australia.

The 2020 season marked the Rebels’ first win in its three-year history.

“Our team is in its infancy,” she tells Islands Business. “Better results will come because the Victorian rugby fraternity is so supportive, and they want to achieve.

Born in Mendi, in the Southern Highlands, her father, John Kawa, is from Kendagl village in Ialibu. Her mother, Robyn, is Australian, from country New South Wales.

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Around the region, Pacific governments are introducing border controls and health regulations to limit the spread of the Covid-19 coronavirus. But regional organisations are also responding: a virtual meeting of Foreign Ministers has established a Pacific Humanitarian Pathway (PHP) to increase medical support to Forum island nations.

Dame Meg Taylor, Secretary General of the Pacific Islands Forum, spoke to Islands Business about the regional response to the coronavirus pandemic. Excerpts from the interview:

Dame Meg Taylor: We’re focussing very much on the health aspect and there’s a lot of bilateral negotiations going on with donors. But the Pacific Humanitarian Pathway (PHP) is a regional response, driven by the countries to say ‘This is the way we want it done.’

Everybody’s gone into an isolationist position because you’ve got to look after yourself first. Thinking of how we can all work together is not your natural instinct. But the Secretary General of the United Nations has really been driving this home: you have to work with the collective. That’s the job all Secretary Generals have – and the job I have. I’m really pleased that Pacific leaders have seen the merit of doing this.

IB:Did the Foreign Ministers Meeting discuss the economic as well as health effects of the pandemic?

Dame Meg: We’ve been instructed by the leaders to keep this focussed on health at the moment, but questions were asked around trade and economic issues. The Forum has already started work on that. Other institutions like the ADB and World Bank have done their work, while UNDP is looking at broader social impact issues.  Fiji would like to see a virtual trade ministers meeting, but this will happen under the Forum rather than the Pacific Humanitarian Pathway. Our PHP focus is to get medical assistance to the countries and we will do that.

The big concern on the economic front is what sort of debt we incur, and how that will impact countries and the delivery of services in the longer term.

There’s an understanding in the region that the impact of this virus and global economic impacts will filter down to the Pacific. However, the feeling amongst leaders in the Pacific is that we’re going to take control in our countries and our region. If we don’t, we’re going to be left at the whim and interests of others. For the leaders, as well as looking at domestic issues, they’re also looking at how the geo-politics will play out.

IB:Is the response complicated by international geo-politics?

I’ve seen media reports in Australia with people worried, saying: “China is coming in and giving you people all this aid.” But China already has strong diplomatic relations in the region. Taiwan has relationships with some of our member states. China was quick off the mark – they’ve moved lots of supplies into the region. The Jack Ma Foundation is sending a shipment and they’ve designated that they want it to go to countries that have already been impacted, so we’ve said we’d get it to the countries through SPC and WHO.

Other countries are also helping. Australia and New Zealand are helping. [Australian Prime Minister] Scott Morrison has always raised the Pacific in his public statements, but Australia is launching its own Pacific corridor. We’ve had discussions that whatever they do and we do, we have to find complementarity.

I think our island countries want to help themselves. It’s like the climate issue – the voice of the Pacific needs to be heard.  

The countries are saying that they want donors working closely with them, as they may be concerned that money coming in to the region is going to be captured by a third party.

If you don’t have co-ordination, you’re going to get every donor ringing every government saying ‘we can put together a charter for you.’ Countries are saying, if you want to bring in an aircraft, you have to abide by our protocols.

It’s not about sending people in to the countries to help – that what our countries are most fearful of. It’s a challenge for organisations like the WHO. Their personnel will have to quarantine before they travel. It’s very clear – island leaders are very concerned about any outside people coming in to their country at all.

IB: Is there a danger that the Covid-19 crisis will draw away international attention from other core key regional concerns?

Dame Meg: I think that is a concern and particularly on the climate issue. The greatest security threat now and into the future – with or without coronavirus – is the climate issue. Maybe Cyclone Harold is a reminder that climate change is always a vulnerability around the corner for us. Always. Coronavirus is the focus now, because if it spreads through the islands it could decimate our populations. Many countries have a strong memory of what happened with pandemics in times past, and that’s why they’ve sealed down their borders completely.

With the recession in major countries, you can see changes in the environment. There’s a reprieve for a short time. The fear is that China might triple its coal production to get back into business again.

IB: The islands with the highest confirmed rates of infections are often the US and French territories like Guam, New Caledonia and French Polynesia…

Dame Meg: Yes, the territories that are linked to metropolitan states were the ones that were impacted first – the numbers in French Polynesia are of concern.

IB:Will the scheduled Forum leaders meeting in Vanuatu proceed?

We haven’t made a decision, though we had discussions prior to the elections in Vanuatu. We’re waiting for the new government of Vanuatu before we can take this forward. The people of Vanuatu will be concerned about outsiders coming in. When we would have those meetings is still to be decided. It may only be a meeting of the leaders - the question is whether it will be face to face or whether it will be virtual. It’s all going to depend on what happens with the health and security of all our countries.

IB:How will this pandemic affect the regional debate about security into the future?

Dame Meg: There’s the health issue now, but some countries are already talking about the next phase of how we’re going to get through this. We’ve invoked the Biketawa Declaration, but the Boe Declaration underpins the next phase of the recovery. After health, there’s going to be recovery around food security, environmental security. The bigger countries have got problems, the smaller countries are extremely vulnerable. How the countries respond to this is going to be a sign of Pacific resilience.  

IB:In many countries, are you seeing positive examples of communities preparing and mobilising?

Dame Meg: I think in the bigger islands, one of the good things is that everybody is planting and going back to our natural resources to feed ourselves. My own family and community in the Highlands of Papua New Guinea are getting their gardens going, so if there’s a long period of isolation, they will survive.

I think the hardest hit of our Pacific family will be the smaller island states and particularly our atoll states. We have to ensure that greater assistance goes to them in the longer term.  

A tribute to Ratu Finau Mara

  • Jul 06, 2020
  • Published in April

The death of Ratu Alifereti Finau Mara (June 9, 1957 – April 15, 2020) occurred in Suva after a short illness. He was a Fijian chief, lawyer, politician, and diplomat. Ratu Finau was the eldest son of Fiji's founding Prime Minister the late Tui Nayau Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara and Ro Lalabalavu, the Marama Bale na Roko Tui Dreketi, and a leading member of the Vuanirewa clan.

A graduate of Otago University, Ratu Finau started his legal career in 1984 in the Crown Law Office under the then Attorney-General, Qoriniasi Bale. We worked together at that time with the late Ratu Joni Madraiwiwi and Imrana Jalal now chairperson of the World Bank Inspection Panel.

Reminiscing those days, Ms Jalal described Ratu Finau as 'a gentleman, in the old-fashioned way, without being demeaning, a rare feat.'

The early 1980s was an exciting time to be working in Government. The country was in an upbeat mood and the Attorney-General's chambers had recruited some of the brightest legal minds in the country. We were blind to the divisions of race and politics that would poison the country following the first coup of 1987. Our friendship in some respects epitomised what Fiji might have been capable of — had we practiced the virtues of tolerance and understanding.

Following his pupillage in the law in the AG's chambers, Ratu Finau was later transferred to the department of foreign affairs before taking up an appointment in 1991 as Charge d'affaires at the Fiji Embassy in Washington D.C.

Upon returning to Fiji, Ratu Finau was elected to the House of Representatives in 1994, in the Government of Prime Minister Sitiveni Rabuka holding the portfolio of Minister for Fijian Affairs between 1997 and 1999. After leaving politics, including a stint as leader of the Fijian Association party, he held senior positions in the department of foreign affairs.

My connection to Ratu Finau went back to the Marist Convent School in Levuka in the early 1960s where the then Ratu Mara was Commissioner Eastern. There was something special about Levuka. Multiculturalism was a way of life in the old capital.

We attended the same school. The Convent's other star pupil, who was to acquire fame in her own right was Patricia Imrana Jalal. About that time, Ratu Finau's uncle, Ratu Joni Madraiwiwi was attending Levuka Public School. So our destinies and careers were intimately linked.

He will be remembered for his gentle, almost childlike innocence and courtesy. It is unlikely that he bore malice towards anyone.   Ratu Finau was not one to stand on ceremony and despite being of noble birth, was never pretentious. A devout Roman Catholic, he displayed a humanity that is sometimes lacking in persons born to privilege. It was rare to see him angry. In his later years, his congenial temperament masked a somewhat troubled soul. For someone who had the world at his feet, this was perplexing to those of us who loved him.

There's an Indian proverb that says: 'Nothing grows under a banyan tree.' This proverb speaks of leadership styles. Nothing grows under the dense foliage of the banyan tree. The tragedy of Ratu Finau is that he lived in the shadow of the banyan tree. The late Ratu Mara was a towering figure, intellectual giant and world statesman, a man without equal in his time. It must have placed enormous pressures on the young Ratu Finau to be compared with his father.

The expectations on him would have been huge, possibly unbearable. In the last few years he became something of a recluse. There is something sad and poignant that a man destined for greatness would die without his full potential being realised. I mourn his passing.

Ratu Finau is survived by his long-time partner Vitinia Buadromo, and two children Salesi and Lawedua, his four sisters, a brother and two grandchildren. As vasu levu to the Roko Tui Dreketi, he will be laid to rest beside his late mother and brother in the chiefly burial grounds or sautabu in Narusa, Lomanikoro, Rewa on Friday 24 April.

Fiji National University is celebrating its 10th anniversary as a national university, but 150th anniversary as an education provider. Talking to Islands Business just before his recent departure, FNU Vice-Chancellor Professor Nigel Healey said one of the things that has pleased him most during his tenure was the sense of unity and community the university now has, having historically formed from disparate colleges.

FNU has about 1000 regional students, many of them studying medicine or in TVET (vocational) engineering courses. The largest numbers come from Solomon Islands and Samoa, but other countries are represented as well.

Professor Healey says FNU is distinguished from other unis through its strong vocational focus, and strong provision of sub-degree or TVET level qualifications.

“We really educate  people for careers for jobs…all the programs are very closely integrated with the employment market. So we design the courses in collaboration with employer groups and professional bodies and all of our courses have what we call workplace attachments.”

Fiji has three universities and more than 50 colleges. Is the market large enough to support them all?

To read more, get our April edition.

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