How he went was not in proportion to the huge impact he has left behind is one way of describing the quiet passing away of one of the region’s best marine resource management scientists and champion of local people and local knowledge. Professor Bill Aalbersberg died in Maui, Hawaii surrounded by his family members early this year and we have permissions to share excerpts of this tribute by his former colleagues and friends in Suva.
“Bill has been instrumental in building and enhancing local capacity for natural resource management with innovative ideas such as the recognition of the importance of LMMAs (Locally Marine Managed Areas). This has led to increased support for decentralised management and implementation bodies, which encourage holistic and innovative problem solving of environmental issues by local and externally-based teams. These approaches have successfully achieved natural resource management objectives, as well as garnered further support for local management. For Fiji, this has resulted in hundreds of villages being effectively reached, and stakeholders united.
“Beyond Fiji, the importance of community heart, ownership, and related values is something that Bill continuously emphasised. Bill earned wide respect forhis leadership and understanding of the critical role local people need to play in the sustainable management of their resources, and that successful conservation efforts must be embedded in the context, conditions, and vision of local people. A pioneer of the local management movement, Bill has incorporated “in the field” community work with national and regional networking and advocacy, which has helped elevate LMMAs and the LMMA Network, now an internationally sought-after approach to marine resource management.
“Bill was also a dedicated professor and mentor to students from Fiji and across the Pacific, providing scholarships and education linked with practical work experience. He helped develop the innovative Pacific Islands Community Conservation Course, which has reached over 100 students from 14 Pacific countries, many of whom are in conservation and environment management leadership positions in NGOs and government today.
“Apart from professional impact, Bill walked the talk - spoke the local language, showed concern for the environment and especially the people, and was known for gladly taking the time to sit and ‘talanoa’ over ‘kava’ with the locals, not just to share, but also to listen and learn. He was one to speak his mind when and where needed, and when he has, it is often to encourage simple, inexpensive approaches that can be sustained and replicated easily.”
Rest well Professor.
OOn behalf of the Melanesian Indigenous Land Defense Alliance (MILDA), we are writing to provide a different view on a recent editorial promoting land registration for the Pacific. We wonder who authored this letter and in whose interest it was written? For Pacific peoples, land isn’t just about making money, land is about ensuring Pacific families continue to maintain a high level of self-reliance and to control their own destiny. This includes feeding and housing their families well, as they have been doing for thousands of years. This is already happening effectively through customary communal systems of land tenure.
Land as it exists and functions now already provides for millions of people, so that we have a very low rate of absolute poverty – there’s almost no real hunger or homelessness. In the independent nations of Melanesia (PNG, Solomon Islands, and Vanuatu), customary community control of land is enshrined in our Constitutions and we maintain a special relationship with our land that is based on many generations living on and with the land as well as traditionally managing the natural resources.
MILDA is well aware of the history of how land registration has been used over the past few hundred years to alienate land from indigenous peoples around the world, and we are not going to let history repeat itself and fall into that same trap. MILDA is also mindful of the historical context of how land registration came to Melanesia and the Pacific at different times following first contact with the outside world through to independence and continues to date.
Land registration is ostensibly promoted for the same purpose; to free up land for ‘development’ and to parcel it out in the name of individuals, companies and those with hard-cash. But for us, land is held communally for the benefit of all, and remains a central part of our cultural heritage and identity. Land, particularly in Melanesia, is not a commodity but is an inalienable part of our peoples’ very existence. It has spiritual and historical values and other attributes that economists do not consider in their equations. In almost every part of Melanesia, the fact remains that land is our source of kastom, mana, sustenance and economic empowerment. Even if it doesn’t necessarily pay you in hard cash at the end of every week, although it may, if that is what a family or clan wants from it.
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Joey Tau Media and Campaign Officer Pacific Network on Globalisation (PANG)
Your article on Nauru (IB March 2014) contains many inaccuracies and accepts as true untested and generalised defamatory allegations from unnamed persons against ex magistrate Peter Law. I note as follows; Firstly, Jacobson left Nauru on 31 January and has not returned. Secondly, your claims that “following a string of misdemenours including improper conduct with staff ” is libellous. There were untested and denied allegations of misbehaviour. The government has never identified who made the allegations save for one person whom the President himself said had no credibility. Thirdly, I did not say the sacking of Law was a breach of “common law.” I said it was a breach of the rule of law, and it plainly was. You do not sack and replace a judicial officer because you want to get a different result. Fourthly, it is false and defamatory to say that “apparently Law was not capable . . . time after time he had his impartiality challenged.” Over three years, his impartiality was never challenged before his dismissal. In addition, your assertion that “Eames ignored an injunction . . .” is wrong. It was the President and Minister for Justice who ignored my injunctions which restrained them from deporting Law, and later Henshaw. Furthermore, there were no sackings of Australian citizens that were done “because of their links or allegiances to Law and Justice Eames.” That is completely false. The government refused to give any reason for deporting Henshaw, who was not an employee of government in any event. No employee was sacked because of an association with me or Law. We did not even know the second businessman who was deported (a Fiji citizen by the name of Haneef Mohammed).
Geoffrey M Eames AM QC Australia.
Islands Business International editor-in-chief Laisa Taga’s passing away on April 4, brought in a flood of tributes from across the region and beyond. Here is a small selection of them, compiled to fit a page that her column ‘Letter from Suva’ graced for so many years. We celebrate her life here, writing to her on her special page one last time.
Tributes and condolences cascaded incessantly on social media walls and email inboxes just minutes after word got around that you had passed away on April 4. Messages long and short came from far and near from colleagues, friends, associates, mentees, admirers – and quite a large number of people who said they had never known you or met you personally but were so very saddened by your passing. Self-effacing to a fault, you shunned the limelight and always chose to stay in the shadows. You perfected the art of leading your team of staff and contributors from the front – while remaining almost totally invisible. Everyone knew you were editor in chief of the region’s largest and one of the oldest and most respected stables of publications, but you never ever sought to consciously build a profile for yourself. You were too down-to-earth and focused to get on with the job for that. Perhaps one of the most precise descriptions of your unassuming yet affable personality and hard-as-nails work ethic came from Islands Business publisher and long time colleague Godfrey Scoullar. In his letter announcing your passing he wrote, “Laisa was a tower of strength, a hard working and knowledgeable editor with a measured temperament and great sense of humour… As a regional media figure she was a quiet achiever who downplayed her achievements and never sought recognition.”
Your unassuming yet strong and firm personality peppered with candid humour was much admired by all who came into contact with you. “I knew Laisa for many years as someone who loved words and yet was quietly spoken; who was strong-minded but yet was easy-going; and who loved to listen and interpret what she saw in the most elegant way,” wrote Papua New Guinea communications professional Euralia Paine. Longtime contributor Rowan Callick wrote, “It was always such a delight to hear from Laisa, always so bright and breezy and also professional.” Though colleagues and close friends knew you were ailing over the past few months and the inevitable was looming, it does not make the event, when it comes to pass, any less devastating.
Especially when you faced it so very bravely and insisted on working until you could do so no more. “It was her wish she should continue to work until she could work no more,” wrote Godfrey. And as Marshall Islands IB correspondent Giff Johnson wrote, “Even having had warning that it was coming doesn’t make it easier to accept.” The Pacific’s interests were closest at heart for you. You felt genuinely and passionately for its parlous political and economic state of affairs, its people and their plight amidst a range of growing challenges. PNG journalist Sam Vulum said, “Laisa was an elite and a tower of a force whose brilliance and flair in the profession were evident in her treatment of topical regional issues … under her relentless leadership until her passing.” “She was a realist and was critical of those whose service to the region was questionable.
That was because she was genuinely concerned for the region and in particular, our Pacific Islands people,” wrote Parties to the Nauru Agreement Office CEO, Dr Transform Aqorau. South Pacific Regional Environment Programme (SPREP) Director General and IB columnist David Sheppard wrote, “As advocates of environment awareness and gender equality we have always admired and respected the pioneering strength of Laisa in her many different media leadership roles over the years. She has been a role model for many including staff within our organisation.” “Through her many correspondents, Laisa Taga was a watching eye, and a listening ear to the myriad of issues facing all our island states,” Pacific Freedom Forum chair Titi Gabi was quoted as saying on the International Federation of Journalists website.
Laisa, you were a mentor and role model to so many young journalists and someone to look up to even for experienced writers from around the region and beyond. “I owe her a great debt of gratitude for her example and assistance over the years,” wrote journalist Sophie Foster. Media professional and consultant Ulafala Aiavao’s tribute echoed, “I am one of many who benefited from Laisa’s insight, her assistance and sense of humour.” Lusi Banuve Leqa, a former Islands Business staff writer wrote, “Your constant disciplining and correction but at the same time ‘mercy and grace’ shown paved the way for me. You were always ‘hard’ but man were they the best training one could get.” Likewise, writer Marie Barbier is full of admiration: “In the years had been liaising with her [for] feature ideas, she was always the most graceful, polite and supremely professional editor to deal with. I am privileged to work with all the editors I have been freelancing for over the years, but there was something so tangibly human about Laisa.” Like so many who posted tributes, editorial contributor Joycelin K Leahy had never met you: “Laisa has been so patient with me with my writing and the articles and this is so very sad. Oh, I feel so sad. I wish I had met her. How lucky was I to know her so briefly and in those last moments of her life. My heart grieves for this amazing woman that I have never met.”
Haidee Eugenio, correspondent from the Northern Marianas wrote, “I am very grateful for Laisa’s guidance, her knowledge about and interest in Pacific issues including those involving the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands. It’s a shock to hear of [her] passing. I couldn’t stop crying.” In a touching tribute on the Pacificmedia/ googlegroups web resource, long time friend and media professional Lisa Williams-Lahari said, “I thank you, big sister, for the lesson in mentoring and the simple power of an affirming nod. For the laughs and conversations, both in the wings of whatever meeting we were at, or in the online one-liners where a quick response on a burning question was all I needed to deal with the emergency of the moment. We didn’t always agree, but throughout a career spanning more than two decades one thing has been constant – you have always had my back.” Your peers and contemporaries had the highest respect for you. Titi Gabi said that during her time as editor-in-chief of Islands Business Laisa provided a monthly drumbeat unequalled in its regularity and consistency. Former Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat Director Roman Grynberg wrote, “She was a great Fijian and a wonderful part to a free and vibrant press in the South Pacific that never feared speaking the truth to power.” An editorial in Republica magazine said, “She was a strong, dedicated woman who spent long hours working on assignments and leading from the front.” You commanded respect from all segments of Pacific society – including the political class. “She was one of the few women in the Pacific who commanded the respect of many leaders and governments around the region even though they did not always agree with her viewpoint,” Former PINA coordinator Matai Akauola said. Fiji Sun Publisher Peter Lomas, who first recruited Laisa as a journalist on the original Fiji Sun said, “Laisa was a remarkable journalist and editor. She led and influenced through deeds, rather than talking. She made a true difference in many lives.”
The sneaking admiration for your unflappable personality with a dash of humour never went unnoticed. Steve Menzies, Director of The Pasifika Collective wrote, “Laisa had a deliciously wicked sense of humour and a complete disdain for pretence of any sort. Her passing is a great loss for anyone who had the good fortune to be inspired by her humanity.” And from amidst the unfolding flooding disaster in Honiara came this message from Anouk Ride: “In talking to people about the loss of Laisa Taga over the past few days in Honiara, where media are consumed by the tragedy of the floods, I am reminded that everyone has stories of Laisa – how she encouraged us, made us laugh, made us aim higher in our work. I will always remember her guidance and am comforted by the thought this is her legacy – the inspiration she gave to all of us.” Unfortunately, unlike social media walls, space here is limited. It is impossible to accommodate all the tearful, touching and deeply respectful tributes that are still coming in on this page. But they are all on the Islands Business Facebook page and Laisa’s personal FB page. Besides, we can almost hear you, Laisa, from the big newsroom up there asking us to stop the fuss and to can this piece and find a replacement for it. And to get on with the job. And to not miss the deadline! RIP Laisa, editor, friend, colleague, exemplarily compassionate human being.
• By Dev Nadkarni on behalf of Laisa’s wide circle of colleagues, friends and admirers
Recently much publicity has been given by one of the two Fiji dailies on an Englishman proudly unfurling the Fiji flag on the roof of the world, Mt Everest. By coincidence at the Rugby League World Cup match between Fiji Bati and England, many Fijian fans were enthusiastically and proudly waving Fiji’s ‘noble banner blue’ with the British Union Jack on it, and no doubt shouting ‘Go Bati go’, ‘Go Fiji Go’. Following the convincing defeat of the Fiji Bati, I could not help but wonder if the victorious English were inspired by the Union Jack being waved all over the stadium! Being on the field of play, the English players perhaps could not hear the chorus of ‘Go Fiji Go’ which accompanied the Fiji flag waving! To forever stop the confusion over whose flag Fijians are waving, Fiji should embrace a nationally authentic flag. Surely, after more than 25 years of being a sovereign republic, it is time to have a flag that reflects this fact and better represent Fiji in international community. No former colony of Britain in Africa, the Caribbean, and Asia has the Union Jack prominently painted on its national flag. Closer to home, Fiji can learn from Samoa, Nauru, Papua New Guinea, the Solomon Islands, Palau, the Marshall Islands, Tonga, Federated States of Micronesia and Vanuatu. It should be a matter of embarrassment that the country that chairs the Group of 77 and China and calls itself a republic has a flag with monarchic symbols!
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