Fiji treads with care
Ratu Inoke says NZ move of little impact
By MAIKA BOLATIKI
Australia and New Zealand are now reviewing their sanctions against Fiji, it has been confirmed. But whether this will do enough to restore normal relations remains in question.
The Minister for Foreign Affairs and International Co-operation, Ratu Inoke Kubuabola, reacted with caution to an announcement by his New Zealand counterpart, Murray McCully, yesterday.
Mr McCully announced the lifting of some sanctions. But critically for relations between Fiji and New Zealand sanctions on senior members of government and members of the military seem destined to remain.
Ratu Inoke said that while Fiji welcomed the incremental changes in the New Zealand stance, it was regrettable they were of little impact at this late stage of Fiji’s
progress towards a return to democracy.
Ratu Inoke added: “Our commitment to taking Fiji to democratic elections by September 2014 has been resolute. With the new Constitution in place and the electoral process under way our plan under the Roadmap is very much on track.
“It is positive that New Zealand recognises this commitment and progress but it may have come a little too late.”
Fiji has been the target of a series of so-called “smart” sanctions by Australia and New Zealand since the change of leadership in 2006. The stance of the now defeated Australian Labor Government and the current New Zealand Government has led to Fiji not being willing to resume diplomatic ties at high commissioner level.
On Australia’s stance, Ratu Inoke said he had received confirmation from Julie Bishop that they would review Australia’s sanctions policy against Fiji.
Ms Bishop was the Deputy Leader of the Opposition and shadow foreign minister for the Coalition which ousted Labor in Saturday’s election. She is widely expected to be a strong Foreign Minister in the new Government led by Prime Minister Tony Abbott.
“I’ve been told by Ms Bishop that the new Coalition Government will review Australia’s sanction policy,” Ratu Inoke said.
He said according to Ms Bishop Australia’s current sanction policy was put in place by the previous Coalition government in which Alexander Downer was Foreign Minister. She said she had urged the Labor government to review it but this came to no avail.
In a release by Ms Bishop a day before the elections in Australia, she said: “The Coalition believes that it is time for the Australian government to review its stance on Fiji if elections are to be held in 2014 and for there to be a return to democracy and the rule of law in Fiji
“We will work with Fiji to normalise relations as soon as possible.”
NZ supports elections
Yesterday in Wellington Mr McCully said the New Zealand Cabinet has also agreed to some changes which recognised the progress that has been made in Fiji and the need for support for free and fair elections.
Mr McCully announced a programme of electoral assistance, development assistance and the easing of some sanctions.
He said the New Zealand government welcomed recent moves toward elections, including the release of the final Constitution, and wanted to support the elections process.
“A senior official from the New Zealand Electoral Commission has recently participated in elections planning work in Fiji. New Zealand will now offer to resource the on-going work that is taking place,” Mr McCully said.
“In addition to supporting the elections office, we have decided to reinstate 10 post graduate scholarships for Fijian students. These were suspended in 2006.”
Cabinet had also agreed to formally revoke the sporting sanctions instituted in 2006.
“While it has been our practice to provide exemptions from this ban in virtually every case, we judge that the time is now right to formally revoke the ban.”
Mr McCully said individual bans will still apply to members of teams who are caught by the sanctions on members of the Government and the military.
Over recent months he said their government had eased the operation of the travel sanctions, leaving them in place for key government and military members but easing the process around family members of less senior figures.
“We intend to continue down this path as further progress is made toward free and fair elections,” Mr McCully said.
Ratu Inoke acknowledged the continuing support of the New Zealand government towards the election process saying “This is valuable”.
NZ’s sport sanctions
“I am also pleased that the sporting sanction is now revoked and national teams will be able to travel and participate in events held in New Zealand,” Ratu Inoke said.
“Fiji will also benefit from the restoration of New Zealand scholarships especially in specialist post graduate studies not available at the local universities.”
Since the 2006 takeover the Bainimarama Government has established wide ranging new international relations and partnerships in the wake of Australian and New Zealand government policies.
Prime Minister Commodore Voreqe Bainimarama has also made it clear Fiji will do what it best for Fiji, and not be dictated to by Australia and New Zealand.