As I write this piece the dust had long settled after the excitement of the Fiji elections that led to the instalment of Prime Minister Rear Admiral (ret.) Frank Bainimarama as the 10th democratically elected Prime Minister of the Fiji Islands. Yes there were concerns about some of the arrangements for the elections but overall the outcome of the election as has been posited by the Multinational Observer Group of which the MSG was part, “fairly represented the will of the people of Fiji.”
Until someone provides credible evidence to the contrary, it is obvious that the reasonable thing to do for now is to embrace the view that the elections were extremely successful. Therefore despite lack of overbearing consensus, I can only applaud the people of Fiji for making it possible. You have done enormously well to ensure the elections represented the wish of the people. More importantly, its success has enabled a democratically elected Government hence paving the way for the Peoples of Fiji to begin to enjoy democracy after eight years of militarised rule.
Usually the verdict of an international observer would pass light on whether an election was free and fair. Lack of a clear declaration by them would suggest they have concerns and are unable to make a declaration. With respect to the Fiji elections, the Observer Group unequivocally and publicly without hesitancy declared that they were generally happy with the conduct of the elections and as mentioned earlier had no reason not to observe that the outcome of the elections “fairly represented the will of the people.”
With the success of the Fiji elections and a democratically elected Government now in power, with Parliament once again functional, the whole of Melanesia rejoices in the dawning of a new era for the sub-region, one which abounds in opportunities for good governance that can only lead to sound policy-making and a fair go for everyone to enjoy the benefits of credible and durable democracy.
From here on in, Melanesia can once again lift its head high and forge ahead with investing and focusing more on nation-building endeavours without having to lose time in addressing accusations of poor governance and denial of democracy.
We are hopeful that with democracy now assured in Fiji, donors will be more receptive to courting gestures from Melanesian countries toward dialogue for meaningful partnerships. If truly the calls for democracy in Fiji prior to the elections had been genuine concerns and the only reasons for holding back on the usual assistance to Fiji, then now is the time for increased development flows that would promise new opportunities for economic development and social advancement in Fiji and indeed for the entire Melanesian countries.
But sometimes the reality is a twisted paradox that presents mixed scenarios that do not make sense to the ordinary person. This is because donor policies are usually complicated and often overlaid with pretence and double standards.
We in Melanesia have learnt to live through these difficult relationships and have found strength in learning from Fiji’s experiences. One of these useful lessons is that so called neighbours are not necessarily friends and that true friendship is often easier to find in far-flung localities than in one’s own region. The adage- “so close yet so far seems” to be truer as a fitting analogy for relationships between Melanesian countries and neighbours.
The good thing is now we are more aware than ever about who are our genuine friends and for us investing in developing these new friendships is a worthwhile undertaking going forward than wasting finite effort and time in useless regional cooperation that may only serve as a domain for continued imperialism in the Pacific. This is why regional unity is only meaningful in statements but seriously void of any physical description when it matters most especially in international negotiations and discourses over matters that are so important to the welfare of Pacific Island Countries and our citizens. Climate change is a case in point.
The Pacific lives the real consequences of climate change yet the unity that is needed to reinforce regional interests internationally is seriously lacking. One would think therefore that when it comes to international negotiations that all Pacific countries including our longtime friends and neighbours, Australia and New Zealand, will be strongly united and unhesitantly hold out together with the rest of the Pacific in advancing and pushing for Pacific interests which are now increasingly appreciated by the international community. Surprisingly, nothing is far from the truth. The division is embarassingly glaring and maybe the reason why Pacific voices are not heard seriously in international discourses on climate change.
Because of this, it is far more effective to work on promoting sub-regionalism as we are doing in Melanesia because then it is possible to avoid the bigotry and hypocrisy often associated with bigger numbers such as clustered around the regional organizations.
So what kind of prospects can we envisage for governance in Melanesia now that democracy has returned to Fiji.The coup in Fiji in 2006 had exacerbated the negative perceptions about Governments in Melanesia with some venturing to label it, an arc of instability.This kind of label would suggest that when one Melanesian country faces challenges with its governance, the entire sub-region suffers. With democracy restored in Fiji, Melanesia can once again look forward to developing a clearer path for pursuing sustainable prosperity through the various initiatives that are currently being developed through the MSG and relying on more benevolent partnerships emanating from regime change in Fiji.We should see increased inter-MSG development activities and improved environment for positive dialogue and engagement with the rest of the world. All this likely to culminate in a prosperous sub-region and improved confidence in our Governments and policy conducts.
But corruption seems to have its own way in Melanesia. Quite apart from regular changes in Governments caused by lack of political unity, the management and allocation of national resources are perceived to be not always above board. Fortunately, this could be a description of the past and times and circumstances could be changing for us because of one important and crucial development -all our current leaders are committed to ridding our nations of corruption. The marvellous headways in addressing corruption already being made in PNG led by Prime Minister O'Neill and similar efforts in Vanuatu and Solomon Islands led by Prime Ministers Natuman and Lilo can only stimulate positive perceptions for Melanesia. The Leadership in Fiji also is perceived to be against corruption with their stand on this debilitating evil sure to enhance governance in Melanesia. Indeed the dawn of democracy in Fiji will undoubtedly open up new opportunities for Fiji and Melanesia as a whole. It follows that the MSG too can expect increased access to the many development programs available in the region. This is a hope that while realistic should not be overly relied upon. For as we have experienced, the more we rely on someone else’s good will, the more likely that our political freedom will be curtailed.
Therefore if truly we are seeking a future that is of our own making then perhaps now is the time to pull together as a group and work on building our own subregion the way we want it and with our own resources and efforts.There are a number of initiatives that are being scoped that have the potential to lift our subregion. All that is needed now is for more willingness by our members to put in a little more of their national resources to allow these initiatives to be rolled out for the benefit of all members. A little bit from each member will create a massive impact on the level of resources required to get things moving through pooled resources. The economies of scale created therefrom can have significant flow-on effects on our pooled endeavours.We know this because it’s a known fact that “the sum of the parts is always greater than the whole”. So let’s look within our own region for help to lay a productive foundation for our durable prosperity, exploiting the opportunities now created by this new dawn of democracy in Melanesia to build a peaceful, prosperous and united Melanesia.
Mr. Peter Forau
Former Director General, MSG Secretariat
21 Sept 2011 - 31 December 2015