Friday, August 31, 2007


AN Australian by birth and having lived in Asia for most of his working life, the only thing Brad Shennan had in common with Fiji before he ever saw the country was tourism.
And yet, three months after arriving here to take up the position of director of operations at Treasure Island in the Mamanucas, Brad, as he is known on the island, finds himself very much at home in Fiji.
"It's paradise," says Brad of his new home.
On a two-year contract with the resort, Brad, 42, finds Fiji quite a contrast to his previous experiences in Asia and Dubai.
That's what gives him such an appreciation for his new assignment in this part of the South Pacific.
All that for someone who had no idea what this side of world or Fiji in particular had to offer.
"I got into the industry because I love to travel," he recalls.
"I started in the tourism industry after completing my university studies in Australia, which was around 1984," he said.
"It was the Sheraton hotels in Townsville for three years then on to Ayers Rock for another three years.
"I then went on to Melbourne where I worked for four years before heading off to Malaysia for 10 years. After my work there was completed, I headed back to Australia before moving down to Dubai for a year."
While living in Asia gave him the opportunity to learn about different cultures, Brad decided to continue the journey he began in a different direction when he took up the job in Dubai. When that assignment ended, he was given a choice to either take up a job in Kuwait or come down to Fiji.
"I was flown over here to check out the place and just opted to stay on," he said.
"Let's face it, Fiji is one of the prettiest and most peaceful places in the world.
"Fiji is a lot more relaxed, unlike Dubai where it's very exciting but things are done in the extreme.
"There are mega projects. Things are done on a large scale and a lot of money is being used. It's like Disneyland."
Brad is married to Renai, who is from Bali, where they plan to set up a business.
While this traveller at heart has seen much of the world, he is yet to leave his little corner of paradise on Treasure Island to see what the rest of Fiji is like. But it is clear he has already formed a real bonding with this country.
"I chose Fiji because it's more preserved especially with its culture but Dubai has rushed into development where it has lost its culture. Dubai is the westernised version of the Middle East.
"One of the biggest differences is that there are some places around the world where once you have met a person, you would be wondering when they would start asking things of you.
"But that's not the case here in Fiji. People are genuine and it's fairly unique.
"What's not to like about this place. People come here and relax. It's exciting to the tourist because they are in a foreign country and they are safe."

Adapted from Fijitimes Online

Thursday, August 30, 2007


STUDENTS of Andrews Primary school on the Nadi back road, like every other schools in the country, go through their daily curriculum but also use outdoor gardening as a learning process.
The school was established in 1918 and has a roll of 700 students from Class One to Class Eight.
The headteacher, Mohammed Rasheed, said gardening also taught students to have a healthy lifestyle.
He said it gave students an insight of what could be done in their backyard at home.
He said in the Third Term, students and their gardener would plant pumpkin and harvest it in late January or early February.
"When the pumpkin is harvested we plant other crops such as dhania, radish, French and long bean, okra, cucumber, bindhi, tomatoes and eggplant," he said.
"On the hill slopes we plant cassava. The garden is maintained by our school gardener and the children.
"This is one form of substituting our school fees which is very low. This is one of the school's income-generating projects.
"When it's harvest season the older classes go to the gardens and help with the picking.
"Most of the senior students participate in this because it also ties in with their school work."
Mr Rasheed said the school had also been in constant contact with the Agriculture department at Nadi on farming techniques.
He said having a healthy lifestyle and learning business skills was the school's way of equipping their students for the future.
He said the farming skills learning for the students was part of promoting a healthy and enterprising education.
He said the emphasis was given to the students to be part of a health education.
"School gardening plays a key role in promoting health because it enables the children to work in the garden and get a feeling of freshness when the vegetables are priced before they are sold.
"When the children and teachers harvest the produce, they are given priority to buy the fresh vegetables before the rest is sold to members of the public or to the market and to people who place their orders."
Mr Rasheed said the exercise enabled the students to take part in gardening, harvesting and pricing of vegetables for sale and groomed them to be farmers in the future and how to use their land.

Adapted from Fijitimes Online

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Samuela Sakabua, the BBQ Expert from Cicia, LAU

By now most of us from the capital city must have eaten a serve of barbecue at the Hibiscus Carnival.
Meet Samuela Sakabua one of the countless barbecue stall operators at Albert Park.
Samuela, 61, is a pioneer barbecue hawker in Suva, cooking up delights from the 1990s.
"I love doing this because you get good returns and you are happy at the end of the day,"he said.
"During the 1990s, I used to make close to $900 per day,"he said.
"The minimum I used to get a day was $400. By selling barbecue I was able to buy a carrier, most household items and most importantly I was able to educate my seven children,"said Sakabula.
He was the most wanted person in the Suva Bus Stand area when he started out, even closely guarding his secret ingredients with which he marinated his meat.
"It all depends on how you prepare the marinade for the chops and sausages,"he said.
"The smell of your barbecue should be able to send the message to the people of how tasty it really is.
"If you fail to produce the smell, it becomes no use selling the food. If people smell and come around, that's good but if the smell is there and they walk away then there's something wrong with your barbecue,"he said bursting out with laughter.
"I always tell my wife never to look at how much a customer spends but be grateful that at least they came to the stall and always try to build a good friendly relationship with them,"he said. Sakabula's passion for running a barbecue business got him into a lot of trouble when he first started but he never gave up.
"I have even ended up in court and been fined in order to keep my business running."He was warned by Suva City Council for not having a hawker's licence, not to sell barbecued food from near the bus stand area and was eventually prosecuted for doing so. Three times he was taken to court and fined $46 each time. "I was told not to sell barbecue at that spot but I kept doing it because that was my only source of income. I had seven children and that was our bread and butter.
"I think the magistrate was tired of seeing my face and she asked me one day why I kept on doing what I was not supposed to. "I explained that I had a family to feed and that that was my responsibility and priority.
"The magistrate then asked the SCC to give me a permit and that was the end of the story,"he said. Sukabula started as out Sam's Tasty Takeaway', doing a booming trade and becoming the most popular barbecue stall operator in town.
"I started at around 5.30pm and went on until the morning, knocking off at 2 or 3am. People used to crowd around my caravan. Apart from barbecue, we sold coffee, tea, Milo and bread,"he said. Sakabula shared his good fortunate by feeding several who begged in the city, saying he felt sorry for them.
He admits at often being frustrated with drunkards who stole food from his stand.
"It was very upsetting sometimes because some drunken people just grabbed the barbecue and ran away with it. It was no use running after them, so I just let them go and there were times when they even broke into my caravan looking for food at night."Sakabula hails from Cicia, in Lau, and came to Suva in 1962 for his secondary education and attended Navuso Agricultural School in Nausori.
He took a break from selling barbecue in 2000, turning to vegetable farming. He plants vegetables at his home in Nausori but could not ignore the easy cash in selling barbecue food at night. That's what brought him back to the Hibiscus Carnival.

Adapted from Fijitimes Online

Wednesday, August 22, 2007


The Fiji Secondary Schools Rugby Union's Deans Trophy competition has grown in popularity over the years.
It has unleashed stars who have gone on to represent the country at the highest level. The latest in the crop is 21-year-old national flyhalf Waisea Luveniyali, a Queen Victoria School old boy. Saturday's final, won by QVS was the culmination of weeks of competition in the eastern, southern and western zones. What will be asked now is where to from here?
Only two other stages can come any where near the atmosphere a Deans Trophy final carries the Coca-Cola Athletics finals at the Post Fiji Stadium just before the first term school holidays, and Fiji's sevens rugby victories in Hong Kong.
It's when the adrenalin pumps, passion radiates in the faces of fans, and the atmosphere takes on a scope of magic.
It's when issues like race, colour and creed mean nothing in the face of blinding passion.
It's when the person next to you cheering for your team becomes your new found mate. It's when strangers go against the advice of mothers never talk to strangers.
To sniff victory is exciting, but to taste victory is magic.
I'd gone down to watch the lone school from the western division, Natabua High take on the might of Ratu Kadavulevu School in the final of the Under-17 competition on Saturday.
They were carrying the hopes and aspirations of every westerner who had either made it over to the Laucala Bowl or was tuned in to one of the radio stations broadcasting the game.
I felt their mere presence, despite eventually going down to RKS, was a sign of the times. The side won last year's Under-16 title, beating QVS in the final to step into history. They defeated Dudley in the quarter-finals and QVS in the semi-finals of this year's Under-17 grade to meet RKS in the final.
The only other time Natabua or any other school from the western division had ever reached an important stage of the competition was back in 1992.
That was when Natabua went down fighting to the Orisi Basiyalo captained Suva Grammar in the eliminations at the then National Stadium.
So when Natabua Under-17 number eight and skipper Tevita Navuda led his men out, I felt goosebumps.
I watched as the lead changed hands and marveled at the pace Natabua's openside flanker Rusiate Nawa packed when he raced from inside his 22m line to score a breath-taking try in the closing minutes of the second spell. It lifted Natabua's spirits.
But then exposure and big game'time kicked in to guide RKS to a 21-15 victory.
Natabua led 10-7 at halftime. The late comeback by RKS brought them back to earth.
But I felt there were lessons to be learnt there. Lessons I felt can only make the western side better in the lead-up to next year's competition.
They'd effectively dispelled the notion that the top rugby players only went to schools in the eastern and southern divisions.
That game set the stage, at least for me, for what turned out to be an exciting Under-19 final between RKS and QVS.
Every sign pointed towards a tough clash. The stage was set early in the semi-finals.
Both teams had picked up mistakes and said they'd ironed them out leading up to the final.
It was now about which team wanted the win more.
I watched as QVS players knelt one after the other in a show of respect after shaking the hand of one of their own, Suliasi Lutubula, the president of the FSSRU.
That scenario spoke a thousand words.
It showed respect, acknowledgement and acceptance of a man who had played in the biggest game of schoolboy rugby, and won the coveted Deans Trophy.
It was a touch of humility and humbleness I felt was missed by thousands of people that windy and damp Saturday afternoon.
I felt those few minutes spoke highly of the spirit of the Deans Trophy competition.
Lutubula was one of them. He was a QVS old boy. And the QVS squad showed him respect reserved only for men who had reached the epitome of the sport.
Such moments in sports leave a lasting impression on the minds of those who are fortunate enough to see them.
The question now is where to from here? Especially after QVS won 7-5. Lutubula feels the onus is now on provincial unions in the country to lift their game and get their acts together.
"It is unfortunate that some players disappear after the Deans Trophy final," he agrees.
"If the unions do not get their acts together, development at this level would be wasted.
"Players will always move to greener pastures.
"We are developing players from the base, from the grassroots.
"They can only go up from here, which is why it is very important that the provincial unions set a platform that makes the transition easy for these players.
"We are always talking about frontrowers for instance the fact that we don't have them.
"But look at our competition. You have tighthead and loose head props who can be nurtured for the national team. "The important thing is that they're already playing in those positions at secondary school level and are getting exposure."
Lutubula believes the Fiji Rugby Union would do well to scout for potential talent at the annual schoolboy competition.
"We have to do that now or lose some of these players to other countries," he says. "I think the important question is where do they go from here. I think they can only go up. But for that, work needs to be done by a lot of people and unions and it's for the betterment of the game in then country." It is a sentiment shared by keen followers of the game. I noticed a few members of the champion Lelean side from last year have moved on to provincial union rugby like five eight Kaminieli Neiqisa for Nadi and hooker Viliame Satala for Lautoka. Lelean's exciting openside flanker Sakenasa Aca and centre Tomasi Mawi are now in the national sevens squad heading for the South Pacific Games in Samoa.
It will be interesting to see what happens after the final of the Deans Trophy competition.
Stars have been unveiled. The potential is there. It is now about sitting up, taking notice, and hopefully, the powers that be will be doing the right thing, to nurture these stars.

Adapted from Fijitimes Online

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

SELINA KURULECA talks about stress in Fiji

IN all facets of life people face stress but hardly anyone knows how to deal with it.
And while more and more people are seeking treatment for its symptoms, others have found other ways one of the most extreme methods is when people are stressed into taking their own life.
A study shows 67 people committed suicide last year, although this was lower than the previous year (2005), which recorded 77 suicides.
Ask Selina Kuruleca, a psychotherapist who has been in the profession for the past five years and has done studies of her own to reveal the above statistics with the help of the Fiji Police Force and the Ministry of Health.
"The reason fewer suicides happened in 2006, in my opinion, was that we had wider awareness on the issues linked to suicide," she said.
Some of the factors identified in a national survey as causes of suicide include:
Boyfriend/girlfriend problems;
domestic problems;
extramarital affairs;
mental problems;
arranged marriage;
losing face/stigma;
unwanted pregnancy;
premarital affairs;
health problems;
education failure;
widowhood; and
She said this time last year she saw only 34 clients for psychotherapy, compared to the 82 clients (48 more than last year) already this year.
"People are coming as far as Rakiraki and Ba to see me," she said.
Ms Kuruleca said more civil servants and teachers were being treated or diagnosed with stress because of the uncertainty they faced in their jobs and the fact that they had had a 5 per cent pay cut.
"In my private practice without disclosing any confidentiality I have seen an increase in senior civil servants or their partners because of the economic pressure.
"Their husbands have been laid off and they ask what are we going to do now' or their husband is retiring at 55 or 58 this year and they ask themselves what are they going to do?
"We have had many of civil servants and a particular segment of the civil service coming to talk to us and I have heard from teachers as well of similar concerns.
"They have all their years of experience and they are just told they are going to be laid off.
"There is an incident of a particular teacher who walked into his office on Monday morning of the school term, got a fax thanking them for coming and saying that they had to take leave because they are 57-years-old and that would be it. How do you think they will think if they have been in civil service for 37 years and have been told they no longer have a job?
"Having said that, the role of the civil service is not to provide a job for someone but to serve the public.
"If you are not skilled you need to move on or upskill yourself or familiarise yourself on the procedures of Government."
She said there were more attempted suicides this year compared to last year.
"I have a seen more people in the tourism industry and they are not in a good situation because they have been among the worst hit," she said.
"It started with cutting of hours and then number of people but I have seen that many businesses have picked up."
She said she had seen an increase in extra marital affairs. "You know how people start off in a grog session then pick up a partner in the process," Ms Kuruleca said.
"What started off as an innocent grog session or innocent hanging out session developed into something else because people are looking for an outlet that points to marital strife.
"Most of the people who have suffered strife in their workplace whom I have seen are civil servants.
"Many companies, when implementing the five per cent pay cut, did not impose cuts on their staff, but those companies that did cut their pay executed a 15 to 30 per cent cut.
"I think when civil servants were crying they did not get all the support because other sectors said civil service cut was not as bad as theirs," she said.
Ms Kuruleca said Fiji-Indians still dominated suicide statistics but Fijians were catching up.
She said people should start detecting the signs of stress when they experienced sexual dysfunction when you are not eating properly, when you do not sleep properly, inability to separate personal to professional life, unexplained weight loss or gain, not knowing when your day has gone, getting frustrated over every little thing.
"We often say we let things fester we argue and say it's okay but after a while it explodes and the old argument comes up again," she said.
Ms Kuruleca said when people felt constipated a lot, "there is something you keep in your system ... a lot that you need to get rid of".
She said diarrhoea, unexplained skin infections or rashes were a sign of stress.
"Someone I spoke to said boils started to pop up antibiotics were not working. We spoke about her problems and a week later she was drinking beer again and was happy," she said.
Ms Kuruleca said many children were getting into sniffing glue, smoking marijuana and bullying problems were surfacing more than before.
"This is the other side that people need to take into consideration," she said.
"The stress that parents are bringing home from their workplace may be passed onto their children and this is where these things happen."
She said only recently The Fiji Times wrote about children who stole $200 just to buy glue.
"We like to say that we did worse but how many of us actually did worse," she said.
"If you come home at 11pm and your children are asleep that is where problems will happen.
"The elevated levels of stress the body responds the same way to these problems."
Her advice talk to someone you trust and do a lot of exercise "their needs to be exercise available or a fitness program for an office".
"Somewhere where office members can sit down and release that stress," she said.
She said when people drink sweet things and eat too much it is because the body wants more energy.
"This is why it is important that we all eat healthy," she said.

Adapted from Fijitimes Online

Saturday, August 18, 2007

A Scotsman love for FIJI

HE is not a Fijian nor of Fiji nationality but remains a Fijian at heart.
Tony Millard came to Fiji in 1976 from Scotland as a volunteer teacher and fell in love with the people and place.
"This is the most amazing place I have ever been to," he said.
"There is no place like Fiji. It is a friendly, warm and welcoming country.
"You don't have to rush around doing things here and there like in other places.
"There is a mix of traditional culture between Fijians, Indians and other races which enrich the nation as a whole and this is what makes it unique.
"We don't have this cultural integration in the UK. In western way of life, I think we take many things way too seriously.
"There are a lot of things to be learnt from the Fijian culture."
He said there are problems and tensions in Fiji but it was nothing compared to other countries.
"Fiji is not as bad as other countries.
"The amount of physical violence and crime happening in the UK is nowhere in comparison to Fiji. That's why I say Fiji is the best country."
Millard taught at Savusavu Secondary School and spent five years in the country before returning to Scotland. During the five years, Millard became so well versed with the local people and culture that he saw himself as a Fijian.
"I am 54 but still young at heart."
He married Loata Navu. They have three children and they live in Scotland.
Millard left Fiji in 1981 but always maintained a close link with people of Savusavu.
His love for the country brought him back in 1999 when he started working on a project to familiarise Fiji with his people back at home.
The Fiji Merchiston Millennium 3 Project is his idea through which young students from Scotland get a chance to visit Fiji and get to taste the lifestyle of a tropical country.
"I liaised with the principal of Batibalavu District School in Savusavu to allow students of Merchiston Castle School in Scotland to come here once a year and experience the lifestyle here because it is so different from what we have back home.
"The project officially got started in 2000.
"This year we raised $30,000 through fundraising at our school and brought a batch of 12 students accompanied by four teachers.
"We ask the students to apply, why they want to be part of the project and come to Fiji and they are selected on that basis.
"The students who come with us are all first-timers here and apart from touring around the country, they also get to stay with a Fijian family in the village to experience the traditional way of life.
"I bring young people because my aim is to keep generating the intercultural relationship and let our people know about this beautiful paradise, the generosity of people, the food, climate and everything which is just so different from our place."
Millard said even though he resided in Scotland, he would always carry the beauty and uniqueness of Fiji in his heart and continue influencing others in his country about Fiji.
"I don't think there is any other place in the world like Fiji."
The group arrived on July 4 and left two weeks ago. Steph Godfrey, one of the students in the batch said he was fortunate to come and visit Fiji.
"This is my first time to this country and this place is just fantastic.
"I think this sort of opportunity is rare and that's why I took the interest to be part of the project.
"It is a very different experience to live with a Fijian family and they are just so generous and nice," said Steph.

Adapted from Fijitimes Online

Friday, August 17, 2007


THE Fijian language should be made compulsory in the school curriculum ahead of Hindustani, the Fijian Teachers Association said last night.
Association general secretary Maika Namudu said the Fijian language should be made Fiji's national language before any consideration could be give to making Hindustani compulsory in the school curriculum.
This follows a Cabinet endorsement for the compulsory teaching of written and spoken Fijian, Hindustani and English languages in all primary and secondary schools and tertiary institutions.
Cabinet said spoken and written qualifications of the three languages would also be a pre-requisite for employment in the civil service.
The move is aimed at harmonising the ethnic divide in the country and its inculcation into the school curriculum hinges on consultation the Education ministry has with stakeholders, interim Education Minister Netani Sukanaivalua said.
Mr Namudu said following conclusive consultations, the next step would be train teachers to teach.
"The vernacular taught in schools today is half-pie job. We need professionally trained teachers for this. I would suggest we teach English first, then Fijian and many years later Hindustani," he said.
"Teaching all three subjects all at once would be chaotic. It's not easy to make all three subjects compulsory."

Wednesday, August 15, 2007


FLYING Fijians coach Ilivasi Tabua says Fiji needs an impressive performance in the opening two pool matches of the Rugby World Cup in a bid to reach to the next stage.
Tabua said a win against Japan and Canada was "vital".
He said Fiji will have to set a good platform before its matches Australia and Wales.
"We have to start off well," Tabua said.
"It's Japan and Canada. Those two games are vital. We will not worry what's further down the line. It's what straight immediately in front of us which that is vital. I know Japan will come out firing and Canada as well.
"If we set ourselves a good platform from those two games then it leads us to the next stage which is Australia and Wales.
"So the first two games are vital for us and it's a three day turn around.
"So we have to go out there and be prepared to take the bull by its horn and go hard at it and win for Fiji."
The national side is in its fifth week of camp in Sigatoka. The team held three training sessions yesterday with the main focus on game situations.
Tabua, who took up the job as coach following the resignation of Wayne Pivac early this year, said he could not complain about the time frame given to him to build the team.
"In this fifth week of training the focus is all on game situation," Tabua said.
"Everything we are doing at training is about the game. We are breaking it down and putting them into the game situations.
"So the training varies and that's the plan for this week. The five weeks is what was given to us and this is the best we could do."
The Fiji team flies out to France on Friday.
The team will play against FC Auch Gers and Sporting Club next week as part of its final build for the RWC.
Tabua said the matches would give him a chance to polish up combinations ahead of the against Japan on September 12.
"For us this two matches will be mimicking the Wednesday and Sunday opening round pool games," Tabua said.
"We will be fielding two different teams. Then we have about two weeks before we go into match camp."
Fiji's second pool match against Canada is on September 16.
The national side takes on Australia on September 23 with the final match against Wales on September 29.

Adapted from Fijitimes Online


WHILE Fiji enjoys continuous support from volunteers who have been coming in from different parts of the world, some have come to love the place more than others.
In-Hwan An, better known as An, Fiji will always be special place for him.
The 29-year-old from Seoul and five others arrived in December through the volunteer program, Korea International Co-operation Agency (KOICA).
"At first, we were nervous about learning English and adapting to a new culture but now I feel we have adapted well," he said.
"For my job, I was placed in the IT section of the Ministry of Youth and Sports.
"During my time there, I assisted in developing a new database system, the designing and construction of a new computerised database system which has user-friendly features and easily accessed by users.
"In addition, I ensured that the Local Area Network (LAN) was operating smoothly, that the equipment was correctly configured and standardised and the software was up and compatible.
"I also backed-up the system, checked the equipment, set up user accounts and worked on troubles-hooting"
He helped renew the Youth and Sports ministry website and continually updating it for the users.
"My house is one of the government quarters off Muanikau Road. When I entered my house for the first time, I was surprised to find it had a bad smell and a lot of mould in the house.
"I think it had been a long time since the last person lived in there and it had been sitting empty and growing mildew," he said.
"After I cleaned it and get some fresh air moving through it, PWD came and painted the inside walls. Now it's very comfortable and I really love my house.
"I have done a lot of travelling in Fiji. I have visited Naigani Island where one of my co-workers is from."
The cultural-trip was beautiful because he had lovo food and learnt how to make coconut oil.
He has been to Volivoli near Rakiraki and gone snorkelling and deep-sea fishing.
"I went up to the Friendly North last October to visit some friends. I visited Naboutini Village for a couple of days, slept in an authentic Fijian bure and spent some time reading English books to kindie children.
"I spent several days in Labasa just relaxing and hanging out with my friends."
He made friends with an Indian family at Raralevu where he tasted some fiery Indian curry.
"One of the best things about Fiji was that I met my fiance here."
An met Lindsey who was a volunteer with the Peace Corps with the Ministry of Health.
He said his time here had been "like a dream come true for me, because I found paradise and fell in love in paradise".
"I have really enjoyed my time in Fiji," he said.
"We are hoping to make enough money so we can come back to Fiji in the future for a nice, long, sunny vacation.
"The people, food and weather, everyone and everything have been so nice here.
"I'm happy I had the opportunity to come there and work and learn about the local cultures.
"I enjoy both the Fijian and Indo-Fijian lifestyles.
"I really hope I can come back to Fiji in the near future and meet up with my friends again.
"I want to thank all the people who have invited me to their homes for a nice dinner and to those who have been so kind to me while I've been living in this wonderful country.
"I will never forget you."
An said Fiji was now part of him because of the many beautiful things that happened to his life in this Pacific paradise.

Adapted from Fijitimes Online

Tuesday, August 14, 2007


WOMEN of Muana in Toga, Rewa have a thing going in the floriculture business.
They formed a working group in 1999 and started planting Anthurium on one and a half acres of land for a floriculture company in the Western Division.
From the humble beginning, the group today has 11 members and a large collection of flowers including ginger, crotton, palms among other Vasilli and 20 varieties of Anthurium.
The group's secretary, Loame Dugu, said the hard work, dedication and commitment of the members resulted in their success.
Loame said the women were proud of their achievement and made every effort to make their business profitable.
The women supply fresh flowers to the Suva branch of the Nadi-based South Seas Orchid, the company helping their business.
She Dugu said they cut flower every morning and sell them at prices ranging from $0.38 to $0.70 per flower depending on the size. Despite four groups supplying 200 flowers each to South Seas Orchid every two weeks, they still could not meet the demand.
She said they made sure the flowers were not damaged and kept fresh all the time. When flowers are cut it is kept in buckets of water and transferred to boxes with moist newsprint to keep them fresh.
Group president Liviana Gusu said she always felt at peace looking after her nursery.
"It is my hobby to plant flowers and it is also a beautiful and profitable business," Liviana said.
She urged women to venture into floriculture because Fiji's climate was suited for it. Acting Agriculture Officer (Rewa) Chandra Prakash said the Muana women's group were among the best suppliers of flowers to SSO.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Record low for Supermarkets in Fiji

THE supermarket sector is at a 10-year low, says the chairman of a leading supermarket chain.
Speaking at a brokers' briefing in Suva yesterday, R B Patel Group Ltd chairman Surendra Patel said only two new supermarkets had opened in the past 12 months the lowest in 10 years.
Mr Patel said the supermarket trade was directly related to the spending capacity of consumers.
He said although the industry was more resilient than most other sectors, most consumers would make some adjustments to their buying patterns.
"In tough times consumers are likely to make choices that will provide more value for their dollar. This will undoubtedly mean they will spend a little less on particular food categories," Mr Patel said.
He said consumers would also become more aware and more demanding under these conditions.
Mr Patel said the forecast by the Reserve Bank of Fiji that the economy was expected to contract by 3.1 per cent this year was a certainly not a positive sign.
He said the group's trading for the first three months was slow, with reduced expenses resulting from new initiatives on cost control.
"Margins also recorded a slight decrease as consumers moved to cheaper options," he said. "These results show a conservative spending pattern with more focus on the basic necessities and seeking cheaper alternatives."
Mr Patel said in addition to achieving growth through expansion, the company's aim was to maintain profitability levels similar to last year within the parameters of the economic obstacles and the competitive nature of the industry.
The group's operating profit after tax for the financial year ending March 31, 2007 was $3.4million compared to $2.9 million last year. The figure represented an increase of 16.13 per cent.

Saturday, August 11, 2007


We will never know for sure, of course, where the first people on Fiji's shores actually landed.

We will never know for certain who they were, where they came from, or when they arrived.

But there is great interest in these questions both in Fiji and beyond and science is helping us get the best possible answers.

Where did the first people land in Fiji?

The best available scientific evidence that we have at present suggests that the first humans to see the Fiji Islands came ashore for the first time in the southwest part of Viti Levu Island. This is understandable. They arrived in large watercraft probably bamboo rafts which were difficult to manoeuvre through the maze of coral reefs close to many island coasts today. So they stayed outside the largest reefs and followed them along until they were so close to land that they crashed ashore.

If you look at a map of Fiji, you will see that the largest such barrier reef in the west of Fiji runs from west of the Yasawa and Mamanuca island groups towards southwest Viti Levu, where it meets the land for the first time without an intervening lagoon along the Rove Peninsula, just west of Natadola. If you did not know where to look for the earliest human settlement in Fiji, these factors might encourage you to look along the Rove Peninsula. You would not be disappointed.

For the Rove Peninsula is dotted with ancient settlements, dating from the Lapita era in Fiji between 550 and 1100 years before the birth of Christ (years BC). All of these settlements have been discovered in the past four years, by a research team from the University of the South Pacific and the Fiji Museum. The earliest and the largest settlement along the Rove Peninsula is that at Bourewa. All the available scientific evidence points to Bourewa Beach as being the first place that humans walked upon in the Fiji Islands.

Who were the first people in Fiji? We call them the Lapita people, after the place in New Caledonia where their distinctively-decorated pottery was found just over 50 years ago. They were the greatest seafarers of their times, crossing distances of more than 1000 km at a time when people elsewhere in the world could barely sail 100 km.

They were people of the sea, their diets mainly seafood, their preference for living being on boats or in houses constructed on stilt platforms raised above a coral reef.

But most remarkably, and most mysteriously, they have left us signs of a complex belief system that we shall probably never fully understand. For some of their pottery they made very finely, and decorated with intricate designs made from a series of tiny dots something we call dentate stamping. Some of the designs look like faces they have eyes, ears, and noses so perhaps they were intended to represent ancestors. It has been suggested that dentate-stamped pottery was only one element of this decorative scheme, and that the Lapita people were also fine wood-carvers, and tattooed their bodies with the same designs that we find on the remains of their pots.

But this may all be wrong. Recent research has found that almost all the decorative motifs found on Lapita pots can be interpreted as parts of turtles. One emerging idea is that the Lapita people had a belief system that was centred around the turtle.

Where did the first people in Fiji come from?

The people who landed at Bourewa must have been heartily relieved to touch dry land. They would have been at sea for several weeks probably far longer than they had expected to be. The taro and yams that they had brought to plant in the new land they had expected to find had long since died. The dogs and chickens they carried, if any still lived after their horrendous ordeal at sea, were as hungry and thirsty as the people onboard. Bourewa saved them, for the beach is fringed by one of the widest coral reefs in the whole of Fiji it is nearly 3 km broad and even today it is renowned as a source of food. Bourewa shellfish, octopus, and sea grapes (nama) are common foods for the modern inhabitants of the area.

There are many ways by which we can trace the migrations of the Lapita people, including language, genetics (DNA), and through their pottery. With the pottery, we can look at both its mineral composition and the designs. Studies of the minerals in the Bourewa pottery show so far that it was all manufactured locally but we are hopeful that one day we analyse a piece that we can demonstrate to have been made elsewhere. But analysis of the designs on the Bourewa pottery suggests a close affinity with the Lapita people of Solomon Islands, particularly those living at the time in the eastern outer Solomon Islands (Santa Cruz Islands). This is likely to have been the immediate homeland of the Lapita people who landed at Bourewa.

But we know from research elsewhere in the Pacific Islands that the earliest Lapita people lived in Papua New Guinea, on the offshore islands that are today known as the Bismarck Archipelago. In 2005, while we dug at Bourewa, we received spectacular confirmation of a Papua New Guinea origin for the Lapita settlers of Fiji. This came in the form of a beautifully-worked piece of obsidian, a volcanic glass that does not occur naturally in Fiji. This obsidian has since been traced to the quarries of the Kutau-Bao area of the Talasea Peninsula on New Britain Island in Papua New Guinea, which is some 3300km in a straight line from Bourewa. This obsidian was brought to Bourewa by its Lapita settlers an estimated 900 years before the birth of Christ.

When did the first people arrive in Fiji?

Just like most other places in the world, there have been countless migrations of people to Fiji from elsewhere. We remember many of these arrivals in different ways in pictures, in writing, and in oral traditions. But none of these memories are thought to be able to accurately recall arrivals that took place more than a few hundred years ago. The Lapita people lived in several places in Fiji.

We estimate that they occupied places like Natunuku (near Ba), Matanamuani (Naigani Island), and Naitabale (Moturiki Island) about 900 BC.

They may have lived on Yanuca Island (Nadroga) and Ugaga Island (Beqa Lagoon) slightly earlier.

They reached islands like Mago and Lakeba in Lau, and Yadua in Bua slightly later.

But the earliest ages for the Lapita occupation of Fiji all come from the Rove Peninsula.

It is estimated that the Bourewa settlement was established between 1260 and 900 BC. A second group of migrants appear to have arrived between 990 and 720 BC, and a third group after 830 BC.

Each group occupied a different part of the settlement. Recent research at Bourewa has concentrated on trying to understand how this Lapita settlement grew and eventually overflowed into adjoining bays. Satellite Lapita settlements were established close to Bourewa at Qoqo Island (Tuva River estuary) about 1000 BC and on Rove Beach about 850 BC.

The research team from the University of the South Pacific and the Fiji Museum is continuing its research into the earliest period of Fiji's history, and an episode of Noda Gauna featuring the Bourewa site will be shown on Fiji One at 8pm on Monday August 13.

Patrick Nunn is Professor of Geography at the University of the South Pacific and leads the research on the Rove Peninsula. The opinions that he expresses in this article are his own and not necessarily those of the University.

Friday, August 10, 2007


Tione Chinula is an aspiring career focused person who believes in equality. Gender equality is a subject that is close to her heart.
gender issues
She works as the advocacy and communications officer at the Secretariat of the Pacific Community Human Development Program in Noumea, New Caledonia.
Tione says she loves her job which she says gives her an opportunity to raise gender related issues.
"I have witnessed disparities between the sexes every where I have been to but nowhere are they more obvious than in the developing world. Although it can be discouraging, I try to accentuate the positive. I admire and am inspired by all the women and men who have enabled progress towards a more balanced society," she said.
"I would like to see that everyone benefits equally in society and there is an equal opportunity for all."
She joined the SPC team last month.
Working at SPC is not a new experience as Tione was involved with the organisation as a consultant in the past, working in what was then the Pacific Women's Bureau and for the HIV/AIDS and STI project.
Tione said that with all the changes afoot, it is an exciting time to come on board. "There's a sense of renewal. It's very motivating to be part of the process. The program has created a new drive and an opportunity to tackle gender, youth and cultural issues and community education more efficiently," she said.
Working with the youth is also a priority area for her.
Youth is an area she is familiar with, having worked for UNICEF New Zealand in 1996.
"Working on issues relating to young people is always very motivating. Young people are dynamic and always so keen to learn and evolve, so it's an area that involves a lot of energy, new ideas and constant change," she said.
Having grown up in South Africa, she always had an interest in cultural issues.
"Just as in the Pacific, culture is part and parcel of life in Africa. In fact there are many similarities between the two regions. African time is the equivalent of Pacific time and the bush wireless in Africa operates along the same lines as the coconut wireless here. On a more serious note though, they have similar values such as hospitality and, in both places, family, in the extended sense, is such an important component of society," she said.
Tione describes herself as a bit of a global citizen.
Her father is Malawian and her mother is a New Zealander.
She was born and grew up in Malawi then moved to New Zealand at the age of 16 to study.
In 1996, she moved to Tahiti where she taught English.
She returned to New Zealand in 1998 to study journalism at Canterbury University in Christchurch.
For the past several years she has been based in New Caledonia working as a travel writer and freelance journalist.
From 2001 to 2006 she wrote several guide books on the Pacific and Africa for the international guide book publisher, Lonely Planet.
In the early 2000s, she was a stringer for Islands Business. Most recently she was a correspondent for Radio New Zealand International. She has produced material for magazines, newspapers and websites around the Pacific and in Australia and New Zealand.
Between 2000 and 2006 she also taught English at the University of New Caledonia and a number of other New Caledonian education institutions.
Tione is married to a French man and has two daughters aged three and three months.
She has never been to Fiji and said she was looking forward to a visit some time in October this year.

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Village 6 launch for UNICEF

THE United Nations International Children's Education Fund launched its 'I'm in Control'campaign at the Village 6 cinemas on Thursday last week.
UNICEF Pacific representative Doctor Isiye Ndombi, while launching the campaign, said it would give the young people in the country inspiration and encourage them to break away from peer pressure.
People at the campaign launch included guests from the Save the Children Fiji, schools and other invited guests.
A special screening of the 30-second campaign at the cinema was followed by refreshments

Pictured is Lynette Petueli and Oghale

Monday, August 6, 2007

Your Rights are you Business

The issue of human rights, freedom and democracy and the abuse of individual rights has been the core of discussions and courts cases since the turn of the century as a result of circumstances which saw upheavals in government leadership and changes in political power.
It has reached a point where organisations deemed to be upholding and fighting for the protection of basic human rights of citizens have been questioned for their integrity and whether they were upholding the rights of Fiji citizens. Senior reporter ROBERT MATAU talks to human rights advocate Premila Devi, about a project she heads on educating the masses about their rights and freedom of expression and movement as enshrined under the Constitution.
TIMES: MADAM, could you briefly explain about the Human Rights and Values Project you are the chairperson of?
THE Human Rights and Values Project is a part of the USP Lautoka campus' continuing and community education program.
It aims to create awareness among high school students in the Western Division of the basic human rights of an individual and the cultural, traditional and moral values that characterise the two major ethnic groups (Fijians and Indians) in Fiji. We organise written competition, research projects, quiz and debates on human rights and values for high school students to not only test their understanding of human rights and culture of the major ethnic groups but also to create awareness and understanding of the topic among the students.
TIMES: WHY was it established and does the project only concentrate on the education of school children on human rights?
THE project was established in 2004 in light of the National Unity and Reconciliation campaign by the government of the day. It was realised that reconciliation is not something that can be achieved overnight. It should involve ongoing education at all levels. It just cannot be a top-down policy supported by a couple of meetings and celebrations. We decided that as part of our continuing and community outreach, you make our contribution toward national unity and reconciliation by at least educating the youth who are in high school. Yes, this particular project only focuses on high school students in the West. It is our contribution toward reconciliation, peace-building and multiculturalism in Fiji.
TIMES: DO you think citizens of Fiji are fully aware of the issue of human rights and do you think our governments have done enough to create awareness?
I DO not think citizens of Fiji are fully aware of the issues of human rights. Obviously, our governments have not done enough to educate the public. We do not have a culture of independent and critical thinking.
We are very much under the influence of two dominant entities (politics and religion) in our country. I believe that politics and religion are the major mind setters. I also believe the mass media has not done enough to help the governments.
TIMES: DO you think the rights of people in Fiji are adequately protected?
DEVI: YES, the Constitution guarantees adequate protection but how many people know what their human rights are and how can they assert those rights?
Having adequate protection and law on paper serves no purpose if people do not fully understand the laws and/or are not empowered enough to assert their rights.
TIMES: WHAT are some areas you see human rights have been compromised?
FREEDOM of expression and freedom of reporting.
TIMES: SINCE the interim regime assumed power, they have been promising to uphold the Constitution and human rights. Do you think they have fulfilled their promise so far and why?
DEVI: THE legal cases challenging the interim regime will be a good judge of whether the promise has been upheld.
TIMES: MADAM, what is you opinion of the work being done by the Fiji Human Rights Commission? Do you think it has been just in protecting the rights of Fiji citizens?
THE rights of Fiji citizens are protected in the Constitution. The Fiji Human Rights Commission, to my understanding, is there to educate the public of their rights, provide recommendations to the government on related issues and take up human rights violation and abuse cases based on complaints from the public. I do not think it has done enough in terms of educating the public but its very existence provides people a voice in case of human rights violation. But again, we should not forget that the political climate of a country has direct influence over any organisation, whether the political framework is democratic or non-democratic, it is bound to have an impact on individuals and organisations. But how can we measure whether organisations such as the FHRC are exercising self censor such as the mass media?
TIMES: WHAT are some measures you think should be put in place in order to improve the issue of human rights in Fiji?
: EDUCATION at all levels. These issues should be part of the formal education at all levels and non-formal education at community level. All sectors including the government, non-government and private, should be involved. The government can initiate a national compact including all sectors and the mass media to work on educating the public on human rights and any issue.
I strongly believe the mass media has the potential to play a key and leading role in educating the public not only on issues of human rights but on any issue affecting us and our country.
By providing information, the media has the potential to create a 'state of mind' and empower the public and decision makers.
TIMES: HOW important is the protection of human rights in Fiji, or for any government, with regards to international acceptance and recognition?
THE protection of human rights is crucial and very basic for any government. It reflects good governance and transparency, which is very important in terms of international acceptance and recognition.

Saturday, August 4, 2007

Fijian Kids on Kia, Macuata learn about Turtles

What? Turtles take 40 years to mature and lay eggs?"exclaimed a bewildered Kia islander amid giggles from the women in the classroom.
Villagers and students from Kia Island in Macuata, (off the north coast of Vanua Levu) gathered at the Kia Primary School around midday on a Tuesday not too long ago to discover the biology of and threats to sea turtles Vonu.
Deeply engrossed the elders and youths participated in a debate for and against turtle protection and listened to a presentation held in Fijian by Merewalesi Laveti, of USPs Institute of Marine Resources, and Metui Tokece of WWF Fiji Programme during a turtle road show.
Beneath the shade of a mango tree, classes one to four sang with pride "Fiji has a big blue sea, full of fish and coral reefs Dont litter in the sea."
They also eagerly identified the different species of turtles in the photographs held out by WWF staff and collected their goodies upon correctly answering questions posed at them.
In a room close by classes seven and eight students argued over which turtle they had eaten some time ago or had seen nesting on their beach.
Kia Island is a known turtle nesting site and is one of the traditional fishing villages required to present turtles at traditional functions, in meeting their obligations as the traditional fishers (gonedau) for Tui Macuata.
"When the Tui Macuata summons us, we take turtles and present at traditional functions. Before there were lots of turtles and anyone could eat them,"said 69-year- old Veresi Masicola, from Ligau village, Kia. "As I grow old I notice that not as many turtles are coming to our shores. The consumption of turtles has also decreased,"added Mr Masicola.
He said, "In 1990 the villagers caught a huge Tutuwalu (leatherback turtle) almost the size of a grown man and it was taken to the Fisheries department."
"Turtles have come to our shores for decades now, however they dont come to nest in large numbers anymore. I hope in the years to come our children can still present enough turtles for magitis."
Through an evaluation process, the three tikinas visited (tikina Mali, Sasa and Macuata) expressed interest in protecting turtles and allowing the populations to recover. The evaluation also indicated that the villagers were in favour of extending the moratorium.
"We need to make sure that turtles are around for future generations,"says Savenaca Mara, turaga-ni-koro of Yaro Village, Kia. These ancient creatures travel thousands of kilometres to feed and nest in different parts of the world.
In Fiji, the four common turtles are the Hawksbill (taku), the Green turtle (vonu dina), critically endangered Leatherback turtle (vonu dakulaca / tutuwalu) and Loggerhead turtle (tuvonu).
There have been anecdotal mentions of a fifth species the Olive Ridley, but these are yet to be confirmed through research.
All species of marine turtles are in danger of extinction although at varied stages.
"Everyone who has to catch turtles for any traditional obligation needs to seek permits from Department of Fisheries,"said Kesaia Tabunakawai, WWF Fiji manager.
Between 2004-2007, 85 permits were issued for turtle harvests by the Minister of Fisheries and Forests.
"This however does not mean that people are not catching turtles it is just an indication of people who are following the law."
WWF and partners are now taking the cause of turtle protection all the way to the students and villagers starting from Macuata.
Four schools Mali District School, Bulavou District School, Cadranasiga District School and Kia District School were visited in Macuata during a four-day Turtle Road show supported by FINTEL and WWF Australia. The key outcomes of this road show are to raise awareness levels of communities on the status of turtle populations and subsequently increase compliance of the moratorium.
The road show will continue to other parts of Fiji mainly aiming the areas/villages in Viti Levu where turtles are known to nest. One of the target audience are the younger members of the communities as they are future decision makers and change makers. WWFs partner organisations such as the Department of Fisheries, Institute of Marine Resources and Laje Rotuma Initiative are combining their efforts to conduct baseline survey of nesting sites/beaches, turtle tagging, database recording and awareness.
The underlying aim is to assist the Fisheries Department to collate enough data to support the extension of the moratorium protecting turtles.

Friday, August 3, 2007


Information and Communications Technologies (ICT) are universally acknowledged as powerful tools for development.
In Fiji, growth in internet usage from 2000 to March 2007 was 833.3 per cent.
This means more people are "going on line" and they needed to be exposed to internet-related issues.
For example, women in Nausori have embraced ICT to sell their products online. By accumulating email addresses from government offices, they sold their products directly to email recipients.
Pacific Islands Chapter of the Internet Society (PICISOC) vice chairman Frank Martin, who conducted a workshop for the media yesterday, said ICTs were not only essential to social development and economic growth but were critical to the development of good governance.
They can be effective vehicles for the maintenance of security and vital for sustainable development.
"In the Pacific, ICTs are the key to ending the tyranny of distance, he said.
He said in the Pacific region those who accessed telecommunications and the internet were faced with slower speeds and much higher costs than in the developed world.
"There is inequality in ICT access with women, youth and the disadvantaged being among the most excluded groups even though ICT is a significant tool for social and economic empowerment."
Mr Martin said in order to make good use of ICTs to foster education, health and administration as well as improve communications, a rapid expansion of telecommunications and a reduction in their costs was urgently required throughout the Pacific.
The Pacific's problems are caused by large distances, small scale, scattered populations and markets as well as a low level of investments in telecommunications and human resources.
"All these problems can be addressed and the development of ICTs accelerated by selection of appropriate mechanisms for cooperation market integration and provision of services on a regional basis."
He said small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) were a significant and vital sector in the Pacific economy.
ICTs have the potential to globally expand the markets for SMEs, shrink their costs and remove their isolation related problems.
To use this potential requires improved financial access to ICTs, more access to customers within the region, and better legal and financial environments.
Numerous studies have highlighted the potential of and impediments to ICTs for every Pacific islander. The Communication Action Plan (CAP) and Pacific Islands Information and Communications Technologies Policy and Strategic Plan (PIIP) have recently made clear recommendations on actions required for ICTs to reach potential in the region.
However, because of the challenges such as scale, institutional capacity and isolation, countries have been less than successful in following the recommendations.
"The ability to develop ICTs and use them at the business and consumer ends needs significant improvement."
Mr Martin said the challenge by leaders to develop new regional institutional arrangements, through the Pacific Plan and the dynamic technological and commercial environments of the 21st Century offers countries in the region fresh opportunities.
"They can pool existing resources more effectively and accelerate the introduction of infrastructure that would support the use of ICTs in education, health, trade, commerce, security, governance and meet the social needs of the communities.
The regional digital strategy based on the CAP and PIIPP established the following priorities: Improving access to communications technology; reducing costs; establishing higher bandwidth to the global ICT bone; removing inappropriate regulatory environments in order to foster higher levels of investment; strengthening ICT skills.
He said broadcasting which simultaneously used local, regional and global content has been a largely neglected area of ICTs in the Pacific.
"Newer technologies through the internet, audio streaming, community FM broadcasting and digital satellite radio offers means to better achieve coverage, improve the content in broadcasting and to improve on independent, traditional and community media."
He said so far countries in the region have been unable to fully use this cost effective mass ICT, with its potential to provide high quality education, health and other services as well as entertainment. The digital strategy aims to expand the opportunities that convergence and digitalisation offer to broadcasting services through private, non-State agencies and government channels.
Mr Martin said in the Pacific with its range of scale and other diversity there was a demand for thinking globally while acting locally.
"The essence of the digital strategy will be identifying those areas where synergies exist in regulation, market or standards and promoting regional solutions while identifying the needs for local action and providing support to local agencies."
Regional principles recognise: The provision of reliable, competitive and low priced telecommunication, and that ICT services are crucial to the sustainable social and economic development of Forum Island Countries; the Pacific is hampered by large distances, small markets and scattered populations; and that forum island countries have limited technical capacity.
He said there was a need for increased efforts to be made to implement regional, sub-regional or multi country solutions to problems in the telecommunications and ICT sector through: The management of regional public goods such as spectrum; regulatory regimes; a regional interconnection regime; harmonised laws; human resources development, and liberalisation of the regulatory environment.
Mr Martin said there was a need for a central responsibility of government to telecommunications to be established and administered by independent regulatory authorities.
"Telecommunications and ICT services should be open to competition and regulatory barriers to domestic and international providers should be removed to allow for competition in international voice, domestic fixed line, mobile, broadband, data, internet, satellite and other services. There should be transparent and competitive tendering practices within a well regulated environment, where it is deemed markets are too small to sustain more than one operator as well as the removal of regulatory barriers to the unbundling of services." He said telecommunications and ICT services should wherever possible operate on a sustainable commercial basis with consideration of privatising government-owned services and service levels should reflect demand while the price reflected the cost of delivery.
"Where appropriate legislated monopolies should be removed with a view to increasing competition and that clear lines of responsibility for shareholders, board and managements are defined.
"Where telecommunications and ICT providers remain in government ownership and required to perform commercial activities, they should be adequately capitalised," he said.

Thursday, August 2, 2007


Written by Brad Gordon, Chief Executive Officer Emperor Mines LimitedThursday, August 02, 2007

I write with regard to an article published in The Fiji Times on 21/07, titled "It's time for the gold mine wheels to churn out justice", written by members of the Vatukoula community.
While I applaud the intention of the authors to encourage dialogue between stakeholders involved in the operation of the Vatukoula mine, there are a number of misapprehensions and errors in the article that deserve correction.
The first issue concerns the authors' assumption that Emperor Mines Limited, former owners of the Vatukoula Mine, "owe the people of Vatukoula a number of important obligations", including, according to the authors, "millions of dollars worth of redundancy payments still being owed to more than 2000 former employees".
The first error in this assertion is demonstrated by the simple fact that Emperor Mines Limited, an Australian company, did not employ workers at Vatukoula those workers were always employed by Emperor Gold Mining Company (EGM), the Fijian company that still owns the mine.
Further, with financial assistance from EML, the Fijian company had paid out all redundancies and final pays to redundant employees in full by early February this year, and provided far in excess of the statutory notice period for the majority of employees in some cases, nearly four times the period required by law.
The company made a great effort to ensure that wages continued to be paid during this time, as we felt it was important to help provide a safety net following the closure, and over $F9million was paid out in that period.
During the months following the announcement to cease mining, company management ensured there was no interruption to the company-provided hygiene, power and water services to the local community, at significant cost (approximately FJ$1million each month), and despite the political uncertainty in the country at the time.
This was one of the most personally difficult decisions I have had to make I spent seven years living and working at Vatukoula myself years that I count among the best of my working career to date.
My wife is Fijian, and together with our two sons, we maintain close relationships with friends and family "back home".
It is important to remember that when Emperor Mines made the decision to cease mining operations at Vatukoula, our intention was to undertake further exploration at the mine, in order to try and identify sources of gold that could be mined at a profit, allowing the reopening the mine.
The mine had not operated profitably for a number of years, and no company could sustain such losses indefinitely.
The reasons for the closure were communicated to members of the then Qarase Cabinet, in the days immediately before the coup, and company representatives even waited in Suva during the coup and the days following the takeover, in order to continue our discussions with whoever emerged as the Government.
Our proposal at that time was to work with a multi-stakeholder group to deal with the impact of the closure, and to find ways to ameliorate the impact of the closure on the local community.
We applied, through processes defined by law, for a waiver from the lease condition to continuously mine in order to undertake the proposed exploration project, and this remained our intention until the first week of January 2007, at which time, for reasons yet unknown to me, the new military administration occupied a number of key areas of the mine site and placed restrictions on the ability of management to manage and administrate the mine.
These actions impeded the legal right of the company to deal lawfully with its assets, and placed an increasing financial burden on the company.
The sad truth for those who would believe claims of misbehaviour or misappropriation by the company is that the management of the mine, led by the relatively newly appointed general manager Frazer Bourchier, acted with true integrity and transparency in all their dealings regarding the mine closure.
His leadership was some of the best ever experienced at the mine. Mr Bourchier conducted a review of the operation, and in particular its reserves of gold, at my request, as soon as he commenced his duties at the mine, and it is a testament to his professionalism that he responded the way that he did to the negative findings of that review. The mine could not, and would not, make a profit by following the then mining plan, and the only option was to cease mining, stop the financial drain, and undertake further exploration work.
However, following the actions of the military in January, our priority instead became the need to discuss outstanding issues with the interim administration, including, most importantly, the legal waiver we had applied for, the actions of the occupying forces at the mine site, and a return to ordinary lawful management of the mine by the company.
When the Interim Cabinet was eventually formed, it met to consider the matter, and decided that the company must meet certain conditions (ie, those announced following the Cabinet meeting) before it was able to do anything whether a sale OR continued exploration.
These views were articulated through the media, and through dialogue with management representatives.
This necessarily placed onerous restrictions on the options available to the company, as it constrained our ability to freely deal with and manage the assets in accordance with international and national law.
Further, the conditions would have cost the company approximately $54million over two years an unsustainable loss by any method of accounting!
This led, in turn, to the decision by EML to divest all of its Fijian operations a decision that we had to make to protect the interests of our shareholders.
In order to facilitate this, we met with representatives of the Interim Government, including Commodore Bainimarama, Minister for Lands Tevita Vuibau and Chief Secretary Parmesh Chand, with the intention of developing a social assistance package.
It is a reflection of the positive determination of these men, together with the efforts of Mr Bourchier and other company representatives, that an agreement was reached, resulting in a document called the Vatukoula Social Assistance Deed. The deed places a number of important obligations on the parties to the sale of EGM, including a significant cash contribution of $6million for a social assistance trust fund, the granting of large parts of the Vatukoula freehold estate to community ownership, and the granting of community facilities, such as schools, a clinic, police buildings and other structures to the local community.
All of these conditions are aimed solely at providing significant and equal assistance to the community, including former employees (among which I include the 1991 workers) and their families.
For the first time since the inception of the mine, the community would own and control their land and their town facilities, and there would be money available to assist with retraining, relocation or other purposes as determined by the community themselves.
Under the circumstances, the development of the deed was an extraordinary achievement, and shows what a determined group of individuals can achieve, even during the turmoil created by the political events at the time.
The Interim Cabinet approved the deed at a meeting in March, however, delays in considering other conditions regarding future operations at the mine (unrelated to the community assistance package), created an untenable financial situation for the company, and eventually, we were forced to complete the sale, or risk the liquidation of the Fijian operations, which would have likely meant the end of any social assistance, as liquidators would be required by law to serve the interest of trade and company creditors. The sale involved the legal transfer of all assets and liabilities to Westech, and on completion of the sale, Westech became responsible for trade debts, legal issues and all other outstanding liabilities of the mine. The assumption in the article of July 21 that the sale of these assets by Emperor Mines Limited in some way ignores or abrogates community needs is both false and misleading a great deal of effort and resources were put into developing the deed package, in direct response to community concerns.
It is my genuine hope that operational issues between the new owners of the mine, Westech, and the interim Government can be resolved quickly, as this will trigger the obligations of the deed, providing both immediate relief for the Vatukoula community and a mechanism by which all in the community can help determine the future of the town.
These are, without a doubt, extraordinary times, and the difficulties in reaching resolution on these matters have been significant, but, I believe, have resulted in a community assistance package that is fair, and that takes future needs of the community into account.