An extract from the next instalment of A Tangled Web of Secrecy and Control:
The Fijian Attorney General’s action in cutting off Fiji’s contribution to the University of the South Pacific is extraordinary. It is a slap in the face for regional solidarity and the principle that has underlined USP right from the time it was founded half a century ago on the Laucala campus – the former Royal New Zealand Air Force flying boat base that was a gift from the departing Kiwis. This was the ideal of a genuinely Pacific centre of higher learning in which Fiji may have been the host but was first among equals only in size and population – the notion that for this ideal to work, everyone must have a voice in the “Pacific Way”. It was a concept first enunciated by Fiji’s founding statesman, Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara, that no one country should dominate its Pacific neighbours and use its relative strength to muscle them into silence or into line.
Unfortunately, this is not the way of Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum, who with his withdrawal of USP funding, has gravely offended Fiji’s other Pacific partners and for what? To try to get his way in terms of the administration of USP? By any standard, It is a feeble and small-minded objective with an eye on the short term at the expense of something much greater, which is Fiji’s stature in the eyes of the region and certainly the academic world. Whether the AG gets what he wants remains to be seen. But his “Fiji first” attitude and the FijiFirst’s government’s lack of sensitivity for the USP’s other stakeholders damages Pacific solidarity when the climate threat and threat to our oceans makes the strengthening of those ties a regional imperative.
It is the same attitude to Fiji’s neighbours that produced the AG’s budget announcement that Fiji is closing its high commission in Port Moresby while keeping open its mission in Abu Dhabi. Papua New Guinea remains the largest economy among the island nations, there are hundreds of Fijians working in PNG and trade between the two countries has never been greater. Yet a diplomatic presence in the Arab world is regarded as more important than one in the Pacific. So is it any wonder that the AG seems so little troubled by offending Fiji’s partners at USP?
And there is another element – the recklessness of potentially offending Fijian young people of voting age and their parents at a time when the FijiFirst government’s fortunes are in decline and the polls show most people now expect Sitiveni Rabuka to supplant Frank Bainimarama as Prime Minister in the 2022 election. How many Fijian votes are in the AG’s foot stomping at USP when ordinary Fijians see the education of their young people being used as a political football? None. So it is not only reckless in terms of the damage to Fiji’s regional ties but reckless in the threat it poses to FijiFirst’s electoral position…
Part of a much wider story on Friday October 2. Don’t miss it.