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“Bainimarama Government’s environment obstacles” (7 April 2018)

07/04/2018

Bainimarama Government’s environment obstacles (7/4/2018)

The international community watching and listening to the grand speeches made over the last year by Fiji’s Prime Minister (Voreqe Bainimarama) as President of COP23, would have been impressed by Fiji’s commitment to the protection of the global environment.

They would have admired Bainimarama’s clarion call for all Fiji people to back his global efforts for environment protection.

Unfortunately, the grand international rhetoric is not matched by the Bainimarama Government’s action on the ground in allowing many developments which have destroyed valuable marine environment (see here and here).

The latest disregard for environment protection is indicated by their response to a request by some citizens (led by Tim  Howick-Smith) for copies of the Environment Impact Assessment documents relating to the Nawi Island Foreshore Development.

The Department of Environment (through Senimili N. Baleicakau) informed  Howick-Smith that he could have the 3 reports at a cost of $4.84 VIP per page, which came to  $3,209.

The letter also informed “we cannot receive payments via credit card.  You will either pay cash or cheque at any of the Ministry of Environment Office (Labasa, Suva or Lautoka)”.

When Howick-Smith protested at the exorbitant charges, the response from the Permanent Secretary for the Environment (Joshua Wycliffe) was as follows:

“it is true that the Act requires the processing authority to make the complete report available at appropriate locations for inspection (I understand that this is free for the review period)… The Act also requires (please see attached) the fees and charges relating to printouts”.

Furthermore, Wycliffe notified  “the Ministry is in the process of initiating both internal and external consultations on this issue.   … any reviews of matters found in the Act / regulations can be completed through the appropriate parliamentary and legislative channels”.

How utterly extraordinary and indicative of the hypocrisy of the Bainimarama Government’s claim to want to protect the environment and to want democratic support for his grant “vision” for protecting the world’s environment against climate change.

Common sense trashed

Common sense would indicate that if the Act requires the EIA reports to be made available for free  during the review period, then why ask the public to pay for the reports?

Common sense indicates that the PS Environment could easily put the soft copies of the EIA Reports on their website where any member of the public could read them, without even printing them and wasting paper and their scarce money. They clearly refuse to do so, indicating not just their total contempt for the Act, but their Luddite refusal to use the latest in technology for environment protection.

Their demand that the printed reports be paid for by the public at $4.84 per page, when the normal public cost of printing would be less than 20 cents, indicates not just monetary greed, but that their primary aim is to discourage members of the public acquiring and reading these reports.

Their demand that payment be made by cash or cheque also indicates that if anyone was passionate enough to buy these reports, they could not pay easily through a credit card transaction (which is now the norm throughout the world) but personally front up to some office somewhere and pay in cash or cheque- of course involving more travelling and time costs to the concerned member of the public.

Which villager affected by these planned projects can afford to fork out three thousand dollars to read the reports on the possible environmental effects of the projects?

The advice by the PS that reviews of their policy could be completed through the “appropriate parliamentary and legislative channels” is totally pathetic and ludicrous.

Here is the Bainimarama Government telling the public, if you want to obtain these reports, go and change this “Act” which has been imposed unilaterally on the Fiji public by the Bainimarama Government itself.

Of course, all this has been designed by Aiyaz Khaiyum to make it as difficult as possible for ordinary members of the public to see whatever is in the environment reports.

This is the Bainimarama democracy at work: ordinary people can put pieces of paper in ballot boxes while voting, but they will not be allowed to take part in one of the fundamental processes in democracy, which is taking part in decisions that involve the environment.

This incident illustrates also the deep malaise that now afflicts the entire Public Service as restructured by the Bainimarama Government and under the guidance of Aiyaz Khaiyum.

Permanent Secretary Wycliffe

I am certain that the PS Wycliffe is an intelligent person who on his own, would probably do all the reasonable things that the public expects of a Permanent Secretary for the Environment.

Why doesn’t he?

Having seen many a PS come and go under this Bainimarama Government, Wycliffe no doubt knows that were he to go against the objectives of those who wield power in the Bainimarama Government (namely Bainimarama and Khaiyum), he also would be shown the door, citing “personal reasons” when being forced to resign- as have done most of the others.

But why does the Public Service Commission tolerate this imbecilic response from Wycliffe?

Does the Chairman of the PSC (Vishnu Mohan) not have enough backbone to require his Permanent Secretaries to make responsible and common sense decisions in cases such as this?

Why do otherwise intelligent members of the PSC like Dr. Akanisi Kedrayate not subject the PS environment to scrutiny and demand that he be properly accountable to the taxpayers who pay his salary, and not just his Lord and Master in the Bainimarama Government?

Sadly, this is not an isolated case.

We have recently seen the Government Statistician and the Fiji Bureau of Statistics being pressured into not producing census statistics by ethnicity, despite the undeniable social and economic importance of such statistics.

The Members of the PSC have been equally silent on this unprecedented interference with the independence of the Fiji Bureau of Statistics.

Note that the PSC now has little oversight on Permanent Secretaries throughout the Public Service, with authority being moved totally to the Minister concerned.

The reality also is that virtually and effectively the decision making of all Government Ministers, with the possible exception of Inoke Kubuabola, are made by Aiyaz Khaiyum with the full guaranteed support of Bainimarama and the other military ministers.

Sadly, there are far more such cases indicating the utter rottenness of the “public service” (an oxymoron if ever there was one) and the gutlessness of the public servants.

Don’t hold your breath expecting any changes any time soon.

 

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