The Contemporary Pacific 15.2 (2003) 440-447
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The political and economic highlights in Fiji in 2002 have again brought into sharp focus a lesson painfully learned after the 1987 military coups: it takes years to recover from the negative ramifications of any national political upheaval. The economic and sociopolitical fallout of the May 2000 civilian coup in Fiji continued to impact major events in both the politico-legal and economic domains of the nation during the year. The path to economic recovery and sociopolitical normalcy was generally shaky and fraught with difficulties. The local tabloids regularly featured major scams within the civil service, exacerbated by gross fiscal mismanagement by the state and a general lack of political goodwill between the major political parties—the ruling Soqosoqo Duavata ni Lewenivanua (SDL) and the opposition Fiji Labour Party(FLP).
In an editorial comment on 19 May 2002, the Fiji Times noted a predictable trend of court decisions followed by appeals, "scams of ludicrous proportions," and botched investigations into corruption cases since the 2000 coup. The editorial also questioned whether all Fiji citizens were equal before the law, arguing that the law was increasingly being regarded as an "optional extra for those who want to use it." Following the May 2000 upheaval, the editors observed, "the law has been subverted, undermined, circumvented and ignored by the highest in the land including those who were sworn in to uphold it" (Times,19 May, 10). During the final months of 2002, the Fiji Labour Party and some quasi-political civil society movements like the Citizens Constitutional Forum (CCF) questioned why some members of Parliament had been permitted to continue serving in Prime Minister Qarase's cabinet despite videotaped evidence of their close involvement in the May 2000 civilian uprising. The extensive video footage of siege activities at the Veiuto Parliamentary Complex emerged during the first treason trial of Josefa Nata and Timoci Silatolu, which commenced on 26 November and featured deposed Prime Minister Mahendra Chaudhry as a key state witness (Post,27 Nov, 2; Times,29 Nov, 1). Following the 14 November conviction of fifteen former Counter Revolutionary Warfare Unit soldiers who had been found guilty of the November 2000 mutiny charges, CCF Director Reverend AkuilaYabaki called for the prosecution of "all others," including some chiefs and prominent civil servants who were behind the May 2000 takeover (Post,7 Nov, 3). Police investigations into the civilian coup remained sluggish despite repeated calls throughout the year for a speedier roundup of all those involved. A progress report issued in September claimed that checks were being drawn on the bank accounts of those allegedly paid to execute the overthrow (Times,28 Sept, 4). However, [End Page 440] the year ended without any apparent progress in police investigations into the traumatic events of May 2000.
Not all major developments that transpired during 2002 were negative. There were some positive developments in terms of Fiji's inter-regional and international relations as well as local economic recovery. For instance, Fiji's relations with Australia, New Zealand, and the member countries of the African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) Summit, as well as with the European Union, greatly improved after Fiji hosted the third ACP Summit in July, the Pacific Islands Forum meeting that commenced in Suva on 15 August, and a subsequent Conference for Pacific Islands Trade Ministers. Signs of improved relations between Fiji and Australia and New Zealand could be gleaned from the opening up of dialogues between Prime Ministers Qarase, Helen Clark, and John Howard during the Pacific Islands Forum in August (Times,16-19 July; 16 Aug, 1). Relations between Fiji and these two nations had tended to sour following each coup. After the 1987 military coup, Australia imposed trade sanctions, and New Zealand aid was withdrawn in 1987 and again in May 2000. The restoration of cordial relations with Australia and New Zealand in 2002 represents a significant move towards recovery from the May 2000 crisis. The lifting of sanctions by the European Union through a full restoration of its official development assistance program for Fiji in the final week of January...