Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Driving in Fiji

from w.
Here are some tips about driving in Fiji.

Cars are driven on the left of the road in Fiji. Fiji recognises driving licenses from English speaking countries. Drivers from other countries need an international driving permit. Petrol costs over 2.40 FJD a litre. Taxi drivers do not need to put on seatbelts but the passenger next to him do. (I think so.)

The island of Viti Levu has a main road right around it. But with two names - from Suva clockwise to Lautoka this is called the Queen’s Road. From Suva anti-clockwise to Lautoka it is called the King’s Road. In Vanua Levu there is a good road between Savusavu and Labasa but many of the other roads are unsealed and have many potholes. Many roads on Viti Levu and Vanua Levu often consist of bare rock surfaces, loose rocks, potholes, and stretch of mud.

Although the Queen’s/King’s Road are major roads, they are not highways as in Australia. Some roada have only a single carriageway. Speed humps through the middle of Fijian villages require motorists to drop their speed to about 20 kph. Sometimes cows, goats, horses and poultry wander on the road.

If hiring a car, the best choice is a 4 wheel. The frequency of speed humps and the potholes damages vehicles.

Traffic jams may be experienced in Suva especially if there is a festival or unannounced street parade. We were in a taxi in Victoria Parade behind a lot of stationary vehicles. Peceli told the driver to get into the left lane and nick around a corner to reach our destination near Government Buildings by a different road. We found out later there was a street parade for the Carnegie Library reaching 100 years! The taxi driver should have known this.

It is best to avoid driving at night. Street lighting is poor and a lack of footpaths means that many roads have people walking alongside.

Tropical rain is a hazard for driving because it can be very heavy and visibility can be close to non-existent, so it’s a good idea to pull over and wait out the rain.

Most taxis we have caught have meters so we do know what should be charged. It was usually $4.40 from our flat to the main streets of Suva. Watch out though that you might be taken the long route to somewhere. We had to go from A to B and there was a direct road but we were taken on a grand tour of the posh houses of the Domain in a circle route it seemed. More money for the driver!

However some drivers are very obliging and will stop while you shop for the obligatory gift of yaqona etc. If someone has been very helpful Peceli gives an extra $2 or so and says, ‘Bhaiya, give this to your mother.’

Watch out for bad drivers who may cut you off or try and pass a bus near a curve in the road ,occasionally yell abuse, though most people in Fiji seem to be patient in situations that would cause road rage elsewhere.

We were in a taxi near the hospital in Suva when suddenly a car on the right veered out of a street almost smashing into our taxi. Our driver hurled abuse in a high falsetto voice, and at the next traffic light pulled up alongside the other car, yelling even louder. I said, ‘Hey, calm down. Just write down his number.’ When we were dropped off at the flat I said to him, ‘I will say a prayer for you bhaiya.’ He replied, ‘Thanks. I have been having a very bad day.’

Don’t expect cars and vehicles to be in excellent condition and don’t make a fuss - the drivers/owners are doing their best to make a living. One mini-bus we caught from Navuso back to Suva had a door that swung open at every bend we went around. Don’t worry, it swung back as well.

Buses may be express such as the ones from hotels to hotels. Others stop anywhere someone calls out for it to stop. The story of the Qaloa bus we took from Pacific Harbour to Suva, I described in an earlier posting. It was a long, long trip that afternoon!

And I have written elsewhere about how people are stacked into a bus – five people into a seat that is barely big enough for two. A hundred children in a bus designed for sixty. And the recent bus accidents have been well reported in the Fiji media.

Priorities in Fiji news stories

from w
While the developed world papers and media are shouting 'Sell, sell, sell' and all about 'Money, money, money' the Fiji papers have different priorities. a new phone company. A rugby player on the cover.
And a cartoon of a week or so ago tells it all about Fiji's concerns:

I like the way the Fijian girls just sit around in groups after the bus ran off the road. A Fiji Times story.
Students scramble out of problem bus
By Mereseini Marau
Wednesday, October 01, 2008
Jasper Williams High School students wait for transport back to school after their bus (inset) veered off the road. q Picture: ANOKH KUMAR
THREE students were rushed to hospital and about 50 thanked their lucky stars after they escaped uninjured when their bus ran off the road yesterday.The Nadi General Transport bus was carrying students of Saint Thomas High and Jasper Williams High schools when the bus encountered problems in Saweni.

Saint Thomas teacher Vinesh Mistry said as soon as the bus ran into a drain, the students started jumping out of windows.

"The rest rushed out through the door," he said. "The students reacted very quickly, it must have been due to all the incidents that have happened recently."

Mr Mistry said bus operators must ensure their buses are roadworthy. "There are so many lives at risk, they can't afford to have those kind of buses," he added.

Nadi General Transport director Jagdish Singh said it was fortunate no one was injured. He blamed the road condition, saying it was a contributing factor. Mr Singh said the bus hit a pot hole and part of it broke. "As a result it pulled off the road," he said. West police chief Fesaitu Kava said the bus was headed towards Lautoka from Nadi. "At a slope in Saweni, it developed a tyre problem and went off the road," he said. "Some passengers suffered minor injuries."

Monday, September 29, 2008

And the (paper) walls come a-tumblin' down

from w
How will the situation in USA affect small countries such as Fiji? I read this on the internet a few moments ago. Will it effect Oz as well?

I hope the only walls to come tumbling down are the eyesore of the old Raiwaqa flats in Suva, though once upon a time they housed and helped many people.

House rejects Wall Street bailout, stocks crash
3 hours ago

WASHINGTON (AFP) — The US House of Representatives Monday dramatically rejected a 700-billion-dollar Wall Street bailout, sending stocks crashing to their worst single day loss ever and deepening the US financial crisis.

As a palpable sense of fear ricocheted through Washington, President George W. Bush said he was "disappointed" that the bailout foundered, as Democrats accused Republican conservatives of killing the bill for ideological reasons.

The president immediately summoned top advisers to tackle the latest crisis "head on," and Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson was seen hurrying into the West Wing of the White House.

Shockwaves reverberated through the presidential race and congressional campaigns just five weeks before the November 4 general election, and a blame game erupted between Republicans and Democrats on Capitol Hill.

Amid panic selling on Wall Street, the Dow Jones Industrial Average plunged 770.59 votes (6.92 percent) and the Nasdaq crashed 199.61 points (9.14 percent).

In scenes of suspense, tension and shock rarely seen on the House floor, Republican foes of the bill and rebel Democrats combined to doom the bill by 228 votes to 205, after Bush had pleaded for its passage.

House speaker Nancy Pelosi pledged to go back to work to pass a new bill, but a senior Democratic lawmaker said nothing would happen until at least Thursday as many members had gone home for the Jewish holiday of Rosh Hashanah.

The 15-minute vote was kept open for 40 minutes as Democratic and Republican leaders made desperate attempts to twist arms of lawmakers who voted no.

One senior Democrat said Republicans had reneged on a pledge to get 50 percent of their caucus plus one member to vote for the bailout, pointing out that 60 percent of Democrats backed the plan.

Leading Democrat David Obey reacted bitterly, saying Republican leadership, including the president and Republican presidential nominee John McCain, "have lost total control over their own party."

"Evidently some of those guys would rather lose an economy than lose an election."

House Republican Leader John Boehner blamed what he called a partisan speech to the House by Pelosi shortly before the vote.

"I don't know that we know the path forward from this point. We need everybody to calm down and relax and get back to work."

But Barney Frank, the top House Democrat in charge of negotiating the bill, dismissed such critics of Pelosi's speech as pure "pettiness" and said Republicans were trying to cover up their embarrassment over the split party.

"Give me those 12 people's names and I will go talk uncharacteristally nicely to them," he said.

Democratic White House hopeful Barack Obama meanwhile appealed for calm, seeking to stablize global markets and show composure-in-a-crisis leadership credentials.

"I'm confident that we're going to get there but it's going to be a little rocky," he said in Colorado.

"It's important for the markets to stay calm because things are never smooth in Congress and to understand that it will get done," Obama said.

There was no immediate reaction from McCain, who had boasted that he had helped bring the rebel Republicans along to vote for the deal.

But his economic advisor Doug Holz-Eakin blamed Obama for politicizing the situation -- an identical charge McCain critics threw at the Arizona senator last week after he injected himself into the process.

"Barack Obama failed to lead, phoned it in, attacked John McCain and refused to even say if he supported the bill," Eakin said.

Republican Congressman Paul Broun from Georgia compared the bill to a "huge cow patty with a marshmallow stuck in the middle of it."

Indiana Congressman Mike Pence, also a Republican, warned that the bailout ran counter to the principles of American government.

"Economic freedom means the freedom to succeed and the freedom to fail," he said.

The bailout proposal would grant the Treasury secretary authority to buy up toxic mortgage-related assets in troubled banks in hopes of easing the flow of credit and reviving the moribund housing market.

The bill would have immediately released 250 billion dollars to enable the government to buy up troubled assets, and sets a ceiling for all purchases of 700 billion dollars.

It also prohibits "golden parachutes" for CEOs or other executives who lose or leave their jobs at companies participating in the plan as long as the Treasury holds equity in those firms.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Brij Lal, a son of Labasa says:

from w
A man of calm intelligence amidst the hyperbole of discussion on Fiji, Brij Lal, was interviewed by staff of the Fiji Sun newspaper.
Room for compromise in electoral reform

Professor Brij Lal, one of the architects of the 1997 Constitution spoke to Fiji Sun Deputy Chief of Staff Sera Janine about the proposed electoral reforms.

Fiji Sun: The draft charter suggests a review and change to the country's electoral system which is stipulated in the 1997 Constitution.

The proposal to remove communal voting aims to do away with race-based voting.

Do you think there is a guarantee that voting along racial lines could be a thing of the past with this new system?

Lal: The proposal to do away with the racial voting system is welcomed widely, across the political platform, by Mr Qarase as well as Mr Chaudhry. There is no guarantee that any electoral system by itself will eliminate ethnic block voting in Fiji.

The question is not whether Fiji should move away from racial voting, the real question is how fast and at what pace.

The Charter proposes to abolish racial voting in one go, while there are others who suggest that Fiji should move in that direction in a gradual, but decisive manner. In this context, the recommendations of the Reeves' Commission may be worth re-visiting.

There is room for compromise and movement here that should be explored.

Fiji Sun: They said the use of the alternative vote system "strengthened extremist elements and weakened the forces of political moderation".

As a co-architect of the 1997 Constitution what was the objective of introducing the AV system as opposed to the proportional representation system (using the open list option) which is now being proposed by the NCBBF in the draft charter?

Lal: The Reeves Commission's recommendation of the Alternative Vote system was consistent with its Terms of Reference, which required the Commission to recommend political arrangements likely to enhance multi-ethnic cooperation and harmony through either multi-ethnic political parties or through multi-ethnic coalitions.

We thought the AV system was the best option for that purpose, with like-minded parties trading preferences with each other.

In the 1999 elections, some political parties abused the spirit embedded in the AV system.

In an effort to win at any cost, they gave first preferences to parties which had diametrically opposed political philosophies, FLP and VLV being one example.

Instead of promoting moderation, the AV system was used as a blunt instrument to beat those political opponents who posed the greatest threat. And for that, Fiji has paid a huge price.

It should be remembered that any electoral system is a means to an end, not an end in itself.

First you ask what kind of political culture you want in the country, and then you choose your electoral system accordingly.

Fiji Sun: The Electoral Commission is of the view that the PR system would ensure fair and just electoral outcomes. Do you think this could be possible?

Lal: That is the theory, the expectation.

The PR system is likely to encourage the sprouting of smaller political parties, political parties with strength in particular regions of the country, to the likely detriment of larger political parties.

But at the end of the day, they will have to compromise and work together in government if they want to be in power. If you cannot make a constitutionally mandated power sharing arrangement to work, think of the complexities of making a large number of smaller parties work together in government. This is not an impossible task, but it is daunting.

Fiji Sun: Consultation teams travelling around the country are preaching that the charter could be the solution to Fiji's coup culture. Do you think that what is on paper could be effective in practise?

Lal: The future of the Charter looks bleak with opposition now from all political parties and other organisations to important aspects of it.

Unilateral imposition will not solve any problem. I cannot see how precisely the Charter will help eradicate the coup culture.

The military has been at the centre of all the coups in Fiji.

Unless you come to grips with this inescapable fact, Fiji will always be at risk when you have a large standing army in an environment where there is blatant disregard for the rule of law and the verdict of the ballot box.

Giving the military an enhanced role in the governance of the country, as the Charter proposes, will be paving the way for a militarised democracy.

People of Fiji will have to ponder deeply whether that is the route they wish to take.

Fiji Sun: The NCBBF continues to claim that they have "alot of support" in all areas that their charter teams visit. At these places people are asked to fill out forms and state their stance on the draft document.

Apart from the NCBBF's version of events, there is no reliable source to gauge the actual reception from people around the country to this draft document.

What is a good way that you can suggest that an independent survey of opinions on the draft charter can be conducted?

Lal: No one really believes in their hearts of hearts that the consultation process is a resounding success, or even a moderate one, otherwise there would be no need for an extension.

People are not rushing to attend the consultation meetings in their hundreds.

Given the way the consultation process is carried out, with the police, the military and the civil service in tow,any right thinking person will have to question the credibility of the signed pieces of paper.

There is a widespread perception of implicit compulsion and intimidation in the process.

This may not be the intention of the Charter people, but it is the perception. If the Charter people have faith in the claim that the majority of people are supporting the initiative, then why not put it to a refrendum.

Another option is for the Charter to be forwarded to the President's Forum where it should be scrutinised and debated by all the major stakeholders. And whatever consensus emerges there could then be incorporated into the constitution in the proper, prescribed way.

Fiji Sun: There are plans for a president's political forum to be convened soon. How could this benefit the nation and political parties?

Lal: How soon the President's Forum is convened remains to be seen. The track record of the interim administration in moving expeditoiusly on matters of pressing public importance is not encouraging.

None of the people invited to serve on the Forum have indicated their availability so far. Rebuffing Sir Paul Reeves, the Commonwealth envoy, may have consequences we haven't contemplated.

We are now realistically looking at next year as the earliest date.

But with the interim administration adamant that things will be done its way and no other way, the prospects do not look good.

But the impasse has to be broken, and a representative, credible and neutral President's Forum is the best way forward.

Fiji Sun: Does the president have the mandate to convene such a forum, in line with the Constitution?

Lal: The President has both the legal as well as the moral authority to do all he can to resolve the current impasse in accordance with the spirit and the letter of the constitution and to restore Fiji to parliamentary democracy as early as possible.

He must demonstrate personal and moral leadership at a critical time like this for all the people of the country and not just a section of it.

Inaction or procastination will have the unfortunate and unwitting effect of diminishing the dignity and stature of the President's office.

That is something Fiji can ill-afford.

A Fijian choir in Melbourne

from w
Yesterday we were delighted to welcome the members of the Dandenong Uniting Church Fijian congregation to Altona Meadows/Laverton church and their choir sang several beautiful anthems conducted by Raijeli. What a lovely time we had meeting with our friends in worship, sharing a meal together and later on there was plenty of talanoa and some yaqona drinking in Sailosi's home in Wyndam Heights. This choir were at the Adelaide Conference and were my favourite to win, but alas, the polished professional sounds of the city of Sydney won! At Adelaide a promise was made to give scholarships to promising singers/conductors from that conference so I hope one of the young women from Dandenong is given an opportunity for further music training. If Paulini can do it, so can many other young Fijians!

Click on pictures to enlarge.

Wages in Fiji

from w
In today's Fijilive there are some facts about the low wages for many people in Fiji, and this is not even talking about the unwaged such as a widow with five children who gets nothing, and I don't need to describe what I think about the insane amounts of money given to some people in Fiji who are on the political bandwaggon. Many women these days have to resort to cooking coconut pies etc, and catching a bus to the market and back to sell their products to make a little money towards school fees etc. Their labour is probably 50 cents an hour or less!

Talks on to raise low Fiji wage rate

A Fiji worker’s union is calling for the increase in the national minimum wage to $4.36, more than double the current rate.

The Fiji Island Council of Trade Unions general secretary Attar Singh said that its affiliate unions who met in Suva at the weekend are willing to negotiate a progressive increase of the wage rate with the Wages Council.

“It can be $3 to start with then progressively increase to $3.50 and so on, we are happy to discuss that with the Wages Council,” he said.

The Basic Needs (poverty line) rate has been determined at $164.00 per week (48 hours) or $3.41666/hr.

Meanwhile, the Wages Council will be holding its second round of meetings in the various sectors over the next two weeks, beginning today.

The sectors include Road Transport Manufacturing, Printing, Wholesale & Retail Security, Sawmilling & Logging, Garment, Building & Civil Electrical Engineering, Hotel & Catering, Mining & Quarrying.

At the last Manufacturing Wages Council meeting, a proposal was made to review the current minimum wage for the manufacturing sector to increase the current legislated rate of $2.00/hr to $3.00/hr, with the rate for casual workers to increase correspondingly to $3.66/hr.

Members of the council have been asked to provide their views on this proposal at its meeting tomorrow.

While some employers would be comfortable with a gradual increase in the wage rates towards $3, the same may not be said for the Garment sector, which has its current minimum set at a very low $1.26/hr.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

A bus ride to Suva

from w

The journey from Pacific Harbour (Deuba) to Suva is a pleasant drive with changing scenery, banyan trees in fields,vegetable farms, mountains, pandanus trees, trees totally covered with creepers, small rivers, the beautiful Wainidoi area bought by the Australian Dick Smith with a huge plan for redevelopment something like Pacific Harbour in the 70s, the Naboro Prison, (wave a hello to Speight and company?) the Church of the Poor village (though they have excellent food gardens and surely would not be poor), Catholic Missions, past blossoming tulip trees, houses built on swampland, mangroves, Joske’s Thumb, the suburb of Lami, the village of Suvavou, then the sight of highrises of Suva city.

One Sunday afternoon we caught the Qaloa bus at Pacific Harbour.

We expecting a 50 minute ride to Suva, but… this time was a much longer journey. No wonder the bus was almost empty when we boarded it and paid out $3 each.

It was not an express bus at all, as the bus unexpectedly turned right down a rough road where there were numerous small houses and little farms, picked up passengers, and then returned to the highway. Okay, so far so good. After 20 minutes, Navua town was in front us but instead of bypassing the main area, the bus turned and drove past the hospital that always gets flooded, the nicely painted Timothy Memorial Church and past the huddled shops and a Public Convinience – ‘cleanliness is next to godliness’ we were informed, funded by Multiethnic Affairs Central. TV antennas with cable shone in the son above tin shacks or brightly painted shops, though the market beside the river looked really tumbledown. Right up along the river and eventually we reached the sea where we could see two islands in the distance, and then past the village of Tonitoni with its dilapidated government quarters, and around the backblocks of Navua, then a sign Tiri Villas – some tourist development that is hidden from view.Tiri – that means mangroves so what is it like I wondered. By this time the bus was really crowded, picking up passengers here and there and it didn’t seem that there were real bus stops at all. They just got on and off anywhere!

We arrived in Suva after at least one and half hours, and walked past a screaming evangelist from the New Methodist Church. As Peceli searched for a taxi to take us to the flat, I was accosted by a mentally challenged woman who persisted in asking questions. She wanted me to buy her cigarettes but I refused. Some peanuts then, she asked. No. I was tired and irritable. Anyway we had got our money’s worth from the bus ride, seen some new countryside, and how the other half live I suppose.
(I will add more pictures after breakfast!)

Monday, September 22, 2008

Coming to America

from w
One of my favourite films was the 1988 Eddie Murphy 'Coming to America' about an African prince journeying to the USA to explore life on the other side. International flights take people on strange journeys at times.

I like the words written by Emma Lazarus in 1883 giving a legitimate reason for international movement. The Statue of Liberty welcomes the refugees and poor of the world. The right way to be.
"Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"

And then sometimes there is travel the other way round - as two iguanas in Fiji ponder their ancestors coming from South America accidentally - on a bit or wood or a bilibili.

Meanwhile back in Fiji.... listening to the 'charter'.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Ema and some great art events

from w
Go to Ema Tavola's take on the coming programs in Suva for those interested in contemporary art/writing/discussions. Vasu Women of Power. Starts next week, September 24th. Ema is a Fiji artist living in New Zealand. Also follow the links to Ema's description of the recent South Pacific Arts Festival in Samoa.

International Peace Day in Suva

from w
Maybe most people won't be bothered but some Pacific women are meeting this weekend to remember International Peace Day, though only a handful went to the Suva Peace Garden for reflection. I was interested to read in the Daily Post that Anne Walker is back in Fiji at present. Anne Walker, now based in New York (I think) came to Fiji in about 1962 and together with Ruth Lechte they set up the YWCA in Fiji. - A long time ago it seems now.

from the Fiji Daily Post:
International Peace Day was first celebrated in 1982 and in 2002 the UN General Assembly official declared September 21 as the permanent date for IDP. During a discussion on the UN Resolution the established IDP, it was suggested that Peace should be devoted to commemorating and strengthening the ideals of peace both within and among all nations and peoples.

Meanwhile, former Executive Director of the International Women’s Tribune Centre in New York, Dr Anne S Walker wants women in the Pacific to know their voices are being heard.

She was referring to the links between local and national women’s media networks, working in collaboration at regional and international levels to advance women’s human rights.

Highlighting the role and contribution of global women’s media networks, Walker noted that women’s information and media networks have been responsible for sharing information from global and regional conferences to women at the community level, since 1975, when the first UN Conference on Women was held in Mexico.

“For the past 33 years, international, regional and national women’s media networks have worked to build a truly global women’s movement. With a solid basis of leadership and linkages built from the work of more traditional international membership organizations such the World YWCA, women have set up and expanded networks of communications and information that stretch into the farthest reaches of the world,” she said.

Bhagwan-Rolls says Walker will be keynote speaker at femLINKPACIFIC’s Peace Talks reception today.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Joske's Thumb

from w
Out of Suva is a noticeable volcanic plug called Joske's thumb because that's what it looks like. Here are two sketches with it in the background - one from Tamavua - a brief stop when Peceli went to an ATM machine, and the other from Sukuna Park in Suva. Don't know if those boats are just friendly or so old that no one bothers about them.

Did you know that Sir Edmund Hillary couldn't climb Joske's Thumb?

I found this story on www.ideas2000.com - Forum - Sir Edmund Hillary and Joske's ThumbNear Suva there is a volcanic plug called Joske’s Thumb. ... I assured myself, I'd return to Fiji and complete the climb of Joske's Thumb." ...
www.ideas2000.com/forum/2008/1/14/sir-edmund-hillary-and-joskes-thumb.html - 36k -

Joske’s Thumb in Fiji

A little known story about Sir Edmund is that his early climbing attempts in Fiji were unsuccessful. Hillary was conscripted into the New Zealand Air Force during World War II. While in service he was posted to Suva, Fiji. Suva was New Zealand’s main flying boat base in the Pacific. The base was at Suva Point in the suburb of Vatuwaqa. These days, it is a favourite place for picnics during the day and an occasional drinking party at night.

Near Suva there is a volcanic plug called Joske’s Thumb. Some people call the Thumb, together with a hill that leads to it, the Sleeping Giant. The photo shows the Sleeping Giant from Suva Harbour. The red arrow points to Joske’s Thumb.

On their first attempt, because of the heavy undergrowth, Hillary and his friend did not even reach the base of the Thumb. On their second attempt there was heavy rain (a common occurrence in Suva) and they took some hours to reach the base. Hillary subsequently wrote "Our hearts sank. The rock face above us was an enormous overhang and looked quite un-climbable. We had come up the wrong side - underneath the ball of The Thumb."

They followed a ledge but soon found their way blocked. "Bitterly disappointed at being rebuffed I was much too conscious of the 400 foot (122 metre) drop below me to take any more risks - and I hadn't much confidence in our length of clothes line (referring to their improvised climbing rope). The Thumb had beaten us again." But then he went on to add, "Some time in the future, I assured myself, I'd return to Fiji and complete the climb of Joske's Thumb."

Sir Edmund’s return to Joske’s Thumb

Hillary later climbed to the top of Mount Everest, the highest mountain in the world at 8,848 metres (29,028 feet). But, he never forgot his disappointment at Joske’s Thumb. In his later years he returned to Fiji with some mountaineering friends and several of his grandchildren. Although there was concern that his health might not be equal to the climb, he climbed right to the top of Joske’s Thumb and down again. This was well reported in the Fiji newspapers and other media.
Now who was Mr Joske?

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Fiji Buses

from w
Vehicles caught for execssive smoking
The above heading is from today’s Fiji Sun – nice spelling and point of view.

From Fiji Times Bus overload
Thursday, September 18, 2008

THE Maharaj Transport Ltd bus which caught fire on Tuesday afternoon was carrying 108 students, almost double the lawful limit.Sigatoka Police Station officer-in-charge ASP Aliposo Vakaloloma said yesterday that officers involved in the investigation interviewed all the students that were travelling on the bus.Eyewitnesses were also interviewed by police as the National Fire Authority and Land Transport Authority completed their inspection of the bus.

ASP Vakaloloma said while it was a 60-seater bus, they had established that there were 108 students travelling in it to town. He said they would focus attention on the company and the overloading aspect once they complete gathering statements from the students and eyewitnesses.

LTA chief executive Etuate Koroi said it was a concern to learn that there were so many students on the bus.He said the driver alone should be made to answer for the issue of overloading as the loading of passengers was at the driver's discretion.

Form 7 Cuvu College student Ashnita Chand said apart from being cramped in the bus seats, students stood from the back of the bus all the way to the stairs of the bus. The 18-year-old said when the bus was engulfed by smoke and flames, they had no other choice but to jump out of the windows because the bus was overloaded. At about 3.45pm on Tuesday as the bus was heading towards Sigatoka Town, it burst into flames while passing through Volivoli Village.

While the majority of the students escaped from the bus without injuries, six students were taken to the Sigatoka Hospital and treated for minor injuries before being sent home. Mr Koroi has confirmed that the authority will be conducting a fleet check of the Maharaj Transport Company today.

This incident, following closely on the heels of the tragic bus accident that resulted in the deaths of 12 people, has caused fear among the travelling public of Fiji.

It has prompted many calls from people, organisations and lobby groups for a survey of the road worthiness of buses in Fiji as well as of the bus industry itself.

(and read on...)
As police investigated the Maharaj Transport accident, another incident occurred at Sigatoka Valley where a bus carrying 20 people rolled down the hill when the driver miscalculated the changing of gears. The bus rolled 50 metres back and crashed through the fence of the Nacocolevu Research Station. The passengers were unhurt but shaken by the incident.

An on-line response from Jone of Fiji
80% of the buses running on our roads should not be there because they are below standards - they are very old, rattle, seats are all torn, emit a lot of smoke, have difficulty going up the hills, brakes fail, lots of breakdown, etc. I just wonder how these buses get their certificate of fitness - do they really qualify? We want answers from the LTA and we want the LTA authorities to ride on these buses on some gravel roads and experience for themselves what we are saying and what we are facing every day. The government should allow OHS representatives to examine all buses from safety point of view because LTA has failed in their duties to protect the citizens of this country. There should be a zero tolerance as far as the safety of people is concerned.
I agree with Jone of Fiji. I caught about eight buses in Fiji recently and nearly all of them were struggling up hills, smoked, and smelt bad causing breathing difficulties I am sure for some people, were uncomfortable as often three adults and two children sat in seats meant for three small-bottomed people. Fixing transport and roads in Fiji is of more importance than 80 page documents and talk-fests.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Vorovoro story on FijiTV

from w
Go to http://www.fijitv.info/news for September 16th and look for Indepth story on Vorovoro. Five minutes on the eco-tourism venture that is now two years old. Sorry, don't know how to put a video here but you can go to the tribewanted site and they have a link to the fijitv story via Youtube! And, other stories.

The Scout motto - be prepared

from w
The number of accidental fires lately is appalling. Three in one area of Fiji - near Sigatoka. The first fire/accident on a bus was horrific. Now another bus on fire and another fire in a school dormitory. Certainly the motto of BE PREPARED is relevant. Cause and effect - driver lack of skills perhaps, old buses not checked out properly. No safety measures such as a second door, large windows, a fire extinguisher. School buildings also need to have emergency measures and fire extinguishers. Those girls at Nadroga Navosa High School were sent home to get more clothes and bedding! The students from Cuvu College had to jump out of windows of a burning bus. Not good enough!

From Fiji Times today:
Buses must have fire extinguishers
Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Update: 11:16AM Bus companies are urged to ensure that fire extinguishers are installed in buses and drivers are trained on how to use them. The recommendation comes after more than 70 students of Cuvu College travelling towards Sigatoka Town yesterday escaped a bus fire after noticing smoke coming from the engine of the Maharaj Transport Limited bus at about 3.45pm.

Students escaped serious injuries by jumping out of the windows as the bus was engulfed in smoke and flames.

National Fire Authority's chief fire officer Mark Reid said buses should hold extinguishers and drivers should be trained to use it in times of need.

This is the second serious bus fire within two weeks and could have a similar tragic outcome as the fatal bus fire two weeks ago, he said.

This is another example of a bus and driver unprepared to deal with a fire emergency.

While the majority of the students escaped injuries, a handful of students have been treated at Sigatoka Hospital for minor injuries.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Smile with Seona over her TV troubles

from w
Seona Smiles is a part-time columnist for the Fiji Times, lives in Suva, probably still works at the USP, has an Indo-Fijian extended family, writes very funny short stories and her column in the paper about the ups and downs of daily life in Suva are sometimes hilarious. Here is a sample:

Where is the remote control?SEONA SMILES
Sunday, September 14, 2008

WE have this TV dish that lets us watch more television as if it was necessary or desirable. We got it during the recent bout of sporting plague known as the Olympics, so we could watch something different, or even more sport, as it turned out.

We got the dish off a chap who sort of left it on the roof and gave us the electronic box. He'd probably had enough sport during the previous Olympics and was glad to see it go. Just plug her in and push the right button on the remote and away you go, he said.

Not. Problem one, the aged television we had would not connect. I like my TV small and discreet, not a focus of the household, however popular the medium.

But like computers, once you get one you are tied to the cycle of new and improved programs that do not connect with the quite workable, effective and useful equipment you already have. Someone you work with or who lives in the household gets the new and improved version and you all have to follow or be marginalised along with horse-drawn trams and hand-operated washing-machines. So the satellite TV dish project went on hold while I resisted buying a new goggle box.

Needless to say, I lost, and one day I came home to a bright new monstrous screen leering from the corner of the living room. Whoopee!

When I stopped feeling overwhelmed by the electronics, I quite liked being able to see people's faces clearly and notice subtleties of colour, such as green (as opposed to greenish red) grass and yellow (as opposed to reddish brown) flowers.

It was nice to discover that not all news presenters are Martians with bright red complexion but they do have a lot more spots and wrinkles than I thought.

Now we could plug in the box but couldn't get the satellite channels to show, no way. Obviously, we needed the man.

You can't just look in the yellow pages for "man to fix the TV dish", it is going to be under some other obscure listing that I won't possibly be able to think of. So we had to find a friend, who knew a chap, whose brother-in-law had a business, that dealt with TV stuff.

He was off work but told us about the other person and gave us a telephone contact.

It was one of those you ring and ring and finally a voice says "you have reached the telephone of Mumble, please leave a message after the beep and he will do his best to get back to you as soon as possible" next year.

Much to our astonishment, the man called, and not long afterward, turned up. Nothing to it, he said of our TV problem.

Three hours and a foot through the roof later, there were only a few little difficulties left to overcome. We could have settled an hour earlier for 27 channels in Portuguese, several in Italian and a couple in French but we felt we should at least have something we had a fighting chance of understanding. The man duly twiddled the dish and we now have many channels in Chinese, some in Arabic, an excellent channel in English with an Arabic accent, a German channel, a French cooking channel, something really weird with an American accent, the fashion channel, a channel that speaks no known language but sometimes bursts into English, and several Hindi channels that are strong on soapies and religion.

The poor man had to keep going to the internet to checking the settings. I thought we could have some quite interesting channels but the so-called Head of Household stopped me from plying the man with liquor and he packed his pliers and went home.

We have only one remaining problem. Where oh where did we put the remote control?

I'm getting tired of watching the wonders of the Chinese business scene in Mandarin.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Wandering around Suva

from w
About ten days ago Peceli and I wandered around Suva with a camera taking shots of trees, buildings, and exploring what was around the corner. Here are few of the pics. We started at the Methodist Book shop where I bought a few books including an interesting biography on Hannah Dudley, had morning tea with the church staff, then walked around the seafront starting from Sukuna Park, discovered a Peace Garden established by women's organisations such as PSSEAWA. Lovely space. Then to the Holiday Inn to book a bus ticket (which didn't eventuate as the times were wrong), then lunch 3rd floor up at MH with family and good old Ravuama who we bumped into.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Fiji Eagles Wings singing group

from Peceli
The other day in Pacific Harbour I met the man behind Eagles Wings, a lovely Christian singing group that produces DVDs. His name is Vere Bulamaibau and he comes from Lomaiviti and his wife is from Naikoro Nadroga. He kindly gave me some of his DVDs. When I put them on my TV back in Geelong, I realised just how good this group is. Some samples are on youtube which are not the quality of the real DVD. If you are interested to buy the DVDs the address is Eagles Wings Producton Box 96 Pacific Harbour or phone Fiji 3452360. The DVDs sell for about $19A and $3 postage. The girls are Vere's daughters and they sing beautifully in the Fijian language. The video production is excellent. For many of the songs the girls use traditional meke dance movements. Vere writes his own songs and translates from the Bible to make relevant Christian gospel songs.

Monday, September 08, 2008

A tidy village beside a serene sea

from w
What a pleasure it was to spend a day and a half at Rukurukulevu village in Nadroga. The houses are strong, the gardens lovely and the sea between the village and the island where the Fijian hotel is sited is serene. The cooling breeze blows into the house where we stayed and I recovered from the humidity of Suva. Our generous hosts, Jerry and Mereula, looked after us splendidly and it was so nice to meet with Peceli's friends there. The men work in their plantations each morning and many afternoons a choir dresses up neatly and goes to the Fijian resort to sing hymns and songs at weddings. Other village people work there of course and some perform mekes and traditional ceremonies. They have a beautiful church, meeting hall, large bure and a kindergarten.
It seems to be a good life - far from the crazy politics that obsess a few people in Suva!