Stories of Resilience

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					   Stories of Resilience
   Reflections from Fiji – a nation at the crossroads

                                                         But with another wink, he adds, “dilution is the
Twelve emerging leaders                    came from
                                                         solution to pollution.” We move on to view the
across the Pacific to this group of islands known as
                                                         massive steam turbines that power the mill.
Fiji, a nation of diverse cultures and customs. Today,
due to its air and sea trade links, Fiji operates as a
pacific regional hub of trade, education and tourism.

As leaders in our communities of practice we came
to Fiji with our own different worldviews, lenses and
filters. We all held different preconceptions of Fiji
and we sought to know the truth, in all its many
facets. This task was not possible in the short time
that we had, nonetheless we encountered many
individuals and organisations who opened their
minds, workplace, homes and hearts to us. They
communicated openly and honestly with us on their
                                                         Since the 1870's sugar has been commercially grown
particular viewpoints on people, power and politics.
                                                         in Fiji. Timed with the decline in the price of cotton,
We can find no more appropriate way of illustrating      sugar quickly grew into a strong industry and soon
the rich mosaic of culture and complexity of the         formed one of the most important contributors to
issues we saw, than through the Pacific tradition of     the economy employing thousands. The first mills
storytelling. Below are a small selection of stories     were established in Suva and Lautoka. Muhammad
from people we met. They are real stories. Through       oversees the 100 year old Lautoka sugar mill. Its
stories like these we built our picture of Fiji.         heyday      is   now     in    the     distant    past.

Bittersweet Business

Mohammed stands proudly before an aged and
rusting sugar mill. He looks us straight in the eye.
With a cheeky grin he says, “Ask me no questions, I’ll
tell you no lies” – a response to our questions about
the mill’s practice of discharging contaminated
water into a nearby river. Mohammed, an engineer
                                                         s than 2km away in a cane field an Indo Fijian farmer
by training, knows the company’s environmental
                                                         shares stories about the challenges he faces
performance could be enhanced.
                                                         operating in a semi-protected sugar market. He says
that if Fiji were fully exposed to the global market,     determination that saw company founder Mr Hari
the way of life long experienced by Indo Fijians like     Punja persevere through four military coups and
him would be threatened. He doesn’t ‘sugar coat’ his      several economic recessions to build a world class
story; cane prices have declined in order of 30% over     sustainable business.
the past 3 years while fertiliser prices have risen.

The future of the shrinking sugar industry of Fiji is
uncertain. According to Muhammad ‘a free market
would devastate Fiji’ – the industry relies heavily on
EU protection. Mohammed tells us he is committed
to the industry but admits that cane yield has now
halved, from historical highs of four million tonnes
per annum. He almost looks embarrassed.

And the cane fields and its Indo Fijian farmers are
                                                          While some industries are growing others are
becoming tired, with many leaving the industry due
to demands from Fijian landowners and                     declining. Economic liberalization in the years
uncertainties over lease arrangements. Some are           following the 1987 coup created a boom in the
joining thousands in squatter settlements near the        garment industry and a steady growth rate despite
                                                          growing uncertainty of land tenure in the sugar
cities in hope of a better life.
                                                          industry. Today the garment industry in Fiji is a
Fiji may need to consider not only the challenges of      shadow of its former self. Despite the significant
the shrinking sugar industry, but the opportunities it    reduction in garment trade due to pressure from
could bring. What would a sugarless Fiji look like?       other developing economies, particularly in Asia,
Crisis or opportunity? The Government pushes for          some manufacturers have carved out niche for their
cane revival, yet the current generation of cane          ability to produce short runs of high quality specialist
farmers could well be the last. The options appear to     garments.
be further investment into ailing assets and an
inefficient production model relying on low cost,
low-tech labour, or converting land use and
retraining a generation of people in the hope of a
brighter future.

Beyond Tourism and Cane
The Fiji economy is more diverse than tourism and
cane.     Fiji has a history of very successful
manufacturing businesses including FMF Group – a
diverse food manufacturer. The professionalism and        Walking through the hot sticky garment factory the
world class facilities we saw at FMF demonstrated a       general manager tells a story of adapting to the new
depth of experience and expertise as a leader in Fiji’s   business model – the niche involves short runs of
Private sector with a firm niche carved out in the        many different garments. It’s a story Mohammed
region. We were most impressed by the                     from the sugar mill may benefit from as the sugar
industry adapts to similar challenges and pressures,       Ribbon is more than a correctional philosophy – it’s a
the realities of globalisation and the need to identify,   robust management system. Their slogan reads:
define and capture a niche market.                         “The successful reintegration of offenders is the best
                                                           guarantee of security to society”.

Pacific Pillars                                            We file through the large chain mesh gates into a
                                                           prison meeting room where Mr Isireli greets us. Like
A sea of prisoners clad in orange, dart and side-step      many nations in the Pacific, Fiji’s prison population is
with familiar precision and speed on a muddy field.        growing. Addressing the high recidivism rate,
Little wonder Fiji are a world class Rugby Sevens          especially among youth offenders, is a key driver for
nation. The bus driver crunches down a gear and we         change.
power up the hill and roll to a halt outside the
Correctional Centre’s administration wing. We are
greeted by smartly dressed prison officers.

As Mr Isireli explains the history and background of
the Yellow Ribbon Project, a senior prison officer
leans towards me. “We used to beat the shit out of
the prisoners, and when they got the chance, they
would beat us,” he whispers. “Now it’s different. In
the past month nine of our senior officers have been                                                           O
discharged for using violence towards prisoners.” His      ne of many challenges highlighted to the group is the
tone is solemn and I nod in acknowledgement of his         overrepresentation of Indigenous Fijian’s in the
sincerity as he explains a huge culture change taking      prison population. “I am indigenous Fijian,” he tells
place in the organisation. Mr Isireli, a commanding        us, “and it’s embarrassing”. The Yellow Ribbon
speaker and genuine leader, says Fiji is in the process    Project is focussed on addressing this and other
of transforming from incarceration to correction.          challenges using the three pillars of Family, Society
                                                           and Church - the foundations of all of Fijian life.
The Yellow Ribbon Project is an initiative the Fiji
corrections service adapted from Singapore after a         We are told of the need to raise awareness, address
group of senior Fiji corrections staff visited the small   discrimination and promote tolerance through these
island state in 2006 and liked what they saw. Yellow       three pillars. Only then will genuine and lasting
change be realised. But these pillars are by no means   responses. “This is a one time opportunity for
exclusive to a correctional philosophy – they are the   change. Not that we condone coups, but this
heart of community in Fiji and the wider Pacific        government is doing what previous democratically
region.                                                 elected governments could not do.”

The Yellow Ribbon Project is working. Recidivism        With 25,000 civil servants, 42 ministries and
rates have dropped from 50 to 38% in the 4 years        agencies and 29 other state owned entities, the civil
since the project commenced. Communities are            service accounts for around 80% of the
practising forgiveness and through their extension of   government’s budget allocation. Reform was on the
a faithful hand, young men and women are being          menu when we met Mr Chand, Permanent Secretary
reformed and reintegrated into society.                 for the Public Service Commission, for lunch on
                                                        Tiko’s gently swaying boat in Suva.
The parallels between prisoners and the survivors of
sexual and physical abuse we met at rehabilitation
centre ‘Homes of Hope’ that morning were
immediately obvious. On one side the perpetrators,
on the other the victims. And yet the medicine is the
same – love, compassion, education, acceptance,
forgiveness and promotion of a sense of self worth.
All this administered in healthy doses by family,
church and community to promote healing and
restoration of the mind, body and soul.

We come to the realisation that the very same           His tells us his biggest challenge as a senior civil
values and attitudes that are reforming the prison      servant in the interim government is the
system are critical to reducing violence and            maintenance of public assets while implementing
exploitation of women who have often born children      reforms to provide more efficient and effective
through rape, incest and adultery. This discovery is    service delivery.     The Government’s progress
encouraging and comforting to our group.                towards modernising its institutions has always been
                                                        a slow process; however the country now faces an
                                                        opportunity, albeit in undesirable circumstances, to
                                                        expedite these changes.

                                                        With minimum or no resistance to the current public
                                                        sector reforms, we were told that the government is
                                                        progressing with efforts to streamline the civil
                                                        service towards a more lean and efficient institution,
                                                        by diverting much needed funds to capital
                                                        expenditure and ensuring greater accountability in
Civil Words                                             the areas of government finance and resource
Mr Chand has a gentle yet engaging manner. He
chooses his words carefully and gives considered
Redefining the boundaries and authority of                “watch dog”, to a partner in nation building and
traditional leadership versus modern leadership is        upholding security and stability.
reportedly now on the interim government’s
agenda, including updating the role of the Great          The earliest timeframe for elections is touted to be
                                                          2014; whether they take place, only time will tell. A
Council of Chiefs or Traditional/Customary statues to
support a modern style of leadership in the future.       clear timeframe for a new constitution is yet to be
We are now interested in keeping watching brief on        determined which raises cause for concern.
progress in the Public Service.

From Horses to Turtles                                    Reflections
                                                          Our week in a nation at a crossroads exposed us to
“As a leader in the military I felt like I was riding a
                                                          many stories like those we have shared above. Cross
horse; my every command efficiently carried out with
                                                          cutting stories of perseverance, optimisation, hope,
haste. By comparison my entry into the civil service
                                                          honesty in the face of uncertainty and reflection that
feels a lot like riding on the back of a turtle.”
                                                          through adversity comes opportunity for change.
With a military background spanning 25 years, Navy
                                                          None of us condone a military coup. Many of those
Commander Naupoto left the comfort of
                                                          we spoke to conceded that despite their feelings
commanding his troops with a military leadership
                                                          about the coup, at least there is an environment in
approach to a foreign position, in the Interim
                                                          Fiji ripe for major reform. The question remains;
Government’s environmental sector.
                                                          once the changes are complete will the interim
His task-oriented, adaptive leadership style is           government let go and allow democracy to build a
challenged by a workforce he believes have an             nation?
engrained sense that the civil service is both a
                                                          The study tour provided the opportunity for
lifelong career and retirement plan. The interim
                                                          participants to gain a deeper understanding of
(military) Government have recently addressed this
                                                          human relationships with natural systems and how
particular issue by enforcing a compulsory
                                                          these changing relationships look and translate into
retirement age of 55. This announcement sparks a
                                                          our modern world. As a group we witnessed how the
chorus of question and debate among our group,
                                                          people of Fiji are not only able to weather natural
including ‘Did this decision help ‘flush out’ some
                                                          storms (Cyclone Tomas), but also political storms
previous leaders from the public service?’ was
                                                          and despite the impacts keep moving to seek unity
answered by a considered and form response ‘I
                                                          as one Fiji.
believe it allowed space for our talented new
graduates’.                                               By examining a snapshot from the site tours we
                                                          were able to explore Fiji from different perspectives.
Mr Chand noted that good governance will ensure
                                                          We were able to reflect on leadership styles in Fiji
that the government of the day is held accountable
                                                          and the application and importance of these for the
for its decisions and actions. He tells us that with
                                                          future of the Pacific.
Fiji’s history of coups, the military needs to be
transformed from their (self-appointed) role as a         After each site tour we used a mode of learning and
                                                          enquiry to reflect on the site tour with the aim of
integrating the principles, values and practices          promote recovery and rehabilitation, communities
inherent in sustainable development along with            and families that support each other in times of
varying modes of ‘unpacking’ leadership styles to         crisis and represent the best of Fiji’s uniting spirit.
help us understand the complexity around us. In           Through these characteristics Fiji will be able to
doing this team members gained useful skills to be        break through stereotype and fear, conquer factions
able to contribute in a valuable way to building a        and navigate their way to a democratic and
sustainable future for their own communities of           prosperous future.
                                                          Vinaka Vakalevu
To complement this approach an inquiry process
was used based on developing team critical thinking
and problem solving skills to help increase shared
knowledge, challenge our individual and group
attitudes and develop our leadership skills.
Accordingly our Fiji tour involved us “finding out”,
“sorting out”, drawing conclusions and planning to
navigate the future of the Pacific together.

Our team constantly reflected throughout our study
tour about the need to be mindful that our role was
primarily to observe, not to recommend. In each of
the sectors, causes or issues we were exposed to, we
acknowledged that in most cases we weren’t able to
get the full picture of a story. We typically had one
‘snapshot’, rather than being exposed to rich             EPLD 2010 Fiji Study Tour Group, from left to right, back
comparisons and different viewpoints.                     row to front row: Glen Peiris (Australia), Yves Mignot
                                                          (New Caledonia), Ross Copland (New Zealand), William
What we do know is that four decades after Fiji took      Andrew (Palau), John Andrius (PNG), Edwin Aisake (Fiji),
its place in the community of sovereign nations a         Sam Taffo (Vanuatu), Sam Huggard (New Zealand), Sina
new generation of leaders are ready and standing in       Moy (Kiribati), Sally Asker (Australia), Tererei Abete
the wings. Enthused by the opportunities the new          Reema (Kiribati) and Renee Liang (New Zealand).
space democratic elections could offer, they remain
                                                          We humbly acknowledge those listed below for their
confident in their abilities, are broadminded enough      contribution to an enriching learning and leadership
to accept the reality they find themselves in, and at     development experience:
the same time refuse to sacrifice dignity and the
principles of equality, upholding a rule of law, and             EPLD Secretariat and the Eminent Persons Group
the pillars of society and Pacific life in exchange for            of the Pacific Leadership Foundation, as part of
                                                                   Commonwealth Study Conferences Inc.
short term gains.
                                                                 EPLD 2010 organising committees, alumni and
Ultimately we feel that the strength of society in Fiji            volunteers
is reflected in the strength of these fundamental                Official sponsors and supporters of EPLD 2010
pillars of Pacific life; strong families build strong            Fiji study tour businesses, communities, NGO’s,
                                                                   officials and leaders
societies, churches that practise forgiveness
        Host Governments of Samoa (opening dialogue)
         and Tonga (closing dialogue)

The Fiji Cycle
The following verses (extracts) are contributed by Renee Liang, writer, and member of the EPLD Fiji Study Group.
We thank Renee for allowing us to share these as appendices to our report.

The Sugar Mill

For over a hundred years

these steel pipes have fed

hot groaning bellies of syrup

guzzled clear spring water

farted molasses into the Pacific.

Hot ovens suck the sweat of the workers

feeding Europe’s sweet teeth

feeding the land with more orders

more labour. But now the heart is failing,

the fatness falling away.

The veins are sluggish.

The factory stretches out

its wrinkled hands,

ask for more time.

The Cane Farmers

The first time they saw

those fragrant green ribbons of cane

sniffing mist from the hills

they must have felt

their Hindu gods smiling.
Feet and hands shredded,

generations fingered the plump stalks

pulsed the juice through arteries

to their sweet snapping point

pruned their fields and minds

of the old ways

followed the lingering taste

home to their families, dreamt of the day

they could call their fields home.

Cyclone Warning

My body draws a line

across the luminescence

of the hotel pool at night.

I listen to the sound

of my own breath,

watch this island’s breath

exhale, inhale, exhale

my hands slide

past fallen flowers

the breeze fingers my face

as if it remembers

the palms above start to shake

one by one

the raindrops come.

Peter’s town is blue and yellow

building blocks and bulldozers

bright babies and bula smiles.

Peter’s town clings tight

to the slopes of its 99-year lease

waves banana-leaf hands at the sky

asks the sun not to go away.

Peter’s town grows orchids

and fruit, plays rugby

and dreams of the day

their children will leave the nest.

At night, Peter’s town

grows its roots deep into the soil

hoping for more water.

Waiting for Cyclone Tomas

Just by your name I’d induce

a debonair man

possibly bearded

a dancer with insouciant charm

and devastating looks. The radio

says you are already waiting at the door.

You are hungry and cruising for action

moving in on these nubile morsels of land.

The radio says that your eye

could consume me

could lick me limb to limb
and spit me out in fragments.

I wonder if tonight

you will come to find me in my room.

Chicken Factory

Like small dirty clouds they wait for dissipation

eyes peering through plastic slats

as men hose them with disinfectant

once they enter these gates

there is no turning back

and so they are quiet watching

until the moment they are strung

heads down on steel hooks

to witness the slash

of machete towards neck

for progress is inevitable

and work will set you free

Eich bein nacht frein

The ovens are waiting.

Wind Farm

Even the largest bird

cannot fly in a cyclone

The Gods of Wind rest

on a ridge above Sigatoka

their wings weighted

unable to fly. The land
hums underneath them

transmitting lines of data,

packets of energy. Everything

counts. Words become idols -

Environment Sustainability Output Efficiency.

When the storm is over, the Gods are woken

by orange vested attendants

ready to be worshipped again.

Yaqona Circle

The old yellow dog wags his tail

watches the mats being laid

knows it is Friday

when the men move

the tanoa bowl to centre.

He sniffs the warm scent

of banana bread being cut

whines when he is banished

to the porch. The people come

sit clap their words splashing

like laughter the old dog watches

swallowing his own small sounds.

A girl sees him and smiles

the old yellow dog wags his tail.

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