Pacific News Spot: Do not Disrespect the New Fijian Flag… Or Else?

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In the unfolding process of designing and implementing the new Fijian flag, there are new laws which Fijians must abide by with reference to displaying and having opinions about the past and future flag. These laws are stated in the new National Flag Protection Bill 2015 found here. There has however been much confusion in the media about the bill. The primary confusion is in section 5 where it states that the “flag shall be respected by every citizen in Fiji”. In the debate surrounding the bill (such as on Pacific Beat or The Fiji Times) it is argued that the word of “respect” is hard to define with regards to what it allows and doesn’t allow when displaying and discussing the flag and the government it represents. The bill indicates a few examples of appropriate displays of the Fijian flag such as at a school or home. However, in such instances, it must also be displayed in a position of “prominence” which has also caused confusion due to its subjectivity. There are also concerns for displaying either flag on social media. The use of the old flag instead of the new flag may be interpreted as “disrespecting” the new flag. Furthermore displaying either flag on social media, with posts that may be critical of the Fijian government may also be tantamount to “disrespect”. The National Flag Protection Bill 2015 also stipulates the government can deem whether an individual has disrespected the flag and can be fined or imprisoned accordingly. This shifts the onus on the individual to prove their innocence. This reverses the commonly held “rule of law” whereby an individual is innocent until proven guilty by the judicial system.

While the National Flag Protection Bill 2015 has caused much debate in the media in its own right, it is heightened by the fact that there does not seem to be any general public support for any of the proposed final 23 flag designs. Firstly, this lack of support can be attributed to the fact that none of the designs are fully accurate of what candidates put forth in a nationally held flag design contest. The government simply appropriated aspects of the designs that it deemed suitable or desirable. The Sodelpa Youth Council member, Peter Waqavonono, says the design process has been undemocratic in nature, thereby calling the new flag “Bainimarama’s flag” not Fiji’s flag. Furthermore the designs that have been adapted by the government are said to resemble “clip-art” pictures by the Fiji Times. I am not here to make my own judgement on the flag designs, however you are welcome to judge some of the proposed designs below.

Secondly, on various blogs where Fijian political activism and engagement is vibrant (sorry I will not reveal these sources but they are easily findable), there is a great reverence for the old flag. In many comments threads, Fijians dominantly believe that the old flag fully represents their identity. This is despite the fact that the Fijian’s government’s entire motive for replacing the old flag was to remove certain colonial symbolism that was not representative of a modern Fijian identity. I discussed the issues and challenges of designing a flag that fully represents Fijian Identity in a previous article that can be found here. In this article I highlighted some political pundit’s opinions of including Fijian-Indian identity into the flag design.

I will leave my own personal analysis short… however it is fair to say that the result of the National Flag Protection Bill 2015 and the general dissatisfaction of the new flag designs, has been a certain disconnect between the newly democratically elected government and the Fijian people with regards to this issue.

New Fijian Flag

Some of the proposed designs of the new Fijian flag

Pacific News Spot: Preparedness for and Resilience after Cyclone Pam

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Picture Caption: Amongst the destruction of Cyclone Pam a man tries to salvage what is left of his house, whilst his son resiliently kicks a ball around.

As most of you know a category 5 cyclone called Cyclone Pam hit Vanuatu with devastating effect on the 13th of March. The cyclone formed east of the Solomon Islands on the 6th of March where it initially established itself as a category 3 cyclone. It intensified into a category 5 as it tracked down to Vanuatu. Cyclone Pam tracked down Vanuatu passing by the islands of Pentecost, Ambrym and Epi. It then passed just east of the Efate, the main island of Vanuatu, and where the capital of Port Vila is located. It then continued tracking down, passing the islands of Erromango and Tanna. Pam’s strength was at its peak as it was passing through Vanuatu with winds up to 270kmph, however some have estimated up to 320kmph. The storm only weakened after it passed through Vanuatu, before heading to New Zealand where minimal damage was done. To my knowledge, the death toll stands at 24. Ariel photos of Vanuatu show sheer devastation with an estimated 90% of buildings destroyed on some islands. Communications on the islands outside of Efate are for the most part “down”, making it very difficult to contact friends and family in the islands. This is exemplified by the fact that Vanuatu’s Prime Minister Baldwin Lonsdale was ironically in Japan for a disaster mitigation conference and had no contact with his family in the days after the crisis. He has since returned to Vanuatu. This lack of communication is true of most families who have relatives scattered amongst the islands. My family is also highly involved on the island of Tanna undertaking a collaborative tourist based business project with a community there. Unfortunately we have not heard from our friends up there since the cyclone. For regular updates on how the people of Tanna, and our more personal connections on the island, respond and recover from Cyclone Pam take a look at Vanuatu Traveller. This article has sparked my interest on the question of to what extent is media being used to warn populations of impending disasters? How do they fit in with other more social systems of warning? It also makes me ask the question of, how will the people of Vanuatu respond to this crisis?

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The path of Cyclone Pam

Use of Media to Inform Populations about Disasters like Cyclone Pam

In anecdotal evidence from my family it seems as though that the people of Vanuatu could have been more prepared for the crisis. As Cyclone Pam approached Vanuatu calls were made to the families and villages we know to warn them of the crisis. Warnings to a family in the outer island of Tanna of what was approaching were taken light-heartedly. Only after repetition of the seriousness of the situation was it understood that more thorough preparation was in order. This included boarding up houses and moving their vehicle (used for tourist adventures) into a more protected area. We have not yet heard from this family and their village due to the breakdowns in communication. We have however heard from a family in Port Vila who have stated that do not have any food or water. This is to my family’s frustration as they were advised to stockpile some food and water and to find an ultra-secure place to store it. These efforts were not done. Again the seriousness of the situation was not understood. Perhaps it was because they believed Cyclone Pam would be just like every other Cyclone that has hit the area in the past. In these scenarios they have gotten by just fine. However it does prompt the question of how should the seriousness of impending disasters be expressed in the Pacific in order for people to take appropriate preventative measures?

The most common form of disaster warning comes from broadcast radio, however these warnings can be quite formal, prescriptive, and explained in non-relatable ways such as “category 5”. The mobile phone is increasingly been thought of a technology to provide warnings. In Samoa, Papua New Guinea, and Tonga emergency broadcasters have experimented with sending out SMSs to mobile users to warn them of cyclones. It should be noted however that mobile penetration in the islands is not 100%. In Vanuatu it is estimated at 76% however we could expect a larger percent in urban areas and on the main island, as opposed to rural areas in the outer islands. Furthermore telecommunication infrastructure can be patchy and unreliable. This means there needs to be other non-technical non-media related ways to provide warnings to areas that will be affected by disaster.

It is argued that warnings are provided to local populations through wider communicative ecologies. This refers to the how information flows throughout the community whether it be through media, AND personal or institutional interaction. It is proven that more contextualised reporting by trusted locals and institutions resonate most with other locals rather than westernised reporting. For instance, it is argued that in Tuvalu western based and media delivered information on climate change does not resonate with locals. Rather a more effective medium for delivering information on climate change has been through sermons provided by religious institutions. It is also not uncommon for taxi drivers to convey such disaster information that they have heard on the radio in more relatable contextualised language to local passengers. In Kiribati policemen drive around the islands to warn local populations about incoming cyclones. In Niue policemen are also involved by consulting with village council institutions who then warn those who they represent. The more face to face based warnings are taken more seriously than westernised reports.

It therefore seems to me that there needs to be a greater interconnection between these formalised warnings and the more interpersonal methods of providing warnings. The seriousness of impending disaster needs to be effectively transferred between the two methods.

Resilience after Cyclone Pam

Resilience is a term often used after a crisis to express the capability of communities to respond and recover to emergencies. Resilience can come in two forms such as reducing the vulnerability of communities to disaster so that the point of recovery is not so low that it cannot be returned from. It also comes in the form of the adaptability and systems of recovery after a disaster has hit. This is most thoroughly defined in the following definition of resilience.

The capacity of a system, community or society potentially exposed to hazards to adapt, by resisting or changing in order to reach and maintain an acceptable level of functioning and structure. This is determined by the degree to which the social system is capable of organising itself to increase the capacity for learning from past disasters for better future protection and to improve risk reduction measures (UNISDR 2005)

Currently it is not known how Vanuatu will respond to the crisis, however we do know that Pacific Island States do have strong social systems that promote co-operation, help, and communalism. This is most prominently expressed in social systems of kinship. Therefore there is hope that communities will come together, rebuild, and prosper once again. The track record of Pacific Island States to recover from cyclones is encouraging. In 1952 and 1953 the people of Tikopia in the Solomon Islands were hit by successive typhoons. The communities came together and agreed to make certain adjustments in their traditional ways of life to meet their daily needs. This included the temporary abandonment of fallow periods, redefinition of agricultural rights, stricter crime and thief repression, and also the adjournment of wedding ceremonies that require the exchange of vast quantities of wealth. These adjustments were agreed upon during public assemblies. As a result the Tikopia people were able to recover from the cyclones.

I believe the people of Vanuatu will resiliently respond in a similar manner, however it must be stated that this is perhaps the strongest cyclone to ever hit the region. The destruction was unprecedented. Therefore the people of Vanuatu need all the international help they can get to resiliently respond to Cyclone Pam. They need help in the short run with supplies of water, food, and medical supplies. But they will also need help in the long run. As Baldwin Lonsdale the prime minister of Vanuatu stated, they are going to need to rebuild the majority of the country. He wants to restore the country that he defines as a “paradise”. Please donate to the following charities (but be careful there are some fraudulent charities seeking to profit from the devastation in Vanuatu).

https://www.oxfam.org.au/my/donate/cyclone-pam-in-vanuatu/?gclid=CKuqsYefuMQCFY8kvQodaIYATg

http://www.unicef.org.au/Donate/One-off-Donation/Cyclone-Pam-Vanuatu-Appeal.aspx?gclid=CKzmg5afuMQCFUYIvAod7G4ATA

Our Friends Affected by Cyclone Pam

Thinking of our friends in Tanna, Vanuatu

Pacific News Spot: Capturing Corruption in The Pacific

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Photo by Daniel Fisher from the Cook Islands, depicting the inability of youth to speak out against corruption.

The United Nations Office for Drugs and Crime (UNODC) in partnership with The Pacific Youth Council have held a photography competition called the “Capturing Corruption Photo Contest”. The competition called for youth between the ages of 18-25 to take images that they believed symbolized corruption within their communities. Three winners were chosen; Daniel Fisher from The Cook Islands, Jared Kolivangana from the Solomon Islands, and Roweena Wemahanua also from the Solomon Islands. Their reward was that they were able to attend the three day Pacific Youth Forum Against Corruption which opened on Sunday the 22nd of February in Nadi, Fiji. They joined 45 other youth leaders from countries around the Pacific including The Cook Islands, Federated States of Micronesia, Fiji, Kiribati, Republic of Marshall Islands; Nauru, Niue, Palau, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tokelau, Tonga, Tuvalu and Vanuatu. The aim of the forum was to encourage youth leaders to speak out against the corrosive effect of corruption on society. Whilst all three of these images are striking and provokes thought, there has been limited or shallow discussion, at least publically on the web, about the stories and/or contexts behind these photos. This article will provide such context behind these images to try and come to an understanding of what they could mean, and how their takers might view corruption in The Pacific. By context, I refer to historical instances of corruption in these countries and how corruption is generally thought about in The Pacific. I try to relate these contexts to their photos, however I cannot pretend to know how exactly these photographers view corruption. This article will conclude by analysing whether the United Nations Development Programme’s “Phones against Corruption” is an appropriate technological platform for youth to speak out against corruption.

The header image was taken by Daniel Fisher and has been the only photo of the three to have been described by its taker in publically available media. On Pacific Beat on the 24th of February, Fisher explains that the young Pacific woman in the photo is depicted as Justitia, the Roman God of Justice. She holds in her arms unbalanced scales representing dishonesty which creates corruption. The use of a young Pacific Islander indicates that it is the youth of the Pacific are the ones most adversely affected by corruption. The bank note over her mouth represents that even though corruption is witnessed in front of youth, they feel as though they must remain silent. Fisher hopes that the photo will encourage youth to cast off the barriers that prohibit them from speaking out against corruption in their communities, and at public events such as The Pacific Youth Forum Against Corruption. 6229218-3x2-940x627[1]

Photo by Jared Kolivanga from The Solomon Islands, of a settlement blaze in Honiara

No such commentary has been available on Jared Kolivanga’s photo (shown above). In Kolivanga’s photo, we see a settlement blaze in Honiara, the capital of the Solomon Islands, in August 2014. Unfortunately no more information is given and how this relates to corruption. The image, for me at least, is a reminder of the large scale burning of the Asian district by large mobs in Honiara in April 2006. The businesses and properties targeted in those 2006 riot were those whose owners were suspected of being involved in long term and large scale corruption in the Solomon Islands. It is claimed that throughout the 1990s up until the riots of 2006, licences for logging and fishing in the Solomon Island were over extended much past sustainable levels. This is because Asian business men were able to bribe public officials for these licences. These bribed officials also turned a blind eye to illegal tax evasion by the Asian logging and fishery industries. The environmental degradation that resulted has harmed the earning potential and sustenance lifestyle of Solomon Islanders. The large sum of lost tax revenue could have also been used on the development of the country. Solomon Islander’s were impelled to carry out such a violent act as the Asian immigrant’s long involvement in corruption was abetted by public government officials. The very government that was supposed to be the higher authority to tackle such issues were part of the problem. To the general population, the destructive 2006 riot was therefore the only solution. It must be stated however that some Asian businesses owners were beloved by Solomon Islanders and were absolved of all suspicion of corruption. The businesses of this segment of the Asian population were consciously (and quite miraculously) spared. If Kolivanga’s photo of the settlement burning in Honiara in August 2014 has any parallels to the 2006 burning of the Asian district, it provokes the thought that corruption has only led to physical destruction in the Solomon Islands. It potentially presents the case that a more constructive means of speaking out against corruption needs to be established. From the example above this needs to be done with participation and greater effort by the government of the Solomon Islands. 6229222-3x2-940x627[1]

Photo by Roweena Wemahanua from The Solomon Islands, depicting bribery and nepotism in the wantok systemm

There has also been no publically available commentary on Roweena Wemahanua’s photo either (shown above), however we can more easily depict what is occurring. The perspective is from a person in a position of power at his desk, perhaps a government official. He is reading an application for a scholarship or training position. Next to the application we can see the transfer of a bribe, corruption at the monetary level. However this image also deals with the form of corruption known as nepotism. This term refers to favoritism such as hiring candidates or helping someone in formal processes who are family and friends, or in island terms, “wantok”. In wantok relationships, it is expected that you help each other out, and that this is reciprocated. This is done in village environments where reciprocal exchanges of food occur or looking after another’s children. In the Wemahanua’s photo we can see that the wantok system is crossing the boundary of the village into formal bureaucratic systems. The applicant is trying to draw upon the wantok relationship in the message “Thank You Wantok”. Wemahanua is potentially trying to portray that nepotism in formal processes based on wantok relationships is not ok. I believe it is perhaps the image that will most likely to connect with Pacific Islanders as the navigation of where wantok relationships stop and where formal relationships begin is one that is still being established. In a recent 2013 article by Grant W Walton called “Is all corruption dysfunctional? Perceptions of Corruption and its Consequences in Papua New Guinea”, the very scenario above was discussed in a focus group of Papua New Guineans. In this article respondents were sympathetic to the official put in such a position as “to help a wantok is good”. However all recognized the implications. It prevents the due process of hiring candidates making it difficult for those without influential wantoks to gain meaningful employment. They also claimed that it could led to increased wantok rivalry and fighting if found out about. The article shows that the focus groups knew such nepotism was wrong however, sympathies caused the line to be blurred. The line was not stark.

On Wemahanua’s photo we can see the icon of a speaker that we can all find on our computers. The speaker looks as though it has maximum volume, and has the words above “SPEAK UP”. The use of this icon to me shows that their needs to be medium to speak up against corruption, and perhaps it should be a technical one. The photos by Fisher and Kolivanga have elements that refer to “speak up” which I have discussed, however I focus on Wemahanua’s due to its reference to technology. Could the United Nations Development Programme’s campaign of “phones against corruption” launched in Papua New Guinea (PNG) be this tool that youth need to speak up against corruption? The overview of this campaign is shown in the video below. In this video it is encouraged to anonymously report fraud, bribery, nepotism, and extortion via a text service. All texts are then followed up by the PNG Department of Finance. Since starting in July 2014, up until September 2014, 1,538 text messages were received from 384 different users, showing its initial popularity as a tool to speak out against corruption. I do still have concerns however. As discussed, the issue of corruption is not easy to define for Pacific Islanders especially in the context of wantok. In the scenes of the “phones against corruption” advertisement, the scenarios of corruption are clearly and obviously portrayed. In the Pacific it will not be so easy to determine in this wantok context. I believe a more useful strategy would be to encourage discussions that help clearly define what corruption is in The Pacific. I believe events such as the Pacific Youth Forum Against Corruption, and the photos displayed in this article, does just that and that similar events should be encouraged. These discussions could then filter out through social media, be part of political platforms, or media campaigns. Only after properly disseminating what corruption is and means to Pacific Islanders can it be policed properly in a manner that “phones against corruption” envisions.

Remittance Sector in Flux Part Two: Who or What Will Fill the Void of Small Remittance Agencies

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On the 1st of February I wrote an article which outlined the shutdown of traditional remittance services, spurred on by stricter know your customer regulations. These regulations forced banks, who provided the necessary bank accounts to remittance agencies, to know not only the identities of these remittance agencies, but also the customers that they dealt with. This has caused banks such as Westpac and ANZ to cease dealing with remittance agencies in the Pacific. The increase in regulations were motivated by increased fears and evidence of terrorism funding through small remittance agencies. The full article can be found at http://lucaswatt.com/fears-terrorism-funding-shutting-remittance-sector-many-rely-upon/ . This initial article however has only raised more questions in terms of how this affects the remittance sector. The biggest of these is, who or what will fill the void of the now extinct small remittance agencies? Will the void be filled by large remittance agencies such as Western Union or Money Gram? What is the impact of new regulations on these remittance giants? What are the other methods of remitting money without going through a remittance agency? Will mobile remittance services fill the void? Are these equally regulated by the new remittance regulations? These are the questions I investigate in this article.

In the press, opinion suggests that remittance giants Western Union and Moneygram will be relatively unaffected by the new regulations. Only small remittance agencies seem to be cut of the loop by financial institutions and the new remittance regulations. This initially led me to question whether Western Union and Moneygram were perhaps operating as “banks” that can store sender’s money in an internal organisational bank account before being processed to the receiver. This would allow them the access to a bank account without the need of a partner financial institution, leaving them unaffected by the shutdown of remittance accounts by banks. However, with some research it was found that Western Union and Moneygram are not legally classified as “Banks” (however there is evidence that Moneygram has tried to legally classify itself as a bank with no success). As a result they cannot hold an internal organisational bank account where the remittances of senders can be stored before being processed to the receiver. They therefore must have an external registered bank such as Westpac or ANZ to hold a bank account for them to process their transactions. The question therefore needs to be asked why banks still provide bank accounts to these remittance giants and not to small remittance agencies. By all indication, these big remittance agencies do already require their customers to diligently provide identification at their outlets and post offices where transfers can be made. Efficient systems must be in place where customer identification details are passed on to their partner banks. The economies of scale between these large institutions must ensure that it still profitable for the partner bank to provide them such services. A certain degree of long established institutional trust may also exist. Small remittance agencies on the other hand may not have the number or size of transactions for banks to provide such services in a profitable manner. Their institutional trust may also not be well established with banks. The  relative non-effect and continued strength of large remittance agencies has led some to believe that they will stumble into windfall profits as their competition is decimated. There is also concerns that the lack of competition will allow them to increase fee charges to the detriment of their customers.

This is unlikely to occur as there are increasingly new methods of sending remittances that bypass the financial sector and regulations. In my previous article I did highlight the inform remittance sector where they can be delivered personally or by a known intermediary. There is also the “hawala system” whereby an informal intermediary is paid to deliver remittances. This is a system which I envision to be similar to the title picture of this article, wads of cash, in-depth conversations, and mobiles in hands. However there are new innovative systems emerging. One of these is where individuals in developed countries purchase goods and services for relatives at online stores. These include supermarkets or appliance stores. The sender either arranges delivery to the receiver’s house, or the receiver can go pick it up with identification. Because this form of remittance service delivers common goods, and money is received by a known retailer, it is not regulated with the same scrutiny by the financial sector in the same manner as cash remittances. Another method of sending money that bypasses financial regulation is sending money to a registered local organisation that involves itself in local projects such as the building of schools or infrastructure. This project does not benefit the households that migrants have left behind directly, but the wider community which they are a part of. Because money is not directly sent to an unknown entity but rather to a registered and known organisation these transactions are straight forward to process.

Another innovative way of sending money home is through the use of mobile phones. This can firstly be done by purchasing credit for someone’s mobile back home. This is restricted to phone related uses, therefore reducing its flexibility to be used for the variety of receiver’s needs/wants. However, sometimes the very purpose of such mobile top ups is to ensure that migrants and those that remain in the home country are able to stay in contact. Secondly, mobile remittances are also being facilitated by a variety of start-up companies which allow migrants to send electronic money from their mobile phone to another’s mobile phone back home. The difference here is that the electronic cash received via the mobile can be transformed into physical cash which can be used for whatever the receiver desires. The entire process entails; the sender turning physical cash into electronic cash which is then stored on their mobile, sending the electronic cash via mobile to the receiver’s mobile, the receiver then turning this electronic cash into physical cash again via an agent. Agents are located at small kiosks (as shown below), or the stores of telecommunication providers. The users do not have to come into contact with banks. This type of service is being pursued in the Pacific by a New Zealand based company called Klickex which has partnered with the telecommunication company Digicel Pacific. The amount of remittances sent from developed countries in the region, including New Zealand and Australia, to island states such as Tonga, Samoa, and Fiji are substantial due to large migration flows between these countries. Partnerships such as Klickex-Digicel have great potential for growth and use. With the shutdown of small remittance agencies, perhaps mobile remittance services will increase in prominence.

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A fairly typical mobile money agent kiosk

 

The question that needs to be asked is, how are the regulatory requirements for mobile remittance companies such as the Kilckex-Digicel partnership different to the small remittance agencies? The answer is that they are no different. Firstly, a bank account still needs to be held to process the transactions. The transaction costs for banks in carrying out all the regulatory requirements are therefore equally cumbersome and expensive. As a result we can expect the exclusive participation of big players that have economies of scale and institutional trust such as Digicel and Vodafone, much like Western Union and Moneygram. The presence of small mobile remittance companies is unlikely to emerge. Secondly, know your customer regulations still need to be adhered to. In the mobile remittance system, when the sender signs up to the service, identification is required and this is attached to their mobile number. Any transaction that is processed through that number is therefore associated with their identity. The receiver also must have a Klickex account, or if they don’t, they must show their identity to the agent when collecting the money off their mobile. At first glance such a system seems fairly straight forward with the appropriate identity checks. However, it seems that money could be sent to the mobile of an “innocent” party with contacts that partake in terrorism. The physical cash that this innocent party withdraws could then be transferred to this individual associated with terrorism. The security of the system therefore seems as dubious, (if not more!), as the services provided by small remittance agencies, or by any remittance agency for that matter.

So what is the outcome? Large remittance agencies such Western Union and Moneygram, along with mobile remittance businesses backed by large telecommunication companies such as the Klickex-Digicel partnership, will dominate the market. These agencies will be served by banks, and they will fulfil the regulatory requirements. Their size and institutional trust will ensure that the service is profitable with a more or less safe outcome for the institutions and transactors involved. Small remittance agencies on the other hand will cease to exist. This may have adverse effects as they may have served isolated areas or provided services or a sense of relatedness to customers that big agencies are not able to provide. Informal and innovative remittance services may fill the void, such as mobile remittances or buying food from supermarkets online for relatives back home. However more evidence is required in assessing what, to what extent, or if this void will be filled.

So stay tuned!

Pacific News Spot: A Change in Flag to Represent a Modern Identity

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Fijian Prime Minister Voreqe Bainimarama announced on the 3rd of February that the Fijian flag (pictured above) will be replaced on the 10th of October. This date will signify the 45th anniversary of  independence from the British Empire which occurred in 1970. This is no coincidence as the motive for replacing the flag is to shun the colonial past of Fiji. In its place Bainimarama wishes for a flag design that represents the Fijian national identity and position in the world in the modern era. This involves removing the colonial symbols of the Union Jack and the shield motif that depicts the St George cross, a lion, sugar cane, bananas, a palm tree, and a dove. Each represents a source of colonial domination for a variety of reasons. The Union Jack, St George cross, and the lion are obvious direct references to Britain. Sugar cane and bananas represent the Fijian plantation past whereby Indian labourers were indentured to work such plantations. This to Fijian Indians is not the imagery that they fondly remember. Furthermore sugar cane and bananas no longer represent a large proportion of Fiji’s economic activity, this has long been overtaken by the tourist sector. The dove also does not represent local wildlife or fauna that many call for to be represented in the new flag. The past actions of Prime Minister Bainimarama have foreshadowed a change towards a more representative flag. In 2013 during a new year’s speech he stated that Fiji was in need of a new flag, however preparations for the first democratic elections since a coup in 2006 put such a task on hold. Furthermore, the elections needed to pre-date the change in flag in order for its design to hold some democratic legitimacy. Bainimarama in his time of military decree also removed the queen’s head from the national currency, and has scrapped the queen’s public holiday. Therefore it should come as no surprise that a change in flag has been announced. New designs for the flag will be offered in a national competition which school children are also encouraged to participate. In this announcement by Bainimarama it must be asked, what is the current local opinion of changing the flag? How will it incorporate and account for Fiji’s ethnic diversity? Where does this move stand with regards to other flag changes directed against the colonial past?

Local reaction to Bainimarama’s announcement is starting to come through. It has been mixed and has caused debate within the media. On “Pacific Beat” radio 05/02/15, the designer of the current flag, Tessa Mackenzie, claims that on the ground approximately 75% of the population generally oppose a change in flag. She claims that the Fijian people rally around and proudly display the Fijian flag during sporting events such as the rugby 7s. She also alludes that the sky blue background of the flag is unique and has become emblematic of Fijian identity. The chiefs of Fiji have supported Bainimarama in claiming that the part Britain has played in the Fijian past is now over and that a change in flag needs to represent that. Again Tessa Mackenzie says it’s a mistake to run from the past, it cannot and will not be ignored by changing it.

Another prominent criticism is that it will be difficult to agree upon a design that represents all of the ethnic groups of Fiji, particularly the Fijian Indians. Despite the fact that the current flag symbolises colonial dominance and exploitation of the British Empire over Fijian Indians, a new flag may equally deny them the opportunity to be displayed prosperously in Fijian national identity. If purely indigenous Fijian symbols are used then it would signal yet another blow for Fijian Indians and their position in Fiji. It must be noted that the coups of 1987, 2000 and 2006 were all initiated by indigenous Fijian outrage of Indian Fijian dominance in parliament. As a result of these violent political events the Indian population, which was around half of the national population, plummeted to less than a quarter, as they migrated out to other Pacific nations. In 2014 however a move towards Indian inclusion/connection occurred with the visit and acceptance of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi to Fiji. Giant banners welcoming Modi were displayed all over the country to welcome him as a representative of the Fijian Indian’s homeland. During this visit considerable aid funds were negotiated, signalling a renewed recognition of the Indian population in Fiji from both the Fijian and Indian governments. If Bainimarama wishes to continue the sentiment of Indian political and cultural inclusion, then Fijian Indian symbolism must be included in the flag.

It is important to note that a change in flag, especially away from colonial symbolism, has many successful precedents which are shown below. Canada changed their flag away from one that also displayed a Union Jack and a shield, much like Fiji. The South African flag was changed from one which was a mash up of the Dutch East India Company flag, the Union Jack, and the flags of two South African Republics. The British New Hebrides had the Union Jack and a crown symbol. The flags that these three nations changed towards successfully represents and displays their national identities. Canada changed their flag image to an iconic maple leaf in 1957 which is generally considered as part of the fauna that is representative of Canadian identity. In 1994, South Africa changed to a flag known as the “reconciliation flag” which was a part of the ethnic renegotiation movement that the nation experienced with the release of Nelson Mandela in 1990. It was initially only supposed to be an interim flag during this process of reconciliation, however it was accepted as the permanent flag as a nod to this reconciliation history. The flag of the New Hebrides, which was adopted in 1980, has many components that represent their identity. The green represents the richness of the islands, the red symbolizes the blood of wild boars and men, and the black the ni-vanuatu people. The yellow Y-shape represents the light of the Gospel going through the pattern of the islands in the Pacific Ocean. The emblem in the black is a boar’s tusk the symbol of prosperity worn as a pendant on the islands. The flag change came as it claimed independence in 1980. The name of the New Hebrides was also changed to Vanuatu to complete the identity change. These flags all provide examples of a change from a colonial themed flag to one that appropriately represents independent national identity. As a result there is certainly hope that Fiji can achieve the same results. Currently the only other flags of independent nations that display the Union Jack are New Zealand, Australia, and Tuvalu. Currently New Zealand is planning on changing its flag to one that’s black with a silver fern depicted in the middle. Such a proposed flag clearly represents New Zealand identity and unity. It is generally believed that changing the Australian flag would be much more difficult due to long standing racial tensions and complexities.

Currently no official release is available from Britain on Fiji’s proposed change of flag. Leading up to the 10th of October, more debate will occur on what symbols shall be included, and/or debate on the change’s relevance to Fiji. I will continue to follow opinions on the flag change and national identity. So keep posted!

 

South African flag change

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Canadian Flag change

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New Hebrides / Vanuatu flag change

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Remittance Sector in Flux Part One: Fears of Terrorism Funding are Shutting Down the Remittance Sector that so Many Rely Upon

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A concerning topic has arisen since late November 2014 that remittance services by banks will increasingly cease to be offered in developing countries. Remittances can be classified as international money transfers  that usually originate from migrants in developed countries to family back home in developed countries. Remittances provide a substantially large proportion of money received by developing countries. This is exemplified by the fact that The World Bank has estimated that in 2013 global remittances were estimated at $542 billion dollars with $404 billion of these dollars being sent to developing countries. On a more micro level remittances often provide a large proportion of the incomes of those that live within developing countries. It is estimated that remittances sustain the welfare of 700 million people globally. These remittances are usually set aside for the paying of school fees for children, healthcare, clothing, or can be used as a source of investment in micro-enterprise. Perhaps of equal importance is that remittances sent between family members or friends evokes a sense of social solidarity that can be so easily lost over such large distances. These connections include migrant workers sending money to home and international students receiving money from home. These migrants require such feelings of solidarity when separated from their home families and cultures. Since the importance of remittances is well established and that remittance services are now ceasing to be offered, the following questions need to be asked. What is the role of banks in providing remittance services? How is the threat of terrorism funding affecting the remittance sector? How are new remittance sector regulations causing the cessation of remittance services? Is there a solution in the foreseeable future in restoring remittance services?

Remittance agencies are usually businesses connected to local communities that can provide cheap, affordable, and responsive remittance services to local communities. These include large agencies such as Western Union or Money gram, but also includes a multitude of small scale agencies. These agencies however require bank accounts to receive and withdraw money from. This designates such remittance services as formal because banks are financially regulated by the governments of host countries. Remittances can also be provided by the informal sector such as using family members or friends travelling between countries to act as remittance delivers. In some cases, in particular the Middle East, trusted men of the community are paid to deliver money from town to town. The benefit of formal remittance services is that it can be regulated from who money is received and withdrawn from. This is not true of the informal remittance market and therefore can be used for funding dubious activities such as terrorism without the eyes of the authorities. However it must be noted that the vast majority of these informal remittance services are for genuine livelihood purposes.

It has become clear that the regulation over the formal remittance market has not been very strenuous over the last couple of years. On the 17th of September the financial intelligence agency AUSTRAC suspended the operations of a remittance agency called Bisotel Reih on the suspicion that it was using the company to fund terrorist activities in the Middle East. It is claimed that Bisotel Reih could have handled  as much as $21.3 million over the period January to August 2014 for terrorist related funding before investigation. The company was based in Sydney and had an office in Tripoli (North Lebanon). This location made it a prime candidate to fund extremist activities in nearby Syria. Bisotel Reih was owned by the sister and brother in law of Sydney terrorist Khaled Sharrouf. Khaled is known as the poster boy of Australian based terrorism, in 2005 he was charged over possession of items designated for a large scale terrorist plot. Investigations began after the company often failed to reveal recipients of money to regulators. Since investigation it has been revealed that one individual that was sent money was a US citizen known to be fighting in Syria. It is claimed that this US citizen has been sent $12,000 dollars during this period. Whilst Bisotel Reih was suspended and later deregistered from continuing remittance services it is clear that they had the opportunity to fund terrorist activity for a long time prior to the investigation and of a very high value. It can only be assumed that such cases have been one of the key causes of increased regulation in the remittance sector especially in the Australian and wider Pacific region.

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Above: Hassan El-Sabsabi of Bisotel Reih (brother in law of Khaled Sharrouf) after a raid in Southbrook Melbourne. Photo by: Jason South

The new regulations in the remittance sector have primarily entailed stricter know-your-customer regulations for banks. It not only requires them to know the remittance agency’s identity but also the remitters that the agency deals with. These strict regulations have increased the transaction costs for banks in the remittance sector which many are not willing to shoulder. Banks are also conscious about the personal relations consequences of not adequately fulfilling the necessary counter-terrorism requirements. As a result Banks such as Westpac and ANZ to cease providing bank accounts to remittance agencies that provide such services to many Pacific islands. Westpac has also additionally been forced to cease remittance services because JP Morgan chase, which clears all of its US dollar transactions, is also pressuring it to act in unviable strict accordance to counter terrorism regulations. Regulators have been negotiating with banks encouraging not to cease their services to remittance agencies and to correspond to the new regulations. This has only amounted to temporary reprieves. Westpac for instance will open up remittance services to a select number of companies until March 31st 2015, however a long term solution does not seem to have materialised. This trend is not only occurring within our Pacific region but rather on a global level. In Somalia for instance it has recently been announced that the Merchants Bank of California will drop the accounts of remittance agencies there.

So what is the solution to this remittance crisis? First of it all it can be argued that strict formal regulations in the remittance sector will only slow but not stop terrorist funding. Such remittance services will be offered rather through informal channels that bypass regulatory structures. This argument postulates that genuine remitters are being unjustly punished for no reason as less genuine remitters will still carry out their operations underground. Some call for the return to the status quo. Secondly, it must be asked whether banks have some moral obligation to provide services that are so vital to the livelihoods and emotional welfare of such a large proportion of the global population regardless whether it decreases their profits by a few percentage points or not! One solution therefore is for the banks to take the hit. An unlikely solution. Thirdly, the blame cannot entirely be put on banks. Governments must also shoulder the blame as they have burdened the banks with regulatory requirements and have foregone the financial responsibility themselves. It can be argued that counter terrorism funding activities need to be provided by an industry regulator with a broad enough mandate and power to provide such regulation. Currently regulators do not have this broad mandate or government funding. Government needs to take some responsibility, however where will those required funds come from and at the expense of what? Lastly it can be argued that perhaps alternative regulations need to be offered that both combat terrorist financing activities but also do not cripple banks and remittance agencies with unviable transaction costs. One of these suggestions has been to cap transactions by small remittance agencies. This may not prevent terrorist funding but it will also not prevent those relying on remittances for their livelihoods to be left in the cold. Such a solution offers a balanced approach albeit not a complete solution.

This topic is of particular interest to me and I will continue to track it as solutions and opinions continue to develop.