Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Independent news and analysis from PMC

Watch for the Pacific Media Centre's latest venture - Pacific.Scoop, a joint partnership with Scoop media. We aim to provide and insightful mix of independent news, analysis and comment about Pacific issues. The website will have a fresh angle on regional affairs.

Pacific.Scoop - check it out now and it will be launched at AUT's Maori Expo later this week.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Crown Prince calls for 'closure' on Ashika tragedy

By Kalafi Moala: Pacific Media Centre

NUKU’ALOFA: Tonga's Crown Prince Tupouto’a Lavaka has tried to bring closure to Tonga’s worst marine tragedy by asking those who have been rescued and the families of the 72 people still missing “to remember and to celebrate . . . life.”

At a special memorial service held at the Free Wesleyan Church at his village estate of Pea, the Crown Prince urged national unity and togetherness.

“I pray, and appeal to you all – that now is the time to put aside differences. Now is the time to work together,” he said.

Rev Dr ‘Ahio, the president of Tonga’s largest denomination, the Free Wesleyan Church, presided over the well-attended memorial service that included the Prime Minister, Dr Feleti Sevele, and other ministers of the Crown; Speaker of the House, Hon Tu’ilakepa; and other members of Parliament, as well as those rescued and the families of those unaccounted for, friends and relatives.

The Crown Prince said: “We remember those whose lives were lost on the Princess Ashika, but at the same time we celebrate those that were saved. Not all was lost.”

This attempt to bring closure has come as the NZ Navy and their Tongan counterpart concluded their search and video taping of the wreck and remains of the sunken vessel.

Commander Chris Kelly of the Tonga police, while thanking Lieutenant-Commander Andrew McMillan and the captain and crew of HMNZS Manawanui for their support and assistance in the search for the Princess Ashika, said: “We have undertaken our rescue operation, search processes and resources deployment to maximise the response capability available to us over the last 14 days . . . I consider we have exhausted all likelihood of finding survivors and in that respect I believe the families of the 72 persons unaccounted for can complete closure for their loved ones.”

At a special reception after the church memorial service, representatives of each family affected by the Ashika tragedy gave tearful and heart-moving speeches, accepting the fact they need to bring closure and move on in their lives.

Crown Prince Lavaka, a former Prime Minister, who is now Tonga’s High Commissioner to Australia, said: “In times of national crisis nations are forged and defined.”

Greatest disaster
The final confirmed figures stand at 54 rescued, two recovered dead and 72 unaccounted for, presumed dead. It is believed this is the greatest disaster Tonga has suffered since the influenza epidemic of 1918.

The Crown Prince lamented: “Memories are all we have of those loved ones. Those memories perhaps show the fragility of life; and that we should always treat those close to us as if we will not see them again.”

A Royal Commission of Inquiry has been appointed and has started its work, which will include the analysis of the one and half hours of video from the wreck of the Princess Ashika and the surrounding area.

The families of the victims, as well as those rescued responded warmly to the call by the Crown Prince for closure.

Maka Taliuku, a relative of one of the victims, and a "talking chief" in his own right, spoke for the families of those unaccounted for: “We thank you your Royal Highness for your humility in meeting with us, and organising this service…

"We will go from here and pick up our belongings at the shipping office by the wharf, and we will disperse to our various homes, thankful that on this day, we have accepted the reality of the situation… we are satisfied, and we will return to our homes bringing closure to our grief for our loved ones.”

Kalafi Moala is the publisher and editor-in-chief of Taimi 'o Tonga and the Tongan Chronicle. Pictured: The Princess Ashika. Photo: TNews.

More reports at Matangi Tonga

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Pacific women cautiously welcome UN move against sexual violence

By Candace Uttam: Pacific Media Centre

Women’s advocacy groups in the Pacific have welcomed a move to stop sexual violence towards women in conflict situations, but say it needs be implemented in conjunction with an earlier resolution.

They say that while the United Nation’s Security Council Resolution 1820, which was adopted last year, is absolutely critical, it should be viewed as an implementation strategy to further the commitment to women, peace and security.

The initial UN Security Council Resolution 1325 was adopted in 2000 and addresses the need for women to be more involved in all aspects of peace building and conflict prevention, by enhancing their participation at a governance level.

Sharon Bhagwan Roll, coordinator of femLINKPacific, a women’s community media network based in Fiji, says if women are involved in protection, participation and prevention in developing national action plans, the issue of sexual and gender based violence during times of conflict would also be addressed.

“If women were involved at a higher level you would have women in the processes of addressing security sector governments – women would be able to talk as equals when it comes to legislation of guns for example.”

She says it is important not to lose sight of resolution 1325 as it is the foundation upon which other initiatives like 1820 should be implemented, if they are to work effectively.

Bhagwan Rolls also says it is paramount that these resolutions are put into context according to the varying conditions in each Pacific state.

She says that while there is a deep need to stop sexual and gender based violence towards women in places like Bougainville, because of the resurgence of conflict there, women in other places might not be in the same critical conditions.

“We don’t exactly have that situation of armed violence conflict - we’ve actually got increased militarisation - so for the women in Fiji if we want to talk about security sector governance we would like to see greater formal participation in being able to engage in issues.”

She says the danger of only focusing on the protection of women, which is what 1820 deals with, is that it portrays women solely as victims, when in fact they have far greater potential.

Most hope
One of the founding members of WAVE, a Pacific media network for women in journalism, Lisa Williams-Lahari visited Bougainville post crisis and says the women there were not only the ones doing all the hard work, but also the ones that had the most hope.

“It is important that the voices of women are heard in the framing of these commitments [resolutions/policies].

“Women are all that is missing.”

Williams-Lahari acknowledges that women and children are the most vulnerable in conflict situations, and says it is about time sexual atrocities to women in conflict situations are brought to the forefront.

“If we had 1820, the amnesty [against sexual violence] that took place in the aftermath of the Bougainville crisis would not have happened.”

Bhagwan Rolls says issues of economic, health and political insecurity debilitate women from participating in decision making processes, which is why resolution 1325 is their main focus.

She says it is these imbalances that give rise to a range of the conflicts experienced in the Pacific region.

“A woman who’s a community leader, who has the potential to sit at a district level committee to talk about development priorities, can’t do that of she’s burdened by poverty which links to her own personal security.”

Bhagwan Rolls says women’s advocacy groups have kept resolution 1325 alive around the Pacific, but there is always a need for the UN to assist them in furthering gender equality movements.

Pictured: FemLINK Pacific's community radio empowers women with its street broadcasts. Veena Singh Bryar does an interview during a 16-day activist broadcast campaign in December 2008. Photo: FemLINK Pacific

Candace Uttam is a final year Bachelor of Communication Studies student journalist at AUT University.

FemLINK Pacific
Pacific WAVE network

Reflections on the Princess Ashika disaster

A TNEWS special report reviewing the Princess Ashika disaster with a live studio audience. Pro-democracy movement leader and MP ‘Akilisi Pohiva - who described the tragedy as "manslaughter by neglect" - and ‘Uliti Uata in Tonga discuss the aftermath and give the studio audience a chance to ask questions.

TNews special [video Ep 18]
TNews Online

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Manila families tackle water woes in Philippines

Some Manila communities are taking the matter into their own hands in the daily struggle for water. They are forming water cooperatives in a bid to survive.

By Keira Stephenson: The Philippine Star

MANILA, Philippines: “Water is life,” says Maharlika Water Cooperative member Lorda Feudo, yet more than half of Metro Manilans still don’t have clean water on tap.

Those least able to afford it are spending the bulk of their salaries buying water or wasting their days chasing water-trucks up and down the street.

However, some communities are taking the matter into their own hands by forming water cooperatives, so the daily struggle for water is one less thing they have to worry about.

“Before we started the co-op and got connected to Maynilad Water, life was very hard,” said Feudo.

“It was difficult relying on trucks to deliver water. We had to wait and run after the truck many times. Sometimes the trucks were not coming, so the day was useless, only watching for a truck that didn’t arrive,” she said.

“It is so tiring, running to get water and then running home carrying the pails,” she said.

“Sometimes we had to fight others who cut into the line. Those who know the truck driver got more water. Everyone was very frustrated, sometimes angry,” another member, Noemi Pajo, added.

The cooperative’ office is in Maharlika Village, Bagansila, Caloocan City, a relocation site for squatters.

Inside the office large charts show the co-op’s monthly cash flow as well as the position of each board member.

Water barrels line the streets outside the houses of those who have opted not to join the co-op.

“Financial transparency is very important,” Feudo said.

Maynilad Water had been promising water connections since 2002 but has been unable to deliver. Eventually after the co-op was formed in 2008, it was asked by Maynilad to help provide water to other local households demanding its services.

Do-it-yourself water system
Co-op members put up the cash and work to install pipes themselves and instead of having a meter for each household they have just one “mother meter” which measures the entire co-op’s water consumption.

In effect they are buying the water in bulk from their water provider and taking care of the pipes and fee collection.

The Maharlika board comprises housewives who receive help and free workshops from the Institute for Popular Democracy on how to set up a cooperative, write a business plan and build consensus.

“We are all mothers,” Feudo said. “The men are all at work, they don’t do household chores, so they don’t know our water needs. They come home and say ‘Why don’t we have any water?’”

The women run the co-op, each board member volunteering one day a week in the office while a manager, plumber and cashier receive salaries of P3,500 per month.

Despite the extra work of running the co-op the women say life has changed for the better since the daily struggle to find enough water has come to an end.

“Household costs become very easy, everything becomes easy. When we want to take a bath we can. We don’t have to wait. We can do washing when we feel like it. We are more relaxed, life became very easy because water is life,” Feudo pointed out.

According to the IPD, households in non-connected areas can spend as much as P19,300 (NZD$600) per month on water, including labor costs for hauling, compared to an average P80 (NZD$3) for those connected.

In Maharlika, households have gone from paying up to P1,750 per month for water to P600.

“They may not feel it because they pay on a daily basis, but most of their income is going to water,” said IPD researcher Christine Quiray.

Quiray helped the women form their co-op and can attest to the chaos of water truck deliveries.

“I remember holding one training seminar where suddenly right in the middle, everyone dashed out of the meeting because a water truck had been sighted,” she said.

The co-op has 172 members so far and aims to attract 1500.

It wasn’t easy getting people to accept the idea of joining and fronting up the initial costs of installing water pipes and a mother meter, especially when they could get free, but not enough and not necessarily drinking quality, truck water.

“They had to see the pipes installed in the streets outside their houses before they would really believe it could happen and pay the P1,100 startup fee,” said Feudo.

Simple beginnings
The co-op began with just 22 members and P22,000, but fundraising and a donation of 20 pipes from the son of the town’s mayor who said he was “happy to help people who are helping themselves” got them started. After a year of successful running it was able to secure a grant from the Peace and Equity Foundation.

Quiray once took the group on a study tour to visit the Lusrai co-op which started with water and has gone on to provide “ad-on services” such as life insurance, in Antipolo City and in Binangonan, Rizal where there are 21 co-ops, the oldest having been formed in 1976.

Now, as the pilot water co-op of IPD, Maharlika co-op now receives visitors itself.

The women proudly related that guest researchers from China, Singapore, Sweden and California are keen on learning about their project.

But despite its success the co-op is still far from reaching its target of 1,500 household members.

“We feel okay, but we are worried that there are few applicants,” said Feudo. “But we feel we should continue, no matter what.”

She said they had a surge of applicants during the dry season, but had to compete with the local government water provider who charges only P6 per cubic meter of water compared to Maynilad’s P12.

But the local government water may eventually close down because it is reportedly running at a loss, and its water is often not suitable for drinking. Moreover, its system has low pressure and works only from 5 p.m. to 8 a.m.

In comparison, the women say Maynilad’s water is very reliable and safe for drinking, although they still boil it for infants.

The local government also trucks in free water.

The IPD has asked the local government to use some P400,000 (NZD$12,380) it spends on trucking in water to invest in structural development instead for the co-op so that more water connections can be put in place.

The IPD believes this would be a much more efficient use of government funds, and a much more effective means of getting water to the constituents. The proposal has gotten a lukewarm response from the local government.

Another IPD researcher Erik Villanueva sees water co-ops as vehicles for engaging ordinary people in the workings of democracy and throwing off Filipino fatalism and apathy.

“The fight for water can open up a way to challenge local political elites,” he said.

Water co-ops popular
Villanueva said water co-ops are now widespread in Metro Manila, especially on the outskirts, and it is not just the urban poor who are making use of the system but middle class homeowners’ associations too.

“It wouldn’t have been possible for the spread of water without water co-ops,” Villanueva pointed out.

Currently, one of the IPD’s projects is forming a water co-op network association to bring all the different co-ops together for sharing of expertise.

They are also negotiating for a bulk discount from the water providers, but neither Manila Water nor Maynilad Water is interested in offering a discount.

Quiray describes the situation as selling “retail and wholesale at the same price.”

Villanueva can understand the reluctance on the part of water providers to invest in some areas they consider high risk, like squatter settlements.

Since squatter communities usually are not titled, investors are worried they will not be able to recover their expenses if the settlers are evicted.

Also non-revenue water (NRW) can be as high as 70 percent in some areas, from leaks, water theft and people simply not paying their bills.

Quiray said Maynilad told her that recovering costs from places such as the North Caloocan resettlement area was extremely difficult and that even just fixing damaged pipes could cost more because they had to send an extra worker to guard the truck so the tires wouldn’t get stolen.

Villanueva said when the community takes over the management, these issues cease to be a problem as it is much more difficult to avoid paying your bills when it is someone from your own neighborhood collecting.

“The incidence of NRW is very low when the community patches the leaks and collects the fees themselves,” he said.

Despite this, the water providers still claim ownership of the pipes and meters which the co-op has installed because there are no clear legal protection for co-ops.

“How do you encourage urban poor or middle-class to invest in their own infrastructure, when neither the government nor the water services recognise or support their efforts?” Villanueva asked.

Relationship of patronage
He said he believes local leaders promise water connections, which often don’t get fulfilled and then deliver free water from trucks in the meantime, with their faces plastered all over them, “so that the people will know who to be grateful for.” He said such kind of behavior destroys the will of people to act on their own and organize.

He described watching people scrabble for water from trucks as “horrible and disgusting.”

“Politicians exchange services for votes and this becomes the currency by which the relationship of patronage is maintained,” he said.

“Instead of services like roads and water being the normal function of government, they are handed out like goodies in exchange for votes and the political elite maintain their position by exploiting the apathy of these voiceless, faceless, helpless masses who choose to remain dependent on someone else.”

He cited roads which ended abruptly at a village that didn’t vote for the local governor as examples of “a democratic system that fails.”

He admitted that it is “not just the fault of officials, but those who elect them.”

Water co-ops are a way of sidestepping these traps, he said, freeing both the community and their elected leaders to campaign and vote on real issues rather than relying on many officials preoccupied with raising cash to buy the loyalties of their constituents.

Housing project gone awry
Meanwhile, another water co-op is being set up in Recomville 2, a village described by a non-government organization worker as a “government housing project gone awry.”

“Can you imagine a government housing project with no electricity and no water?” the NGO worker who declined to be named asked.

The village has already formed its own electricity co-op.

The water-barrel lined streets are a hodge-podge of finished and half-built houses with weeds growing up through cracks.

A father bathes his child beside one of the barrels outside his house on the street.

A meeting was held in a hastily constructed hall not big enough to accommodate everyone so that some attended by looking in through the windows.

However, those at the meeting had great hopes for the future of their village.

A homeowners’ association official said, “It just takes someone to start a project and when they see it working there is no need to invite people to join, they just start paying and paying.”

Lyn Tayawa is a mother of two who is helping to organize the co-op before she has even moved into the neighborhood.

“I am just waiting for the pipes to be connected so I can move here and open my store,” she said. “We are all very excited to have water here."

Pictured: A father bathing his daughter from free water delivered by trucks in Metro Manila. Photo: Keira Stephenson.

Keira Stephenson is a Bachelor of Communication Studies (Honours) postgraduate journalist working on internship with the Philippine Star with a travel grant by the Asia NZ Foundation and supported by the AUT Pacific Media Centre.

More stories by Keira Stephenson
Keira's 'live journal' from Manila

The dawn raids aftermath - looking back

During a draconian time in the 1970s, Pacific Islanders' homes in Auckland, New Zealand, were frequently raided at dawn by police. This AUT media student documentary takes a look back at those times and the emergence of the Polynesian Panthers as a political and social movement.

The documentary is by Kelly Dennett, Serra Galuvao and Nathan Dawson. An earlier Pacific Media Centre profile on the Polynesian Panthers by Katie Small is here.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Tongan tragedy: Niuean policewoman gave life of service

Niuean policewoman Sisiliah Puleheloto was working in the Solomons with the RAMSI police force. She is one of two people confirmed drowned in the Princess Ashika tragedy in Tongan waters. The ferry capsized last Wednesday carrying 141 passengers - 93 people are still missing.

By Linny Folau of Matangi Tonga

NUKU'ALOFA: Energetic and outgoing, young Niuean policewoman Sisiliah Puleheloto is remembered as a happy, smiling person who loved serving her own community and the people in the Solomons. The 24-year-old woman was working on the RAMSI mission before coming to Tonga last week for a joyful reunion with her cousins.

Her Tongan cousin 'Akesa Luani, of Puke in Tongatapu, said Sisiliah was looking forward to a trip on the ferry to the outer islands, and on Wednesday afternoon had boarded the ill-fated Princess Ashika with 'Akesa's brother, Dwenelle, 25.

"Unfortunately the dream holiday has turned into a nightmare, which has cost her life and the lives of many innocent people. I am shocked and still can't get over the fact that Sisiliah is one of the victims and I will never see her happy face again," says 'Akesa, who is now dressed in black.

Gripping seats
Dwenelle, who returned as a survivor, was in tears when recalling the tragedy. He last saw Sisiliah gripping the seats inside the passenger lounge, as the floundering ferry rolled over, swamped by waves in the middle of the night.

Sisiliah remains one of the 93 people who are missing after the ferry sank in Ha'apai waters on Wednesday, August 5.

With one female body recovered so far, 'Akesa feared for the worst and was down at the Longolongo Police station on Saturday morning, August 8, giving police a full description and a photograph of Sisiliah.

"But they said it's not her," she says.

'Akesa's elder sister 'Ana also emailed from New Zealand, trying to find out about Sisiliah. She said her family there are absolutely devastated with the news that she is still missing.

She said that Sisiliah, a New Zealand citizen, a police officer for the Niue Police Force, was currently serving in the Solomon Islands under the Regional Assistance Mission (RAMSI).

She arrived in Tonga for the first time on Monday, August 3, on leave from work. Because it was her first visit, Sisiliah wanted to do some sightseeing and see what it was it like in the outer islands.

"She had so much to live for she enjoyed working and serving the people in the Solomons. And she just had so many dreams and vision for the future," says 'Akesa.

Sisiliah is being described by both her cousins in Tonga and New Zealand as a very outgoing, energetic and down to earth person who was always happy and smiling.

"She loves children, her job and working with the community. We are not giving up hope that she may still be alive out there, waiting for help to come. She's a strong person and I am sure she is out there somewhere," says 'Akesa.

Sisiliah was due back for duty in the Solomons at the end of the month and was to depart Tonga this week.

Dwenelle, who accompanied his cousin, said he happened to go out onto the upper open deck of the ferry to have a smoke and talk with a friend, while Sisiliah remained inside the passengers' lounge.

Then suddenly, as the ferry overturned, the water came up so quickly that he could not get back into the passenger room to help her. He said that as he was gripping onto the seat outside on the deck, he last saw her gripping onto the seats inside the passenger room as well.

"I am thankful that I am alive, but I am still devastated that my cousin didn't make it and is still missing out there," he says tearfully.

Dwenelle had Sisiliah's camera, which showed the happy pictures of her Solomon's service and reunion with her cousins.

Pictured: Top: Policewoman Sisiliah Puleheloto; above: The Princess Ashika. Photos: Matangi Tonga.

More reports at Matangi Tonga

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

PINA summit fails to stand up for media freedom

Pacific Media Watch

Matangi Tonga editorial by editor Pesi Fonua

PORT VILA: The Suva-based Pacific Islands News Association (PINA) continues to struggle to establish itself as a champion of media freedom in the Pacific Islands.

Meeting in Port Vila last week, about 200 PINA members and observers from around the region were addressing the important issue of access to information.

But what appeared to be a sincere intention by the former PINA board to turn its biannual convention into a Pacific Media Summit under the theme "Breaking Barriers - Access to Information'" did not live up to expectations.

Despite the great effort to attract as many participants as possible to attend the Vanuatu PINA inaugural summit, their contributions did not see the light of day, because most participants were not permitted to attend the AGM, and so some serious observations made by working
journalists and media people were not translated into the decision-making process.

No decisions
The few members who were tasked to evaluate and to take action on matters raised during plenary sessions and panel discussion simply could not make any decision, and for the first time ever at the end of a PINA convention there was no communiqué.

The PINA secretariat and its board restricted its thinking capacity by closing its membership registration in March, so that any member who did not pay its membership fees by March 31 would not be able to vote at the annual general meeting in July.

Unfortunately, many regular members of PINA had not paid their dues by that date and so were not permitted to either attend or to vote in the AGM in Vanuatu, although they were present to participate in the various workshops, plenary and other sessions preceeding the AGM.

It was an unfortunate decision to disallow voting of a significant number of members who were there, particularly at a time when PINA needed as many constructive contributions that it could get to help with its decision-making process.

A mere 24 members (who were paid-up at March 31) were left to deal with the numerous pressing issues that PINA has to deal with to regain its credibility.

Fiji media suppression
The Fiji government suppression of its media dominated the summit plenary sessions, for very good reasons, because the PINA secretariat and its regional news outlet PACNEWS are based in Suva, Fiji, and of course participants were saddened by stories of Fijian journalists of how their work was being censored and how they were working under threat by the military government. Even the Fiji journalists testimony in Vanuatu was made difficult by the presence of Fiji military censors taking part in the meeting who said they were there to report back to
their military government.

It appears that PINA voluntarily decided to become a lap dog instead of a watchdog:

* PINA shied away from revoking the PINA membership of the Fiji Ministry of Information - the same ministry that places censors in news rooms in Fiji;

* PINA brushed off the suggestion to remove the PINA secretariat and the PACNEWS from Fiji;

* PINA did not make a strong statement against media suppression in
Fiji, which had been a proposition that a majority of participants
supported during the summit.

Meanwhile, one of two decisions that the PINA AGM made that was relayed through the "coconut wireless'" was that there had been a new approach to the selection of the president and the vice-president of PINA.

The president of the host country, in this case Vanuatu, would become president and the vice president would be the president of national news association that will host the next PINA convention, the Cook Islands.

The new PINA board members are:

President: Mosese Stevens, president of the Vanuatu Media Association, a public relations consultant
Vice-President: John Woods, editor of the Cook Island News
Radio representative: managing director of the Solomon Islands
Broadcasting Commission
TV representative: Tapinga Lavemaau, a camera operator with the Tonga
Broadcasting Commission
Print representative: Michael Jackson, publisher/editor of a newspaper
in Niue
National organisations representative, Samisoni Pareti, a journalist
with Islands Business International, Fiji. (Fiji apparently no longer has a national media association).

The feeble outcome of the PINA Pacific Media Summit 2009 is a matter of grave concern for many Pacific Islands journalists and media people who sincerely believe that there is still a need for a credible regional news association.

Pacific Islands News Association
Matangi Tonga
Cafe Pacific on PINA 2009