Home Island Cash The Fiji Times »Is it climate or cash?

The Fiji Times »Is it climate or cash?


As our public finances crumble, Economy Minister Sayed-Khaiyum is knocking on all doors available to access money.

He left for the COP26 summit in Glasgow earlier this week with the avowed goal of extracting billions from climate finance coffers under the so-called mitigation, adaptation and climate finance goal.

The champion of the Pacific Oceans accompanied by Prime Minister Bainimarama, the president of COP23, escaped the country leading a huge delegation of some 36 support staff without even making a statement to the nation on this. which they aim to achieve at the world summit.

The small islands of the Pacific are directly threatened by the rising sea levels caused by global warming. But only four Pacific states – Fiji, PNG, Palau and Marshall Is are participating in the conference.

Even New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Arden chose not to go, sending his Environment Minister James Shaw instead while Australian Scott Morrison chose to do so only at the last minute, apparently under great pressure.

Surprisingly, the Minister of the Environment, Dr Mahendra Reddy, is not part of the Fijian contingent despite the fact that after the first speeches by world leaders, the conference will be divided into business sessions usually led by the various ministers of the environment.

Instead, our top duo are joined by their permanent secretaries, Yogesh Karan and Shiri Gounder.

By all calculations, world leaders at COP26 will come together under extreme pressure to find solutions to the looming global crisis that UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres describes as “a code red for humanity” and a future infernal ”.

How our two leaders intend to contribute to the high-level discussions is to be seen as they have not seen fit to inform our people of the strategies they intend to put in place at the conference to justify the heavy travel expenses.

All we know is that they will ask for a lot more money to mitigate the effects of climate change.

The Minister of Economy said that Fiji and the Pacific, I guess, receive less than 1% of global climate finance, despite being among the most vulnerable communities.

This is all very well.

But where do the funds go?

My concern here is what happens to all of these funds that are received for the avowed purpose of reducing the impact of climate change – sea level rise, flooding, cyclone devastation, etc.

In 2017, the government boasted of being among the first countries to subscribe to a $ 500 million green bond.

There is no responsibility for how and where the deposit money was used.

The Auditor General noted that some of them may have been used for purposes other than green.

Then there are the millions collected by the Environment Climate Adaptation Levy (ECAL). As far as we know, the millions raised are simply credited to government revenue.

Earlier this year, the Minister of the Economy borrowed $ 2 billion over four years from the World Bank Group through the Country Partnership Framework (CPF).

In a statement released on January 21, 2021, the World Bank said the new framework aimed to “boost the Fijian economy and strengthen its fiscal, climate and social resilience in the wake of the impacts of two tropical cyclones and the devastating fallout from the Covid-19. -19 pandemic ”.

Part of the goal, he said, was “to improve contingency planning and increase resilient infrastructure… build the resilience of communities to climate and public health emergencies; and providing social assistance to help families and businesses in critical need ”.

In March of this year, the World Bank released $ 300 million to support Fiji’s efforts to recover from the impact of COVID-19 and the two devastating Category Five cyclones – Yasa and Ana – which ravaged vast regions of Vanua Levu and parts of Rakiraki.

However, how much of this money was actually used to help the victims of the two cyclones?

People got stuck

The people of Vanua Levu suffered severe damage from wind and flooding.

According to official records, more than 8,000 houses have been completely or partially destroyed. Damage to agricultural crops, including sugar cane, was estimated at $ 150 million with a total loss estimated at $ 500 million.

Most of the affected families have been left to fend for themselves. TC Yasa struck on December 17, 2020.

A week later, when I visited the devastated areas of Labasa and Seaqaqa, I was told that the farmers were still waiting for help from the government.

People were upset and very uncertain about their future. Many had lost everything they owned.

They looked forward to hearing about the government’s aid program.

However, no help was provided by the government. NGOs and community groups provided food rations and other relief.

Prime Minister Bainimarama traveled to the north with an entourage of 15 vehicles all brought from Suva and a few selected ministers.

He passed around a few packets of food, but most of the people I visited said government aid had not reached them.

Likewise, with COVID-19, most of those affected by job losses and business closings have been told to fend for themselves.

Around 180,000 FNPF members have been forced to withdraw money from their retirement savings to cope with the crisis. The total funds withdrawn amount to $ 180 million (RBF Economic Review September 2021).

The end result being that 52,000 members now have zero balances in their accounts. What will be their fate when they retire?

Environmental issues ignored

This is another area of ​​great concern. As our senior officers set out to conquer the world in search of funds from Climate Finance to preserve our natural habitat, including the oceans, with us, serious damage to the environment is either ignored or even sanctioned in the under certain approved development projects.

The colossal damage done to the foreshore and marine ecology of Malolo Island by Freesoul Real Estate is a case that immediately comes to mind.

For nearly eight months, the company was allowed to operate illegally in defiance of several stop-work orders issued by the Ministry of the Environment.

It was only when the environmental damage was exposed by New Zealand journalists that the government was forced to sue Freesoul for undertaking illegal construction work.

Freesoul was accused of operating illegally, but the case took almost two years to conclude.

He was convicted earlier this month. The case, however, is still pending pending conviction by the High Court.

There are other well-known cases of government authorizing business development activities that have caused untold damage to the environment.

Surprisingly, for example, the foreign bauxite mining company in Bua was allowed to take shipments of soil from the site for ore mining in China.

Mining has now stopped, but the site is left with a huge gaping pit as evidence of environmental degradation.

The FF government is also notorious for allowing the highest number of foreshore developments – in most cases without proper environmental impact studies leading to significant damage to mangrove reserves and life depletion. marine and coral.

Cases of indiscriminate gravel and sand extraction from our rivers have occasionally been exposed by local media, revealing damage to the local ecology and food resources of neighboring villagers.

Such a total apparent lack of concern for the preservation and sustainability of our land and marine resources and the environment makes one wonder what criteria were used to appoint Fijian Minister of Climate, Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum, champion. of the Pacific Oceans.

  • MAHENDRA CHAUDHRY is the leader of the Fijian Labor Party and former Prime Minister of Fiji. The opinions expressed in this article are hers and not those of this journal.

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