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Rotuman Issues that Should Concern Us All

Dear Fellow Rotumans and Friends of Rotumans,

I was in Rotuma between 21 December 2000 and 18 January 2001.

I have been visiting the island regularly since the 1980s. This lastest visit, however, depressed me terribly. A number of issues seriously concern me and I wish to raise them here, each in turn, but not necessarily in their order of importance.

First, compared to the main roads of Viti Levu, Rotuman roads (or bush tracks, for that is what they are) are in a shocking state. Travelling vehicles have to be constantly avoiding potholes and rocks. The roads seem to have steadily deteriorated over the last 20 years. Urgent repair is required.

Secondly, transport fares (e.g. airfares), freight, communications fees (e.g. telephone costs) and the prices of certain staple food articles are far too high. Rotuma is the most remote island of the republic, therefore, as a matter of justice and equity, all these items should be subsidised by the Government. This is the case in many socially and politically enlightened countries.

Thirdly, the pollution of the beaches and sea by tin cans, bottles, plastic bags, used batteries, etc. is totally unacceptable. Educational programs should be instituted in schools and villages to address the problem and adequate fines imposed on those continuing to pollute. For example, polluters could be required to clean various areas of the beach or sea which they pollute.

Fourthly, Rotumans (especially school children) should have immediate access not only to personal computers but to the Internet. Such access will dramatically improve communications within Rotuma and with Fiji and the outside world. Without online access to information, the educational and economic gaps between Rotumans and other world citizens will continue to widen.

Fifthly, St. Michael's Church and buildings at Upu and St. Mary's Church and buildings at Sumi are excellent examples of missionary and colonial architecture. They are monuments, certainly to the French missionaries but more particularly, to the ingenuity and talent of Rotuman artisans and craftsmen. Those buildings should be immediately declared national heritage treasures and restored and maintained in perpetuity by the Government. There is no doubt that they will be significant sources of pride and inspiration for future generations.

Last but not least, since Rotumans are as indigenous to a part of the republic as Fijians are to another, the republic should be called the Republic of Fiji and Rotuma. This will not only be symbolically elegant, it will truly reflect present social and cultural reality and historic truth.

These statements should be seen as positive suggestions rather than as negative criticisms. There are of course other issues of concern I have not mentioned. Obviously, individuals should not be blamed for these situations. On the contrary, all Rotumans -- indeed all Fiji citizens -- should ensure that political and administrative structures (underpinned by legislation) are set in place to properly address such concerns as outlined above.

JS Foster
PO Box 134
Potts Point
NSW 1335

I work for Telecom Fiji Ltd as a Rural Radio Technician. My section provides telecommunication services to rural areas around Fiji and Rotuma. People back in Rotuma don't realize how fortunate they are to have state of the art telephone communication equipment. It was only a few years ago that they had to shout into the phone, queue for hours to make a call, days of no service and many had to walk all the way to Ahau to make a call. Many Islands in the Lau Group still have the old HF Radio that was previously used in Rotuma, while many villages in the interior of Viti Levu and Vanua Levu don't have any form of communication with the outside world. These unfortunate people have to walk or take a horse ride to get to a phone. I believe it is unfair to complain about the call charges while a fair number of the indigenous people of Fiji are without phones. It's better to have good phone service(at a price) than a phone that hardly works at a cheaper price.

There more important issues to deal with:
1. Hospital facilities
2. How to rid our beautiful Island of flies and mossies.
3. Boat/Plane services.
Thank you
Ravai Fesaitu
Telecom Fiji Ltd
Fiji Islands.
The 250 disconnections eventuated not because of the high costs as claimed, but because of the abuse. You know and I know that the current telephone service in Rotuma is as good as anywhere in the world. Years ago, when only a Radio Telephone (RT) system was available, one has to shout at the top of his/her voice in order to be heard. I was in Malhaha last year, and I noted that parents no longer send a child to relay a message to a family in either 'Elsio or Pephaua or even a couple of houses away. The message is relayed by phone. Kids ring one another at night to discus the hoework for the next day. An expensive exercise indeed.

From my experience, many people on Rotuma want a telephone "because every other household has one." The attitude is that if we don't have a phone, then "amis to kaunohoag kelea' 'e hanis ta!" A typical Rotuman mentality. But someone will have to cut a lot copra to pay the bill. We have to have a phone in Suva because it is a necessity, but most importantly we earn a salary and can afford to pay the monthly bill. Phones are being disconnected in Rotuma because people amass huge bills that they cannot possibly pay, which proves beyond reasonable doubt to the community that "aus ta kaunohoag kelea' 'e hanis ta." I understand that most of the phone bills in Rotuma are paid by "the children in Fiji," which is a burden they can do without.

Install a radio station on the island? Somebody has got his priorities wrong here. There are pressing needs to improve the schools and hospital facilities and equipment. Thanks to the Rotumans in Sydney for providing a library and a computer lab to Rotuma High School. Thanks also to Dr Hereniko and all the Hawaii Rotumans, and to the Seven Stars club in California, for their monetary assistance to the Hospital at Ahau. There are also pressing needs to improve the roads, water and electricity supply, transport between Fiji and Rotuma. Find markets for the farmers' agricultural produce, not forgetting those barrels of coconut oil, etc. There are two agricultural officers based in Ahau who are there to provide assistance and professional advice if and when a farmer needs their services, so the dissemination of agricultural information by radio is not necessary. A person-to-peron contact is a more effective method.

Tomasi Sumasafu
Suva, Fiji

I consider myself to have been blessed to visit Rotuma last month, for the first time. What a beautiful island, and what wonderful people. Thank you all, especially the people of Oinafa, for the generousity and hospitality you showed in welcoming us into your homes.

My mother-in-law, Anne Stonehouse (nee Hoerder) hadn't been home for 55 years, so it was wonderfiul to be able to shout her a trip to the island, and to be alllowed to visit ourselves (that is Alan and Aileen Peacock, Anne Stonehouse, Kitty and Kathy Palmer). It was an interesting exercise in geography, politics, statistics, and environmental studies also.

Issues I noted included:

The age gap with many children and elderly represented and few of working age ( I imagine many between late teens and early fifties will be in Fiji or elsewhere around the world for education and income reasons.)

Apparent over-fishing within the reef, and lack of use of the huge fishing areas outside the immediate island surroundings

Over 50% of the people we spoke to have Type2 Diabetes - diet and exercise?

Why is Rotuma so poor (relatively speaking). One only has to look at a map of Fiji to realise that Rotuma adds about a 7th of the EEZ or fishing waters. Where's your share of that? Logically, if Rotuma had a better say in the fishing going on in your waters, you should be getting a 7th of all licence fees from the boats that are fishing the total Fijian waters. You should be one of the richest income areas in the Pacific, per capaita of those living on the island. Fishing revenue alone should be easily around $1 million per annum (based on articles in Island Business about the total fish catch for Tuna species in the Pacific and what's coming back to the nations in the region, which is about $60 million a year).

If that was placed in trust with your council, then in a couple of years you could afford a decent boat to get supplies to the island, but better still why not use some of the revenue and purchase some bigger fishing boats yourselves to allow fishing offshore--who knows; you might actually create jobs on the island and retain some more of your people. You could create an export industry and enjoy, at least financial freedom, from the issues happening in Fiji.

Rotuma is an island blessed with many positive things, and money isn't everthing, but a bit more of it would make a world of difference in fighting illness, and in making sure you have more opportunities available for your people in the future.

Thank you once again for allowing us the priviledge of visiting.

Alan Peacock, Christchurch [13 July 2005]

I have read Saumaru's letter in which he highlighted some of the pertinent issues currently affecting Rotuma, which I personally believe to be very valid. The subsequent responses provided by Ravai and Tomasi were also valid, but I believe they were made with vested interest for it could be work for the Telecom Fiji Ltd and therefore they must be seen by their seniors as doing the right thing to protect their interest and turf. Believe me that I empathise with them.

However, allow me to say this: Rotuma is entitled to any development that is occurring in Fiji, for it is part of the Republic. Of course there are other urgent priorities, but I believe that a good telephone system is a must for any modern or developing country, not only for personal convenience but for emergencies such as the need to urgently call for an aeroplane to fly a patient over to Fiji for treatment that will save his/her life. A good phone system is definitely a must and required. Our MP, Marieta Rigamoto, now holds that portfolio and it's within her power to look for subsidies, not only for Rotuma but all the rural areas.

Furthermore, I also read Provincial Development Minister Ted Young's comments that in the last four years his ministry has spent $924K in Rotuma. That's fair and good to hear; the PM, whose portfolio Rotuma falls under, has done well and should be congratulated together with Marieta for his efforts. But how much of this was spent on the wharf at Oinafa instead of on such pressing priorities as the hospital, the schools, roads, and more importantly, on a regular boat service to Rotuma? I see the wharf at Oinafa as an ongoing costly expense and I am advocating that a new wharf be built at the Vai heta at Itu'muta, which would save a lot of money in the long run.

The PM, our MP and Senator, have all done well but they need to continue the good work of keeping Rotuma developed.

Henry Enasio
Sydney Australia [18 July 2005]

I was a Board member of Telecom and had no shame in asking for a new telephone service for Rotuma, and we should be grateful for the Board at the time, especially to Berenado Vunibobo and Fred Caine for their support, for it was approved and implemented. Others have been instrumental in its implementation, of course, but the beginning of it all was in that Telecom Board.

I, again, have no shame in saying that there is no need to feel that we are in a "privilege"' position compared to other areas in Fiji for the following reasons:

Rotuma is (was?) classed as a "rural" service. That meant that the government had to subisdise Telecom for the provision of the telephone service because rural services were and are uneconomic. That explained why Rotumans had to put up for years with shouting into the receiver to get heard on the other side and vice versa, under the old system.

Since the introduction of the new telephone system, the Rotuma telephone service, according to my information, is more than paying for itself and has been doing so for a number of years now. The government no longer has to subsidise Telecom for that service.

In other words Telecom and government are making a profit out of the Rotuma telephone service and we should all support the installation of more phones in Rotuma. I, too, pay for my uncle's phone bill in Rotuma and have no problems with it. I think it is now a necessity and not a luxury in Rotuma.

A reliable source told me that Vodafone wants to operate in Rotuma because the company sees a profit to be made there, but it has been stopped from doing so by Telecom for fear that the competition might affect its bottom line.

So I urge you all, please support our telephone service and do not be ashamed to ask for any improvement and expansion of the service, because Telecom and government will get their fair profit out of us.

Sosefo Inoke
Suva, Fiji [20 July 2005]

We really enjoyed our visit to Rotuma in June, but the visit pointed out, among other things, how under funded Rotuma is, compared with the impact the island makes in the EEZ of Fiji, and hence the fisheries licence fees paid to the Fiji Government. The run-down state of the roads etc. is only to be expected therefore, and considering how little the council is granted, they do a wonderful job in the administration of the island. Many items, however, could be donated to help make life a little easier. It would be a good idea to list these on the Forum pages so Rotumans' overseas could nominate projects to fund raise towards.

The hospital is a case in point. We have a sign company and had already offered to make signs for the upgrade of the hospital, but had been told they weren't required. We were instead asked to donate the plaque for the redevelopment, which we did; however, during our visit we quickly realised that signs were required and could make a difference to the efficiency of the hospital and Dr. Manueli was kind enough to give us a list of what was required.

In the first week of August, a full set of interior and exterior signs for the hospital, two new signs for the Council Building, and a new sign for the Satellite Earth Station, were flown to Nausori on an RNZAF C130 flight. These donated signs are worth a total of $3500 ex-factory. Upon reaching Fiji they then sat in the store at Air Fiji for two months waiting for letters of clearance from Fiji Customs. This was finally done and they were collected by the Ministry of Health (MoH) staff. At this stage I am unaware if they have even reached Rotuma yet.

I have also been speaking with friends who operate one of the Rescue-Helicopters in Christchurch, and mentioned the hospital in Rotuma. They have been kind enough to donate some medical goods and equipment, including a resuscitation kit complete with mask, gas flow monitor and oxygen bottle for the hospital. These are quite valuable, and yet, despite telling the MoH that these are in my store and ready to send, we have, once again, heard nothing. Before they can come up we need a letter stating that duty will be waived, or once again they will sit at the airport for months or worse, be misplaced or stolen.

We are looking also for a crane for the wharf at Oinafa, to make unloading of the supply boat easier. Ideally we'd like to donate a crane truck, but sourcing one that we can afford is proving difficult. We will get one, eventually. Should any Rotumans in New Zealand wish to help in this regard they can contact me at

Other things that could make a difference could include a couple of smaller aluminium boats that could be used for fishing. These would need outboards and auxiliary motors, as the one fi-glass boat we saw on our visit didn't have an auxiliary engine, and when asked if much fishing was done outside the reef we were told "no, because if the engine broke down, the next stop Solomon Islands!" If a boat or two was complemented by a smaller chiller truck, jobs could be created fishing and selling the product around the island. The costs here are not unachievable; however, they require people to actually get up and make it happen.

Doubtless there are many other smaller projects that can be best funded by the Rotuman communities offshore getting together. Then you will have both the satisfaction of seeing projects through to conclusion, and have the knowledge that the hard earned funds you have contributed have been used for the right reason.

Be enthusiastic and make it work! You will get a lot of pleasure out of helping make life on Rotuma just that little bit better.

Alan Peacock
Christchurch, New Zealand [18 October 2005]

When in Rotuma in June we saw for ourselves the state of the abandoned Mobil Fuel installation at Motusa.

Can someone answer my questions on this please . . .

. . .Who currently owns the installation - if it has been abandoned and Mobil don't want it any more, has it been gifted to the Rotuma Council - the facility surely is still useful?

. . . If the Rotuma Council don't want it, or Mobil won't give it to the poeple of Rotuma, what is going to happen to it - Mobil has a duty and obligation to remove it and mitigate any environmental impacts caused by leaving it in it's current deteriorating state?

. . . Does Fiji have any environmental protection agency who could take up this case on your behalf?

When in Tonga a few years ago we stayed on an island which had a thriving local village. Every single house had electric lighting - all of which were solar powered with battery storage in the roof. These used 12 volt halogen lighting and had all been installed by a Canadian Aid Agency. Maybe it's worth while the Rotuma Council petitioning AusAid or NZAid to carry out a similar project - with decent lighting in the homes the children would be able to carry out their homework far easier, and the saving on generator fuel would be a positive impact on Rotuman household budgets.

Alan Peacock
Christchurch, New Zealand [12 December 2005]

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