28 Aug 2013

Tuvalu's Telavi dismisses claims over Fiji transit ban

5:25 pm on 28 August 2013

The Tuvalu opposition MP Willy Telavi says the government needs to talk to the previous administration for clarification on the issue of the country's Chief Justice being stopped from travelling through Fiji to Tuvalu.

Sir Gordon Ward is based in New Zealand but travels to Tuvalu for High Court sessions regularly.

He is under a travel ban imposed by the Fiji regime but Tuvalu's new prime minister, Enele Sopoaga, says he had no difficulties transiting through Nadi Airport until May this year.

Mr Sopoaga says he suspects the administration of Willy Telavi who was removed as prime minister a month ago could be behind the transit ban.

Mr Telavi told Johnny Blades that his administration did all it could to get Fiji to allow the Justice through.

WILLY TELAVI: When we heard this news from our judiciary that the Chief Justice had been blocked in Fiji, then we started working with the Foreign Affairs and High Commission in Suva. But we were being advised that they cannot entertain our request to have the Chief Justice coming to Tuvalu.

JOHNNY BLADES: So this problem started when?

WT: The last scheduled High Court. About one or two months ago, yeah. He was in New Zealand then.

JB: He'd been critical a while ago of the Bainimarama government. Was that the reason for the difficulties going through Fiji afterwards?

WT:No, no. I cannot comment on that, the Fiji government's reaction on that. But the Chief Justice has been going through Fiji with no problem. Only in this incident are we are being advised Gordon Ward, who is the Chief Justice, has not been allowed to transit Fiji.

JB: And no reason given?

WT: No reason given. We have a communication from the Tuvalu High Commission in Suva that they're trying to contact the Fiji government. And we were thinking of having an option of getting someone who can fly through Fiji. But when the political thing started to happen, we didn't have any time to address this.

JB: Fiji and Tuvalu have long been close friends. Surely, the prime minister, when it was you, or Mr Sopoaga, might have been able to talk to your high commission about it.

WT: Definitely, we don't have a problem with Fiji, but in this case we are a little bit surprised at their reaction to the Chief Justice coming to do his cases in Tuvalu.

JB: Otherwise you're saying it's unfair of this new Tuvalu government to try and blame it on your administration?

WT: Uh, Johnny, I'm just an arm's length away.They can just contact me so I can verify the information, rather than go to the media. What would we get from the media? I'm the one who is going to explain this. Even the officials in foreign affairs or the secretary to government office should know what is going on because they were doing contracts on our behalf with the Tuvalu High Commission in Suva.

JB: Are there cases waiting for him to preside over?

WT: We have important cases to be decided, so I wish we had this assurance out as soon as possible, yeah.

JB: Do they include cases related to the change of government?

WT: Yes. That's right, yeah. The removal of the prime minster by the governor general.