16 Aug 2013

Tuvalu hopes Fiji's travel ban on chief justice sorted quickly

5:02 pm on 16 August 2013

The prime minister of Tuvalu, Enele Sopoaga, says the previous government could be behind the 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 Mr Sopoago says he had no difficulties transiting through Nadi Airport until May this year, when the previous government of Willie Telavi, was in charge.

The government was being taken to court at the time as the opposition, under Mr Sopoaga, sought to force it to hold a long delayed by-election.

Mr Sopoaga told Don Wiseman that he hopes the denial of transit for Sir Gordon was just an oversight.

ENELE SOPOAGA: Is it of course a serious problem for Tuvalu but we understand also that prior to the last session of the High Court here in Tuvalu, Gordon was travelling quite okay transiting through Fiji as far as I know for a couple or three sessions of the High Court. We are yet to find out exactly what happened but in the previous three trips he was allowed by the Fiji authorities to come through. But it certainly is a setback for the management and the carrying out of the services of the High Court.

DON WISEMAN: Fiji and Tuvalu have always been close friends, you haven't got on the phone and had a chat to Commodore Bainimarama?

ES: Not yet, no but I don't see any major difficulty in the logistics of it. Our brothers in Fiji, the Fijian authorities understand us well we have in the past arranged for facilitation of such visits. I take it probably it was perhaps an oversight but if there was a deliberate attempt it is very unfortunate and I want to find out exactly because I don't want the meetings and the sessions of the High Court to be jeopardised. I'm sure the authorities in Fiji will be very happy to help Tuvalu.

DW: In the meantime the High Court's doing a lot of work via email?

ES: Yes, that's the case but we are working, we're just starting work and we know there is a session coming up in September and certainly this is something that I am sure we can work out. As I'm saying we need to understand exactly what happened whether it was a deliberate omission by the former government not to facilitate the transit of the Chief Justice or an attempt on the other side, we are yet to know exactly what happened.

DW: We do know though don't we that Sir Gordon is on a travel ban, I mean that's clear.

ES: Yes to enter Fiji but of course to transit for business in Tuvalu is another matter and he's not landing in Fiji and I've spoken to the foreign minister several times, not about the transit of Sir Gordon himself but about another similarly placed personnel. I was able to get the cooperation of Fiji and this was allowed and our colleague managed to travel through therefore I think it's a matter of talking and raising a request with the right authority of Fiji. And I'm certain Fiji will help us and therefore it's something that we are going to look into to make sure the next session of High Court in Tuvalu is properly held and Sir Gordon is allowed to come through.