SINGING IN THE WIND: Fury against radio announcers and calls to send them to disaster reporting course. "The radios announcers just talk about 'having a mix' all the time as though one cares. Bring back the old journos and DJs, who ferreted out information for the people even at the height of a hurricane, as all people can do is listen to the radio during a hurricane. Our radio anchor people need training in disaster reporting when we can't contact anyone. Everyone has mobile phones now so journos and radio DJs can get reports from everywhere. But no, they were hopeless during this one. Just played us music! That's BOTH FBC and William Parkinson's one." A Winston survivor to Fijileaks
"VHP Fiji, is a bona fide charity organization and we request donors willing to assist the #TCWinston stricken families to kindly contact us for your donations. We have zero admin costs that are absorbed by our members as part of their service. There are thousands of families that are very severely affected. We plan to take books, clothes, food and ration packs to the victims and even help build their homes. Please support and help a family in desperate need."
All the photos below are from Cyclone Winston and not previous cyclones!
TAPPING PRIVATE COMPANIES POCKETS: Government calls for assistance for cyclone victims
Private sector companies who wish to donate the relief items can contact the Permanent Secretary for Industry, Trade and Commerce, Shaheen Ali on 3305411 or via email firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com.
FIJILEAKS: But be wary of many who will rush with the begging bowl
Where are Cyclone Ami Funds?
By VICTOR LAL
‘Everyman and his dog’, Mahendra Pal Chaudhry acidly told Radio Australia lately, ‘knows who is the leader of the Fiji Labour Party in Fiji’. But hardly anybody knows how much money was allegedly collected by him as general secretary of the National Farmers Union nearly three years ago, and distributed to the 2003 Cyclone Ami victims.
To date, neither Mr Chaudhry nor the NFU have provided any financial report of the money collected.The funds were allegedly collected worldwide and reportedly deposited in the Bank of Baroda in Fiji. We were told to send our donations to the following person: Secretary, Mr Mahendra P Chaudhry, National Farmers Union. Account: Cyclone Relief Fund. Account No: 155728. Bank: Bank of Baroda, Suva, Fiji Islands. Surprisingly, only recently the FLP parliamentarian for Macuata East/Cakaudrove Indian Communal, Vijay Chand, claimed in Parliament that people in his constituency in Macuata still have not received hurricane relief rations after the devastating Cyclone Ami.
He said people were still awaiting materials for hurricane relief houses, which had been promised to them but not delivered. Who promised them - the Government, the NFU, or other non-governmental organisations? Several individuals and organisations emerged during and immediately after the cyclone to launch an international money-raising campaign for the victims, especially on behalf of the Indo-Fijian cyclone victims. Three organisations, the International Congress of Fiji Indians (ICFI), the Mahendra Pal Chaudhry-led National Farmers Union (NFU) and GOPIO, the US-based Global Organisation of People of Indian Origin, were the most prominent in the collection of funds.
The ICFI launched a campaign in Sydney, spearheaded by Dr Karam Singh, president of the Australian branch, and Dr Umanand Prasad. In New York, the legendry Indian Bollywood actor Dev Anand kicked-started the GOPIO Cyclone Ami Relief Fund, calling on donors to send their tax-deductible contribution to one Dr Sushila Gidwani of New York.GOPIO estimated that there had been over $50 million in damage along with deaths and destruction. Fiji golfing hero Vijay Singh had extended his support in the GOPIO efforts to raise funds. GOPIO had designated president-elect Inder Singh to be the coordinator for Fiji Cyclone Relief Fund. It organised a fund-raiser in New York in the presence of Dev Anand, a life member of GOPIO, at The Tandoori Restaurant in Rego Park, Queens.
Launching the New York appeal GOPIO, of which I was a founding member in the 1980s, assured us that “GOPIO will take advice from former Fiji Prime Minister Mahendra Chaudhry who has been actively involved in the relief and rehabilitation efforts in the affected areas” on the distribution of food and funds.The NFU, in a report posted on the efijian.com website, called upon us to respond generously, pointing out that most of the victims were Indo-Fijian cane farmers. Since they were already on the receiving end of the Government’s racist land eviction policy, they could not be expected to rely upon the Fijian state for any assistance or sympathy. Any assistance that we could provide would, therefore, be really appreciated. A senior member and former Cabinet minister of the FLP has claimed that when Cyclone Ami struck, Mr Chaudhry was abroad. It fell on this particular parliamentarian to contact the FLP office in Suva.
A female former Indo-Fijian journalist member of the FLP office staff allegedly provided him, curiously, with the NFU instead of the FLP account number listed above and the designated bank.The parliamentarian, allegedly with Mr Chaudhry’s approval, than circulated the details to the potential donors via the efijian.com website. And it was to this bank that many of us from around the world wholeheartedly responded, in the hope that the money would reach the victims. To date, we are not sure if the money reached the intended victims for neither Mr Chaudhry nor the NFU have provided us with a detailed balance sheet.Let me make it clear at the outset. None of this should be read as accusing Mr Chaudhry or the NFU of serious fraud but in the absence of any detailed report in the last three years, we have every right to enquire whether the thousands of dollars reportedly collected from around the world reached the intended cyclone victims. But one may ask, why raise the issue now, nearly three years later?
It is a fair question. It only occurred to me now after I recently read Mr Chaudhry demanding an immediate audit investigation into the funding for the 2003 South Pacific Games held in Suva, the same year that the Cyclone Ami had struck.“It is three years now since the Games were held, yet a financial report on the SPG accounts has still not been presented to Parliament by FASANOC and the Ministry of Sports,” said Mr Chaudhry. In a statement he said his party had been informed that a sum of $18 million was spent on the Games, of which the Government made a substantial contribution of some $7 million. Mr Chaudhry said taxpayers had a right to know how this money was used and why an audited report of the finances had not been submitted. Mr Chaudhry asked what was the cause of the delay.
“Is it true that efforts to get detailed accounts are being thwarted by certain persons in the Government and FASANOC as well as some private contractors?” said Mr Chaudhry.“Taxpayers are entitled to an immediate explanation on why it is taking the games committee so long to file a financial report. Any organisation which benefits from public funds must account for every cent.” However, organisers have refuted Mr Chauhdry’s allegations. FASANOC president, Vidya Lakhan, said it appeared that the information given to the FLP was not as reliable as claimed. The Fiji Government did not provide $7 million but $1.9 million. Similarly, we demand to know whether Mr Chaudhry is aware that money was collected and deposited for the victims in an NFU bank account in the Bank of Baroda. If so, to date, why have we not been provided with a balance sheet, like the one he is demanding from FASANOC?
What is the truth about Cyclone Ami relief? The ICFI recently sent me a detailed account of how much they had collected and distributed to the Cyclone Ami victims. The Congress provided F$300 cash each to ninety-four families to rebuild their homes and provided food parcels to 250 families immediately after the cyclone, it says.Six members of the Governing Council of ICFI visited Fiji at their own expense and provided assistance. It must be pointed out that ICFI’s contribution was independent of Mr Chaudhry and his NFU. Mr Chaudhry, on the other hand, is yet to reply to my queries, which I sent to him nearly two months ago. Nor has he, as general secretary of the NFU, provided us with any detailed public statement on the Cyclone Ami funds. To refresh our memory, to date, Mr Chaudhry has not responded to some of the questions that I raised: When did Mr Chaudhry learn of the funds collected for him in his ancestral homeland?What did he do to encourage or stop the collection of funds?
Why has the Indo-Fiji Friendship Society (IFFS) issued denials and clarifications now and not Mr Chaudhry or the FLP? Was Mr Chaudhry patron-in-chief of the IFFS, as claimed by its secretary Sher Singh Badshami?The collection of massive amounts of funds from overseas Indo-Fijians has become a routine affair over the years whenever a natural calamity or political upheaval has fallen upon the Indo-Fijian community, with no reciprocal accountability in the process. And three years is a long time for us to wait to find out what actually happened to our donations.
The Cyclone Ami victims, according to the FLP parliamentarian Vijay Chand, are still waiting for help. Mr Chaudhry and the NFU cannot tell us to simply sod off. We have every right to know whether Account No 155728 existed with the Bank of Baroda. We also want to know what happened to our own individual donations, and how the money was spent. Mr Chaudhry must not be allowed to deploy shifting explanations as he did during the Haryanagate scandal. He has a penchant for accusing others of fraud and financial mismanagement, to take FASANOC as an example, where he stated that “There are reports of huge amounts of money having been misappropriated or paid as kick-backs to certain individuals and government officials associated with the Games”. Applying the same yardstick, Mr Chaudhry should himself put the record straight about the Cyclone Ami funds.
We, as charitable bystander shareholders to the suffering of the Cyclone Ami victims, have every right to demand a detailed account from him and the NFU. That is if he admits that he had sanctioned the setting up of the account in his and that of the name of his union.The Bank of Baroda, as a reputable bank, also owes us an explanation. Their logo comprises dual ‘B’ that holds the rays of the rising sun. According to its promotional pitch, “the sun is an excellent representation of what our bank stands for. It is the single most powerful source of light and energy-its far reaching rays dispel darkness to illuminate everything they touch.”I hope that it will enlighten us on the issue I have touched upon. What is the truth Mr Chaudhry?
How much money was collected in total and how much of it was distributed to the cyclone victims in 2003?
Did you know of the existence of Account No 155728 in your name, and that of the NFU in the Bank of Baroda?
Did Account No 155728 ever exist for the benefit of the Cyclone Ami victims?
Did GOPIO hand over any funds to you, Mr Chaudhry, which it collected in New York?
Or did another rogue and heartless fraudster swindle us in the name of the Cyclone Ami victims, and ride away on a galloping horse with the loot, into the Fiji sunset? We want a public balance sheet, and now.