14 Apr 2004

NZ group defends civil society roll in Pacific

4:10 pm on 14 April 2004

The Executive Director of New Zealand's Council for International Development, Rae Julian, says Pacific civil society groups are not promoting foreign ideas.

She was responding to complaints from Fiji's Prime Minister Laisenia Qarase who raised concerns about the greater access to the Forum for civil society groups, granted by the region's leaders who met last week in Auckland.

Mr Qarase said some NGOs are funded by foreign governments or organisations and impose foreign values on Pacific societies.

Tonga's acting Prime Minister Clive Edwards expressed similar concerns saying groups such as the Human Rights and Democracy Movement is involved in highly questionable activities and is making trouble, not helping.

But Rae Julian says the leaders should pay tribute to their civil societies.

"In both Fiji and Tonga it would be quite insulting for the groups concerned to imply that the ideas they have come from the outside - they are very strongly though out, based on principles of human rights and, of course, of democracy, and they are their own ideas. Of course they get funding from outside. How else would they get it?"

The Rev Simote Vea is the spokesperson for Tonga's Human Rights and Democracy Movement.

He says Mr Edwards's comments are typical of leaders who will not allow the participation of the people in the governing process.

And I think that is very true of the sort of leadership we have in Tonga - we have been trying for years to establish a dialogue and to invite the leadership to consultations we have been having but they have been turning it down.