Caption: Ambassador Robin Nair with His Excllency the President Ratu Epeli Nailatikau at the Offcial Residence in the UAE. Photo: DAN GAVIDI of MINFO.
Nadi native Dr Robin Nair is flying our flags high in the middle east. The Jet presents a brief question and answer forum with Dr Nair to give our readers an overview of the good work being carried out by the Fijian Embassy in the Arab world.
1 Sir you have already presented your credentials to 12 countries. Which countries are these and what are some of the areas that Fiji can benefit in?
I am now an accredited Fijian Ambassador to United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Kuwait, Oman, Turkey, Kazakhstan, Lebanon, Egypt, Jordan, Iran, Seychelles and as Permanent Representative to the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA). I have yet to present my credentials in Sudan and Algeria and to the Arab League. Both Sudan and Algeria have given their agreement to my appointment and I am waiting for a date for me to present my credentials to their respective Heads of States.
In order for any country endowed with abundant natural resources and human resources to prosper, we need good leadership and good governance, a leadership which has a vision for the country and a leadership which can implement that vision for the benefit of all the people of Fiji. In the last 8 years, we have seen a revolution in our thinking of how we can achieve peace, growth and prosperity through new ideas, identifying areas which need major reforms and implementing major reforms. Our leadership provided us their vision embodied in the 12 pillars of the Peoples Charter for Change, Peace, and Progress. We have seen major reforms in how we do things to achieve sustainable results. We have had a results oriented government and each one of us working for the government are subject to ambitious performance management systems. If you don’t perform and achieve results and outcomes expected of you through approved business plans, then there is no need for you to continue in the responsibilities entrusted on you. After all we are paid from the public purse.
As you know, one of the pillars in the Charter is ENHANCING GLOBAL INTEGRATION AND INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS (Pillar 11). Pillar 11 does not stand on its own. It is connected to the other 10 pillars of the Charter, for example, ACHIEVING HIGHER ECONOMIC GROWTH WHILE ENSURING SUSTAINABILITY and others.
One of the steps our government took in this respect to Pillar 11 was “to think outside the box” we had been in when we clung on to some of our traditional friends, a legacy from our colonial past. We reached to the wider membership of the international community. For example, we had never been represented in the Arab World and in countries neighboring this significant region. Thus, the Government had the foresight to open its first Embassy in the the Middle East and North African region by opening its Embassy in Abu Dhabi. We went out to make new friends to work together as partners on pressing international issues as well as working together for economic growth and prosperity for our peoples. I say a “foresight”, within a the span of less than two years, we are beginning to see the gains from this foresight, friendships which understand our issues, our problems and our strengths and respecting the way we approach our own problems. Our Government not only ventured to seek help for our beloved country of Fiji but it also put out its hand of friendship to help also the peoples of our Pacific Islands Region, now described as Pacific Small Islands Developing States (PSIDS). For example, the funding of the hosting of the Inaugural Meeting of the Pacific Islands Development Forum last year was funded largely by donor countries of Middle East region. This year, the Second Meeting of the PIDF in June had high level representative delegations from Turkey, Kazakhstan, and Kuwait. Qatar provided funding towards hsoting the Summit Again, just to give you as an example the quality of delegates who went to the PIDF Meeting from my part of the world, the Kuwaiti Foreign Minister snt a Special Envoy to the PIDF Meeting and he was the Deputy Director-General of the huge Kuwait Fund for Development. Who would have thought 10 years ago that Fiji could attract such new friends to come to assist all the Pacific Islanders to achieve sustainable development of their resources and economic growth?
The activities of the the Embassy in Abu Dhabi concentrates on working for Fiji’s development goals, for example by attracting development funding, seeking foreign investment, finding trade opportunities for our products that can compete in these markets, attracting tourists and other associated activities. For example, the UAE is funding three major solar power projects in remote and maritime areas in Fiji, i.e., Kadavu, Lakeba and Rotuma, worht USD5m this year.
2 On nurse recruitment to the Emirates. Is this still ongoing? What are some of the requirements for recruitment?
Many nursing jobs are available in the UAE and the Embassy wants our Fijian nurses to have the opportunity to apply for these jobs if they wish. Our nurses who are already there contribute significantly through remittances of funds home. Our nurses are well-regarded with around 25 nurses employed in the UAE. All of these nurses are happy with their conditions of service and many of these are there with their families. Most work in government hospitals, where the pay and conditions are much more attractive than in private hospitals. However, these nurses came before The Health Authority of Abu Dhabi (HAAD) introduced requirements for nurses to pass its exams before they can be offered jobs. This requirement applies to all foreign nationals. Similar requirements are placed by other Emirates in the UAE. Unfortunately, HAAD does not offer these exams in Fiji. A Fijian would need to travel to its closest centre which would be Sydney. We have been working to persuade HAAD to offer these exams in Fiji as large government hospitals are prepared to employ Fijians. It is taking a much longer time time for us to achieve this than we had hoped for. In the meantime, we are working with a very large hospital in Abu Dhabi to accept the qualifications of our Fijians without the need to sit the exams. We have submitted the curriculum followed by our nursing schools and we are awaiting their assessment.
3 You talked about opportunity for Fiji’s retired teachers to help Seychelles in the education sector, similar to the programme Fiji has with its Pacific neighbors. Can you elaborate on this sir?
During my visit to present my credentials to the President of the Republic Seychelles, I also met with the Vice-President, His Excellency Duncan (Danny) Faure. I told him that I was surprised to see the large number of foreign workers in their large hotels and in tourism sectors. I told him about the skills of our own people in this sector and the special flair Fijians workers bring to the tourism sector. That Fiji was well-known for its hospitality because of our people, especially those who work in the tourism sector. I informed him that I had mentioned this to the President and the President had shown great interest in facilitating and welcoming Fijian workers to their tourism sector. Thereupon, the Vice President asked me if we had teachers as Seychelles was always short of teachers. I explained to him about our Fiji Volunteer Scheme and also about the the large pool of well-qualified retired teachers with excellent background in teaching. He expressed great interest. I subsequently put this forward to the Seychelles Foreign Minister who said that they would like to get more information on this. Since then I have metwith the Permanent Secretary of the Public Service Commission on my visit to Fiji in June to discuss. Following this, Seychelles has provided terems and conditons of employment ad alist of vacancies for our teachers to apply.
4 Apart from peacekeeping in the Middle East, what other areas that Fijians can work in?
As you know the oil-rich countries depend largely on foreign workers in all sectors of their economy. We had identified several sectors to explore for opportunities for our people interested in considering opportunities in this part of the world. However, when we looked at the salary scales and the conditions of service in many of the sectors, especially for semi-skilled and unskilled workers, we noted the exploitative salary scales and poor conditions of service, including sub-standard housing offered for workers. compared what we we might expect for workers from Fiji. On many instances our wages are higher. The employers also insist that workers be unaccompanied, leaving family and friends for up to 2 years. Our Ministry of Labour is rightly very protective about our workers who might be interested in foreign jobs. They are very strict on standards offered to our foreign workers and they vet each work employment agreement to ensure fair pay and conditions. Fiji has experienced unscrupulous foreign worker agents. The Gulf States are geographically very close to an enormous labour market in Asia and Africa and Central Asia where there is an abundance of workers, ready and willing to come and work there. Thus the market of supply has kept the wages low. From an employers side, it is also cheaper for them to recruit from these countries as the employer has to provide airfares. Airfares from Fiji compared to airfares, for example from, India, Pakistan or Kenya and even the Philippines are much much higher and hence a reluctance by some employers to recruit from Fiji even if they are interested . Recently, we were offered 20,000 quota for taxi drivers from Fiji. We looked into it, including consulting LTA but we found the pay and conditions exploitative compared to our rates of pay. . We have accordingly concentrated in areas where where the rates of pay and conditions of employment are fair, for example in the medical field and more particularly in government run hospitals, in the airlines industry, sea-farers, airline employees and to some extent in the hospitality and tourism industry. Work opportunities for experienced professionals are better. We now have several more Fijians in the hospitality industry in the UAE; Emirates Airlenes interviewed Fijians in Nadi for postions in the ground handling category and the successful applicatns are now arriving; Qatar Airways will soon be advertising for varous postions in its arilien operatrions.
5 The President had just visited Abu Dhabi. What was his message to Fijians working there?
We were delighted to host His Excellency President Ratu Epeli Nailtikau in Abu Dhabi. He had come to visit our Embassy and to get briefed on our experience of opening an Embassy in Abu Dhabi, our business plan and outcomes both targeted and achieved in the UAE and the region. He was interested in the morale of our diplomats and the locally engaged staff. He is, of course a seasoned diplomat himself, having served in Canberra, New York and in the United Kingdom. We were also interested in his wise advice and perspectives. He also took the opportunity to meet Fijian nationals who were working in the UAE and the region. Many took the opportunity to travel to meet him at a function at the Ambassador’s Residence for a traditional welcoming ceremony. He informed the Fijians present about the forthcoming elections, he explained to them the provisions of the Constitution and about elections and voting, including about the one Fiji constituency. He also talked about the reforms achieved in the economy and the focus on developing good infrastructure to help with development and making the life of Fijians easier. He and his Official Secretary, Mr Pene Baleinabuli answered many questions from the audience. The Fijians here expressed great joy and satisfaction in seeing him and listening to him. I also took advantage to catch up with him as I and my family have known him for many years. His Excellency’s first diplomatic posting was with my father, Mr Raman Nair who was Fiji’s first High Commissioner to Australia. The President enjoyed telling me stories about my father’s and his experiences in opening the Embassy in Canberra. As we all know, he is a great raconteur. He also expressed his great personal delight in having the opportunity to Commission me in view of his own experience of starting out in Diplomacy with my late father who was also a close contemporary and a friend of his father.