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Heads up – Embassy 10 – July/August 2008

Emperor Bosco

Few diplomats can claim to have been immortalised in verse – but Pio Bosco Tikoisuva can.

Fiji’s new High Commissioner to London and a one-time rugby hero has been eulogised in a poem by ardent fans of the Harlequins rugby club who call him “Emperor Bosco” for his flair and bravery on the pitch when he played for them in the early 1970s.

Not only was he a legend of English club rugby; but he also skippered the Fiji rugby side that slayed the British Lions in 1977.

The High Commissioner hung up his rugby boots in 1979 to spend more time with his family and to focus on his job as a civil servant, but was plucked from his job as a regional commissioner in 2001 to be the first local chief executive of the Fiji Rugby Union, overseeing the newly structured  organisation, a job which he found “very stressful” in the rugby-obsessed island nation.

Tikoisuva’s latest claim to fame has been managing the Fiji rugby side that ran the reigning world champions South Africa very close in the quarter finals of last year’s Rugby World Cup.

So the High Commissioner comes to London battle-hardened. He will be employing the same mental toughness and agility that enabled him to take on the giants of the rugby world in London’s equally demanding diplomatic scrum.

And he will need it. The High Commissioner currently represents a government that is not recognised by the British authorities and has been suspended from the Commonwealth Councils after it seized power in a coup in 2006.

But Tikoisuva is not afraid to tackle tough questions about the state of Fiji’s democracy head on.

He rejects suggestions that Fiji’s military ruler and interim prime minister, Commodore Frank Bainimarama, is seeking to cling to power by delaying elections on the island.

But he does insist that the electoral system is in urgent need of reform before elections take place. As a former regional commissioner in charge of elections, he says the electoral system is unduly complex, resulting in a high percentage of spoiled votes.

Constitutional reform is also needed to ease racial tensions between the Indian and Fijian ethnic groups, a source of instability which has been behind four coups since 1987. A National Council for Building a Better Fiji was convened to propose a new People’s Charter to heal this rift.

“The interim government wants to include everybody in these talks, but there have been delays due to certain practical issues,” he says. Traditional chiefs in particular, have been unwilling to play ball, having been former ministers in the ousted government.

“Naturally there was some difficulty because they were victims,” admits the High Commissioner, adding that the situation has improved since a high-level EU delegation visited in June and both the Catholic and Methodist church have got involved.

He expects democratic elections
to take place in 2009, but says the interim government might not meet the March 2009 deadline set by the international community.

“We face two choices,” he says. “We can hold elections in March and continue to have a high percentage of spoiled votes or delay it six months and come up with an equitable system that will enable us to say with confidence that the people have spoken. I would go for the six months delay and make sure that we get it right.”

In the meantime, the High Commissioner will be using his wide network of contacts in the UK’s sporting and business community to galvanise investment to his country. Recent reports state that the economy has flagged since the coup and Tikoisuva is determined to do his bit to find new markets for Fiji’s exports as well as new business partners to bring about a recovery.

The High Commissioner reels off a list of incentives to lure investors, and singles out Fiji’s emerging ICT industry and manufacturing industry as a destination for potential investment. With the preferential access of sugar under the Lomé Convention now ended, he is keenly aware that Fiji needs to diversify its economy.

“Our door is open to all businesses. We can supply them with whatever information they need to start trading in Fiji,” assures the High Commissioner.

Attending to resident Fijians, particularly the 3,000 soldiers serving
in the British army, is another priority for the High Commissioner and he plans to he plans to visit them after gaining the approval from the appropriate authorities.

It’s a full agenda for the small team at the Hyde Park Gate High Commission but the High Commissioner has never been afraid of a challenge. And during the rugby season he might even join his team mates from Quins at Twickenham, to bring back memories of ‘Emperor Bosco.’

HE Mr Pio Bosco Tikoisuva

“We face two choices. We can hold elections in March and continue to have a high percentage of spoiled votes or delay it six months and come up with an equitable system that will enable us to say with confidence that the people have spoken.”

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