Thursday, April 20, 2017

When Auckland Council forces us to drink water from its toilets…water, water everywhere….

Thakur Ranjit Singh

Auckland Council appear to be promoting this culture, with their planning of Council facilities bereft of any human, health, hygienic or public-need considerations.
You do not have free drinking water at almost all its railway and bus stations, unless, of course, you DRINK FROM ITS PUBLIC TOILETS.
The bigger irony is that Western Springs Lakeside Park which is built on the site of former Auckland Reservoir, which provided water to early settlers, is as dry as Sahara Desert. None of its fountains have running water. If you are thirsty in the park – DRINK FROM ITS TOILETS.
Another irony is that the $28 million dollar Otahuhu bus and rail station which opened last year (October, 2016) and which has won an award, still has no free drinking facilities – YOU HAVE TO DRINK FROM ITS TOILETS.
We just hope Auckland Council gets planners who are more visionary. But who listens in a heartless UNCONTROLLED organisation. 
Hope they can learn something from Fiji….read on.

The recent deluge and flood in Auckland did not only sink parts of New Lynn, but also sank the credibility of advisers of Auckland Mayor Phil Goff. He was made to apologise for Act of God, blaming the downpour on climate change.

We had a similar deluge and issues in Suva, Fiji some fourteen years ago, and I was at Suva City Council then. If I was an advisor to Phil Goff, I would have drafted the following release for him, similar to what I had done for Suva’s Mayor:

Any municipality makes facilities for normal functioning in normal situations.. Men-made facilities are rarely capable of handling catastrophe brought by extreme Act of God like floods, cyclones and Tsunami.

What happened on Sunday 12th March 2017, in Auckland was no exception. Metservice advised that parts of Auckland received over 60mm of rain in an hour that day. This is phenomenal, in fact unhistorical rainfall. A month’s average rain fell in a day, most of it in one hour when the soil was already heavily saturated from previous continuous rain. To make it worse, the timing was not in our favour. While I have been assured by my contractors that most drainage and waterways were periodically checked, the seasonal autumn foliage compounded the problem. Geographic make-up of Auckland also contributed, being on same level as sea and hence cannot drain away so much deluge in such a short time. In such a situation, the earth just topped up with water which could not be drained fast enough, as no systems are made for that amount of water in such a short time in such low topography. 

In a layman’s language, our infrastructure provides six inches of drainage, while the rain we got was double that. No system can answer that call of nature (excuse the pun) from open skies. Hence, our system just could not cope.” 

No beating around the bush, no apologies for which you were not responsible and no scape-goats. Just plain facts. House guttering could not cope, they were overflowing, same thing happened with the City’s drainage system. So, why the Mayor has to blame it on the controversial subject of climate change?

Now, still on WATER - what I really wanted to say, before this distraction.
If an Extra Terrestrial (like Steven Spielberg’s ET), which survives on clean water, with clean habits, accidently landed in Auckland, it would not survive. If it were to travel by Auckland’s public transport via train and bus, it would “thirst’ (starve) to death.

This is because Auckland Council intends bus and train-station users to drink from its dirty environment of toilets. People are forced to drink from toilets, as no separate hygienic free water is available at any of Auckland’s bus and train stations (except two).

Water ..water everywhere, not a single drop to drink. Western Springs Lakeside Park, which is built on former Auckland reservoir, has no free drinking water, unless you drink from its toilets. This drinking fountains has been dry now for some years now, and the other fountain has also gone dry. perhaps nobody cares, nobody knows, and nobody will do nyhting about it.
Jokes and sarcasm aside, let us face reality from an observant terrestrial. You travel on a train or a bus network from Waitakere Station in West Auckland to Pukekohe via Papakura (including Sylvia Park network) in South, with an empty water bottle, you will find no place to fill it or drink free water, except in Auckland toilets. Same thing applies if you travel on Northern Busway, from Albany Station to all stations to Britomart. In Britomart, you had to go a floor down, but two months ago, somebody saw light, and has one fountain on ground floor after recent renovations. New Lynn also has a low-pressured lone drinking fountain. That is the sum total in Auckland- JUST TWO. Not even the most recent multi-million dollar showpiece at Otahuhu Station (or Panmure) has a drinking fountain. Just recently, Auckland Transport (AT) spent hundreds of thousand dollars beautifying fascia of all its Busway Stations – but no relief for those looking for clean free water. 

Ha Ha Ha. The new $28m Otahuhu bus and train station, whicc opened in October, 2016, also has no drinking fountains-UNLESS YOU DRINK FROM ITS TOILETS. Ironically this staion has just being given an award. The judges said the design team expertly wove together "multiple cultural and historic narratives." Perhaps one of them is the new Kiwi culture of drinking from public toilets!
Auckland, as a supposedly most liveable city needs to live up to that name. Health and well-being of its citizens is it prime priorities. Free water contributes a great deal to healthy bodies. Tens of thousands of school children use these facilities, and are encouraged to buy frizzy and sugary drinks instead of free water supply in a country overflowing with so much water. Ironically NZ does not blink an eye-lid to give free supply to overseas companies who profit on our natural resources. Yet our city is unable to give it for free to its ratepayers and people using its facilities. Some stations sell Coke products and supposedly healthy glutton and fat free products, but fail to provide healthiest essential product for life -WATER. Does Auckland Council have shares in Coke? Or water bottling companies which sell its products at twice the price of petrol?

Another laughing matter-while Auckland Council does not provide free water, it makes money by allowing Coca Cola to sell 'unhealthy " drinks, and also water , at almost double the price of petrol. I wonder is Auckland Council has shares in Coke Company, or one of the water bottling companies.

I suggest Phil Goff to do as legendary ‘Phantom” (from Phantom comics) used to walk the streets in a disguised form. Change your appearance, ride on your motorbike, thirsty and with an empty water bottle, see where you can have free fill or drink of water, from a water fountain, and not from a toilet. Travel to major stations like Swanson, Henderson, Sylvia Park, Otahuhu, Papakura, Manurewa, Pukekohe, Middlemore, Papatoetoe, and all Northern Busway stations. And then he will recall the deluge of 12 March 2017, and exclaim: “Water Water everywhere, not a single drop for the Mayor (unless he drinks from the toilet). Now where are our City planners…Hope they are not sunk in the sinkhole at New Lynn?”

Northern Busway has been hailed as pride for public transport inititive. Its stations: Albany, Costellation, Sunnynook and , Akoranga - none has any drinking fountains -UNLESS YOU DRINK FROM THEIR PUBLIC TOILETS.
I suggest Phil Goff also send some highly paid Auckland City planners on a junket to Fiji to see how we do it in a Third World Country. All our municipality markets and bus stations throughout Fiji have separate pipes and free water for its thirsty citizens (not in toilets). Fiji may be poor, but its decision-makers have a heart, and compassion for the people who pay their salaries. And yes, if that ET lands in Fiji, it will survive through our public transport network, as we do make our people to drink from toilets. And then Auckland Council can copy Fiji and provide separate free drinking water, and not make us to drink from Auckland toilets, as they do now!

[About the Author-Thakur Ranjit Singh manages blog site FIJI PUNDIT and also manages the Facebook Page- “Auckland Council WATCH”, where he raises pertinent issues relating to Auckland Council, hoping somebody, some day, will take notice.]

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

When Auckland Council Fuels Traffic Jams - with Truck-loads of Rubbish

Thakur Ranjit Singh

How many times have you been held up in traffic on a busy time rush hour on a State Highway, on a suburban bus route, main or trunk road, or near a school during opening or closing times? And later you realised the “avoidable jam” was created, and made worse by Auckland Council rubbish trucks. They seem to have a habit of collecting rubbish on busy roads during rush-hour. This appears to be an everyday happening now.

As a bus driver who starts quite early with school runs, I almost encounter this on a regular basis. And this has been confirmed by fellow bus-drivers as well. But the last chain of incidents took me to the edges of my tolerance. It was just before 7 am on a Friday morning, when we all were rushing to work. Lo and behold!, on State Highway 16 between Soljans Cafe and Brigham Creek Road roundabout (near Kumeu) in West Auckland, a Council truck was collecting rubbish from the busy road, holding traffic.

Traffic is forced to dodge rubbish collection trucks at busy school times in or around school zones. Such collection near schools need to be done only between lull in traffic. This gives them six hours, so why they need to create undue congestion at and around 8 am? Auckland Council surely needs proper planning and co-ordination.
Then an hour later, just around 8am on a busy Albany Highway just past the junction of Upper Harbour Drive in North Shore, I met another similar truck holding traffic while collecting rubbish. Then I proceeded up Sunset Road, (Unsworth Heights) in North Shore, which is also a trunk route for morning commuters, feeding into many schools. The same scenario, another hold up.

And this is not confined to mornings. I have also seen them on busy Taharoto Road and Northcote Road in Takapuna, Auckland in afternoon as well. I also encountered them during peak school time around 8am on Belmont Drive and Nile Road, which is just a stones throw away from three large schools in the area in Takapuna – Westlake Boys, Westlake Girls and Carmel College. School buses and school traffic have to dodge and squeeze through these nuisance on narrow roads.

This is Nile Road in Foresthill, Northshore. It is a stones throw away from four schools: Westlake Boys, Westlake Girls, Carmel College and Foresthill School. Yet on a Wedneday morning at 8.34 am, when buses and cars are busy in this area on this narrow road, Auckland Council Rubbish truck (right) was collecting rubbish. Note a school bus was forced to pass on the wrong side of the road at the traffic island, creating hazard.
The “golden mile” in Takapuna has following seven schools:  St Joseph Catholic School, Rosmini College, Takapuna Normal Intermediate, Carmel College, Westlake Girls, Westlake Boys and Foresthill School. Some 2km stretch of road linking Foresthill Road, Wairau Road, Taharoto Road and Fred Thomas Drive, among them have these seven schools, adding to thousands of vehicular traffic during school opening and closing times. The last thing we need is uncoordinated and poorly planned-rubbish collection during busy times in and around these schools. I as a regular bus driver around these schools have encountered these trucks causing unnecessary traffic jams in morning and afternoons on a regular basis. This is what has prompted me to raise this issue.

Similar is the story around other areas of Auckland. Many have encountered these, but have not bothered to raise it as they see raising any issue with Auckland Council like whipping a dead horse. My site Auckland Council WATCH will take all concerns to the Council, and will send these articles links to ALL Auckland Councillors. I hope, as Chairpersons of various committees, they can pull up non-performing Managers to coordinate and plan their activities in respective portfolios in such a way that pose little disruptions to the City.

Why do rubbish colection trucks have to crowd up busy areas and around schools in mornings and afternoons? Why are parents and buses forced to squeeze between these hazards and cause hazard to other road users? Do you need to be a rocket scientist to plan rubbish collection schedule?
Auckland City is huge, with large residential and commercial areas. Therefore, Auckland Council needs to get its act together and identify and create critical areas 500m to 1km near schools, on Highways, bus routes and busy school or city traffic routes. They need to create a no-go zone for rubbish collection or any other Council activities between 6 -9am and 3-6pm, which disrupts traffic. They have six hours in a day when they can attend to such busy traffic areas, between 9 am and 3 pm.


Auckland Council need to review their rubbish collection as follows:
- Create red zones near schools, on bus routes, on highways, busy trunk routes and roads feeding to schools. Rubbish in these areas should ONLY BE COLLECTED BETWEEN 9-3pm.

- They should create Green Zone in secluded parts of the respective collection zones, not contributing to any traffic chaos. They can service these areas in rush hour of 6-9am and 3-6pm.

- They should create orange zones in areas bordering the two, and apply discretion to fill their schedules.

You do not need a rocket scientist to plan activities in such a way as to have a win-win situation, without disrupting traffic. And Auckland Council has many highly paid officials to do this.

I hope common sense will prevail, and Auckland Council staff would start earning their pay.

[About the Author; Thakur Ranjit Singh does what most qualified ethnic migrants do when they are not accepted in their qualified job market – drive. Thakur has Masters in Communication (MCS) with honours from AUT. He tried to join Auckland Council in its Media and Communications team. However, he was seen unsuitable to colour a White  media and communications departmentf from an ethnic journalist who studied on Pacific Island Media Association (PIMA) Scholarship to add colour to a relatively "White" NZ media scene. He is a part-time bus driver, and knows Auckland extensively. Seeing the barriers to a White Media, he runs his blog, FIJI PUNDIT and is active on social media. Other observations of Auckland Council are to come later.]

Thursday, January 26, 2017

A case for heavy rapid rail to Auckland Airport - from Puhinui

Thakur Ranjit Singh

Some 3 and a half years ago, in July, 2013, we saw some hot air during Auckland mayoral election. Mayor Len Brown said a rail link to the airport would have been a focus over the next year if he won a second term. The same Brown had promised at the 2010 election to build rail to the airport by 2020. It is said that studies had confirmed that the best choice of rapid transit was rail. While arms and legs were promised, nothing eventuated. Blinkered leadership in Auckland resulted in literally ‘shitty’ waters with overflowing sewerage and an apparent dysfunctional Water Reticulation system. Lack of rail link to airport suffered same dereliction of duties by our previous city fathers and government. Hope we have some hope from the current ones. 

Rapid Heavy Rail Link to Auckland Airport was on the planning board of past mayor, Len Brown, but dereliction of duties by City fathers and respective governments have robbed travelling public the facility that most major airports have to their respective cities.
Reportedly, in 2013, planners had come up with two options for rail to the airport - a 6.5km link from Puhinui on the main trunk line costed at about $470 million, and $1.45 billion for a full circuit including Onehunga, which has had its branch line reopened for passenger trains and is 9km from the airport.

But Onehunga is out, and I am supporting a cheaper and better alternative that many other support: a shorter route of some 7km, mostly through green country via Puhinui station. The plethora of so-called experts in Auckland Council, Auckland Transport (AT) and Auckland International Airports Limited (AIA) need to urgently meet and make this happen, and pass a proposal to Government about the urgency and necessity of this issue over which the Auckland Mayor’s office has already been asleep for over 7 years. Hopefully Phil Goff can make this happen.

Approach from Puhinui Station to Airport, via 2km of built-up area can be widened to accomodate railway lines, if there is enough political will for a rapid rail link to Airport. I am no expert, but we need experts to tell WHY THIS CANNOT BE DONE
Our respective leaders, Andrew Little (Labour) and Metiria Turei (Greens) meet this weekend at Mt Albert War Memorial Hall to lay out our priorities for the election campaign and their vision for a stable, responsible alternative. I earnestly hope heavy rail to the Airport is seen as an election a priority. I have already reminded Andrew Little and Labour Party of this in my earlier article, but they have a habit of ignoring views they do not like.

Rapid link to Airport is no longer a choice, but a necessity. The fact that scheduled airlines are delayed in a First World Country because pilots and crews cannot reach the airport is a story for Somalia or other Third World Dysfunctional democracies or dictatorship-not New Zealand. As I had said to Andrew Little, Labour needs ‘political balls’ to bite the bullet NOW.

Auckland International Airports Limited (AIA) has a conflict of interest situation where it mines gold from car parks at Auckland Airport. Hence, they may not be very supportive to kill their cash cow through a railway link.
One problem may be from the Airport Company (AIA) which is making a killing with its car park revenue, as they mine gold in Mangere carparks at Airport, with one car space having a potential of returning more revenue than renting a million-dollar home. The other hindrance may be from other assorted road transport lobby groups. But we need to make a decision and start planning NOW. With its shares in Auckland Airport, Auckland Council need to DIRECT Airport Board to be effective, as well as being efficient.
Puhinui Station is the shortest railway link to the Airport, mostly through farms, and has easy approach to Domestic and International terminals. We need experts to do a serious project planning on this option.
A case for the link from Puhinui:

I have walked some 2km distance from Puhinui Station, past Motorway 20 to Manukau Gardens, through the built-up part of the proposed projects. As road widening is taking place in Te Atatu Road from Motorway 16 to Flanshaw Rd, similar work can be done without demolishing any houses to widen the road and accommodate two lines to the Airport.

Just past and under Motorway 20, Motorway 20b, via Puhinui Rd from near Manukau Memorial gardens is only 5 km through farm lands to  Auckland Airport. Why do I need to tell this to our so-called experts - they need to get out of their ivory towers to see chaos at Auckland Airport.
And from Manukau Gardens to the Airport for some 5 km, we have green country, and government can institute its right to possession for national development. It is basically open fields. It could cost-effectively link to the Domestic and International terminals respectively. We need input from the highly paid so -called experts, who need to wake up. I wonder why it needs a layman like me to advise them on how to do their job. What are over-rated and highly paid bureaucrats and politicians doing while almost all First World’s major airports have rapid, convenient and affordable rail links to their cities, linking to the national rail network?

Viewing site on Puhinui Road, as seen from runway of Auckland Airport. Rail Link from Puhinui Station via this green country will be less painful and less costly.
Those who have been to Sydney would have seen how, they can connect to the wider Sydney network, and go anywhere without worrying about gridlocks on approaches to our Airport. George Bolt Memorial Drive, Tom Pearce Drive and Puhinui Roads, and the obstacles of lights at Kirkbride and Montgomery junctions cannot continue serving Auckland’s growing population and hugely expanding air-traffic. To make this worse, light and heavy traffic taking a bypass to Airport through these roads create the gridlock we are talking about. And nobody seems to be doing anything about this.

As I am finishing, I just saw on Al Jazeera TV about 12,000 km Silk rail link from China to Great Britain. What a pity, the British migrants New Zealand got some two centuries ago did not have as much foresight about rail transport as their “convict” counterparts who went to Sydney had. In Sydney, they have emulated British rail system, while Auckland still resembles a Third World Country.

Auckland Council and Government can continue with this chaos, and Labour Party can ignore this at their peril, as people go through election booth later this year.


  • How Auckland's poorly managed rubbish collection planning contributes to traffic congestion?
  • Why are Auckland Bus Stations, Train Station, Domestic Airport and some Parks so dry? Does Aucland Council have shares in fizzy-drink and water bottling companies?
  • Why bus link from Albany Station to Constellation Station, as part of Northern Busway gets bottle-necked , with poorly planned entry to bus lane at Graville On -ramp?

[About the Author: Thakur Ranjit Singh does what most qualified ethnic migrants do when they are not accepted in their qualified job market – drive. Thakur has Masters in Communications with honours from AUT. He tried to join Auckland Council in its Media and Communications dept., but despite his plea, the Council refused to colour this department from an ethnic journalist. The irony is that Thakur studied on Pacific Island Media Association (PIMA) Scholarship to add colour to a very white NZ media scene. He is a part-time bus driver, and knows Auckland extensively. Seeing the barriers to media, he runs his blog, FIJI PUNDIT and is active on social media, with Auckland Council Watch one of many sites he manages.  This is his first of other posts relating to Auckland Council]

Saturday, January 14, 2017

An open letter to Andrew Little: Labour needs to start listening if it wishes to win.

Thakur Ranjit Singh

Ahead of the meeting of Labour Party caucus in the town of Martinborough, I wish to flog a dead horse. This is because Labour Party is not in a habit of listening to anybody, least of all a Brown boy like me. And it is in this small town where the cream of Labour Party will gather in the New Year on Monday and Tuesday 16 and 17 January, 2017 to “plot election strategy.” 

Martinborough is a town in the South Wairarapa District, in the Wellington region of New Zealand. It is 65 kilometres east of Wellington and 35 kilometres south-west of Masterton. The town has a resident population of 1,600, but will bulge slightly with movers and shakers from Labour Party this week. 

Some six months ago I tried knocking on their doors with some thoughts, with no results. However, knowing its apathy, lethargy and lackadaisical attitude to suggestions from well-meaning members, I use my blog, FIJI PUNDIT to write this open letter to Andrew Little (sometimes Angry Andy) directly, and hope somebody will listen.

Labour Party Leader, Andrew Little: He needs to make Labour listen, inculcate a paradigm shift, grab the opportunity of changed leadership in the National Party, and most important of all: stop scoring own goal.
“Hi Andrew, this is a Fijian bloke you hardly notice in Labour meetings, as I may be considered so insignificant. My speciality is media and communications. I possess a Masters in Communication, with honours from AUT. Despite some attempts to get Labour’s attention, I never heard back to grant any help in my area of speciality. The Party immediately needs to improve on two things: to inculcate diversity and enhance efficiency in its administrative and support office. 

For a change, the right wing National Party seems to have more colour than Labour, which is still too White, not reflective of the demographic make-up of Aotearoa. On its internal management, it has performed miserably in the recent past. Last election campaign was very wanting, and an ineffective media and communication cell let the party down. It is one thing to have good policies (even bad ones), it is quite another to sell them on a timely basis, well dressed for the market. Labour has been failing in this area, and many commentators have observed and commented on this deficiency. But it appears nobody has been listening or noticing within the caucus and leadership. 

What is more worrying is that I recently briefly bumped into your President (of course he will not remember it), and even he believes Labour has an outstanding media team. However, the results, poll and public media humiliations speak the opposite. I have already enumerated them to your General Secretary, Andrew Kirton, and do not wish to further embarrass you with truth that will hurt, and which perhaps Labour does not wish to confront.

My question is, with so much highly paid and supposedly celebrated media, communications and public relations team, why did we have such an unfortunate and defeating let down by this department? Why has Labour failed to effectively use social media and other communications channels and sources to its advantage?

Now is an opportunity to clean up the Labour Office, with many such openings, and having efficient and effective personnel that can take the Party to victory in the next election. Please do not go for cronies, try looking outside the box. The fact that an Ethnic/ Indian Party was launched shows perception in the ethnic communities that the main political parties are incapable of taking care of those communities and their grievances. I disagree with this, but this perception is out there. 

HEAVY RAIL TO THE AIRPORT: Labour needs to bite the bullet and commit heavy rail to Auckland Airport to prevent bigger chaos at airport.  Puhinui is the shortest distance of seven kilometers to Airport, mostly through green country. They need to commit this option in 2017 election manifesto.
The caucus in Martinborough need not re-invent the wheel. These strategies have already been communicated to your Secretariat. Some of suggested policy items needing your consideration to “plot election strategy” are as follows:

Heavy rail to airport. Labour party needs to show it has balls to tackle this issue stifling development of Auckland. It also needs to silence and pull Auckland Airport Board in line, which thrives on cash cow of parking profits to scoff at this idea which will weaken their cash cow. I will do a separate article in Auckland Council Watch site on Facebook, arguing for a heavy link from Puhinui (Southern Link) to Airport, via Puhinui Rd, linking Domestic and International Airports, and thence linking to wider Auckland rail link. This no longer is an option, but a necessity for Auckland to manage Airport commuters.

Introducing laws and regulations to protect large voters who are tenants. We need to strengthen laws around renters to grant them security of tenure from unscrupulous landlords. I would even suggest inflation-based rent controls, even proposing rent freeze.

Having equal protection for landlords as well, from unscrupulous tenants.

Eyeing and targeting the low-decile non-voting younger (especially Maori, Pacific and Ethnic) people who have been marginalised from housing market, employment and other opportunities by the National Government. We need to concentrate on some million non-voters. One way is to mobilise our Youth team on social media where the prong of strategy would be to reach these marginalised and ignored voters. 

North-Western Busway, and other transport strategies to correspond with booming population in West Auckland, especially in and around Whenuapai and Kumeu / Huapai area.

Concession /subsidy on driver-learning for younger drivers, or even introducing in upper forms in schools.

The biggest election campaign for Labour will be those sitting in gridlock in Airport traffic will decide to change to the Party which has balls to commit heavy rail to the Airport.
Labour Party needs to realise and appreciate that to win the election, they have to win Auckland. To reiterate, they also need to re-vamp communication, media and public relations cell and re-visiting its media strategy, assuming they have one.

As earlier stated, the fact that an Ethnic/Indian Party has been formed shows that Labour, which has been a beneficiary of their large support must have failed somewhere. 

While he may not be your best friend, Rodney Hide at times does speak much sense. In a critique on Labour on Sunday 25 September, 2016, he appeared to have spoken some sense.

Among other things, he said about Labour, that…..“Their minds are closed and they gasp and take offence at any idea or opinion different to their own……. They are a self-reinforcing sect who in their wretchedness and anger are becoming ever smaller. Their narrow and insular outlook prevents them reaching out. Little (my idea-pun intended) wonder it's not attractive to new recruits…………………. Labour is the narrow party that has shut itself off from the great bulk of New Zealanders.”  

The caucus in Martinborough needs to prove Hide wrong. I will wait to see to what extent this eventuates. The ball is in your court. I close my case. You are at a liberty to ignore this communication, but Labour needs a paradigm shift if it wishes to wrest power back from National in the next election. John Key has gone, and Labour, for a change, has to stop scoring its own goal, and grab and capitalise on the opportunity.

The past strategies and support office have failed, hence they need new blood and new ideas in administrative support. 

You can ignore these at your peril.

Wishing a fruitful deliberations in Martinborough - hope you can make Rodney Hide eat his words.

Yours Sincerely,

FIJI PUNDIT, aka Thakur Ranjit Singh, 
Te Atatu Peninsula, Auckland.”

[Thakur Ranjit Singh is an Auckland-based ethnic (read Indo-Fijian) journalist running his blog site, FIJI PUNDIT. He is a member of Labour Party, a former Board Member of Waitakere Ethnic Board (WEB) and is a media commentator.]

Monday, November 28, 2016

Mt Erebus Disaster: The forgotten victims

Thakur Ranjit Singh

28 November, 2016 was 37 anniversary of that biggest peace-time disaster to hit New Zealand on 28 November, 1979. But why have we forgotten all of them. In fact I found the shrine of the DC crew of the disaster, accidently. And as mooted, there is no monument to honour those 237 passengers who perished with the 20 crew.

Air New Zealand DC 10 - the type of aircraft that went down.

As a part-time school bus driver, you have the fringe-benefit and privilege to see many parts of Auckland that a normal mortal Aucklander does not get to see. Hence one day, after dropping my school charter at Butterfly Creek on Tom Pearce Drive near Auckland Airport, as usual, I proceeded on my habitual walk. I went along that street past Z service station, and roundabout towards aircraft viewing site, towards Puhinui Rd, facing Manukau. Something like a plaque caught my eyes, and I went down to have a look on a hidden slope of Tom Pearce Drive. I read, and was shocked to see it was a plaque in memory of crew of DC 10.

The plaque in memory of DC 10 Crew who perished in the disaster. But there is no monument to remeber the 237 passengers who died in the disaster.

What a shame. I am sure many journalists and those reading this may have never have seen this. Please try to take time out to see the nondescript plaque in memory of crew of those who perished in flight TE 901.

The plaque in a hidden section of  Tom Pearce Drive at Auckland Airport
Here is for those who are new to this tragedy from Wikipedia.

Air New Zealand Flight 901 (TE-901) was a scheduled Air New Zealand Antarctic sightseeing flight that operated between 1977 and 1979. The flight would leave Auckland Airport in the morning and spend a few hours flying over the Antarctic continent, before returning to Auckland in the evening via Christchurch.

On 28 November 1979, the fourteenth flight of TE-901, a McDonnell Douglas DC-10-30, registration ZK-NZP, flew into Mount Erebus on Ross Island, Antarctica, killing all 237 passengers and 20 crew on board. The accident became known as the Mount Erebus disaster.

A part of the wreckage
Flight 901 would leave Auckland International Airport at 8:00 am for Antarctica, and arrive back at Christchurch International Airport at 7:00 pm after flying a total of 5,360 miles (8,630 km). The aircraft would make a 45-minute stop at Christchurch for refuelling and crew change, before flying the remaining 464 miles (747 km) to Auckland, arriving at 9:00 pm. Tickets for the November 1979 flights cost NZ$359 per person (equal to about NZ$1,386 in the first quarter of 2013).

While I will not delve in who was responsible for this disaster, people may Google and find volumes of theories on this. The initial investigation concluded the accident was caused by pilot error but public outcry led to the establishment of a Royal Commission of Inquiry into the crash. The commission, presided over by Justice Peter Mahon QC, concluded that the accident was caused by a correction made to the coordinates of the flight path the night before the disaster, coupled with a failure to inform the flight crew of the change, with the result that the aircraft, instead of being directed by computer down McMurdo Sound (as the crew assumed), was re-routed into the path of Mount Erebus. In Justice Mahon's report, he accused Air New Zealand of presenting "an orchestrated litany of lies" and this charge in the end led to changes in senior management at the airline.
The accident is New Zealand's deadliest peacetime disaster.

The tail-piece in the wreckage with Air New Zealand logo
While White Kiwi journalist s have forgotten this 37th anniversary of the disaster, this recent migrated Indo-Fijian Kiwi blogger remembers those who perished. I pray that the soul of those who lost their lives rest in eternal peace. And their loved ones may get strength to proceed with life in memory of those loved ones they lost over three and half decades ago.

[About the Author: Thakur Ranjit Singh is a post graduate with honours in Communication Studies from Auckland University of Technology (AUT), and runs his blog site FIJI PUNDIT. He is a media commentator, and a community worker]

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Waitakere Diwali continues in its tradition of developing new leaders.

Thakur Ranjit Singh

Some leaders are rich, like USA’s Trump and New Zealand’s John Key, others are controversial like Presidents of Philippines and Zimbabwe, some others are deadly, like the ones in North Korea and some Middle Eastern countries, but yet some others are simple, humble, grassroots, common men (aam aadmi) and loveable ones like India’s Chai-Wala (tea-seller) or Waitakere’s (Auckland) Taxi-Wala (Taxi-driver).

President of WIA, Mahendra Sharma (right) helping the Chief Guest, Councillor Linda Cooper, to light up the Diya of Diwali at Waitakere Diwali Celebrations

Indeed India has its Narendra Modi- a Chai-Wala, and in answer, Waitakere has its Mahendra Sharma, a Taxi-Wala. Yes, this simple and humble person Mahendra Sharma, from the grassroots of the community is the new President of Waitakere Indian Association (WIA), which again held a very successful Diwali celebrations last month.

Initiating the first public Diwali celebrations in New Zealand in 2000, WIA has been continually celebrating it for the last 17 years. And in doing so, unlike other similar organisations, it has always granted opportunities to all its executives to gain leadership positions, and train as leaders. Unlike some other similar organisations where only rich, influential, professional or businessmen get to lead, WIA is a different ball-game. Everybody has equal chance, and this has allowed a taxi-driver, Mahendra Sharma, to be our President, leading WIA Diwali. We had other newcomers, Kajal Kumar, as the master of ceremonies (MC) and Hasmita Singh, WIA’s Secretary, as Diwali Project Manager. We are proud for a job well done.

On Sunday 23 October, 2016, WIA switched on to a new venue for its Diwali from Trusts Stadium to Te Pai Netball Centre, next door on Te Pai Road. Unlike some other Auckland Diwali, Sharma said that “WIA is mindful of the fact that Diwali needs to retain its theme, its respectability and dignity.” In following that policy, he said WIA has special dress codes and other restrictions and check and balances to have a mix of modern culture with tradition to ensure Diwali retains its light of wisdom, divinity and dignity. “This was reflected in the Ram Leela which was performed by artistes from Ayodhya, India,” he said.

In line with keeping the theme and tradition of Diwali, this "Ram Lila " item from performers from Ayodhya India added color to the celebrations.

The other point he homed in was that...”while other events have paid officials, our community workers give their time and expertise freely to the community.” This was in reference to Auckland Council and corporate-organised events where those organising are paid officials, while those at WIA are non-paid community volunteers –unsung heroes with a passion for community well-being.
Auckland Councillor Linda Cooper, Trusts Chairperson and Auckland Councillor, Ross Clow, Labour’s Phil Twyford, National’s Kanwaljit Bakshi and major sponsor, Robert Khan were the main speakers, among others. One surprise inclusion was Faiyaz Koya. He is a Fijian politician and Member of the Parliament of Fiji. He currently holds the portfolios Minister for Industry, Trade and Tourism. Koya is the son of former National Federation Party leader Siddiq Koya. 

The VIP s: Labour Party's Housing and Transport spokesperson, Phil Twyford (second from right) busy discussing issues on  New Zealand's closer cooperation with Fiji's Minister of  Industry, Trade, Tourism, Faiyaz Koya ( second from left), while Radio Tarana's CEO, Robert Khan (extreme left) and NZ First List MP, Mahesh Bindra ( extreme right), are relishing the moment. 
All speakers shed light on the theme of Diwali, and appreciated the efforts of WIA in lighting the flame of culture, tradition and community spirit with their hallmark sole Diwali of West Auckland. Some of the speakers also paid tribute to Mrs Savitri Chand, wife of one of WIA’s founding stalwart, former Whau Local Board member and an active community worker, Ami Chand. She was fondly remembered by many present in the event as well. She had passed away earlier that week.

Fiji’s Minister Faiyaz Siddiq Koya was in Auckland with Fiji PM Frank Bainimarama’s delegation which was visiting New Zealand to promote relations with Fiji. He delivered a very inspiring speech which paid tribute to Fijians settled in NZ, their contributions, and an invitation to Fijian Diaspora to come to Fiji to visit and invest. 

The VIPs with Past WIA Presidents, L-R, Anand Naidu and Naveen Prakash, with National List MP, Knawakjit Singh Bakshi , in the centre.
Early in the day, in keeping with tradition, the event started with pooja (prayers) and hawan –offering in the holy fire by the priest, and blessing by Kaumatua, giving respect to the original settlers. 

Earlier in the evening, distinguished guests were treated to in the WIA tradition of vegetarian cocktail which was a time for networking with community leaders. This gave opportunity for leaders to freely mingle and share thoughts.

The craft stall
Like previous years, we had a galore of sumptuous Indian food stalls, many craft stalls and trade stalls promoting business. There were many thrilling stage items, and after the religious and traditional Ram Lila, the mood slowly changed into more Bollywood and thrilling music as the night progressed. This culminated in spectacular fireworks display, led by Nach da Punjab bhangra group, adding rhythmic vibration to the climax of Waitakere Diwali event.

The food stall
Overall, the event was a success at this new location, led by a team of newcomers for successfully pulling off this annual event, which has become an eagerly-anticipated calendar of West Auckland. And as the Chai Wala Modi has caused ripples in India, we expect our humble Taxi-Wala to continue leading WIA in its role as an icon of West Auckland.

And that is exactly what he has done, by attending Diwali in Parliament in Wellington on 10 November, 2016 with a team from WIA. This was organised by the Office of Ethnic Affairs in Wellington. This event was attended by other Indian community leaders throughout the country, with MPs and prominent people of the community. This recognition by the New Zealand government is very encouraging for all those who regard Diwali dearly and speaks volumes for a country which embraces diversity.

Diwali in Parliament: WIA was represented  in the event at NZ Parliament (Beehive) in Wellington. From Left- Nina Prasad, Sunita Sharma, Indian High Commisioner to NZ, Sanjiv Kohli, WIA Executive, Chandrika Prasad, WIA President, Pundit Mahendra Sharma, and guest Devendra Sharma.
As the dust settled at Te Pai Netball Centre in Auckland after the annual Waitakere Diwali, we can proudly looked back and give a big round of applause to the team which created many ‘Firsts”. It was the first Diwali event for the new President Mahendra Sharma, it was first MC duty for WIA Executive, Kajal Kumar, it was first event management for Diwali Event Manager, Hasmita Singh, it was the first time the event was held at the new location, it was first time the group from Ayodhya performed Ram Lila, and it was the first time, a Fijian Minister addressed the event. 

And to wrap it up, as a Chai-Wala is causing ripples and change in India, we also expect our Taxi-Wala President to bring in changes at WIA to make it a more-community focussed organisation, and continue doing what it does best –managing and organising annual Diwali ( and Holi) celebrations in West Auckland. And this story has been brought to you by yours truly (Thakur), another grassroots community advocate – the Bus- Wala (bus driver) journalist.

[About the author: Thakur Ranjit Singh is former long-time Secretary of WIA (2005- 2010) and a former Vice President. He runs his blog site FIJI PUNDIT and reports on community events passionately that other media have little passion to cover.]

Monday, October 3, 2016

Bainimarama Crackdown: Learning from History.

Thakur Ranjit Singh

Many will remember the 6pm news on 19 May, 2000, when George Speight and his goons had already kidnapped Fiji parliamentarians and held them captive (for 56 days).

Fiji One news clip showed People’s Coalition Government Prime Minister, Mahendra Chaudhry cutting cake in his office, in the morning, celebrating the first anniversary of Labour’s rule. That was also a day when Chaudhry had allowed a Taukei movement march against the government. This was despite the caution, warning and advice against the march by police intelligence and advice of Home Affairs Minister, Uluinakauvadra to PM to Chaudhry. In his arrogance and upmanship, he ignored that intelligence, to his peril

Has Mahendra Chaudhry learnt from his folly and his wanting leadership? Here he is pictured just after being released from the goon, George Speight's captivity of 56 days from Parliament in June 2000. He had failed to listen to wise advice and gave the goons freedom that they did not deserve.
There is no threat. It is mischief-making by opposition. We will allow the people their democratic rights to protest. We have things under control...” He said on TV, with his trademark sneer smile. But that smile was wiped away at the time of broadcast, as he was a guest of George Speight, held captive in Parliament.

His statement that things were under control turned out to be a wishful thinking. Nothing could be further from the truth. It was not mischief-making, but a group of rogue-soldiers hijacked and imprisoned the government by putting an assault on Fiji’s parliament. The intelligence were not mischief-making.

Do not grant freedom to those who do not understand its meaning. The march on 19 May, 2000, that resulted in demise of People's Coalition Chaudhry government. THIS MARCH SHOULD NEVER HAVE BEEN ALLOWED. Chaudhry ignored advice of the Special Branch and police intelligence.
And the police were not ready. There was no Operational plan. The Police Commissioner, working in cahoots with the thugs, thought the military would back the nationalist Fijians, like Rabuka had done. Reportedly Isikia Savua was prepared to be sworn in as the alternative nationalist Prime Minister. However, he failed to read the mood of Military under Bainimarama. The Military refused to commit treason, and the rest is history - with a failed coup, Speight behind the bars, Savua being cleared by a Kangaroo court and the country suffering miserably for allowing democratic rights Fiji was not ready for.

And sixteen years after that, the country still has some laws protecting its democracy. The lofty slogans of human rights, democracy and freedom of speech need to be taken with a pinch of salt, as safeguarding democracy is paramount for any government.

Father Kevin Barr, speaking about fundamental problems of Fiji’s democracy had said before 2006:

“… by now we should have learnt that democracy measured by elections is not a panacea. Every coup exposes wounds that need to be healed and the deep underlying problems that need to be attended to. Before Fiji can gain stability and effectively return to some degree of democracy a number of serious issues need to be addressed and resolved.”

Suva was burnt on 19 May, 2000 because Fiji allowed a First World freedom in a Third World democracy.. And it fell.
Among others these issues were identified as the agenda of the extreme nationalists wanting a Fiji for Fijians, explosive mix of nationalists with the elements of Church, seeking to have a strong influence on the political and social scene, the conflicts and tensions within the Fijian chiefly families and confederacies and the culture of corruption, nepotism and cronyism. While the interim rule and the democratic rule have resolved most of the issues, there are still some which needs close attention.

When some political party leaders and trade unionists were recently arrested for questioning, and they cried for freedom under democracy, Frank Bainimarama retorted with a plausible reason.

When the leader of the country allowed freedom to march on 19 May, 2000, that resulted in looting of Suva. Bainimarama has learnt from this abuse on concept of democracy in a country still struggling to understand the true meaning of democracy and freedom.
“Anyone with more than a superficial knowledge of Fiji knows of the history of civil unrest at various stages of the country's development…” He further said that in 2000, our capital was trashed when police stood by while crowds looted central Suva and set fire to a number of buildings.

"And we are determined that such outrages will never happen again…”  He said it was the British who introduced the Public Order Act and this Act — with various amendments — continued to this day. And it was under this law that people were taken for questioning for breach of the law, when they failed to inform or notify the police.

These were some of the people detained for questioning on breach of laws on meetings. From left, Jone Dakavula, Dr Biman Prasad, Sitiveni Rabuka and deposed Prime Minister of 2000, Mahendra Chaudhry. As a PM in 2000, Chaudhry failed to protect democracy, and gave freedom to those who did not deserve the freedom that democracy allows. Bainimarama Government has become wiser to learn from Chaudhry's follies of 2000, and nip any dissent in the bud, which could develop into a threat to Fiji's fragile democracy.[Fiji Times photo]
He clarified that human rights of those detained for questioning were respected. Nobody was beaten, or manhandled, they were fed, had access to legal counsel, and through their own account in media, were well treated. As the law allowed, they were released within 48 hours, are free now, and an independent Director of Public Prosecutions will make a decision, and their case will be dealt with independently by the courts, whether to prosecute them. 

So, where is the problem? Why the outcry from New Zealand and Australia? We had people like NZ Foreign Affairs spokesperson, David Shearer, and career protestor, Keith Locke poking their nose into Fiji’s affairs without realising that Fiji is not a First World matured democracy, but a Third World fledgling one, still struggling to  stand-up properly. And what moral rights or media ethics do the black-banned NZ journalists (read Barbara Dreaver and Michael Field) have, to pass their blinkered opinionated news item, seething with conflict of interest.
Anyway, as Bainimarama had explained, all that have been done were done legally. It is surprising why New Zealand and Australia have double standards. Powerful economic allies, like China and Indonesia have atrocious human rights records, yet they sleep with them, while bullying weaker ones.

WHEN DEMOCRACY BECOMES ITS OWN WORST ENEMY: The type of freedom some thugs hiding behind the principle of freedom in democracy, do not deserve. SUCH PROTEST IN FIJI SHOULD NEVER BE ALLOWED TO TAKE PLACE UNDER GUISE OF FREEDOM TO PROTEST.
Unfortunately, New Zealand’s mainstream media does not have any Fijian journalists, well-versed in Fiji politics, to advise them of our turbulent coup culture. Fiji has been through hell because of past political instability, protected and nurtured behind freedom of speech. “Blood will flow", "Fiji for Fijians" “Indians get out" and all these utterances before previous coups were also freedom of expression that was allowed in folly and led to rape of democracy. It is the responsibility of government of the day to safeguard and protect democracy. Chaudhry government failed to do so by allowing too much of freedom to troublemakers. It is reassuring to see that Bainimarama government will take no excuse from human rights advocates and those asking for freedom of speech. Things applicable and relevant in First World democracies may not be necessarily so in a Third World Country, still struggling to teach people the concept of democracy, freedom and human rights. Bainimarama, or any Fijian government has obligation and duty to take necessary steps to protect democracy from those advocating First World freedom in a Third World Country, historically troubled by coups, racial divisions and divisive politics.

Fiji is not a perfect democracy. I just saw movie “12 years a slave” and saw Alex Haley’s old “Roots’ and its new remake as well. America some centuries ago went through turmoil, which was a historical development. What Fiji is going through now is what America and Britain were some centuries ago - history in making. Our great-grandchildren would read how Fiji was raped under Western concept of Democracy, and how a home-grown solution, where elites and trouble-makers hiding behind the luxury of human-rights, were ‘whipped “in line to mould the new Fiji. Government in Fiji is right not to adopt a First World solution for a Third World problem. We need a home-grown one, and it is in making. Though not perfect, it is better than the borrowed Western concepts that failed us more than once. Hence, relevant laws need to be strengthened and retained to stop the repeat of 19 May, 2000, when George Speight and his goons danced on the effigy of democracy, hiding behind the shelters of freedom that the same democracy granted them.

What we learn from history is that we do not learn anything from history. But seeing recent happenings in Fiji, we can be rest assured that Bainimarama has learnt from history. Unlike Chaudhry, he has been expedient to protect his government and democracy from those hiding behind luxuries that democracy provides. And, the most important lesson he learnt is to keep your friends close, but keep those from whom you feel threatened, closer. Indeed, you have no better Minister for Defence and National Security than Ratu Inoke Kubuabola.

If Mahendra Pal Chaudhry had been as astute politician and street-wise as he makes out to be, he would still be leading Fiji today. If he had brought into his fold Apisai Tora, had listened to some wise advice of his advisors, had abandoned his Trade unionist arrogance in favour of statesmanship, and had endeavoured to become the father of the nation rather than merely of his undeserving son, then Fiji’s fate may have been different today. 

Fiji is blessed to have a leader who has learnt from history. Unlike Mahendra Pal Chaudhry, Frank Bainimarama is by miles, a better guard of Fiji’s fragile democracy. 

[About the author: Thakur Ranjit Singh was publisher of Fiji Daily Post newspaper during George Speight’s attempted putsch (coup). He saw Suva torched because too much freedom was granted to those who did not deserve it.]