Fiji’s police commissioner has rejected claims that authorities aren’t doing enough to quell the growing influence of hard drugs in the country, following a VICE World News investigation that shed light on the booming meth trade and the government’s failing “war on drugs.”
When visiting the island nation in August, VICE World News found that despite Fiji’s remote South Pacific location, local trade and consumption of crystal methamphetamine, or “ice,” is at an all-time high. People close to the industry said a growing number of locals cook the drug in-country, child sex workers use and sell it on the streets, and the deepening influence of narco-corruption is compromising some of the highest levels of society.
Shortly after VICE World News published its investigation in mid-September, Pio Tikoduadua, president of one of Fiji’s National Federation Party (NFP), released a statement claiming the report showed that the use of hard drugs has spiralled out of control. He also went on to suggest that VICE World News’ findings indicated the issue is now a “far bigger disaster than climate change.”
“Tragically, our worst fears have been confirmed with Vice World News highlighting that meth is as easily accessible as lollipops, which means our children and youths are being viciously targeted by unscrupulous drug kingpins,” NFP president Pio Tikoduadua said in the statement, published last week. “It is obvious this government lacks the political will to tackle this issue head-on. And we wonder why FijiFirst [Fiji’s ruling party] continues to be lackadaisical about this scourge.”
The NFP, one of Fiji’s main political parties, will be contesting the leadership of the incumbent FijiFirst party at the country’s upcoming national elections in October. Tikoduadua has previously been vocal in his criticism of both the government and Fijian police. In August 2019 he was confronted and shoved by Fijian Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama after a parliamentary debate, and in April 2020 he was arrested for sharing a video exposing brutality by Fijian Police over Facebook.
Fiji police commissioner Sitiveni Qiliho hit back against Tikoduadua’s comments last week, claiming the criticism was “uncalled for” and saying it diminished the “hard work” being done by Fijian authorities, in collaboration with the Australian Federal Police and New Zealand Police, to combat the sale and consumption of drugs like meth.
“For [the] National Federation Party to come up with such a statement is uncalled for, and I don’t normally react to political statements, but in this case we need to put it into perspective that government has invested a lot and so has the police force, and we don’t go around publishing this,” Qiliho told the media.
“To say that it’s out of control, I wouldn’t say that. We do a lot of work, and if they say it’s out of control, it’s rubbishing all of the organisations… that we work together [with] as a region and globally to address this issue.”
“It’s not something that’s localised to Fiji,” he insisted. “It’s a global issue that the whole world is trying to address at the moment… The small island states around us are also going through the same issues.”
VICE World News reached out to the police commissioner’s office for comment, but did not receive a response.
The South Pacific’s booming meth trade is largely a result of its location in the middle of one of the world’s most lucrative drug corridors, which runs between East Asia and the Americas, some of the world’s biggest manufacturers of the drug, and Australia and New Zealand, the world’s highest-paying markets. The vast and porous archipelago—comprising thousands of islands and gigantic corridors of open water—is notoriously hard to police. But multiple people VICE World News spoke to in Fiji also suggested that local authorities weren’t doing enough to meaningfully disrupt the growth of the drug market. Some even suggested they were actively facilitating it.
Hampering law enforcement is a severe lack of data on Fiji’s drug culture, with multiple experts telling VICE World News that little to no research has been done. Another issue, according to sources on the ground as well as Tikoduadua, is the tendency for police to pool their resources into targeting drugs like cannabis rather than ice.
In his media address, Qiliho pointed to large-scale cannabis stings and farm raids across the country as proof that police were taking the issue of drugs seriously and doing their bit.
“The dynamics involved in the use of drugs such as methamphetamine and other synthetic drugs constantly continues to change,” he added. “And we also need to continuously upgrade ourselves to deal with the situation.”
In both his statement and a subsequent tweet, Tikoduadua claimed that in 2019 he proposed that Parliament open an “urgent inquiry” into Fiji’s hard drugs situation, and the establishment of a special parliamentary committee to holistically look into the associated risks. The proposal was rejected at the time, he said—and in the three years since, the meth crisis and its various impacts on the economy, public health, and society at large have continued to spiral.
José Sousa-Santos, a senior fellow at the Australian Pacific Security College and the author of a February report looking at the impacts of transpacific drug trafficking, told VICE World News that the escalating, “catastrophic” situation constituted a “threat to national security.” Tikoduadua’s recent comments went even further than that.
“While climate change is important globally, the impact of the sale and use of hard drugs like methamphetamine on education, health and poverty [in Fiji] will be cataclysmic,” he said. “The fact that this government has allowed drugs to fester and spread throughout Fiji is horrifying.”
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