December 3, 2021
Penalising the Poor
The people of Fiji need to know about unfolding issues with the Walesi communications network, which has now cut off many of our citizens’ access to free to air television.
How does government expect 50% of our population who either are in poverty or on the margins of poverty, expect to fork out almost $150 for both the Walesi set-top box and a suitable UHF antenna, when they are struggling to put on their table for their families and children?
Set-top boxes may have been distributed for free but people still need for purchase of the recommended 43-element UHF antenna and installation.
Suddenly, as from Thursday, every free to air television company – has been told that they must deliver their TV services through Walesi, which is owned by the Government. Why?
First, this is about control. If TV stations can only deliver their channels on a Government network, the Government can threaten all TV stations over their content. They can say “if you are against us, we will cut you off”.
But second, it is about grabbing money. The Government has spent tens of millions of unaccounted dollars on Walesi and is trying to get some of it back by forcing TV stations to pay.
Since 2018 the Fiji Government has allocated more than $50 million to fund Walesi. In 2018-19 it was $19 million. In 2019-20 it was $10 million. In 2020-21 it was $10 million. For the current year it is $15 million.
To set up a system like Walesi should cost, at most, $12 million to $15 million.
We do not know how much money has been spent on Walesi because the Government will not tell us.
Walesi Pte Limited is a 100% Government company, formed in 2015. It has never published its accounts. It has never presented them to Parliament.
Each of Fiji TV, FBC and Mai TV have their own transmission systems. They have invested millions of dollars in them and continue to pay for them. Now these TV stations are not allowed to deliver their services on their own networks. Everything must be through Walesi.
And these TV companies are being told “you must pay Walesi for this service”. The amounts we are hearing are between $600,000 and $700,000 per annum for each channel.
But there are tens of thousands of people who do not have Walesi or find it unreliable. So, suddenly, they will receive poor TV signals – or no TV at all.
So the people of Fiji need to begin asking hard questions. Why are their TV services being taken away? Why are their TV stations being forced to only broadcast through Walesi?
We will continue to investigate this. There is much more to emerge about this shocking situation. And if we are in Government next year, this will be thoroughly investigated.