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Ratu Viliame Seruvakula elected as GCC Chair

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Former Republic of Fiji Military Forces 3 FIR Commanding Officer and Wainibuka, Tailevu Chief, Ratu Viliame Seruvakula is the new chairman of the Great Council of Chiefs.

Ratu Viliame was elected by members of the GCC at their meeting in Yatu Lau Lagoon Resort in Pacific Harbour this afternoon.

Ratu Viliame had played a significant part in defending Queen Elizabeth Barracks during the 2000 coup and mutiny.

He later join the New Zealand Army, and then the United National Department for Safety and Security.

Ratu Viliame got 27 votes. Meanwhile, Ratu Meli Saukuru the nominee from the Burebasaga Confederacy was nominated for first Vice Chairperson with 10 votes and the Tovata Confederacy nominee, Ratu Jone Golea Lalabalavu became the second Vice Chair with 8 votes.

There was one invalid vote.

The voting was supervised and assisted by the Fijian Elections Office.

iTaukei Affairs Permanent Secretary, Pita Tagicakirewa says if the Chair vacates the seat before the end of his or her term, the first Vice Chair will take over as Chair for the duration of the time left.

Tagicakirewa says after electing the Chair this afternoon, they have discussed the procedures but one more item is left to be discussed tomorrow before proceeding with the meeting.

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Pankaj Udhas passes away

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Pankaj Udhas will be cremated tomorrow from 3 to 5 pm .

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Trayd Tahau jailed for crime spree that included slicing off dairy worker’s thumb

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A man whose crime rampage spanned the North Island – and included him slicing off a shop worker’s thumb – has been jailed for eight years and four months.

Trayd Tahau, 20, was also handed a minimum non-parole period of half his sentence by Judge Glen Marshall in Hamilton District Court today for his role in multiple aggravated robberies.

One of those took place at the Irvine Street dairy in Hamilton. Tahu stormed into the store with three others early on 17 December 2022.

As his co-offenders ransacked the dairy, eventually making off with $15,000 worth of cigarettes, Tahau ran up to the victim – a man called Nabin – who pleaded for his life. Tahau brought a machete down on Nabin’s hand, severing his left thumb.

Outside the shop, a member of the public heard Nabin’s screams and ran to help.

He confronted the group but was punched in the jaw by an offender and fell to the ground. Tahau swung his machete “with force” at the man, narrowly missing him, as he ran for the getaway car.

Tahau, who was on electronically monitored bail at the time for an earlier aggravated robbery, then went on the run for six weeks before eventually being arrested in Palmerston North after stealing vehicles at gunpoint.

He was also involved in the aggravated robberies of a Ford Falcon on 25 August, a Spark store in Te Awamutu on 31 August, and a Black Bull liquor store in Cambridge on 11 December.

In his first public statement since the incident, Nabin revealed that although his thumb was successfully re-attached, it still had little function and he relied on others to feed or drive him.

The 29-year-old, in his victim impact statement, said doctors had told him it could take one to two years to regain the sensation and use of his hand – or it may not come back at all.

He said losing the ability to use his hand “depresses” him as he was used to being independent.

He and his wife still struggled with the loss of their baby after she suffered a miscarriage just days after the incident, due to stress.

“I am getting emotionally weak every day. If this incident hadn’t happened our lives would have been totally different.”

He now took painkillers daily due to being in “severe pain” all the time.

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Benefit sanctions: Government building ‘a legacy of cruelty’, critics say

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Opposition parties have come out swinging against the announcement of benefit sanctions, with the Greens accusing the government of “pushing more people into poverty”.

Social Development Minister Louise Upston announced a ramping up of benefit sanctions would begin from June – particularly for young people.

The ministry would begin “work check-ins” for jobseekers who have been on a benefit for at least six months, “particularly young people” to “make sure job seeker beneficiaries are taking appropriate steps to find employment and are receiving the right help”.

She told Checkpoint the announcement signalled a “reset” of the welfare system.

But Labour’s social development spokesperson Carmel Sepuloni said the government was unfairly assuming jobseekers were not wanting to start employment education or training pathways.

“Rather than being stingy on the minimum wage and bashing beneficiaries, the coalition government should be focused on lifting incomes for the poorest New Zealanders.

“People deserve to be supported in to meaningful, long term employment, and sanctions will not do this.”

Sepuloni said the government pointed to evidence more than a decade old and that the most recent research from the Welfare Experts Advisory Group suggested that obligations and sanctions were problematic.

Meanwhile, Green Party social development and employment spokesperson Ricardo Menéndez March said the government was creating another measure to penalise the poorest people.

“Sanctions do not work. They do not support people into meaningful employment, nor support them to participate fully in their communities. Taking away people’s incomes only makes it harder for people to get by,” he said.

“This government is quickly building a legacy of cruelty. Instead of supporting people to provide for themselves and their whānau, this government has actively sought to push people further and further into poverty.”

New Zealand’s largest education union, NZEI Te Riu Roa, has also strongly condemned the “punitive sanctions” against people on welfare benefits.

New Zealand Educational Institute president Mark Potter.

NZEI Te Riu Roa president Mark Potter. Photo: RNZ / Angus Dreaver

It said any sanctions a government took against beneficiaries directly affected their children and their learning.

“We all know that whānau are struggling with the rising cost of living; and the children of beneficiaries will be feeling it doubly so. Children need a full stomach and a roof over their head to learn,” said the union’s president Mark Potter.

“Data from the PISA international survey from December last year shows us that there is a strong correlation between food security and learning, and we know that food security disproportionately affects tamariki Māori, who make up nearly a quarter of the students currently enrolled in schooling.”

Potter said welfare sanctions were not effective ways to get people into jobs and the sanctions would further punish the country’s “most vulnerable citizens”.

“This step undercuts his government’s commitment to ensuring every child experiences success in learning, because it will only increase the numbers of children living in poverty who will then struggle with learning,” he said.

But the ACT party said the benefit sanctions were a “crucial lever” to deal with the “persistent minority” of people who opted to remain on a benefit long-term, even when they were in a position to work.

ACT social development spokesperson Dr Parmjeet Parmar said the minister has sent “an important signal that if you can work, you should work”.

“Over 351,000 working-age New Zealanders were receiving a main benefit as of June 2023 – that’s more than one-in-ten working age New Zealanders and, pre-COVID, 71 percent of main benefit recipients had been on welfare continuously for more than a year,” she said.

“Greater use of existing sanctions is a first step toward a wider package of more substantial consequences for healthy long-term beneficiaries who evade work.”

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