By Ioane Asioli and Viliame Tawanakoro
When Fiji’s Minister for Home Affairs Pio Tikoduadua pointed out last year that the use and distribution of hard drugs had spiraled out of control and was a far bigger disaster than climate change, he was not exaggerating the situation.
Month after month, it is either marijuana seizures or arrests over possession of illicit drugs, none more dangerous than the highly addictive illegal crystal meth (ice) or crystal methamphetamine, a strong drug that affects the central nervous system and one that is widely distributed throughout the country and Pacific region.
The value of this drug? Millions of dollars. From 2017 to 2021, the Fiji Police Force revealed that 292 arrests were made during that period with $5.6 million (US$2.8 million) worth of methamphetamine seized as a result.
The Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions estimated that funds from illicit drug activities were more than $10m (US$5 million) annually, and that local traffickers could make between $5,000 (US$2,500 and $10,000(US$5,000) a day from the sale of cocaine and methamphetamine in the domestic market.
Towards the end of last year to May this year, police conducted several drug raids in Samabula, Cunningham, Nakasi, Raiwaqa, Nausori, Ba, Lautoka and Nadi. Just last week, arrests were made in Nadi, Toorak and Uluirua Settlement in Korovou for unlawful possession of illicit drugs including methamphetamine.
Fiji continues to fight the war on drugs since the 1980s and recently, hard drugs are now more easily available on the streets in major towns and cities. Increasing news coverage on the use and sale of hard drugs in Fiji, particularly methamphetamine, have brought to light the need to raise awareness on the dangers and prevalence of illegal narcotics and meth use among youths.
But some tertiary students and youths in the Western Division, are finding it difficult to let go of this ‘lucrative’ business.
John Doe, a male in his 20s from Nadi, spoke to Wansolwara on anonymity, about the meth menace in the tourist hotspot.
“Nadi is not like how it used to be and with the introduction of meth, it really took off as it had a longer effect,” he said.
Bruno James, a young man also in his 20s from Nadi, shared that ice could be sold for as much as $50 (US$25), but the price would vary depending on the size and quality.
The Fiji Police Force estimated the average cost to be about $500 (US$250 per gram.
“Ice is consumed in two ways – the most common way users consume meth is by using a syringe to inject the drug into their system.
“The other way that users consume meth by crushing the ice into powdery form like salt crystals and then use credit cards or bus cards to make thin lines of the powder like substance and inhale through their nose,” he added.
Others like Adam Jones wants to get out of the illegal drug business but it’s not that easy as his life and that of his family would be in jeopardy.
“I dropped out of school and got roped into the drug trade in my late teens,” said Jones, the sole breadwinner of his family.
“I do this to earn money for my family, but I want to leave it. I want to get out, but I’m trapped and if I leave, it would be dangerous for me and my family,” he claims.
As part of an in-depth investigation by Wansolwara on the widespread and dangerous use of meth, not just marijuana, among tertiary students in two of Fiji’s most populated divisions, Suva, and Nadi, it was found that acquiring meth was exactly like ‘buying lollypops’, a revelation from Vice World News investigative report on the meth trade in Fiji.
It was from this report that Tikoduadua referred to when he spoke of the grave situation and cataclysmic impact of the use of hard drugs like methamphetamine on education, health and poverty.
“I had said this problem had a way of worming itself into the very safe space of family.
“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,” he had said.
One does not have to go far to find a ‘peddler’, whether it be at a public space like the bus depot, or simply chatting to a taxidriver or sex workers, the experiences were similar. They had used hard drugs at some point in their life, and so too visitors to Fiji, as one taxidriver quipped that, “some tourists around here are also regular meth users”.
Joint operations between police, enforcement agencies, and the Fiji Revenue and Customs Service (FRSC) continue to keep these foreign influences at bay. In June 2018, FRSC officers found drugs onboard the yacht of former Australian horse trainer, John Nikolic, at the Denarau Marina in the Western Division. The court heard that Nikolic had told his wife that a Columbian national had put something in their yacht because he owed some bad people money.
The couple had imported 12.9 kilograms of cocaine and 34.4 grams of methamphetamine with an estimated value of between $20 million (US$10 million) to $30 million (US$15 million). They also failed to declare that they had in their possession two pistols with 112 rounds of live ammunition.
They were sentenced to 23 years in prison for the offences, with an 18-year non-parole period.
This year, High Court in Lautoka judge Justice Aruna Aluthge sentenced a Lautoka man found with 900 grams of methamphetamine and 25 grams of marijuana to 13 years in prison with a non-parole period of 11 years, but not before addressing the illegal drug trade.
“The illicit drug offending has become a serious problem in Fiji. Higher quantities of hard drugs such as methamphetamine have been seized in recent years,” Justice Aluthge had said.
“Deterrence is a legitimate sentencing purpose in the Sentencing and Penalties Act and real-life experience tells us that it works for most people.
“In the context of methamphetamine sentencing, particularly relevant purposes include deterrence of the offender/other persons from committing similar offending and the protection of the community.”
Justice Aluthge had said the illegal drug dealing was a lucrative business and those who were in this business had no regard for the harm that it caused to the community at large.
The joint efforts of law enforcement in interrupting organised crime activities are one of the key strategies in preventing the flow of dirty money to support their illicit trade and lavish lifestyle, according to Police Commissioner Juki Fong Chew.
He had said the Fiji Police Force could not tackle the illegal drug trade alone, and aside from law enforcement partners in Fiji and the region, community support was needed through the sharing of information, “to be able to disrupt these illegal networks and safeguard our communities from the devastating impacts of illicit drugs”.
FRSC chief executive officer Mark Dixon had also reiterated the commitment of Fiji’s law enforcement agencies to tackle the illicit drug trade in Fiji.
Ioane Asioli and Viliame Tawanakoro are senior editors for Wansolwara, The University of the South Pacific Journalism Programme’s flagship student training newspaper and online publication
SOURCE: WANSOLWARA ONLINE/PACNEWS