Government may consider zero-rating relief supplies. Here are some suggestions to our family and friends who live overseas.
If you intend sending relief supplies for your countrymen and women and children, send goods that are good and canned foods that have not expired.
Send clothes that are not so old that they will deteriorate in no time.
Don't just empty your garage and get rid of your junk.
And do not send meat products because of quarantine requirements, they will only get confiscated and destroyed and the effort will go to waste. If you intend to send medicine, get the proper documents to accompany them.
Here is a story.
When I was stationed at Nadi International Airport as a customs officer, I often met people who arrived from overseas with cartons of goods for villagers.
One day a chap came to the Red lane with three baggage trolleys full of cartons.
He said he had to declare them. I noticed that they were medicine. So I asked the man that we would like to check the contents and asked him to open the boxes. The man erupted saying what the bloody hell I wanted to check them for when he was at least bringing in some medicine free of charge and that I had the nerve to check. He said that he was taking them for the people of a village in the Yasawa Group. He had been a tourist over there the year before and he had seen that they badly lacked medicine.
But I insisted and even though the man was ranting and raving we opened the boxes (about 30 of them) and found that he had indeed brought in many different kinds of medicine.
As a professional and customs officer with a curious mind I found that about three quarters of the medicine were going to expire in two months.
I told him and he yelled and said, "Of course I know, what the hell you telling me that for. The people in the Yasawa Group need the medicine. And I was getting rid of the rubbish at my home".
I politely asked him why he was bringing "rubbish" to my countrymen. He was a doctor and it suddenly dawned on him that he had said the wrong thing.
I told him that most of the medicine he had brought had to have a doctor's prescription and the Yasawa Group only had nurses.
And most of the medicine I had seen for the first time. I asked him who would dispense the medicine and what kind of ailments would need them.
It suddenly dawned on him that something was wrong. He had a very noble intention in bringing in medicine for the people of a village in the Yasawa Group but what he hadn't thought of was that there are no doctors in the islands and medicine needs import permits. And part of the medicine would not be needed.
Here is another story.
We were sent a 20-foot container of flood supplies in the 2009 floods and delivered it to a church in Waiyavi.
We had a customs and quarantine officer present to inspect (Upon my insistence) and we found cartons of meat products, tinned food that had expired, clothes that were tattered and other things that I felt had come from a garage that had been there for many years.
The container had been brought over free of charge by the shipping company and those kind people in New Zealand had sent everything, even the broken kitchen sink.
We in Fiji do not want other people's junk especially if the food is expired or about to expire and clothes that is tattered and utensils that are broken.
We have also received containers of goods that were in excellent condition, some still with price tags on them. These were from people who really cared. They went out of their way to send good stuff.
So, to the people who may send goods, please be wary of what you send.
These are your friends and families who are in need of help, but please don't send just anything. And don't just empty your garage because the shipping line is not charging freight on the containers.
Before sending your goods, ask what you can and what you should not send.
Remember the quarantine laws stand paramount in Fiji. We need to protect our flora and fauna and we hope you understand that. If you are sending medicine please think twice because there are strict laws in the importation of medicine.
Many children need school books, but please check to see what they need and don't just send any old textbook that will be useless to the children over here.
Perhaps the Ministry of Education could tell us what kind of textbooks are used and what kind of supplies are needed. Many people will, through the goodness of their heart and very noble intentions, send anything, that may go to waste. The shipping companies could also lend a hand and bring in containers free of charge and the trucking companies can also cart the containers free. We all need a little helping hand.
If you are putting together a container of various goods, please try and make a packing list and also put a nominal value beside the item. It will help with clearance purposes in Fiji.
And don't send fruits or vegetables.
And to the person who will be thinking of using the relief supply donation to send commercial goods, please don't, it's not ethical. Fiji can do without you.
But I hope government rethinks the VAT portion of things.
Just after the coup, soldiers accompanied containers that were being cleared. This time, to police things, soldiers can once again check all containers that have been sent as flood relief supplies.
* Allen Lockington is a weekly writer. These are his views and not of this newspaper.