Ajith Kodagoda, the ATH and Vodafone Fiji chairman, revealed: “As the head of Fiji Rugby Union in the country and as Prime Minister, Mr Bainimarama has a done a lot for the development and good administration of the sport in the country and deserves to be at the Rugby World Cup.”
A target search of business class return airfares from Nadi to London leaving this week and returning in seven days, plus six nights accommodation in a 4-star hotel near the Fiji Embassy in Kensington, and Cardiff, shows this would cost approximately £8500 per person or $28,500. Or $57,000 based on a couple sharing a room. It’s believed that wife Mary will accompany the Prime Minister. This does not include any destination costs, like local transport, per diems or incidentals.
Vodafone’s sudden generosity is linked to startling revelations published last month by Fijileaks. Following a boisterous Annual General Meeting in April in which more than a dozen binding resolutions were passed, all deeply critical of the Vodafone-led consortium, the FRU sent an angry 5-page letter to Vodafone Fiji in June. This followed the failure of the mobile phone company to account for any of the promised $5m promotional support and spend which it was contracted to deliver in 2014, the first year of the agreement. In subsequent correspondence Vodafone flat out refused to itemise any element of expenditure but claimed $5m had definitely been spent.
The Vodafone-led consortium sponsorship was announced in early 2014 by the then-chairman Filimone Waqabaca (who was the PM’s nominee to the Board between 2013-2014). He and Vodafone confirmed a value of $40m over five years. In reality the cash component was only a little over $3m per year, less than what rivals Digicel had offered, and the deal was VAT-inclusive, which knocked a further 20 percent off the cash income. More than $5m per year was contracted to be delivered by the consortium partners in the form of loosely-worded promotional and marketing support and product.
Waqabaca was then PS Finance and bears ultimate responsibility for the costly fiasco. But he opted out of further involvement with the FRU this year, and has been put forward as the new ambassador to New Zealand, leaving Rugby House to clean up the mess he made.
The June 12 2015 letter sent in the name of the FRU chief executive officer Radrodro Tabualevu was emailed and hand-delivered to Vodafone CEO Pradeep Lal. In the letter the FRU gave Vodafone a 30-day termination notice on the controversial 5-year $40m sponsorship agreement, alleging that Vodafone was in breach for failing to account for more than $5 million worth of promised marketing support in the first year of the agreement.
The June 12 letter was copied to Frank’s brother-in-law Francis Kean, parachuted onto the Board by his brother-in-law as the Prime Minister’s nominee and once installed was elected as FRU chairman. As well as Kean, the Prime Minister himself was copied (as president of the Fiji Rugby Union), and Kodagoda as the chairman of ATH, the parent company of Vodafone Fiji Ltd. The last person copied was the FRU’s deputy chairman and director legal, the Maori legal activist Carl Ngaki-Cameron.
It’s not clear who within the Consortium will bear the cost of this extraordinary payment. Kodagoda can speak on behalf of Vodafone Fiji as that company’s chairman, as well as ATH (which owns Telecom Fiji, another member of the consortium). He is also still an office holder at the CJ Patel Group (listed as Group Financial Controller), another member of the Vodafone consortium, and owners of Fiji Sun. As chairman of the FNPF, Kodagoda also authorised the controversial loan extended to Fiji Airways for their three leased Airbus A330s, with Fiji Airways yet another consortium sponsor.
The FRU’s letter accused Vodafone Fiji Ltd, owned by ATH, itself is owned by the Fiji National Provident Fund, of ‘misleading’ the FRU and allegedly ‘defrauding’ it by virtue of their refusal to provide any proof of expenditure.
But it’s understood that Bainimarama's acceptance of this $57,000 "bribe" brings the legal pursuit of Vodafone and its consortium partners to a close, with none of the issues resolved and Fiji rugby heading in to another three lean years because of the inadequacy of the deal that was signed off by Cameron, as the director legal.
Like many of the expats involved in this FRU sponsorship saga, from the expat Cameron to the Sri Lankan Kodagoda, the ATH boss fails to get his facts right and shows his naivety when it comes to Fiji’s number one sport: Bainimarama’s position as president of the FRU does not make him the head of the sport in the country because the president’s position is an honorary one. The position of head of the sport belongs to his brother-in -law Francis Kean, as FRU chairman.
Kodagoda’s expat colleague Nouzab Fareed, head of Fijian Holdings, shocked members of the Fiji 7s team at a function by saying he expected the national 7s team to win gold at the Olympics as well the Rugby World Cup (a 15-a-side competition).