That led to a Boxing Day phone call from the Prime Minister’s Office to VitiFM broadcaster Malakai Veisamasama in which he was effectively offered the job by the PM’s permanent secretary. Veisamasama played down the story without formally denying
any element of it, when talking to the Fiji Sun:
"I haven’t been approached … am I part of the latest rumour?”
By VICTOR LAL
Fijileaks Investigative Team
Why the country’s rugby administration is so short of funds?
The Fiji Rugby Union – commandeered by Frank Bainimarama’s administration in the lead-in to the 2011 Rugby World Cup – is facing its gravest crisis in the body’s 100-year history after the International Rugby Board suspended the FRU’s annual £1million development grant with Bainimarama deepening the crisis further by rejecting the FRU board’s preferred candidate for the vacant position of chief executive officer leaving the organisation completely leaderless.
The FRU is expected to confirm to local media later this week widely circulating reports that the IRB has sent through a stop-notice on funding –a first crucial instalment had been due to be paid out on January 1 – until a number of serious governance issues have been addressed. The IRB’s demands include the FRU appointing an unnamed executive director, answerable only to the IRB, but paid for from FRU funds.
The IRB’s $3.3m funding represents more than half the income that Rugby House receives each year, almost three times the amount of the just-finished sponsorship deal with Digicel. The new sponsorship deal of the popular 7s team may reach as high as $2.5m annually but still nothing close to the IRB’s contribution.
In the meantime embarrassed FRU officials have admitted they will have to re-advertise the position of CEO, re-starting a process to find the FRU’s CEO that started when the previous boss – Manasa Baravilala – was summarily sacked in September. Baravilala is the son of Doctor Jona Senilagakali, who briefly served as interim prime minister, in the days immediately after Bainimarama’s December 2006 coup.
Since Baravilala’s dismissal the FRU’s chairman – permanent secretary Finance Filimone Waqabaca - and acting CEO Dr Berlin Kafoa from the Fiji School of Medicine have shared the executive responsibilities between them while they search for a new CEO.
Waqabaca was quoted in local media on December 16 as saying ‘we want to make the announcement before December 31 2013 so the chief executive officer can start his duty all fresh in the new year and steer FRU into a new direction’. Waqabaca is now believed to be overseas.
It’s understood that in mid-December, the Board’s selection process – led by USP academic Dr Esther Williams – had confirmed former Teivovo publisher Jeremy Duxbury as their preferred candidate from the four applicants. But when the name was submitted just before Christmas, Bainimarama angrily rejected Duxbury’s selection – even though it had been endorsed by Waqabaca as well.
That led to a Boxing Day phone call from the Prime Minister’s Office to VitiFM broadcaster Malakai Veisamasama in which he was effectively offered the job by the PM’s permanent secretary. Veisamasama played down the story without formally denying any element of it, when talking to the Fiji Sun on January 9, but it’s understood the FRU will re-advertise the position to allow Veisamasama to apply if he wants to – as Veisamasama had not applied when the original adverts ran.
When Waqabaca was appointed FRU chairman last May he made clear in an interview with the Fiji Sun that he was doing the bidding of a deeply frustrated prime minister: "(Bainimarama) asked me to clean up the place and turn things around and to do my best. I suppose that would be the wish of all die-hard rugby fans in this country given the status of FRU and the performance of our national teams."
The Bainimarama government’s explicit involvement in running the FRU has been nothing short of a disaster. It dates back to January 2011 when then sports minister Filipe Bole confirmed the FRU would receive $3m of government funding for the 2011 Rugby World Cup but only the condition the elected board of the FRU resigned before the terms had expired and face new elections.
Bole’s Cabinet-backed demands followed the controversy over the running of the FRU’s Rugby World Cup lottery which ended in court action and the involvement of the Commerce Commission. Bole justified the government’s decision to the Fiji Times, ‘We simply cannot overlook issues and allegations of fraud, mismanagement, deceptive conduct and criminal liability because we, Fijians love rugby and support our Fijian team in the upcoming IRB World Cup
But Bainimarama’s power grab effectively staged another coup, not using the barrel of a gun but by withholding taxpayer funds. The nine-person FRU board that was assembled at the annual general meeting following Bole’s funding threat was chaired by then land force commander Mosese Tikoitoga who told the Fiji Sun his new board, ‘would go to any length to ensure that they satisfy Government’s demands before the $3 million funding offered for the Rugby World Cup campaign is released’.
The 2011 Rugby World Cup is widely acknowledged as being the most hopeless that Fiji has mounted in the professional era. With only one win – against the part-timer plumbers and cow-wranglers from Namibia – heavy defeats by South Africa and Samoa, and a 66-nil thrashing by Wales who Fiji had beaten at the same tournment only four years earlier.
Given all of this needless government interference and incompetence – Waqabaca being brought in to clean up the mess of the previous Tikoitoga-led rugby board - fans of Fiji rugby will perhaps now understand the context behind this week’s biggest sports story: why the country’s rugby administration is so short of funds that the immensely popular new coach of the national 7s team and former England 7s coach, Ben Ryan, started work late last year and took no salary or relocation expenses from the FRU.
He is not due to start being paid for his work – which includes leading the 7s team to a first ever win at the Dubai 7s - until his formal contract began on January 1, 2014.
October 2012: Baravilala presented Bainimarama with a personalized Flying Fijians jersey. The presentation was done at the PM’s office in the presence of Flying Fijians Head Coach Inoke Male. In presenting the jersey Baravilala thanked Bainimarama and the Government for all their assistance given to the FRU and looked forward to Government's continuing support into the future.