By Victor Lal
Fiji Sun, 2004
Why Siddiq Koya did not become PM in 1977?
He was betrayed by his own Indo-Fijian colleagues: Mahendra Chaudhry
In 1977, the late Opposition leader Siddiq Koya claimed that two of his fellow parliamentarians, Karam Ramrakha and Mrs Irene Jai Narayan, conspired against him from becoming the first Indo-Fijian Prime Minister of Fiji. Both denied the claim but nearly thirty years later, in 2004, Mahendra Chaudhry claimed in his book The Children of Indus that Ramrakha had ‘stabbed Koya in the back’. The book claims that Ramrakha and Mrs Narayan informed the then governor general, Ratu Sir George Cakobau after the April 1977 elections, that Koya did not enjoy the support of all party MPs and claims that ‘at the hour of his triumph Mr Koya had been stabbed in the back by his own people’. The governor general then appointed Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara as minority prime minister.
On 16 June 2004 Chaudhry replied to Ramrakha, who was threatening to sue him for libel, as follows: ‘You may have forgotten a meeting that was held at Mrs Jai Narayan’s residence in April 1977 soon after the results of the general elections were out. As a staunch NFP supporter at the time, I had been invited to that meeting by Mrs Nayaran, along with one Subhash Sharma, another ardent supporter of the NFP. Also present were HM Lodhia, R V Patel, and a few other executives of the NFP. I distinctly remember you coming into Mrs Narayan’s kitchen where Sharma and I were having coffee before the meeting. As you walked in, you blurted out, “It’s a disgrace SM Koya as Prime Minister. I have been in touch with the authorities and let them know that he does not enjoy the support of all members of NFP ”
The matter was later discussed in the meeting, Chaudhry alleged, and views were sought. ‘When I was asked for my opinion, I stated that Mr Koya had led the party to victory and should be given the chance to become Prime Minister. This was not in tune with the thinking of those present. A lengthy discussion followed and it was around midnight when Mr Sharma and I took leave’. Events hereafter only served to prove what had transpired at that meeting.
‘For four days the NFP haggled over who should become prime minister while the nation waited. It is quite clear that the conspiracy within the NFP to deprive Mr Koya of his right to the top position played a major role in Ratu Sir George Cakobau’s decision not to appoint Koya prime minister and instead appoint Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara to lead a minority government. The reason Ratu Sir George gave was that in his opinion Mr Koya did not enjoy majority support in the House of Representatives. The nation, and the Indian community in particular, has a right to know on what basis Ratu George could say that with so much confidence. The entire nation knows that SM Koya was deprived of that right and that NFP executives, including yourself, had played a leading role in that. Mr Koya himself claimed he had been stabbed in the back by his own party officials.’
Chaudhry went on to inform Ramrakha: ‘If the book Children of the Indus puts you in an unfavourable light in relation to a certain event it is because you played a significant role in it. You will agree that the NFP was eventually reduced from a party held in very high esteem by the Indian community to one that in the end lost all credibility because of the incessant bickering and dissent within its leadership. Indeed, if anything the NFP gets away very lightly in the book because the focus of the book is to provide an outline of Fiji-Indian history rather than a detailed account of how the NFP brought about its own downfall.’ The Supreme Court of New South Wales in Australia threw out Ramrakha’s libel claim against Chaudhry over his allegations in the book.
Fijileaks Editor: What an irony. Ten years later, in 2014, it is the FLP looking from outside into Parliament as Indo-Fijian voters returned to NFP and the newly formed FFP. The convicted FLP leader became a victim of his 'own back-stabbing of the Indo-Fijian victims of the Speight coup - for hiding the $2million he got from India after being ousted as first Indo-Fijian Prime Minister of Fiji.
As a Leader of the Opposition and as a Member of the House of Representatives, my father strongly believed in genuine democracy for the newly independent nation, after fighting for years to free Fiji from the shackles of Colonial rule. He pressed for a legislature elected by universal suffrage with a common electoral roll, and for all the people of Fiji to enjoy a common identity under a shared name. I am sure he is smiling from the heavens, seeing Fiji finally united under a Constitution that enshrines the principles that he fought so long for. If you are listening dad, your dream for Fiji has come true and your son is standing here today to follow in your footsteps and to pursue your life’s great passion – to serve Fiji and all Fijians.
I pledge to serve my nation and its people to the best of my ability as the Minister for Industry, Trade and Tourism and as a FijiFirst representative under the leadership of the honourable Prime Minister. Indeed, I would not have this remarkable opportunity to continue my father’s legacy, had it not been for the revolution led by the honourable Prime Minister over the course of the last eight years. During one of our nation’s darkest periods, the honourable Prime Minister emerged with the vision as well as the strength and determination to steer Fiji towards a road of genuine democracy and prosperity.
When he embarked on this revolution, our Prime Minister was determined to ensure that no one was left behind in the new Fiji. He believed that everyone has the right to such things as free education, better roads, better health services, clean water and electricity. He was not interested in making short-term promises to win political support but he only cared about delivering real reforms, genuine progress and tangible development for the people of Fiji and in so doing, he won my strongest respect and support. I am indeed privileged and humbled to serve under you, Sir.
Of course, I would also like to convey my humble and heartfelt thanks to my family, friends and close relatives who have had unwavering confidence in me and who have provided me with an overwhelming amount of support and assistance.
At this point, I also wish to extend a special thank you to a special friend, who is more a brother, the honourable Attorney-General, who, despite being younger, has been my inspiration and it was he who reignited my passion for politics and to serve the Fijian people. Without him, I would not be standing here today.
Madam Speaker, I would like to take this opportunity to congratulate you on your historic appointment as the first lady Speaker, not only in Fiji, but in the Pacific Region as well. We look forward to your leadership and guidance in the future, as we debate the nation’s affairs and make laws for the benefit of all Fijians.
I would also like to take this opportunity, like the other honourable Members who have spoken before me, to thank His Excellency the President for his inspiring speech at the opening of Parliament. His Excellency called on the honourable Members of Parliament to work together to advance the national interest, reminding us that our first duty, above all others, is to keep the trust and confidence of those who sent us here. We are the people’s representatives, our power derives from their support, and I pledge to them my fullest dedication and service.
Finally, I would like to thank all those who voted for me and also those who voted for the FijiFirst political movement. Your overwhelming support for our vision of a united, just and prosperous Fiji has been a source of great personal inspiration to me. Equally though, I repeat the honourable Prime Minister’s assurance that FijiFirst will serve on behalf of all Fijians, no matter where they live, what their background is or who they voted for.
Madam Speaker, I am happy to report that we are embarking on the coming session of Parliament from a very strong starting point. The Fijian economy has recorded an average growth of approximately 3.2 per cent over the last five years. Last year alone, our economy grew by 4.6 per cent and we are positioned for another year of strong growth this year. This period of sustained growth is a result of the consistent policies and forward-looking initiatives of the Bainimarama Government. As the Minister for Industry, Trade and Tourism, I intend to continue to build on the impressive and considerable achievements of my predecessor, the honourable Attorney-General, in order to continue to attract investment, grow the economy and create the jobs that we all know are needed, especially by our young people.
As the honourable Prime Minister has said, it is about growing the size of the national cake so that everyone gets a bigger slice.
I am determined to make sure that more and more Fijians are included and benefit from the growth of our nation’s economy. I believe in empowering grass root communities and encouraging rural development to bring more people into the mainstream economy. I think that farmers, fishermen and traders should have access to technology, to be able to immediately determine the price and market for their produce.
I support forging strategic public private partnerships as a way to deliver quality, value, investment, job creation and transparency to the Fijian people. I believe in the idea of Pacific Union – the creation of a single market in the region with the free movement of goods, services, labour and capital.
Put simply, I have a long term vision to develop an internationally competitive, dynamic economy in Fiji; one that takes full advantage of our location in the region, our resources and our people. I want Fiji to be the hub of the Pacific, the gateway to a region that possesses a huge amount of untapped potential and opportunity.
Madam Speaker, one of my first priorities as Minister is to ensure that Fiji’s Trade Policy Framework is endorsed by Cabinet and launched immediately to get all sectors of the economy working closely together to achieve our common goal of growth and development. The Trade Policy Framework is a versatile resource that clearly articulates policy measures and strategies that will work together to drive economic growth over the next decade from 2015 to 2025.
The document spells out Government’s long term vision for Fiji’s priority sectors and sets targets and timelines. It explains Fiji’s stance towards key bilateral, regional and multilateral trade agreements and it articulates a detailed development agenda focussed on expanding trading opportunities, promoting industrial growth, attracting domestic and foreign investment, increasing exports of goods and services, emphasising the importance of value addition and addressing supply side constraints.
The policy will guide future agreements between Fiji and her trading partners that will help secure more meaningful access to international markets for our products and of course, the policy recognises the vital role that the private sector plays in driving growth and development, mapping out a path for closer co-operation and collaboration with Government and its statutory bodies.
Madam Speaker, investment is a crucial component for growth. As Minister, my vision is to maintain a sustainable level of investment by proposing initiatives that will increase private sector investment.
Last year, Fiji recorded the highest level of investment since Independence, at 29 per cent of GDP. This growth in investment was largely fuelled by private sector investment, which represented 45 per cent of total investment in 2013. However, the lengthy and cumbersome investment approvals process remains an obstacle for potential investors and I will take immediate steps to address this issue.
My Ministry, with the assistance of Investment Fiji is undertaking reforms to the approvals process – started by my predecessor – to establish an online investment registration and approval system. This will create a single application form for potential investors to get approval from all the first tier agencies in one simple step.
In the coming sessions of Parliament, I will also begin work on FijiFirst’s plan to implement the current recommendation for a new fee structure for small to medium enterprises. Under this structure, micro-finance entities and small businesses will be exempt from paying fees to meet health, fire and occupational health and safety regulations.
I will also focus resources on setting up the micro-finance start-up or assistance grants to encourage small scale economic activity.
Madam Speaker, an integral part of my role is to secure new markets for Fijian-made goods and services by continuing to implement and negotiate bilateral and multilateral trade agreements such as the PACP’s Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) with the EU, the Melanesian Spearhead Group (MSG) Trade Agreement and the PACER Plus.
Although attempts have been made in the past to isolate Fiji from participating in crucial trade negotiations, it is widely recognised that Fiji provides a crucial leadership role that is necessary to strengthen the free flow of goods and services within the region.
Due to Fiji’s economic importance and position in the region, our neighbours have invited us back into the PACER Plus negotiations and I plan to lead these negotiations with Fiji’s and the region’s best interests at heart. I will ensure that we enter the PACER Plus negotiations on our own terms, as equal parties. It is crucial that Fiji and the Pacific secures tangible, long term benefits from Australia and New Zealand, which so far has been conspicuously absent from the talks.
Madam Speaker, whilst it is important that we pursue and enhance both new and existing market opportunities abroad, my Ministry also plays a key role in strengthening the local business environment.
To this end, we will continue to help grow the export capabilities of local businesses through the National Export Strategy (NES). Indeed, I fully support the proposal to increase the NES budget to $2 million for the coming year. This approach ties in well with the commitment of the Fiji First Government to provide $1 million micro-finance set up grants to small and micro enterprises that want to sell crops and other goods and services and that have difficulty in accessing finance from commercial lending institutions.
Madam Speaker, one of the most successful programmes implemented by the Bainimarama Government is the “Fijian Made and Buy Fijian Campaign” and I assure my fellow members and the Fijian people that I will continue to support and expand this initiative. To-date, more than 190 companies have been licensed under the Campaign, of which 90 are micro, small and medium enterprises. This campaign has instilled a sense of pride, ownership and has also contributed to increased sales of quality of Fijian products. This Campaign in the next year is expected to start promoting the Fijian brand name in international markets.
Madam Speaker, in the tourism arena, I am firmly committed to maintain Government’s support for the industry and for Tourism Fiji and I believe with close co-operation with our partners in the private sector that we can achieve visitor numbers in excess of a million by 2020.
Madam Speaker, in conclusion, I dedicate my speech to my family and supporters, especially to my father, who has been my inspiration and guide throughout my life. Dad, I will continue my journey on your principles. I know you are always with me in spirit and I will honour your memory by wearing your distinctive bow-tie at each Parliamentary session, to remind me why I am here and to remind me to keep fighting for what you stood for, and to remind me to always serve all Fijians.
To my colleagues, honourable Members of Parliament, I remind you that we all have an obligation to move this country forward and build a nation that our children and grandchildren will be proud of. Vinaka vakalevu and thank you very much.