"The only glimmer of hope is that Fiji voters in the 2018 Elections have the opportunity, if they are principled and brave enough (don’t hold your breath), to vote for alternative parties like National Federation Party (NFP), Fiji Labour Party (FLP), People’s Democratic Party (PDP); and Hope. Unfortunately the leaders of FLP and PDP also have skeletons rattling in their cupboards. Unfortunately, the once great Fiji Labour Party is today a shadow of its former self. Once journalist and now Co-editor of FijiLeaks (Victor Lal) revealed that the FLP Leader (Mahendra Chaudhry) had stashed away in an Australian account, millions of dollars which he alleged had been given by the poor of India to help him resettle in Australia. He has not resettled in Australia. But as the first Minister of Finance for Bainimarama, he declared a tax amnesty from which he personally benefited. When booted out by Bainimarama, he readily paid a million dollar fine for not declaring the income from these funds; his FLP has never released audited accounts of the millions donated by Indo-Fijians abroad to help resettle cane farmers whose leases had expired. Having demonized Rabuka in the 1999 Elections (while inviting the VLV Christian fundamentalists into his 1999 Government), Chaudhry now wishes to go into Coalition with Rabuka and SODELPA. Voters can draw their own conclusions."
"Rabuka has now reappeared as Leader of SODELPA, probably because the ethno-nationalists are impotent in the face of the Bainimarama and Khaiyum juggernaut, and hope that the smiling charismatic Rabuka will be able to intimidate his former army junior, Bainimarama. Fiji voters can note from my table that given Rabuka’s track record, there is virtually no policy area that he can criticize Bainimarama on, while having much baggage that ensures that many voters will never vote for him. So all he has to offer is the old ethno-nationalist line, and making Fiji a “Christian State”. Which is pretty well all that the current leadership of SODELPA (and their shadowy advisers) can offer Fiji voters. I suspect that they will be rejected by 100% of the Indo-Fijian voters, and more than 50% of indigenous Fijian voters, especially the younger voters...Fact: Bainimarama was not the savior of Indo-Fijians in the 2000 coup, as he has often alleged and been believed by most Indo-Fijians. Bainimarama was told six months before the 2000 coup took place, about secret meetings between some of his senior military officers and civilians, but did nothing to stop them. Why didn’t he? Was he already hoping to be another Rabuka?"
IF Bainimarama (FFP) and Rabuka (SODELPA) were the only alternative political leaders for the Fiji 2018 Elections, Fiji voters would undoubtedly be “Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea”. But they are not.
(Retired Brigadier General) Sitiveni Rabuka started the coup culture in 1987. His SVT government from 1987 to 1999, his role in the NBF disaster, and his shadowy role during the 2000 coup and mutiny, have left many skeletons in his cupboard.
(Retired Rear Admiral) Voreqe Bainimarama is the 2006 coup leader who ran the country for eight years before holding elections which he allegedly won. His shadowy role in the 2000 coup, what he did after the 2000 mutiny, and eight years as a totally unaccountable prime minister, also have left many skeletons in his cupboard.
Regardless of who is the “Devil” and who is the “Deep Blue Sea” (or the “snakes”) their impact on Fiji has been similar, with only a few minor differences (see the table below).
The only glimmer of hope is that Fiji voters in the 2018 Elections have the opportunity, if they are principled and brave enough (don’t hold your breath), to vote for alternative parties like National Federation Party (NFP), Fiji Labour Party (FLP), People’s Democratic Party (PDP); and Hope. Unfortunately the leaders of FLP and PDP also have skeletons rattling in their cupboards.
The Scorecard for the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea
I do not have Chaudhry (FLP) in this table as a military coup stopped their government after only one year, and then Bainimarama not only refused to restore them, but appointed an ethno-nationalist interim government of Qarase.
There is no need to tell the reader about the racist violence of Rabuka’s 1987 coup against the lawfully elected government led by Bavadra, Jai Ram Reddy and Mahendra Chaudhry. Or about his imposed racist 1990 Constitution, rigged against Indo-Fijians.
The public well know about the NBF $200 million disaster which Rabuka began by sending his soldiers to remove the General Manager of NBF and appoint Makrava who did the rest with corrupt NBF managers and crony clients.
The public has never known that there was a “whistle blower” within the NBF who wrote to Prime Minister Rabuka in 1992 detailing all the corrupt goings on in the NBF, and naming all the culprits (see the scan here of page 1 of his letter to Prime Minister Rabuka). Why did Rabuka take no action?
Rabuka’s Minister of Finance overseeing the NBF disaster was yet another former Commander of the Military, Colonel Paul Manueli and the overseeing Governor of the Reserve Bank was Ratu Jone Kubuabola (now in SODELPA and brother of perennial coup beneficiary Ratu Inoke Kubuabola).
When the NBF dam burst a few years later, Makrava arrogantly told journalists “if I go down, I will take down all the powerful in the country”. Many of those implicated in the NBF financial disaster were part of Rabuka’s Government including Minister and 1987 coup planner Inoke Kubuabola (now part of Bainimarama’s FFP Government) and key functionaries in public enterprises.
Had Rabuka taken action in 1992 Fiji taxpayers would not have suffered the massive losses they did, and the Public Debt would have been lower. The public have also forgotten the Rabuka Government’s phony “Deed of Settlement” with Anthony Stephens, which would also have cost taxpayers tens of millions, had it not been stymied by Justice Kermode.
In 1999, NFP hoped that Rabuka had reformed with his acceptance of the 1997 Constitution (which granted him amnesty) and unsuccessfully fought the 1999 election in partnership with SVT. Unable to cope with going from “hero to zero”, Rabuka popped up at the height of the 2000 coup astonishingly asking President Mara to make him Commander again (Bainimarama will never forget that, will he?). Rabuka also popped up during the 2000 mutiny with his uniform in his car, until ordered by senior army officers to leave the conflict zone “or else”.
Rabuka has now reappeared as Leader of SODELPA, probably because the ethno-nationalists are impotent in the face of the Bainimarama and Khaiyum juggernaut, and hope that the smiling charismatic Rabuka will be able to intimidate his former army junior, Bainimarama.
Fiji voters can note from my table that given Rabuka’s track record, there is virtually no policy area that he can criticize Bainimarama on, while having much baggage that ensures that many voters will never vote for him. So all he has to offer is the old ethno-nationalist line, and making Fiji a “Christian State”. Which is pretty well all that the current leadership of SODELPA (and their shadowy advisers) can offer Fiji voters.
I suspect that they will be rejected by 100% of the Indo-Fijian voters, and more than 50% of indigenous Fijian voters, especially the younger voters.
Fact: Bainimarama was not the savior of Indo-Fijians in the 2000 coup, as he has often alleged and been believed by most Indo-Fijians.
Bainimarama was told six months before the 2000 coup took place, about secret meetings between some of his senior military officers and civilians, but did nothing to stop them. Why didn’t he? Was he already hoping to be another Rabuka?
Told about the coup only a week before the coup, this Commander of the RFMF merrily went off to an unimportant meeting in Norway, a repeat performance of another Commander just before the 1987 coup.
When the 2000 coup took place, Bainimarama sat on the fence while allowing arms and food to go to the CRW soldiers in parliament, continuing the CRW salaries, and lifting the the army cordons put in place around the Parliament by Colonel Seruvakula , thereby allowing Speight to gain more civilian strength during the hostage crisis. Only when George Speight tried to appoint Colonel Vatu as Commander (and the wily Tarakinikini as Chief of Staff), did Bainimarama (or rather his senior military officers) act to put down the coup. The Commissioner of Police (Savua) idly stood by and watched (while Major Savua marched into Parliament with more troops to join George Speight).
When Bainimarama regained control, he tried to become Prime Minister and Head of State but was opposed by his senior military officers who he then could not over-rule (only later did he find out their lack of spine and their guilt complexes because of their support of Rabuka’s treason in 1987). In any case, he refused to return Chaudhry’s lawfully elected Government and appointed ethno-nationalist Qarase as Prime Minister, with an all-Fijian Cabinet.
When the betrayed CRW soldiers failed in their November 2000 mutiny against Bainimarama, some 80 CRW soldiers were arrested and questioned brutally. Five soldiers were taken by the military from police custody at the Nabua Police Station to Bainimarama at the Naval Base, then to the army barracks, where, (without the benefit of trial, judge or jury) they were tortured to death in the attempt to find the plotters of the mutiny. Their skeletons are never going to leave Bainimarama’s cupboard.
Supported initially by the Qarase Government, Bainimarama then ran amok with the army budget as well as with the Regimental Funds (according to Audit Reports). He slowly pushed out all the senior professional army officers who did not support his coup plans or give him personal loyalty. Those army officers who went along with Bainimarama’s coup plans were promoted, including several who were later appointed as “diplomats”, an apt oxymoron (you can list them, even the outwardly pleasant ones).
In 2006, when he [was] about to be charged by Police Commissioner Andrew Hughes for a number of crimes and replaced as Commander by Qarase, Bainimarama resorted to the 2006 coup. He had the support of an opportunist faction in the judiciary (led by Shameem and Gates), Hindu/Catholic/Muslim religious groups as well as a few shadowy NGO leaders who were dissatisfied with the SDL ethno-nationalism.
Bainimarama obtained the key support of disgruntled Indo-Fijian intellectuals (in Fiji and abroad) and happily let John Samy conduct the national People’s Charter Exercise, which predictably became a charade, with the People’s Assembly never getting together. When the 2009 Appeals Court ruled that the 2006 coup was illegal, Bainimarama abrogated the 1997 Constitution, with the advice of Khaiyum and his cabal of not so secret legal advisers.
With the strategic approval of his wily Finance Minister Chaudhry (who thought he would have a lever), Bainimarama granted himself a massive 30 years of back-pay. By 2010, as Minister of Finance and Prime Minister, he was paying massively increased salaries to himself and his fellow ministers, through a private accounting company owned by Khaiyum’s aunt.
He practiced blatant nepotism, spent hundreds of millions of borrowed taxpayers’ funds with little accountability; while refusing to release eight years of Reports of the Auditor General (all with the complicit silence of the Fiji Institute of Accountants stalwarts, one of whom had happily regularized “salary adjustments” for a few Permanent Secretaries so that the ministerial salaries to be revealed later would not be considered too high).
Key adviser John Samy was ejected (or left) when he (and Archbishop Mataca) pointed out, in a letter, all these unacceptable “irregularities” in Bainimarama’s Government, and advising honest alternatives.
With Aiyaz Khaiyum now in full control of his chariot, Bainimarama then conducted the Yash Ghai Constitution Review exercise with the participation of many prominent citizens, only to trash it when it was not to his liking (with only the late Penny Moore protesting). Bainimarama and Khaiyum soon imposed their own 2013 Constitution and electoral system on Fiji, also thereby granting themselves amnesty, proving yet again that “all are equal before the law in Fiji, but some are more equal than others” (as Chief Justice Anthony Gates well knows, whatever he preaches occasionally).
With Khaiyum in charge, Bainimarama rigged the 2014 elections with the active support of the their own Supervisor of Elections (Saneem) and with the complicit support of prominent Electoral Commissioners who have forever kept their silence on what was wrong with the electoral system and processes.
Bainimarama bought voters with cash handouts and a few other goodies, received massive financial support from the business classes, and warned voters that if they did not want another coup they should vote for Bainimarama (i.e. his coup was going to end all coups, as long as he remained in charge). He then supposedly won the election, but not a single polling booth count was independently verified by the Electoral Commission and oh so conveniently, all the ballot papers were destroyed a year later.
When six years of Auditor General Reports were all released after the 2014 elections with the damning evidence and questions, Bainimarama and Khaiyum refuse to account to the Public Accounts Committee for hundreds of millions of dollars of tax payers funds. Auditor Generals were replaced, while a Permanent Secretary of Finance who probably knew what had been going on, was “promoted” to be a “diplomat” in NZ. He now is parading as an economist and singing Bainimarama’s praises once more, probably hoping to come back to another sinecure.
The SODELPA members of the Public Accounts Committee are now strangely silent about these massive financial scams by Bainimarama. Just as with the NBF, expect no public inquiry: note that neither Rabuka or Bainimarama are calling for any public inquiry at all.
Minister of Finance Khaiyum has now taken the fleecing of taxpayers to a new height by allocating massive amounts of taxpayer funds in the annual budget in the direct control of Bainimarama, who now receives astronomically increased per diems and other allowances, to boost his inflated salary to levels of developed country salaries, while he jets around to his heart’s delight and leaves the running of the country to Khaiyum, as it always has been anyway. Former senior army officers, becoming fatter and fatter every day (literally), now hold the fort everywhere (Police, Prisons, key ministries) while the all-important judiciary has Gates in charge with a bevy of Sri Lankan judges and magistrates. Parliament remains under the tight “independent” control of the Chinese sewing machines lady.
Expect more cash handouts disguised as grants to SMEs, as the 2018 Elections approach. Expect again the Bainimarama threat to the Indo-Fijian voters: if you don’t want another coup, vote Bainimarama, and of course they will. Apparently, Indo-Fijian voters are wily enough to accept the message: if you don’t want your house to be robbed again, let the robber remain in control of your house.
In the run-up to the 2018 Elections, expect the Police to harass the Opposition parties and their meetings. Expect the apathetic Fiji public (and all the prolific writers of letters to the editors of the Fiji Times) to keep totally quiet while all these abuses of human rights (including freedom of assembly and intimidation of the media) continue unabated. Will they ultimately deserve what they get?
The coup collaborating snakes
When Rabuka re-entered politics recently, Bainimarama called him a “snake” inviting the comment “it takes a snake to recognize a snake”. But there are too many to count. If you placed all of Fiji’s former army commanders and Ministers of Finance in the same room (you can name them all) together with a number of civilian and political collaborators in the coups of 1987, 2000, 2006 and 2009, you will have a veritable massive den of snakes which would could not be housed in the Sydney Zoo. The fact that the ordinary Fijian people do not understand how their leaders have totally gutted their economy and society, is largely due to the cowardly complicit silence of Fiji’s literary writers, intellectuals and social leaders.
Lack of guidance from intelligentsia
In every society, literary artists and intellectuals have at least two sacred duties apart from entertaining the readers. The first is to write fiction which conveys a more truthful understanding of their society than that written by historians who are bogged down by the need to provide evidence (duh). The second sacred duty is to help society scrutinize and hold their leaders to account, if necessary by shouting from the rooftops “the emperor has no clothes”.
In the Fiji of old, the second sacred duty was performed for the vanua by the spiritual bete, who even held the chiefs to account. Similar roles could have been fulfilled today by Fiji’s religious leaders, but virtually all of them have sold their souls for thirty pieces of silver, at one coup or another.
Fiji’s Indo-Fijian literary leaders went to town on Rabuka and the 1987 coup. But forever craving to feel “that they belong in Fiji” (even if they have emigrated), they have swallowed (or chosen to believe) the Bainimarama line that “we are now all Fijians”, and bugger the rest of what he has done.
Just as one indigenous Fijian professor did in 1987, there have been four prominent Indo-Fijian professors who have collaborated with the 2006 coup leaders, in the activities of MIDA, Electoral Commission, Yash Ghai Constitution Review Commission and the universities- some personally benefiting.
They pointedly refused to comment publicly on the Bainimarama Regime infringements of basic human rights and media freedoms, and thereby implicitly collaborate because they all well know that “evil thrives when good people remain silent”.
One government owned media organization (FBC) and all its journalists, headed by the brother of Khaiyum, wages perpetual propaganda on behalf of the Bainimarama Government while ignoring the views of the Opposition Parties. FBC receives massive amounts of taxpayers funds and loan guarantees from Government, while its Board of Directors (headed by prominent businessman Shashi Singh) has yet to release any annual audited accounts or annual reports to Parliament or place any such information on its website.
Another print media company (Fiji Sun owned by CJ Patel) and their journalists, perform the same role as FBC while its owner gets any number of preferential financial advantages.
In NZ, Radio Tarana keeps spouting the Bainimarama propaganda that is believed by most Indo-Fijians abroad, while their NZ cobbers in Fiji “clean up” in a more profitable version of Bainimarama’s Clean Up campaign.
The Fiji Times struggles on valiantly while its published, editor and journalists face perpetual intimidation through fines and jail sentences for trumped up charges, by key leaders of the Bainimarama Government who simultaenously and shameless have granted themselves immunity for all they themselves did between 2000 and September 2014. Their latest is to threaten anyone with a massive fine and jail sentences if they “undermine the sanctity of parliament”.
Really. Can anyone in the Solicitor General’s Office remind the public what Bainimarama, Khaiyum, Shameem, Gates and all their collaborators did to the sanctity of parliament in the 2006 coup? And Rabuka did in 1987? And the shadowy figures did in 2000?
The alternative parties
When it comes to the major parties, Fiji may be between the “Devil and the Deep Blue Sea”. But there are alternatives.
Unfortunately, the once great Fiji Labour Party is today a shadow of its former self. Once journalist and now Co-editor of FijiLeaks (Victor Lal) revealed that the FLP Leader (Mahendra Chaudhry) had stashed away in an Australian account, millions of dollars which he alleged had been given by the poor of India to help him resettle in Australia. He has not resettled in Australia. But as the first Minister of Finance for Bainimarama, he declared a tax amnesty from which he personally benefited. When booted out by Bainimarama, he readily paid a million dollar fine for not declaring the income from these funds; his FLP has never released audited accounts of the millions donated by Indo-Fijians abroad to help resettle cane farmers whose leases had expired. Having demonized Rabuka in the 1999 Elections (while inviting the VLV Christian fundamentalists into his 1999 Government), Chaudhry now wishes to go into Coalition with Rabuka and SODELPA. Voters can draw their own conclusions.
The National Federation Party led by Professor Biman Prasad is now the most credible Opposition voice in Parliament, continuously raising all the issues that need to be raised for taxpayers, and in a principled manner.
Then there is the People’s Democratic Party which disappeared from public view after the 2014 Elections and you can expect their leaders to appear again, close to the 2018 Elections.
One of its Leaders has never revealed to the public what went on at FNPF’s Natadola investments which resulted in massive losses for FNPF before and while he was Chairman of the relevant FNPF Committee, while another reappearing leader wishes to go into Coalition with SODELPA and Rabuka. Then there is the new party HOPE which can hope for the future. There will always be the belligerent high profile Independents, who have no hope of getting the 5% of votes necessary to get into parliament.
Just as large parties can wither away, small parties can suddenly also become large. The Devil and the Deep Blue Sea are not the only alternatives for voters who have the courage of their convictions.
They also need the brave support of those who collaborated with the coups of 1987, 2000, 2006 and 2009, but who now sadly realize that the “good things” for which they supported the coups were propaganda and that they are far outweighed by the negative effects on all Fiji people of all ethnicities, for the foreseeable future.
If only these good people who took the wrong turn, have the honesty, humility and courage to admit their mistakes as did John Samy and Archbishop Mataca in 2011, and try to rectify them.
I represented the NFP in the Fiji Parliament during 1996 to 1999. I did not take part in politics prior to that, or after that period.