Few if any thought he’d last this long. But it’s now nine years since Voreqe Bainimarama announced that he was “stepping into the president’s shoes.”
He went on to make his famous list of promises and commitments none of which – not a single one – has been or will be adhered to.
The militarisation of the civil service began almost at once and continues, the institutions including the courts, bent to his will.
He didn’t want this job he’d tell anybody who would listen and plenty who would not. Perhaps he’d forgotten his three previous coup attempts. Or perhaps he was just being economical with the truth.
For as we now know the December coup of 2006 was his fourth attempt at seizing power. By the end of November 2006, however, he had backed himself into a corner as a result of his bluster, ham-fisted threats and blatant sedition. Had he not compounded that with treason he’d still be in jail today.
Thanks to the revelations by Victor Lal, and to a much lesser extent myself, the events and motivations leading up to the Bainimarama coup are well enough known. Less well known or understood is the then New Zealand government’s attitude to Bainimarama and his well-publicised intent to take over the government of Fiji at gunpoint.
New Zealand Police Commissioner Howard Broad and his Fiji counterpart Andrew Hughes – both respected law officers of very wide experience – had in Hughes’ very clear recollection agreed that Bainimarama would be arrested in New Zealand for a breach of New Zealand law. He was to be charged with perverting the course of justice in a foreign jurisdiction, an offence carrying a maximum sentence of seven years. And there was no shortage of charges pending at home where the police were awaiting an opportunity to arrest him.
New Zealand and Fiji officers worked over a weekend to prepare and validate the charges. Two senior Fiji police officers were sent to Wellington to liaise in the arrest of Bainimarama who was on a family visit. It was public knowledge that on his return he would boot out the elected government and install himself as dictator. Here was the last chance.
But the Kiwis blew it for political reasons. What we still don’t know is what those reasons were.
In a phone call to Hughes Broad made it known that there had been a change of mind. Bainimarama would not be arrested.
Hughes would later be told by a senior NZ Foreign Affairs officer that the Government preferred a political solution – though we are also aware from leaked diplomatic messages that the Wellington government regarded any such solution as highly unlikely.
So did the NZ government bring pressure to bear on its police force? Broad, since retired, declined to comment to myself and Lal but did give a written statement to the New Zealand Herald in response to an article of ours that it was due to publish. He wrote only that he consulted widely before making his decision and that he remained convinced it was the right one. Unfortunately the Herald was unable to follow up with the obvious question: Who did he consult and why?
Who he consulted with is not known. But it seem reasonable to assume that the arrest or otherwise was a matter for the police, not the government or any political entity.
So how and why did Bainimarama slip through the net? We still don’t know.
What we do know is that the Kiwis’ decision condemned a friendly nation to dictatorship.
People died. And their killers were, in effect, let off by the regime, as were the thugs who assaulted escaped prisoners as recorded on what became a world famous video. The army has recruited them and will ensure they escape justice.
latest to die was Sitiveni Moce the Fiji Times photographer who was doing his job of recording yet another military raid when he was abducted by squaddies and badly bashed in 2008. When the then Times CEO called then Police Commissioner Esala Teleni, he was told: “If you report that he was beaten, he will be.”
Moce never fully recovered and died recently. The Fiji media has launched a fund for the education of his children.
Now nine years on, that deadly dictatorship is firmly in place and, with the support of New Zealand and Australia, shows no sign of ending. Bainimarama’s word is law. The sham elections that produced a puppet parliament change nothing.
Through the infamous and imposed Two People’s Constitution he remains lord and master of all of Fiji while his sinister sidekick does as he pleases when he pleases – including mocking ethic Fijians in parliament with his nauseating monkey act.
But look at the numbers. Fiji is a better place isn’t it? The media certainly thinks so. But then it’s told what to think.
Nevertheless, by most accounts GDP is on the up, there’s a ton of activity especially in the area of roads and bridges, foreign exchange reserves are adequate. It’s all good, isn’t it?
Well it is if you’re a soldier, a businessman, a banker or a relative of somebody in or close to power.
It’s very much not all good if you’re a cane cutter, a labourer, a disabled person, an hourly paid worker or a pensioner.
And the gap between Fiji’s haves and have nots is about to widen even more alarmingly as if that were possible. The VAT imposed on basic food items (wasn’t the Qarase government’s VAT increase a stated trigger for the coup?) will hit all these people hard while having next to no impact on the wealthy.
Pensioners in particular have had a lousy deal in Frank’s Fiji. Quoting from a report the fund’s owners were not and are not permitted to see, Khaiyum declared the fund unsustainable and slashed pensions in blatant defiance of a binding contract.
In fact so unsustainable is the fund that it can afford to pay only a reported $90,000 for Bainimarama and entourage to fly to Britain – first class of course - for the Rugby World Cup.
These are only a few of the legion of anomalies that exist under a regime that reeks of corruption and nepotism. So much for Frank’s clean up campaign. All of Fiji knows about it but as the dictator himself has said in the past he has no need to take note of public opinion.
All he needs to take note of is the army and its senior echelons peopled by (exclusively) men of ludicrous ranks and matching pay packets who all owe their positions, wealth and influence to one man.
The media is rigidly controlled (hence the ever growing popularity of sites such as this) to ensure none but the “correct” views are offered for public consumption. But people are not stupid. Nor are they fooled.
“When will it end?” is a question much heard when regime stooges are out of earshot
The answer is it won’t. Bainimarama, Khaiyum, their relatives and cronies are there for life – or intend to be. Meanwhile poverty grows ever more grinding as the people with guns and their hangers on hoover up the nation’s wealth and run up massive debt (wasn’t rising debt another coup trigger?) that the great grandchildren of those alive today will still be paying for most of their lifetimes.
But that wealth is nothing if not finite. Bainimarama and his minister for monkey business are still riding the tiger. It will end only when they fall off and are eaten.
And what of the much touted “real democracy” that Bainimarama and his mouthpieces (since dumped along with the rest of the “useful idiots” as suddenly expendable post-election) trumpeted so proudly without ever explaining what it was or might be?
Well if “real democracy” is the rule of a nation by two men Fiji has it.
But the regime’s ticket to hell has been ultimately bought by its blatant widening of the gap between Fiji’s main ethnicities as epitomised by Khaiyum’s ape act in parliament which will, of course, go unpunished. But it shows how confident he is of his power and his master’s protection.
It can only end badly. But the question remains when.