The Grace Road Disgrace: Is it under Government protection?

  • 19th November 2019
  • 2019
  • // Display comment count + link

One is forced to ask whether Grace Road is getting government protection.  If so, who is being protected here? A questionable cult group that has been accused of holding members against their will in Fiji and indulging in ritualistic violence?” – Mahendra Chaudhry, Labour Leader

It is so very sad that a father comes all the way from South Korea to meet his son but is not allowed to do so by the Grace Road authorities in Fiji.       

He flew back a disappointed man but with highly strengthened resolve to fight the system that is keeping his son away from him. The father had escaped the oppressive Grace Road setup to return to Korea but returned to free his son from the system.

He spoke to international news agency Al Jazeera that recently released a video on the Grace Road operations in Fiji titled “Escaping Korea’s Pacific Cult”.

The question arises: what sort of religious organization would prevent a father from meeting his son? The video shows repeated attempts by the man to gain access to his son but he was blocked by security guards at the gate. Even the Korean Embassy in Suva told him that they could do nothing to help.

Is Grace Road a law unto itself in Fiji? Is it operating here as a government within a government? Why is it that the father, or the Korean Embassy, could not seek the help of law enforcement agencies to meet with his son? Whether the son agreed to return to Korea with his father or not, is immaterial.

But at least, he should have had access to his son, unless the boy refused to see his father. In the end, the deeply frustrated father left a video message with Al Jazeera for his son. One doubts whether the son will ever get to see it.

Why is Grace Road’s set up in Navua under such tight security and secrecy that no one is allowed access?

Al Jazeera is not the first news agency to do a piece on the questionable Grace Road culture. International media gave it wide coverage last year when its founder leader, Shin-ok- Joo was arrested in Korea and jailed for five years, convicted of holding members of the cult against their will in Fiji, in conditions of slavery and subjecting them to physical violence and abuse.

Amazingly, through all this adverse media coverage which has brought disrepute and disgrace to Fiji, the FF government has maintained a stolid silence on the issue. Investment Fiji told the Al Jazeera reporters that it was under instructions not to talk about Grace Road. Instructions from who and why?

It is obvious, the Bainimarama government does not hold itself accountable to its own  people or to the international community.

Granted, the Fiji government has a sordid record for abuse of human rights of its own people. But what government would allow foreigners to enter Fiji, operate a cult system here, bringing in 400 of its own members who are then subjected to all sorts of tyranny and violence? Unless it has something to gain from the infamous venture!

Grace Road is operating here in blatant breach of Fiji’s immigration and labour laws. Are members of the cult here on a work permit? If so, how can they be engaged in forced labour without any pay, as claimed by those who managed to escape the cruel system.

Not only that, they are exploiting the local workers who have been forced to work long hours on very poor pays. This is definitely in breach of Fiji’s labour laws. Has the Labour Department investigated the work and pay conditions of GR workers?

To add insult to injury, Grace Road leader Shin-ok-Joo was shown on Al Jazeera claiming they are here to “conquer and rule”. She described Fijians as “not smart”. Little wonder, she has been able to wind this government around her little finger!

Her intentions, and influence, are obvious from the explosive manner in which the GR operations have expanded in Fiji within the last  3-4 years.

This raises another question, how was GR allowed to expand its illegal operations into economic activities that are banned to foreigners under Fiji’s immigration and investment laws?

Is there a quid pro quo in operation here between some in the FF government and GR? What hold does Grace Road have over the government that it can ride rough shod over our laws and regulations with impunity?

It began operations in Fiji in 2014 on 33 ha of  land in Navua, some of it State land and some leased from landowners after promises were made to set up educational and training institutions, and provide decent jobs for the villagers.

Today, apart from its agricultural activities, GR owns more than 60 operations throughout Fiji – ranging from coffee shops, health food outlets, beauty and hair salons specializing in Korean cosmetics, shoe shops, dentistry, hardware stores and a construction business.

In 2017, Grace Road received the PM’s Primary Industry Business Excellence Award with the citation, Grace Road Group successfully demonstrates how innovative farming methods, passion and a strong desire for quality can lead to excellence.”

But as Radio NZ cynically points out: “…if South Korean prosecutors are correct, that innovation and passion which was rewarded by Mr Bainimarama would have been helped along by a dose of slavery and brutality.”

 All international media organisations, the BBC, CNN, Al Jazeera, Radio Australia and Radio New Zealand claim a close nexus between Grace Road and the FF Government with GR receiving lucrative government contracts.  According to local sources, these are multi-million dollar contracts.

It is also reported that GR has helped build homes for people in positions of authority.

Police Commissioner Qiliho told the media that investigations into GR is still going on. The nation asks why these investigations are taking so long – they have been dragging for some 18 months now.

We also ask: what is the Fiji Human Rights and Anti-Discrimination Commission doing to investigate claims of slavery and brutality against members of the cult? Does its lack of action indicate that it is condoning slavery in Fiji by foreigners?

Says Labour Leader Mahendra Chaudhry: “One is forced to ask whether Grace Road is getting government protection.  If so, who is being protected here? A questionable cult group that has been accused of holding members against their will in Fiji and indulging in ritualistic violence?”

Government’s assurance that it will “fully investigate” any breach of Fiji laws, is hollow.

Mr Chaudhry said the charges and conviction against Shin-ok-Joo by the South Korean authorities were based on her illegal activities in Fiji, not in South Korea.

“Does the government want us to believe that forcibly holding 400 foreign nationals in Fiji after confiscating their passports, and then allegedly subjecting them to ritualistic violence, is not in breach of Fiji’s laws? Members who managed to escape have given evidence to this effect,” he asked.