14 May 1987 – Lest we Forget

  • 14th May 2021
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On the anniversary of Fiji’s first coup, 14 May 1987, Labour Leader Mahendra Chaudhry reflects on the  the price the nation paid for the racist coup which took place one month after the first Labour Government of Dr. Timoci Bavadra took office..

With humility and honesty… we must serve the people of the land.
That challenge is for all of us.
   National development plans must ensure that the interests of our masses become paramount.
If our ordinary people lose faith through unfair and inequitable policies,
then the future is fraught with uncertainties.
We must restore the faith of our people in democracy … above all, in Fiji.”

These words were uttered 34 years ago by Labour Prime Minister Dr. Timoci Bavadra – a man of vision, known for his deep compassion and empathy for the ordinary people of Fiji. Dr Bavadra was committed to an open and caring government that believed in social justice and people-centred development policies.

It is Fiji’s tragedy that this prime minister’s term was cut short after merely a month in office in Fiji’s first coup d’etat on 14 May 1987. It was a racist power grab executed under the pretext of protecting indigenous rights. Coup strongman Sitiveni Rabuka himself admitted later that indigenous rights were well protected under Fiji’s 1970 independence Constitution. In fact, indigenous rights then were practically inviolable, and more tightly protected than they are under the imposed 2013 Constitution.

Be that as it may, the question that we need to ask is : What is the state of Fiji today – 34 years after the first coup d’etat and 50 years since independence?

Are we not a nation adrift in an ocean of uncertainty, battered by innumerable challenges? Have we not regressed instead of moving forward?

We recall how the Reserve Bank Governor Savenaca Siwatibau had remarked at the time that the nation had been put back 20 years. How correct he was!

Our country paid a heavy price for the coups. We lost thousands of professionals and skilled workers in the exodus that followed the two 1987 coups, Sadly, not a single successive government since has been able to return Fiji to the steady path of progress and economic growth experienced in the 70s. The second Labour-led Chaudhry government of 1999 was denied the opportunity to begin that change when it was removed on 19th May 2000 in another racist coup supported by sections of the RFMF.

These post coup governments mistakenly pursued a path that served their own vested interests rather than the national agenda. Their misguided policies, based on racial discrimination, an absence of prudent economic and financial management, and failure to adhere to democratic principles of good governance and social justice, pushed Fiji further into social and economic morass.

They must take responsibility for laying the foundations for the root causes of poverty, unemployment, poor wages, rising crime rates and deteriorating social services and infrastructure that we are plagued with today – made worse, of course, by the equally misguided policies of the post 2006 Bainimarama government.

The neglect of our rural sector and the decline of agriculture and other primary industries we witness today began under these governments. Driven by the desire to reduce Fiji’s reliance on sugar, the post 1987 governments focused instead on tax free factories which were heavily dependent on imported raw materials and preferential tariff arrangements. We were left out on a limb once these preferences were removed.

Returning to the present, the years after the 2006 coup, have taken us further down the path of socio-economic decline. Further, the Bainimarama regime has completely destroyed democratic governance, curtailing our fundamental freedoms and rights. There is a critical absence of accountability and transparency in its management of State finances, spawning unprecedented levels of official corruption.

Economic recession and social distress have been worsened by the crippling effects of the Covid pandemic. The nation is surviving on loans and grants from international financial institutions and regional governments. There does not appear to be credible recovery plan except to continue relying on loans and grants.

On the 34th anniversary of our first coup d’etat, we need to take a reality check. Is it not time for a change if we are to survive? Yet, it is.  We must all unite to bring about that change.

 Let’s end with another inspirational message from Dr. Bavadra:

“Our fight is political, yes – but it is more.

It is just and it is fair.

Do not be afraid.

What are we, if we cannot stand up for what is right and work for what is fair?

There must be the basic standards of goodness we set ourselves

And if we follow them we cannot falter

In the end we will prevail.