The dawn of a New Year is generally greeted with rekindled hopes and aspirations,
and firm resolutions to strive for a better and more fulfilling life.
For us in Fiji, just emerging from 8 years of repressive, dictatorial rule following the
general elections in September, one wonders whether 2015 will indeed be the watershed
year that the return to parliamentary rule seemed to promise.
Unfortunately, the picture that emerges as the curtain falls on 2014, is certainly not encouraging. Key questions that plagued us at the start of the year remain unanswered. The return to “democratic rule” and the release of the long-awaited Auditor General’s reports have disclosed more ‘rot’ within the State than suspected hitherto.
The 2013 Constitution, forcibly imposed on the people, is an anathema in itself. There cannot be democracy or good governance under such a constitution.
Recent developments on the political and social front tend to show that for the Fiji First government it is business as usual despite promises that it will create a more equal and fair society. Indications are that the injustices and inequalities of the past 8 years of the regime’s rule will continue to plague us.
Some recent developments that have shocked the nation, belie FF’s election-time promises to create an equitable, just and fair society:
1. The grossly unfair treatment of Fiji TV over its exclusive rights to the coverage of IRB rugby tournaments including the 7s series and the World Cup. In the final solution to the Dubai 7s crisis, Fiji TV was forced to meet 90% of the cost of relaying the series with FBC paying only 10%.
2.. The forced termination of employment of the two senior executives of Fiji TV in the immediate wake of the Dubai 7s coverage crisis
3.. The continuation of issuing 6-monthly licences to Fiji TV in contrast to the 12-year licence granted to FBC. The CEO of FBC is the younger brother of Attorney General and Information Minister Aiyaz Khaiyum. The move smacks of gross nepotism and attempts to keep Fiji TV subservient to the regime.
4.. The autocratic manner in which FNU Vice Chancellor, Dr. Ganesh Chand’s appointment was terminated by Education Minister Dr. Mahendra Reddy
5. The suspension without pay of the Permanent Secretary for Education Basundara Kumar when she dared to question some of Reddy’s decisions particularly in relation to the teaching activities of his wife.
6. The favourable treatement of a Minister attempting to smuggle Fiji currency out of the country. The Minister was caught at Nadi Airport carrying $3500 when the legal limit is $500. The Minister was allowed to leave the country and to date no prosecution has been launched against the culprit despite breaching the Exchange Control Act. The media did not report this criminal activity.
Compare this with the conviction and harsh penalty imposed on Labour Leader Mahendra Chaudhry earlier in the year for breach of the ECA . A case which was clearly contrived with political motives
Obviously not everyone is equal under the law in the FF regime.
7.. Then, of course, there is the case of another Minister charged for causing death by dangerous driving in November 2013. His case has been adjourned three times because they “could not find a magistrate” to hear it. The case is still not heard. Despite the serious charge leveled against him, he was allowed to contest the elections even though the Electoral Commission ruled him ineligible.
8. The saga surrounding the salaries of the Prime Minister, the Attorney General and other Cabinet Ministers since 2010 when the payroll was moved from the ambit of the Treasury to a private accounting firm with very close family connections to the AG. According to reports both Bainimarama and Khaiyum were then receiving just over a million dollars per annum in salary. Numerous calls on them to disclose the truth regarding their salaries for 2010- 2013 were totally ignored.
The Auditor General’s report for 2013 also states that requests by his office and the Finance Ministry for details of ministerial pays have been ignored by the PM’s office. .
9. Another question that has begged answer relates to the awarding of a half a million dollar Rewa Dairy contract to the same accounting firm, without tenders being called.
10. Nepotism and favoured treatment of relatives do not stop here. The Prime Minister himself needs to answer to the nation how close members of his family keep getting appointed to high office. Some of these appointments stand in breach of the regime’s own 55 year retirement policy in the public service.
Meanwhile, reports persist of:
- endemic corruption in the higher echelons of government:
- arm twisting of citizens to extract favours or benefits
- unethical use of power and abuse of office
- nepotism and cultural favouritism in appointments to senior positions in government
There are also worrying reports of increasing incidence of drug smuggling, organized gambling and prostitution, and human trafficking.
What Fiji desperately needs is a complete reversal of its existing governance culture moulded during the regime’s misrule of 8 years. A Code of Conduct for holders of high public office and a Freedom of Information legislation must be enacted without any further delay to enforce accountability and transparency.
As concerned citizens, we must rise against the evils of corruption, injustice and greed that has permeated our society in recent years.
Our cultural identity must be preserved at any cost. We must not allow foreign influences to compromise our national sovereignty. Every responsible citizen owes that as a duty to Fiji.
Let us, therefore, dedicate 2015 to upholding this noble cause.
Our message to the nation for 2015 is to show courage in standing for that which is just and to fight against all forms of suppression of our individual rights and freedoms, as espoused by Fiji’s first Labour Prime Minister, Dr. Timoci Bavadra:
“Our fight is political, yes – but it is more.
It is just and it is fair. Do not be afraid.
Many have faced times more trying than this.
What are we, if we cannot stand 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.”