Arrests Not Helpful to Fiji's Image But ...

Croz, 'Ata Island, Tonga, c.1965

By Crosbie Walsh 
Two arrests and one banning have made headlines recently. In Fiji, Shalend Scott, a Fiji-born and Australian citizen, Air Pacific pilot and secretary of the Fiji Airline Pilots' Association, was arrested and charged with unlawful access to documents that disclosed Air Pacific's purported involvement in the drafting of the Essential Industries Decree. Second, Sri Lanka-born and NZ citizen IT specialist Jagath Karunaratne is in police custody for questioning. No charges have yet been made but it is thought they could relate to his alleged part in the recent graffiti campaign against the Government.  And, last and somewhat less reported, here in NZ veteran left-wing radio commentator and TV host Martyn “Bomber” Bradbury has been banned from Radio New Zealand for what RNZ said was his “over the top” criticism of Prime Minister John Key.

The Fiji arrests are not good news because they will be used to back up other accusations against the Fiji government.

Arrest No. 1 Shalend Scott
One downstream affects of Shailend's arrest include a threat by the Australian and International Pilots Association,already in a dispute with Qantas that owns 46% of Air Pacific, to break off negotiations. Qantas says it plays no part in the day-to-day operations of the Fiji airline and has declined to reply to ABC enquiries.

And from Fiji, Secretary of Fiji's Council of Trade Unions, Pramod Rae that has been critical of the Essential Industries Decree, has stepped in with his own comments. He told ABC Scott's arrest “had something to do with some leak of some confidential documents.” He said he had not been able to get access to Scott but some close relatives may have seen him. 

Air Pacific, however, say the arrest was due to the theft of a number of sensitive and confidential documents. They do not deny the company assisted Governnment with the Essential Industries legislation. 
"The vast majority of Company confidential documents that were accessed and removed without authorisation had nothing to do with the Essential National Industries (Employment) Decree. The Company’s preliminary investigation has revealed that the confidential documents that were improperly accessed and removed were wide-ranging in nature and included: individual pilot and flight attendant salaries; individual employee contracts; Board material; and other confidential Company financial and commercial documents."

Scott has been remanded in custody until the next hearing scheduled for October 21 and the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs says he is getting consular assistance. Australia's acting high commissioner in Suva has made representations to senior Fijian authorities regarding his detention, a departmental spokesperson said. "Consular officers are providing the man with consular assistance and have visited him on a number of occasions," the spokesperson said.

In normal circumstances, the arrest would deserve no special mention. A crime seems to have been committed and the alleged culprit has been detained. But these are not normal circumstances, and the arrest will be seen, with a little encouragement from the media, to be a further example of the oppressive nature of the Bainimarama Government. 

It comes as no surprise that the anti-government blog Coup Four and a Half blog was the first to publish the leaked document and news of Scott's arrest.

Arrest No. 2 Jagath Karunaratne and his “relative” Rajesh Singh
Anti-Government sources say Jagath was arrested for speaking out against PM Bainimarama and being involved in the recent political graffiti campaign. He was the managing director of Clariti South Pacific Limited,an IT company and subsidiary of Fiji Holdings Ltd.

Relatives in NZ  said he has a medical condition and has not been allowed to see a doctor while in detention, a statement denied by Assistant Commissioner of Police Henry Brown who said Jagath is being well looked after and has been seen by NZ consular officials.

TVNZ reported that brother-in-law Rajesh Singh says they are concerned for the IT professional’s safety and feared he had been taken to the military barracks in Suva. Listen to the video.

I was surprised TVNZ gave Singh any space on the programme. He added nothing substantial. They could have recorded the relatives' concern, noted that Jagath said he was not mistreated, and finished with Minister McCully's statement that the High Commission has had access to Jagath. This would have been a balanced coverage of the arrest.

Instead, they allowed Singh to say he feared Jagath could “end up dead” and then to appeal to people in Fiji to mount a general strike and rise up against the Bainimarama government. Guileless TVNZ was being used by a devious maverick with a questionable political history.

Had TVNZ enquired a little deeper into Singh's background they would have seen he had good reason to use the window provided by TVNZ to make a political statement.

In an article on my blog published earlier in the year soon,  after he launched the so-called NZ Chapter of the Fiji Democracy and Freedom Movement (that in Australia is an ethnic Fijian front for the ousted SDL party and seems to have no Indo-Fijian members) —and after he declined to join the already well-established Coalition for Democracy in Fiji movement headed by Nik Naidu — I gave a brief biography.
In the 2001 election he stood unsuccessfully for the National Federation Party against the FLP and SDL.  In the 2006 election he stood for the SDL  against the NFP and FLP.  He was one of two Indo-Fijians in the SDL government in which he was appointed Minister of Youth and Sport, but six months later he was dismissed by Qarase.  Following the Bainimarama Coup in December 2006, he resigned from the SDL and sought, again unsuccessfully, to attach himself to the Bainimarama Government. "
What I did not say is that he was also a protégé of Ratu Inoke Takiveikata, the Qaranivalu (high chief) of Naitasiri province who supported the Speight 2000 Coup and was behind the Army mutiny which almost resulted in Bainimarama's assassination in November the same year.

So, at once time or another, Singh has supported the NFP, the FLP, the SDL, the Bainimarama government, and the so-called Fiji Freedom and Democracy Movement. He is far more than a mere "relative" by marriage to Jagath Karunaratne. If  TVNZ viewers had had an inkling of his past, they would have been able to draw their own conclusions about the balance of the TVNZ programme.

The banning of Martyn Bradbury
Martyn Bradbury's dismissal is important for two reasons: because Singh said Jagath had been arrested for criticising the Bainimarama government, and because we too often assume that our media is politically neutral and not subject to pressure from politicians.

Bradbury's “over the top”comment referred to in opening paragraph was:
“What does a $43 million loan to Mediaworks buy you on Radio Live? Apparently an hour of John Key avoiding answering any questions on politics. Why pay Mediaworks $43 million for that, when John Key can appear on [Television NZ's] Close Up and not answer questions for free?”

Following the ban, Bradbury asked: “If you can't criticise the Prime Minister on state radio, and the private radio give him free air time during the credit downgrade where he doesn't answer any criticisms, then where the hell in a democracy can you criticise him?

“In the same week as I was banned from RNZ for criticising the PM, the Herald was banned from Parliament for 10 days and Key got his Radio Live freebie. If Helen Clark had pulled any of this in her time as leader, the voices from the right so quick to denigrate me, would be in full voice for the support of freedom of speech. Their hypocrisy should surprise no one.”

He said he was “more disappointed for Radio NZ and the ideas of public broadcasting that I always held them up to. Banning someone for criticising the Prime Minister is a terrible look, not just for RNZ, but for us as a democracy.”

What may be concluded from all this? 
The two arrests were unfortunate for Fiji's image, compounding images already created by the media, but they are arguably justified since both men allegedly broke the law and, according to Australian and NZ officials, they were being treated properly. Secondly, TVNZ should conduct quick checks on its informants; not allow itself to be used by people with devious intent, and not air views that call for civic unrest in this or any other country. Finally, Bradbury's dismissal points to a form of voluntary censorship by our media that is little different from the self-censorship they criticise in Fiji. 

Readers may also recall that I was “dismissed” from  the RNZ Nights with Bryan Crump programme for expressing “opinions” on Fiji when what they wanted was “facts.” Our media is far from free..

UPDATE. Jagath Karanaratna and four others were in the Suva court yesterday
charged with "writing of seditious words in public places and billboards along the Nausori and Suva roads with a seditious intention and thereby purported to bring into hatred or contempt or to excite dissatisfaction against the Government of Fiji." Bail was refused. They will appear again in court on Friday

RadioNZI reports that Shalend Scott has been charged with four counts of serious computer offences, a crime for which the penalty is life or a maximum of two years, depending on which section of the Act he is charged under. Prosecutors want the former; Judge Paul Madigan says he should be charged under the latter.
He is scheduled to appear in the Lautoka court next Friday.


Anonymous said…
So now we can put a face or faces to the 'so called' VRF that RUM purports will bring Fiji down. It seems the best they can do is carry out random acts of vandalism by defacing public places with their offensive grafiti.

Like Shalend Scott, a few years at Naboro learning how to farm tilapia and cultivate dalo etc would do them a lot of good. Perhaps Jagath can apply his IT skills in the management of these farms? It will be a WIN-WIN situation for all.
Anonymous said…
The Fiji Times today reports that the top three of these 'heroes' of the VRF, have a total of 66 criminal convictions against them i.e. average of 22 convictions per man!

By backing the VRF, Tongan citizen Mara, Jon Fraenkel & JB and his Democracy Movement in Canberra, would have us all rely on these crims to bring democracy back to Fiji!
Air Pacific Shame said…
You have to be careful not to lump the Shalend Scott thing in with the other political anti-government activists like the SDL, Methodist church and others. The Fiji pilots are currently in industrial negotiations with their employer, who is trying to cut their wages and limit any future pay rises. Air Pacific has made it political by their role in convincing the government to introduce the draconian Essential Services decree, which gives them huge powers during current and future negotiations with employees. I do not believe that the pilots association (and Shalend) are against the government in general. The are just unhappy with the role their employer had in introducing the Essential Services decree and would like the decree to be removed or amended.

While a crime may have been committed, it is essential that proper processes take place during arrest to ensure that rights are protected and power is not being abused. Shalend was arrested on a Tuesday and was not charged or brought to a court until three days later. This would be allowed in regard to the PER, but he was not investigated or charged under the PER. Instead he was charged with a way over the top offense in order to hold Shalend without bail. When finally granting bail High court judge Paul Madigan severely criticised the DPP saying that the facts did not support the original charges. I believe that this entire process has been an abuse of power designed to punish (prior to any trial) because Air Pacific and the government have been embarrassed. It is also a warning to Air Pacific employees that you have no choice but accept what we give you. We are the only ones that can use questionable tactics during these “negotiations” and if any of you try anything like this you will be sorry.
Anonymous said…
@ Air Pacific Shame

You said: "You have to be careful not to lump the Shalend Scott thing in with the other political anti-government activists like the SDL, Methodist church and others".

Are you for real? Shalend hacked into Air Pacific cyberspace and stole confidential documents he had no need to have access to eg indivudual employee contract details etc. Then he had it sent to C4.5 for publication with the simple motive of embarassing the Government.

His motives were purely political and designed to embarass the Government of the day. This from an Australian citizen to boot!

Is that is not engaging in "anti-government activities"?

What you been smoking bro?
jambalaya said…
Correction of Clariti, it was a subsidiary Fijian Holdings. Now it is a standalone company after it was sold by F.H.L


FHL Divest Clariti

In a press statement issued today, Fijian Holdings Ltd announced the divestment of its entire holdings in FHL Technologies Ltd, which is trading as Clariti South Pacific Ltd. It was a joint venture with Vinod Patel Group and Fijian Holdings Unit Trust. Clariti has the master franchise for HP Warranty for Fiji and the South Pacific.

FHL acquired Clariti in 2005 and a year later merged with the Fiji Branch of HP Australia. The new purchaser is Extreme Business Solutions (Fiji) Ltd.

“The decision to divest is in line with FHL’s investment policy and based on a proper review of FHL investment portfolio” says Sereana Qoro, Managing Director of FHL. She added further “This divestment means, FHL would absorb a loss of $1.15million in order to clear what has been a non-performing investment from its portfolio.”

“FHL will continue to look for investment opportunities with real growth potential together with the ability to generate cash dividend from day one. We really appreciate our joint venture partner’s contribution to date and will continue to welcome investment opportunities with them in the future” said Mrs. Qoro.

Air Pacific Shame said…
My point is that the Shalend Scott thing is confined to this particular issue. I do not see any call for the government to be removed or immediate elections from this group, unlike the other groups I mentioned. The release of documents was designed to highlight Air Pacifics role in the decree and embarrass them. Embarrassing the government was not the primary aim, though admittedly did happen.

Also, he did not hack into Air Pacific cyberspace. He used a password given to him by his employer, a big difference. A bit like seeing someone’s diary left open on a table and having a read compared to breaking into a locked drawer to get at it.
Anonymous said…
Used the password for what purpose? It does not mean that if you are given the keys to the vault, you let others benefit. The password was given on trust and that trust has been abused. Any employee that abuses such trust can be justifiably dismissed. Where is the accused's loyalty and trust. He has abused them and no employer would, once revealed of abuse of privilege, continue to keep such an employee on the payroll.
sara'ssista said…
'purported involvement'? Haven't air pacific now admitted their involvement in the drafting? I suggest that this was essentially in the public interest and given their previous denials, we surely had a right to know, like any other country.
sara'ssista said…
Perhaps relying on so-called criminals in the VRF to return fiji to democracy isn't so ridiculous looking at the treasonous bunch purporting to the legal government claiming to be doing the same...
Anonymous said…
@ Air Pacific Shame

The other 'Anonymous' posting above makes the point very succinctly that you cant seem to grasp.

Tilapia fingerlings await Shalend Scott, Jagath and his co-vandals when they finally make it through the Hallowed Gates at at the Naboro Prison complex. They will be well mentored by the likes of George Speight et al. I am sure they will gain from their time there.

For the greater good of Fiji I cant help but feel that this will be a WIN-WIN situation.

Dont you agree?
Anonymous said…
la dee dah...

in any society in a dictorship

it is open season as to who can be leader

this is pre 1874

..anybody from buck private up can be boss.

weather, we like it or not

and like weather, we like it or not
Anonymous said…
time to teach the aussies a lesson and bye bye VRF or is it sri lanka RF hahahahaha
Elementary, my dear Croz said…
Air Pacific has every right to work with its majority owner, the Fiji Government, to ensure conditions for the airline's health and survival. It also has every right to decide when and if the actions of its workers aren't conducive to that aim. Never mind the argument over whether Air Pacific workers gained unauthorised access to company information. They are bound by their terms of employment not to convey that information to anyone else. If anyone working for the airline has leaked confidential material, they can expect to feel the full force of the law. End of story.
Air Pacific Shame said…
So you argue that he could be dismissed. I have no argument with that if found to be true. Please read my post before arguing. I have issue with the fact the DPP held him without charge for 3 days, then tried to have hime held without bail saying that he deserves life in prison. That is the abuse of power I am pointing out, not whether he is guilty of some minor charge or could be dismissed.
Anonymous said…
@ Air Pacific Shame

Ya, and in Australia (Shalend's country) they are detaining people (asylum seekers...women and young children included) behind razor wire for years without a fair hearing of their application.

Unlike Shalend these asylum seekers did not commit a crime yet are being detained like animals.

Everything is relative.

Shalend enjoys consular access and has said that he is being well treated. So your concerns for his welfare are unfounded. All is goos. He will be well cared for in Naboro when he ends up there. Initiatives like the 'Yellow Ribbon' campaign will see him re-educated and re-trained as a tilapia farmer or even as a baker. Its a WIN-WIN situation all round.
sara'ssista said…
What an odd comparison, irregular arrivals in Australia have no entitlement until we decide who they, health checks are made are and whether they decide if they are genuine. This is an immigration issue, I am not aware that any of these arrrivals is fleeing their homeland when they arrive by boat, they seem to be claiming they are fleeing malaysia or indonesia. At that point they are not in danger and are simply trying to immigrate, but have th foresight to dump their kids in the first boat to anchor their spot in the queue.Nice.Probably a good question is why they aren't picking fruit in grafton instead or importing nationals from elsewhere.
Anonymous said…
Yup, Shalend needs re-education. His life priorities and loyalties are all mixed up.

He should learn the science of tilapia farming for the rest of his life. Well, lets be generous for the poor, arrogant sod. Lets give him ten years for intefering in the internal affairs of a foreign country.

Can you imagine a Fiji citizen doing the same thing in Oz?
sara'ssista said…
This was a document or documents from an airline which qantas partly owns embarrassing the relevant parties who denied they were in consiracy, not the plans to secret military installation. The idea that this is 'treason' is as fanciful as graffiti artists being charged with 'sedition'...only in a banana republic.Perhaps one of the differences between the two caes is that shalend has already been proved right.This was a matter of public interest given the denials of collussion from air pacific and the regime.
Overkill said…
This has been a typical example of 'overkill' and the International Federation of Airline Pilots will soon put paid to that. Fiji is hardly in a position to resist their considerable clout? Notwithstanding this, it is always a good idea to ensure scrupulous conduct when working in any union activity. Even when dealing with the semi-literate and borderline incompetents as was clearly the case under Qantas management and direction. Most scarcely recognised the sharp end from the tail of an aircraft. So what followed with regard to their management and business skills? A sad and sorry era in an airline which was always 'flying in the face of imminent extinction' by smarter and more flexible operators. Pity the employees took so long to appreciate this. The clever ones.... left snapped up by the world's greatest and best.

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