Three Temporarily Unwise Men

Fiji Report #5
Part II, Ratu Joni Madraiwiwi
By Crosbie Walsh

No introduction is needed for Fiji readers. Ratu Joni is almost as well known as the Fiji flag. But for some others, Ratu Joni is the Roko Tui Bau, second only in rank to the Tui ni Vunivalu of the Kubuna confederacy that embraces most of the eastern half of Viti Levu and the Lomaiviti island group,1 He is a direct descendant of Ratu Seru Cakobau who ceded Fiji to the British Crown and Ratu Sir Lala Sukuna who some consider the father of modern Fiji.

He has law degrees from Adelaide and McGill. He resigned as a High Court judge in protest at the Speight Coup and was appointed Vice-President in 2004 to replace his disgraced kinsman Ratu Jope Seniloli, jailed for his part in the Speight Coup. Ratu Joni was dismissed as Vice-President in 2006 by Bainimarama.

In 2008 he accepted an appointment on the Solomon Islands Truth and Reconciliation Commission and in 2011 he was made a law lord by the late king of Tonga. He is widely respected across all races for his longstanding advocacy of racial equality, better inter-racial understanding and political and cultural moderation. He  played no active part in recent Fiji politics until he was thrust into the limelight by his appearance in the Bau delegation to the Constitution Commission (that wanted Fiji to be declared a Christian state) and his earlier appointment as a short term consultant to the Commission. Then, as the saying goes, all hell broke loose.

     --oOo--

Ratu Joni had travelled over 30 kilometres from Bau to meet me at the Holiday Inn in Suva on a Saturday —and all I would offer him was a fruit drink. We spoke for over an hour, much in general conversation because we had met before, just weeks before the 2006 coup, when he launched my book on Fiji,2 and because we had a mutual friend in Terry Donnelly whose book on the history and geography of Fiji is still used in schools, and we had Tongan stories to exchange. The interview was relaxed, relaxing and, I think, enjoyed by both of us.

We opened, as might be expected, with the Constitution and the rumour he'd been dismissed on Bainimarama's insistence that his part in Bauan delegation and a consultant made for a conflict of interest. He spoke first of Professor Yaah Ghai's credibility and integrity and agreed with me it would have been hard to find a more suitable person to chair the Commission. He thought the rumour "a clear prospect ... the Commander remains wary of me." When approached to help the Commission, he'd agreed because he "thought it an opportunity to contribute not withstanding my overall concerns." On the work of the Commission he thought the process was not perfect but was confident it would "come up with a reasonable document. At the end of the day, he said, what ultimately matters is what is good for the country. Sometimes we get lost in the detail and personal issues. He agreed with my description of Fiji as a Russian doll where lifting the head of the largest one revealed a succession of smaller ones inside.

On his position on the Christian state he said my posting the previous day had "got is exactly right." He did not agree with this part of the Bauan submission but said, "These are my people. I am one of their leaders. I could have ... got them to accept my views but that would not have been honest..." He expressed disappointment with the Fiji Sun for publishing his photo alongside their report. "There would have been an immediate association... but I was there only in a supportive role ... I was sitting in the back."

We talked briefly of the re-emergence of the old political leaders, Chaudhry and Qarase. He hinted at the cultural insensitivity of the former, doubting that he had ever had any information to help him understand Taukei, and on both he questioned why they was coming back into politics.
"Between him and Qarase, I have to tell you, I really am taken aback that for the two of them, after their record ...when between them they contributed to what happened in 2006 with their bloody mindedness and stubbornness."
I noted their submissions to the Commission essentially wanted a return to how it was before 2006. He agreed, adding that "the people of the country deserve better."

Asked about what happens between now and the elections he thought it unlikely government would lift any decrees and, although hopeful, thought the Constituent Assembly may not be as representative as it could be  because of government "insecurity... they wanted to control it." He thought it would be more palatable if, for example, women's groups and the old political parties were represented but agreed that they might be better represented by people other than Chaudhry and Qarase.

He was sure there would be no interim government. The PM had said that just was  not going to happen. He had no idea of how the elections would go. The youth factor is unknown. Taukei grassroots attitudes could have changed. Bainimarama clearly thinks they have but while Taukei respect strong leadership they also often tell their leaders what they think they want to hear.  And he thought any government that had been in power for eight yeas inevitably was not as popular as it might think. "That's the nature of politics."

He referred to the old Methodist church leaders as "old war horses" and hoped the new leadership would bring more of its moderate people into  prominence. He agreed with Bainimarama's vision for a unified Fiji but said it was "hard to know whether the majority of people agree with him." Only the secret ballot box would tell.

On Bainimarama and the elections, he thought the PM had not make his mind up on whether to stand but thought "he'll do what he can to remain in control" in some way. Asked about the role of the military, he said it was "very loyal" to the PM and that it was his only power base. I advanced the possibility of an "Indonesian model" of government with some military involvement. He did not comment.

Asked whether Bainimarama was genuine, he said that "people very close to him thought so" and he had no reason to think otherwise but he agreed with me that Bainimara's idea of democracy could be different from that of others.

I asked about the independence of the judiciary. He expressed concern at the number of Sri Lankan judges and magistrates because in Sri Lanka they "only hold office at the President's pleasure." This, he thought, would make they more amenable to interference than lawyers recruited elsewhere, but he did not say interference had occurred or been successful. After 2014, he thought the present judges should resign and apply for reappointment, and be assessed case by case.

He thought the use of Fijian as a name for all citizens was mainly a generational thing. "Younger people are more relaxed, Older people are more attached and feel they are giving something up. It is more than a name. It is an emotional attachment, and people are easily moved by symbols."

We briefly talked about the possible future role of the military after 2014. He thought the Commission might recommend some sort of enlarged civilian and disaster role but his main concern was broadening  its ethnic composition. He did not accept the military view that other races were not interested, and thought they should more actively recruit  other races with scholarships and by making conditions more palatable. Similarly, he thought three Indo-Fijians in cabinet was "not good enough." The military and government needs "more gender, ethnic and regional balance."

Asked what I could usefully raise with the PM and the Attorney-General, he said they really did need to be more inclusive and "they need to believe in the process, the mechanisms they have set up, and the people they have appointed. They owe it to the people of Fiji. They really do. They cannot control the process."

We finished with the "helpful" criticisms often appearing in my blog. "Criticism is good," he said. "That is one of the more valuable lessons I've learnt by exposure overseas and here [but for] Pacific people your opinions and you are really almost inseparable whereas  in the West you and your opinions are separate. It is the way we are ... that is how the Commander is, which is understandable...."

A wise man and an honest one, I thought,  who, while differing on some of Bainimarama's methods, agrees with much of his vision. His inclusion in events over the next two years would add much to the credibility of the dialogue process and the acceptance of the Constituent Assembly. Unfortunately, this is unlikely while Bainimarama focuses on differences to the exclusion of shared ideals.

Ratu Joni believes  Bainimarama is genuine.  He agrees with his vision for a united Fiji. He agrees with the non-negotiable principles. He condemns Chaudhry and Qarase for what they did during 2006 and thinks Fiji deserves better, and he looked forward to a more moderate leadership in the Methodist Church. If I were asked: "Halt! Who goes there?" I would have answered "Friend." On a scale of one to ten I'd place him at seven. Unfortunately, it would seem  this is not enough.

Ratu Joni was probably unwise or a little naive if he thought his work for the Commission would not rile Government but I suspect the Ghai-Bainimarama clash would have taken place anyway. Their ideas on the role of the Commission were just too far apart.

Part III will be on my interview with the PM.

1. The other confederacies are Burebasaga (Rewa, central and much of the West) and Tovata (Vanua Levu and the Lau Group.
2. Fiji: an Encyclopaedic Atlas, USP, 2006. (Purchasable at USP and in New Zealand from the author for about $25.)

Comments

The Wild Colonial Boy said…
Excellent piece. Well balanced and astute in all regards. Many thanks to you Croz and many thanks to your willing participant. Fiji has much to be hopeful for, provided the PM stays alert.
naive? said…
I have always believed Ratu Jone to be a decent man, but it was extraordinarily naive of him to believe that his involvement in the Commission would be met by anything other than suspicion by the government. He is well known for refusing to attend any function where the PM is, si it is a bit rich to accuse others of being non inclusive when he himself has been non inclusive. It was a weak decision too, to sit at the back of the Christian State crowd as some sort of religious groupie when he did not believe in what they were saying. The world now has a perception that he did agree with them. A man of his stature cannot simply be an observer. No one will accept such a position from a leader. Or a purported leader. He condemns Chaudhery for racial insensitivity. Yet he fails to condemn Qarase for the same in relation to Fiji's minorities. The Ratu Joni allegation of stubbornness cannot begin to express Qarase's political stance of racial supremacy. Yet if Qarase was partly to blame for the 2006 event,Ratu Joni was his witness of good character. Why, when he has such a negative view of the man? He did stand for racial equality before 2006, but he has not maintained that position after 2006.In fact his speeches suggest otherwise. Politics? Maybe. But I agree with you, a fundamentally decent man who has made some unwise decisions.
Steve Maric said…
I am looking forward to your piece on Bainimarama. My own view is that he just lacks the intellectual capacity to distinguish between a foe and an opponent with whom some common ground can be found. Bainimarama has demonstrated again and again that in his world, the world of the military, where barked orders of superiors are usually obeyed there is no room for subtlety. It is always 'my way or the highway' approach that he choses. The question is where this attitude will take us? It is conceivable that Fijians just bow to the strong leader, but this required a significant improvement of economic conditions to be sustainable. A few hand outs in the villages will not be enough to appease a growing number of young, disenfranchised people without any hope to get a decent job and a decent life. Bainimarama's stand is essentially confrontational to the extreme and I fear that at some point it will be met with confrontation by those who do not buy his proclaimed selfless fight for a better Fiji.
Anonymous said…
Ratu Joni and I think alot of Fijians do agree to the direction VB is taking us.

That's really good to hear - as we going the right direction.

That's the bottom-line. So VB is going the right way. Thank goodness alot of us do agree to this!
Anonymous said…
Coming from Walsh's mouth, everything stated hear is hearsay!
mmm... said…
Indeed - the PM is perhaps the most UNWISE of these three and he has not adjusted his style one bit. Can he change is the questions ?
Anonymous said…
@naive...he was sacked by the military without any cause or recourse.
Anonymous said…
perhaps four unwise men... who was the one that decided it was splendid idea to take money from the regime and assistance from of all places the Ministry of misInformation to tour Fiji and to views from a selected bunch of people who might as well be provided by the regime.Is it likley that anything of your visit that may even be mildly critical appear in the local news Croz??
Anonymous said…
I agree with Naive's contention that Ratu Joni was not merely observer to the Constitution submissions. Ratu Joni is guilty of 'running with Hares and hunting with the Hounds'.
BTW Croz, I hear you have excellent record of that too.
The Wild Colonial Boy said…
Ghai went outside of his terms of reference. If he wants to solicit opinion in his downtime???? He should learn how to switch off work, and stick to his terms of refernce
Anonymous said…
If only they could be as wise as the facist fools supporting this illegal junta (and filling their pockets on jollys and holidays paid by the poor of Fiji)? Blatant theft!!
Crosbie Walsh said…
@ Anon-y-mouse... Hearsay? Check out its meaning. This was an interview with Ratu Joni by me. I was there. How then can this be hearsay?
Crosbie Walsh said…
Anonymous... Are you the same guy who talks about fascist fools in all your other comments on this blog? If so, you need a history starting with a definition of fascist. I guess you already know the meaning of fool!
Crosbie Walsh said…
I intended to say "history lessson".
Diatribe of Bullshit said…
hi Croz
Can't wait for your diatribe of bullshit about the dictator. I am incredulous that the (ever increasing) poor of Fiji paid for the trip for you and Mrs Croz for a holiday in Fiji for you to write this total drivel. Qorvis must be mightily embarrassed?
Crosbie Walsh said…
@ ... Bullshit. Well named. The MOI paid for PART of my expenses and NONE of my wife's. This was made quite clear in Fiji Report #1. But keep believing what you want to believe. Some others also believe the moon is made of cheese.
Lost Nothing said…
@Diatribe of Bullshit and the anonymous who uses the word fascist but does not know its meaning,

You are hurting yourself by engaging in anger and hateful thoughts of others. What have you lost since the military take-over? Are these "things" worth the pain you are putting yourself through? Be wise. Recognize that you are the only one who is infliction pain and suffering upon yourself though your negative thoughts and your reluctance to relax and go with the flow.Realize too that a large proportion of the population is happy with what the government is working towards. Shed the anger, cynicism and hate. Think of others with love and compassion. Are you not a Christian?
Clarity said…
Croz, if Joni does not support a Christian state and does agree with all of the non-negotiable principles, then why didn't he come out and say this in public? By appearing at the submission there was a public perception that he supported a Christian state. FB was correct to have concerns about him working for the commission. After FB raised his concerns Joni should have made a public statement that he had to be present during the Bauan submission in an official capacity, but his personal view fully supports the governments non-negotiable principles and it was on this basis that he advised the council. I think this would have diffused the situation.

From your interview I think Joni was a good person to advise the council and I assume Ghai had the same view after talking to him. However, they both should have done more to show they were following the principles of the decree, not just get confrontational with FB when he had just concerns.
Anonymous said…
@BullCroz..there goes your reply on hearsay!
Anonymous said…
Hey BullCroz, no matter the drivel and bullshit that you intentionally write here, WE THE PEOPLE know that our govt is illegal, corrupt, full of third grade army officers that are now posted as dept heads; who i might add are scrambling to USP to further their studies since they realise that they know shit all about the economy and governance. The likes of YOU do not help in moving Fiji forward in any shape or form.
Hang the dictator said…
spot on!!
Anonymous said…
To begin, I must say that Ratu Joni has been an exemplary leader for our country. He was the most popular vice presidents we ever had. Also, both the major ethnic communities equally regard him. Nonetheless, I was disappointed by support for the Christian state. As a leader he should have distanced himself and made it known that it was not his view. It is NOT good enough for Ratu Joni to say that although he was with the group that day, he does not endorse their views. My impression and understanding is that he shared the views expressed by the group as he was part of that group. It is time we need leaders who can stand and say what is right and wrong. To me Ratu Joni will go down in the wrong side of history.

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