Three Temporarily Unwise Men


Fiji Report #6
Part III. The Prime Minister Commandore Voqere Bainimarama
By Crosbie Walsh

In other circumstances I would have been delighted to have had a 40-minute interview with Fiji's Prime Minister, especially as he talked most of the time, but as it turned out, I left feeling a little short-changed and so disorientated I forgot to ask for a photograph. Now my grandchildren will never believe I met a prime minister who will one day be argued about by Pacific historians giving their slant on his contribution to Fiji in the early part of the 21st century.

The interview started well. In a relaxed mood Voqere Bainimarama would make a pleasant companion. He is so full of life and vitality and he obviously enjoys a good joke. I could see why he's so popular with many ordinary people.

He asked how many blogs supported his government. I said two if he counted mine as one of them. He seemed pleasantly surprised and was not all surprised when I told him there were at least a dozen overseas blogs that opposed him.

I asked about the composition of the Constituent Assembly. He said the process and the appointments it would be something like the Charter when a wide range of people and organizations were invited to participate. Asked how, exactly, its members would be selected, he said he had not decided yet.

He then started to talk about the work of the Constitution Commission. Readers will recall I'd met them going out as I was about to go in, and they did not look at all pleased. It was about here that he pointed and said, "Put off that recorder." I am unsure what I can report on the unrecorded session that followed but I do not think I am breaking confidence by touching on the main issues covered, and I think it useful to report my impressions of the PM as a leader.

The reason the PM asked me to turn off the recorder was because he wanted to talk freely about the actions of the  Constitution Commissioners who had just left. There was a major disagreement about the appointment of Ratu Joni Madraiwiwi as a consultant to the Commission, and about the ongoing "educating" activities of the Commission. The PM thought they had acted illegally in appointing Ratu Joni and were exceeded their mandate in holding public education seminars on the draft constitution. Their job now, the PM said, is to draft the constitution and nothing else.

The PM was angry. There's no doubt about that. Reading between the lines (or, more accurately, between the pauses) I think relations between Ratu Joni and the PM have not been good for some time. He was dismissed as Vice-President because he opposed the coup. This should have caused no surprise. He is a lawyer and considered the coup illegal. But this does not mean, as the PM might think, that he wants Fiji to return to the situation between 2000 and December 2006.

I think both men loath racism and want a fairer Fiji. They would be an unassailable team if they could find a way to work together in pursuit of a better Fiji. Will it happen? I doubt it. The PM has his list of friends and enemies. No one is in between. And now, regrettably, Prof Yash Ghai could be seen to be in the wrong camp.

The NGOs, such as the Citizens' Constitution Forum, that share the PM's vision but have questioned government decrees that limit trade union and other activities, are already in the wrong camp. And they are not alone. The PM seems to have a penchant for misplacing his natural friends. Indeed, when I told him there were many he thought opposed to government who actually shared his vision his eyebrows told me he was most surprised. He thinks the word 'criticism' always means opposition when often it means suggested corrections.

Will he stand for elections? He has not yet decided whether to form his own party and stand in the 2014 election. For the moment he says all his attention in given to taking "development to the people" and he did not want to be distracted by vying for political office.

Many of those in the anti-Bainimarama camp have called him a puppet of Attorney-Gerenal Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum. They could not be more mistaken. Take one look into his eyes and listen carefully to what he's saying. Bainimarama is his own man. He knows where he is going and no one is going to stop him. He values Khaiyum's hard work, skills and support. They make a good team, despite Khaiyum's unpopularity among ardent Taukei nationalists. But there is no doubt who's in charge.

Does he have the support of ordinary Fijians? He thinks so, and he has certainly, as they would say in the old Star Trek TV programmes, gone where none have gone before. No other PM has ever said ring me on 01 if you have a complaint against a government authority. No other PM has made government departments so accessible, though roadside stalls, to the general public. No other PM has ridden horseback into the Namosi interior or tramped though ankle-deep mud in squatter settlements. No other PM has visited so many (or indeed, for some, any) remote rural villages, listened to villagers' woes, and checked on civil servants that their woes have been attended to.

Why then is he so fearful of a renewal of public debate over the draft constitution? Is this because the process could be hijacked by the old political parties and others vehemently opposed to Government? Or does he simply not wish to waste his time on them, for the present? Or are there two audiences: ordinary people, with whom is is relaxed and confidence, and the "others" whom he distrusts. Those well practised in using race and now, "human rights," to win support.

I have written of three temporarily unwise men, and Bainimarama is the third. I think he is unwise because he risks turning friends into enemies, and because he seems to trust no one except those in his inner circle. Readers have repeatedly told me, I'm wasting my time. Bainimarama is not listening. He will take no notice of you or any others who are not totally committed to his cause. One friend has even told me I've got to decide which side I'm on. Ultimately, of course, this is the only choice but for now I lean more towards Bainimarama than the alternatives. Why? Because I prefer his vision for Fiji over theirs, and because I am totally convinced he is genuine about the type of Fiji he says he wants.

His training has been different from mine. He makes a good military officer but he's not a good politician. Some would say he is a control freak. Others have said he is not to be trusted because he has broken his word too many times. I'd prefer to interpret these past events as changes in position as the situations changed. 2007 was too early to have an election, and he was left little option but to abrogate the 1997 constitution when the Australian judges found against him in the Qarase appeal case.

All three of the wise men made unwise decisions but all thought they were doing the best thing for Fiji. Yash Ghai should not have appointed Ratu Joni and Ratu Joni should not have accepted. But Bainimarama should have gone along with the appointment that was about to terminate, and he should be welcoming the Commission's further education programme on constitutional issues about which many in the public, and most especially ordinary Taukei, are still confused.

But should's and should not's take us nowhere. They cannot change what has happened. So where does this leave us? I think that ultimately we do have to make a choice between what the likes of the old political parties offer us and Bainimarama's vision. Nothing in the FLP and SDL submissions pointed to the future. They essentially wanted a return to the past. The many things I saw and heard about during my ten days in Fiji persuade me that many of the things government is doing are good for Fiji, and some could only probably be done, or done as quickly, under a dictatorship. Imagine, for example,  the old parliament debating land banks, land rental money being paid directly to the mataqali owners,  homosexuality or the Christian state. But the flip side of even a benevolent dictatorship is that it lacks checks and balances. 

It is likely  the ideologically-driven acts of the present government (such as the bypassing of trade unions and the downsizing of the state as seen in moves to outsource some state functions to the private sector) would also have been the policies of an SDL government, but there at least their pros and cons could have been debated in the media and in parliament.  A major weakness of the Bainimarama government is the limited number, experience and ideological breadth  of its advisers. The situation was made worse because of the Australian and New Zealand travel bans but that was not its only cause.  

There are other things I do not like as this blog has shown over the past four years. But Bainimarama will not give up power. He'll be there, central stage or in the wings, making sure the incoming government does not undo what his government has done.

Meanwhile, I'll keep on criticising and making suggestions. Dicky Bird tells me the PM only pretends not to read my blog.

Comments

Junta slurpers said…
What a surprise. Mr and Mrs Walsh get a holiday to Fiji paid by the illegal junta then he writes a groupie load of rubbish that can only be described as slurping and swallowing? No wonder the human rights abusing unelected regime has no respect from anyone or any nation that matters?
Crosbie Walsh said…
Junta slurpers ... Deaf, blind and dumb. Few people are all three.
Anonymous said…
You mean the ILLEGAL UNELECTED WANNA BE PRIME MINISTER?
Anonymous said…
Ewwwww to the max...no mandate blogger, parachuting in and guessing stuff. Go home!
Spot on said…
Some people really are stupid and it isn't you, Croz. You are bearing the brunt of the frustration of the anti-Bainimarama forces that you haven't done an axe job on him. Nothing less than a stake through his heart will have mollified this lot.

I happen to think that your analysis is spot on and so do several others I've discussed this with. You have pointed out Bainimarama's shortcomings - his rigid biases against those who do not support him totally - and praised those elements of his program that are worthy of praise. And you have done it dispassionately, reasonably and with the razor sharp precision of a senior academic. Well done.

If only Bainimarama would take notice? He would be so much less inclined to be narrow minded. He's going to have a lot of trouble making the transition to political leader and having to juggle the agendas of others. Of course, he has time to change and maybe he can. Rabuka did it and he has nothing like the vision for Fiji that Bainimarama has.

Congratulations on by far the most thoughtful piece I have read on Bainimarama bar none. He must have trusted you to at least be truthful by allowing you into his confidence. You have done nothing to betray that confidence and provided him with some valuable food for thought. He may not devour it, of course, but you cannot be accused of being a slavish lackey, as these idiots portray you as.
Wiseman said…
I fully agree with you Croz. I also had several chances to look into Bainimarama's eyes and what I saw was resolve, wisdom, self importance, a little bit of greed and a rather tiny glimmer of intelligence. He is his own man, no doubt. As far as his vision for Fiji is concerned, I think he is the best thing that ever happened to this country of unruly racist warriors. Fiji (and most of the other Pacific Islands) are much better off with a strong armed dictator or a king rather than trying to mimic Western style democracy. And as far as the media is concerned, he has done the right thing too: Silence the critics and promote the journalism of hope that you, Croz also subscribe to. Where to from here? In my view a benevolent dictator is the way forward. But why all the fuzz about a new constitution and elections. Bainimarama knows that he has the support of a vast majority of soldiers in the RFMF. Why not rule on this basis?
Anonymous said…
Croz,

I thought your three unwise men analysis pretty much spot on. And a couple of commentators in Suva have secretly said so too. It is so frustrating. You want to shake the Commander sometimes. Ratu Joni is no threat to him. He is the least ambition person in the current political arena. Of all the people who could be giving the PM decent, measured advice it is Ratu Joni. He takes the notions of duty and responsibility so seriously. He would have felt duty-bound, as Roko Tui Bau, to attend the Commission hearing when Kubuna made its submissions, even if he was squirming inside. It is almost old fashioned, like the ways of has father's generation. If only the PM could see that. It's time for the PM to stop seeing bad guys around every corner. There are some...but not nearly as many as he thinks.
Anonymous said…
'Spot on', I have just read your post after sending mine above. Good stuff. One thing Rabuka could do was take a bit of criticism. You have to if you are going to take on the top job. The talent is in seeing what is constructive and what is not...
Anonymous said…
No thank you! The ignorant LOT commenting above probably have vested interests in Fiji or are not from Fiji. This unelected regime needs to go and so does the tinpoit dictator.
Anonymous said…
@Wiseman, think again before you label Fijians as racists. You are a mile off from pointing the finger at everyone else. Please wake up and get some facts!
rusi said…
You seem discinclined to actually report what Bainiamrams actually said, but rather a long interpretation of what you think he means, what you think he wants, what you think fiji needs and of course another unsolicited defense of the regime and their motives. You may as well have done his interview via faxed question, but then you probably wouldn't like or report those answers either.
Crosbie Walsh said…
@ Rusi ... I explained the circumstances.Once the recorder was off I could not quote him directly. I think I've done a reasonable job in difficult circumstances. What would you have done?
Anonymous said…
Croz,

Just two words for what you have done:

Great job!!!

By the way, don't worry about your critics much as they don't want to understand you. Please continue doing your own stuff and view your honest opinion for the world to see.
So when historians study this day - they'll be happy that they had you.
Gutter Press said…
Crosbie, you ask what would someone else have done? Being told to switch a recorder off is not an explicit instruction that what is said afterwards is ‘off the record’. Therefore after the interview was over it would’ve been useful if you had advised the interim PM that you intended to report faithfully (although not necessarily verbatim) what had been said.

It would’ve been his right to instruct you not to do so, in which case you would’ve needed to have obtained explicit instructions as to what could be reported upon. It’s not clear if you did so. However, since you apparently didn’t ask, you’ve placed yourself in the difficult position of not knowing how much you were ‘allowed’ to report. So, under the circumstances, you’ve done a reasonable job in that regard.

However you’ve written “Why then is he so fearful of a renewal of public debate over the draft constitution…” and then went on to write “…But should's and should not's take us nowhere. They cannot change what has happened...” as if Bainimarama’s proposed lack of public consultation is a done deal. It is not.

Hopefully the draft constitution will be released for public consumption. I also hope that you and other government supporters would spend some time advocating its release - not just going along with the flow and glossing over the fact that not to release it would be in direct contravention of the original decree. It’s really not sufficient to claim the process could be hijacked by the old political parties and others opposed to Government. There will always be old politicians and ‘others’ opposed to government. It’s a fact of democratic life. It’s a fact of dictatorships.
rusi said…
@ Croz, i would never have gone, taken any funding from the regime and been in that position at all....
wati s said…
@Anon 3:21... yes don't let any actual reporting or facts get in the way of what the head of the militray regime and junta actually said in the interview , and all those hard questions about accountability that were'nt actually asked, get in your way of lavishing encouragement on Croz.
Junta watch said…
Croz
Will the dictator's budget contain details of future free trips paid by the regime for bludgers and sponger supporters of the junta to bring their partners to Fiji for free holidays paid by the poor of Fiji who have no freedom to elect their politicians? Or in the interests of the new 'transparency and accountabilty' will this continue to be suppressed like the salaries the dictator pays himself and other illegal junta parasites?
Anonymous said…
Croz doesn't even admit he actually asked anything worth asking?? even if 'off the record'. How bizarre. What exactly was there to report ?? He explains away any abuse and any hypocracy from the regime as us all dwelling on the past and present and not looking forward...for all the insight it provides, the interview with Bainimarama may as well have been sent by media release by the ministry if misinformation.
Anonymous said…
I couldn't help having a little laugh at the title "Commandore Voqere..". Been burning the midnight oil I guess.
Ram Sami said…
I wouldn't worry about the critics here Croz.

You have established a good track record of fair and balanced commentary on Fiji's affairs, without having a personal agenda and long may that continue.

Anonymous said…
The PM is his own men, his own vision... absolutley. He is doing what no PM dare to do before.... he eyes can see the way i-taukei institutions have contributed to the regress of not only the country but many of its own people... the restrictions on institutions such as a crazy annual church fundraising, the distribution of lease money to the individual people and not the sharks who have taken everything for granted that comes there way, telling our rich neighbours A and NZ what their limits to interference ... he is not blinded by the false glitter of name and fame and degrees and status....I am happy that he using his simple human logic of right and wrong guided a genuine compassion to correct the wrongs of the past that have divided a society ... the world lacks such learders with clear visions as most have become entrapped within the capitalist money making machinery.... PM already sees the green of his sweat taking seed the other side while many continue to see the dollars. Much cleaning still remains within the civil service and public appointments where Indian applications stil get trashed...that Qaiyum does need some more exposure in certain sectors as the process of sinking him has already begun by some of those too persoanlly close to him ....strategies!!The mind not the heart be put to work. Hands up to PM to stand for elections and serve another decade or so...
Anonymous said…
Illegal what my dear??? You mean the overthrow of a class and status based regime that was literally enslavign its own peopel while the rich amongst the i-taukei were swallowing the hard work and efforts of the poor?? This in the dictionary is called CASTE BASED SOCIETY.... the poor serve the selfish whims of the rich and it has become "normal" and you cal it "fijian values'..and all efforts to help progress the unfortunate is sucked up half way by the greedy who can lay their hands on these state generosities {affirmative actions)beofre it reaches down to 'our peopel' (the poor who give you votes).The system along which the previous governments and i-taukei institutions have functioned is the root cause of al this countries problems and every other countries, for that matter.....now open your eyes if you are true to God and ask how honest your are in you forsight for this country..... ahem!, I mean the future of the poor in this country?
Anonymous said…
Rabuka... oh, that the fella who hired the heavy duty ballistic missiles to pull this country back by 40 years.... criticism he can take, what bull..!
Anonymous said…
Now you must be one of those who enjoys the 'STATUS QUO' that is the root of the problem the i-taukei majoirty face in their poverty.....do not think those scholarships that have enabled you to acheive somethign through marks scaling are your right... it is the result of the sweat money and tax of many innocent in this country whom your 'status quo' and taken for granted, upper class heirachy based money suckers take for granted and in the process, disadvnatge your own poor. Fact, those with means never want to let go of what they take for granted but which was never theres in the first place. ......A racially divided country MUST BE PUT RIGHT...Whehter it bleeds the hearts of those who have been riding free is besides the point... hats off of the CURRENT REGIM, IT IS BETTER THAN ALL OTHERS IN THE PAST....
Anonymous said…
yes, fully agree!. Critics are those that have been sucking the coutnry dry at the expanse of the majority... and often, this majority is the poor... the process fo correction will off course, rub the criminals in the process the worng way and they may already be fearful of 'what is to come'....
Anonymous said…
Congrats Croz, a great piece, truly fair and very well balanced. Have you already been in touch with Assad in Syria. He badly needs a bit of positive journalism right now and he is known to pay all expenses of the dunces who sing his praise at his court. Also, you may be able to invoice the dear leader of Fiji for an hour of counselling, he had the opportunity to get the bad stuff off his chest during jour session.
Ms Gobbles fan club said…
Keep up the good work shazza. Any more free trips to Fiji for croz and his missus to give us the real facts on the illegal junta and the work of the dictatorship?
wati s said…
@ Ram ...personal agenda!!!...Croz defends this regime like he has a very personal stake in it's success. No matter the cost to people who actually live there under military rule. Bainimarama from his first day of the coup, was getting the benefit of the doubt from Croz and Croz was always prepared to rubbish any claims of violence, intimidation and when they imposed PER, he was first to claim the locals needed it, because Fijians were all getting hoodwinked and manipulated by 'politicians' and the 'media', but now.... it is a renaissance in media reportage according to him. Just see the level of access he gets to report nothing from Bainimaram himself and regime that proudly claims what happens in fiji is nobody's business and locals and visa holders should keep their mouths shut if they don't agree.
Anonymous said…
CROZ WAS RIGHT.. HE SEES FAR .. YOU SEE BENEATH YOUR NOSE... IT IS INTELELCTUAL VERSUS DUMBHEAD, VERY SIMPLE !!
rusi said…
Yes it is those people that see 'FAR' as you put it, that usually step in something....and i think you mean 'with his head in the clouds' or 'wishful thinking'.
Anonymous said…
He certainly won't want anyone to udo his back pay, or his salary for the last 7 years, or his immunity....thats why he will stay in the wings as you descibe.

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