Some Background on the Qarase Accusations

                                     Published in 2010 by Subhash Appana
To see other background papers by Subhash published in September and October last year, simply write his name in "Search" . 

In the numerous cases of power-play, manipulation and intrigue highlighted in this series, former PM Laisenia Qarase’s name features prominently. There are a number of key roles through which he propagated and facilitated what amounted to a siphoning of funds from the state to a group of connected private individuals in the name of “Fijian business assistance”.

Qarase belonged to a cadre of civil servants who realized their importance in the post-1987 world of topsy-turvy politics. Little is made of the central role these public servants played in keeping the country functioning as factional power-play swept the political landscape in Fiji. Rabuka’s weakness and his continuing tug-of-war with Mara created openings for these bureaucrats to dig in.

Qarase and a host of others thus acquired unshakeable positions. Remember how the debarred and unelected Qoriniase Bale became Attorney General of Fiji virtually for life. The same group again played a key role during Rabuka’s public sector reforms in 1996-99. Then in 2000, it was this same group that held the bureaucracy intact as all kinds of politicians popped up and engaged in horse-trading.

That lot knew what they were playing for; they knew how to access the national coffers under legitimate-looking programs. They knew how to corner, broker and hassle lucrative public contracts. They also knew how to compromise and neutralize all existing and potential opposition. Before George Bush’s “either you are with us or you’re with them” doctrine, that Fiji-made group already operated strictly in terms of Insiders and Outsiders.

Fiji Development Bank

 As discussed earlier the (1989-93) Fijian business initiative called EIMCOL was primarily an FDB-funded project that involved identifying small supermarkets, buying them off incumbents and installing Fijian management and ownership. That bellied up big time. Like NBF, FDB was earmarked to play a central role in assisting ethnic Fijians in business.

‘For three years from 1989, loans amounting to $45.4 million were approved for 3,532 Fijians’ (Mara 1997: 221). These affirmative-action programs continued from 1991-99 as the SVT government also allocated $5m for Fijian buyout of freehold lands. Rabuka then purchased Gunac Farm “to train ethnic Fijian youth in commercial farming” from Lyle Cupit for an incredibly inflated $7m ie. $3000/acre.

Cupit held a number of interesting credentials to swing that deal: he was Chairman of FDB and Fijian Holdings Ltd., two key institutions in the scheme of politics at the time. He had also chaired a key parliamentary emoluments committee in 1995 that raised parliamentary pay and allowances to unprecedented levels allowing Rabuka to ward off yet another political crisis in his faction-stricken rule.

Coming back to Qarase, by 1992 he had maneuvered through the Rabuka maze to become CEO of FHL. This was when the plunder of NBF reached its frenetic best as much of the money was used to buy Class A shares in FHL. This issue, a fraud on the Fijian community, was covered in the last Greed article.

Qarase’s involvement with FHL did not end in 1995 when he left the CEO position and moved into FDB as GM. His involvement with assistance schemes simply increased and expanded as he now held directly the money needed to fulfill ever-increasing fast dreams both among his cabal as well as connected stakeholders.

Thus from 1996 Laisenia Qarase reigned at FDB as Managing Director to a board chaired by Navitalai Naisoro. During this stint FDB lost $220m through shoddily secured loans that blatantly overlooked set processes and procedures – this after the NBF debacle! Greed, power-politics and self-interest were indeed on the rampage in Fiji.

Indeed, it appeared that indigenous rights meant the right to ransack the country. Any opportunity that opened up had to be screened and blessed first by the cabal mentioned here. Any interest shown by entrepreneurs had to have “cuts” at different levels for this cabal. And anybody who raised questions was immediately branded as “anti-Fijian”.

Just Give Don’t Ask
The Fijian Affairs Board, despite consistent annual government funding, owed government $33m in outstanding loans at the end of 2001. Earlier, between 1994-99, FAB had gobbled $8m without making any payments. This practice of going soft on Fijian institutions and allowing them virtually free access to government funds can be traced back to 1989 when Rabuka gave FHL $20m.

The Ministry of Fijian Affairs had developed a protocol of disbursing funds to FAB “without contractual agreements to require the Board to provide details of how grants were utilized” (Auditor General’s Report, 2001, p. ii). The same report highlighted that $5m had been given to FAB on 24/8/01 “to accelerate the meaningful participation of Fijians in business”. This money was used to purchase shares in Yasana Holdings Ltd. as awareness and expectations increased and FHL alone could not meet these.

Yasana Holdings Ltd. was incorporated through GCC endorsement in 1994, to “control the television industry in Fiji” amongst other things, on behalf of the 14 provinces and Rotuma. Following a share float in 1996, Fiji Television Ltd’s shareholding became FDB 59%, FPTL 14%, TVNZ 5% and the public 22%. Very interestingly, FDB underwrote this float and passed on its 59% to Yasana Holdings Ltd.

Many other assistance schemes were also in operation as demands for “specialness” escalated. Rabuka’s Commodity Development Framework even included provisions for pay for study abroad. The Poverty Alleviation Grants of the Ministry of Social Welfare was set up and operated without any clear guidelines. As an example, of the 308 projects approved in 2001, only 101 acquittals were received by the Public Accounts Committee.

There was also periodic feeding from the sides. In one case that did not really see the light of day, Octopus Security Services was paid $64,190 between 1999-2001 without referring the arrangement to either the Controller of Government Supplies or the Minor Tenders Board. There were many other cases of this type where questions were treated with dismissal, disdain or hostility.

The 2001 Elections
It has been highlighted that the 2001 elections was won on the back of a $30m agricultural assistance scam by Qarase when he was interim-PM. In fact Dr. Tupeni Baba’s New Labour Unity Party was particularly incensed by some of the goings-on that appeared to show an attempt to compromise the ballot box.

Subhash Appana is an academic and independent political commentator.


Bill Carson said…
This article deserves wide publicity.
Cin Cin said…
It took you a while to drag this little gem up, didn't it Croz? I expected something like this at least a few days before Qarase appeared in court, to lay the groundwork so to speak.

Now I look forward to your posting articles discussing Bainimaramas annual leave backdated payment, ministerial salaries, the allegations surrounding nepotism and conflict of interest with the involvement of Khaiyums family in the processing of those ministerial salaries, the current state of the government tendering process, the lack of government accounts for the last 6 years.......all written by independent academics, of course.

In other words, what has changed?

Paua said…
While there is no doubt that Qarase - like most politicians within and outside of Fiji - is a crook, the current regime may not do itself a favour by making him a martyr. He is an old man who in fact has shown through his behaviour that he has no intention to seriously challenge Bainimarama and his soldiers. Prosecuting him for yet another dodgy deal could be interpreted widely as vindictive persecution with no other purpose than to prevent him from standing in elections. This will be seen against the background of a regime that is adamant to obtain immunity and amnesty for their own deeds. A little more self confidence on the regimes side would perhaps go a long way in this case. To me it is clear that the regime will eventually legitimise its rule through some sort of election, even if only one party is eligible according to the new rules. What credibility it will have will largely depend on the decree of vindictiveness it shows towards its opponents.
Paula said…
Since 2006 the regime has broken all rules in the book of transparent governance. Procurement of large public contracts without competitive international bidding, no auditor generals reports, total secrecy with regard to ministerial salaries and payment arrangements, no accountability, no consultation and first and foremost no scrutiny by independent media. This begs the question why all the cloak and dagger stuff? Could it be that a couple of years down the drag we will read Subhash Appana's article on how Bainimarama and his cronies all became millionaires at the expense of the people of Fiji?
Crosbie Walsh said…
@ Paua... There is much wisdom in what you say.
Crosbie Walsh said…
@ Cin Cin and Paula ... I know your concerns are genuine and most have been aired on this blog, but it always puzzles me why, instead of addressing the issue (the charges against Qarase), so many people ignore the issue and counter with another issues (the alleged wrongs of the Bainimarama government). What do you think about Qarase's alleged actions?
Charlie Charters said…
Croz, do my eyes deceive me or is this article claiming that Qarase was CEO of Fiji Holdings? ('by 1992 he had maneuvered through the Rabuka maze to become CEO of FHL', something repeated only a paragraph later). I can find no reference to Qarase ever being CEO of FHL. The convictions he is appealing relate to his role as a director of FHL, and not CEO.

It is one thing wading through all the partial and spite-filled ('gobbling', 'feeding', 'rampaging' 'horse-trading' etc.). I can even put up with the fact this 6-week old article has mysteriously reappeared just as Qarase is in court. But to republish an article that has such basic errors of fact brings great shame on what you are trying to achieve.

Different viewpoints and an honest exchange of ideas is what we need - but you have just blessed a completely noxious piece of trash-talking that is completely unanchored in and unburdened by fact.

When was the last time you allowed an anti-regime blogger such a privilege?
Just another racist indo-Fijian said…
just another racist attack from a bitter indo-Fijian junta groupie with a stubbed toe.
Cin Cin said…
Croz, in another time and under a different government, I would have thought (and indeed I thought it wasn't a good look) that there is something genuinely amiss here and justice must be allowed to run its course. Under the current regime, no matter how 'independent' the judicary may appear to be, any charges brought against former political figures are always going to be seen as part of a tainted process.
Joe said…
"an article that has such basic errors of fact brings great shame"

Well than tell us what the "facts without errors" are, and dont tell me that Qarase's QC said so in the appeal hearing.
Charlie Charters said…

Joe, this article has been posted by Croz to, as the title suggests, provide background to the Qarase accusations. This is a particularly delicate time: whether you are for or against Qarase, the man is on trial in one court and appealing a conviction in another.

The issue of contempt of court (and contempt's legal subset, scandalising the court) is fresh in people's minds, and I would have thought would have to be in Croz's mind too, because of the misadventures of the Fiji Times.

At this particular time I would not have chosen to publish this so-called backgrounder (turns out it was not six weeks old, as I wrote, but dates back to 2010). But it's not my blog, so I defer to Croz on this. But I am surprised it contains obvious factual errors that suggest not enough basic research (and perhaps too much emotion).

To your point Joe, it's not my responsbility to provide you with 'facts without errors'. That is Croz's job, as editor in chief of this blog and the person who sets the standard when he selects a piece of work that is intended to provide background to a contemporary subject.

I am not setting myself up as an expert. That's why I made the time to read the article, because I wanted to learn. But how do you take seriously such a piece when the basic construct of the argument appears so flawed?
Anonymous said…
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Anonymous said…
Subash how come you never write about corruption in bainimrama government maichod?
MuttiFala said…
Charlie Chaplin

The article is not discussing Qarase's court case, is it?
Ram Sami said…
No , he's not another racist indo-Fijian.

Don't attack the man. What does he say that you disagree with ? Support that with facts and figures. Only then will you have some credibility.
Joe said…
Charlie, the fact of the matter is Qarase used his position of influence to his advantage, hence the conviction. Subhas has given details of the shonky dealings for us to better understand why he was convicted. It doesnt matter whether he was a CEO or tea boy, if that is what, in your opinion, is a flaw. We are not discussing his court case either, the appeal is on aspects of law, not facts. Facts were presented in the trial.
Bill Carson said…
What has that got to do with the price of fish?
Charlie Charters said…

Joe, with respect I think your animus towards Qarase is perhaps clouding your judgement. It matters deeply whether he was a CEO or tea boy because his very position is the pivot on which the charges and conviction rest: that he was a director of FHL. This is not a case of absolute criminality (like GBH) but a case that turns on what position Qarase held within the company. He was not CEO of FHL.

I am not excusing corruption or papering it over - or even saying, as others have, that there's as much or more under this regime than anything that preceded it - I am saying if this academic is going to provide background information anchor it in basic simple facts. If you do that, then you are providing a useful service that can help explain what is going on. If you get elementary facts wrong and then gee-up your coverage with a lot of emotionally charged words, you are only doing what this blog regularly criticises anti-regime blogs for doing.

Charlie Charters said…
Of course, it is that's why it's been headed 'Some background on the Qarase Accusations'.
Joe said…
Charlie, do you agree with anything in Subhash's article? On the issue of misreporting him as CEO, MD or whatever, and the subsequent conviction, the fault lies with Qoriniasi Bale and Tupou Draunidalo in that case. Why are you bashing Subhash? The trial is over. The appeals court does not have jurisdiction to look at the facts of the case, too late for that. It will look at the laws that were applied to deliver the judgement.
Joe said…
Because there is none.
Anonymous said…

Gosh, what about this case - of Viti Mining Ltd

MINED NBF TO DUST: Viti Mining Ltd director John Sanday owed collapsed Fiji national bank $131,775; in 2007, VML had $631 in bank, recorded net loss of $5,584, and no financial asset. As Mineral Dept processes VML license to mine manganese in Fiji, Fijileaks will be publishing VICTOR LAL's on-going findings into the collapsed bank, Sanday's debt and history of VFL
Anonymous said…
Subash and Bill; Answer this for the people of Fiji on behalf on Khaiyum. Will you?


1. Why the release of the Auditor General’s Report from 2007 – 2012 is being blocked?
2. When will the people of Fiji get a copy of the Special Report of $200,000 leave compensation paid to Frank Bainimarama?
3. When will the regime publicize the details of Ministerial salaries to the tune of $1,000,000 annually each for Frank and Aiaz administered by Nur Bano?
4. When will the regime release details of the tender process (if any) for all Capital works awarded to Constructions companies of Malaysia and China from 2007- 2012?
5. When will the regime release of the accounts for the $5m annual Taiwan Government Grant held in the Prime Minister’s Office?
6. When will the Commander RFMF release of all accounts of Regimental Funds of the RFMF?
7. When will the regime release of information on payments made to Nur Bano since 2007 including the $2m paid for Rewa Dairy Restructure?
8. Will the regime release of information on all payments made to Nazhat Shameem based on $23,000 per month from 2009?
The bitter truth said…
Charlie Charters, like his mother-in-law, cannot tolerate any criticism of Qarase or the SDL. Charlie is just more crafty about it. His latest attempt to discredit a well-researched article on the basis of some alleged minor errors is revealing. Like someone wrote, who gives damn whether LQ was CEO or toilet cleaner. Clever battempt by Charlie to divert attention from the key issues.

We are dealing with high level corruption and Charlie's knickers is in a twist over some position LQ might or might not have held! Haha, this is beyond a joke.

But this is Charlie's style - shoot the messenger, muddy the waters, construct smokescreens, obfuscate. He has done it before.

Charlie, please stop insulting our intelligence.

You claim you do not support your in-law's politics. But you do - very much so - and that your right, but enough of your fatuous denials; it is starting to get nauseating.

I for one am glad this article was reprinted because it reminds us how we taxpayers are being screwed by the likes of LQ, mahen and other leaders. We are sick and tired of it. We are powerless. Articles of this nature are useful for naming and shaming.

Bravo Subhas, keep up the good work brother, you do not deserve the abuse. For those attacking you the truth is a bitter pill to swallow.
Anonymous said…
Answer this crosbie if you are a man of any credibility?
Anonymous said…
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Cin Cin said…
LQ has been out of office for nearly
7 years so how can he still be '
screwing' the taxpayer as you imply?
Best get Subhas on to the case - Qarase is still offending from the confines of his cell - scandalous!
Hope said…
Ohh how the old birds are crying now!! Can only look towards a positive future!! This country has been raped by its own native kids!! Hopefully the big stick remains and does not get involved in the same racket otherwise this cycle coups will continue forever!!
Charlie Charters said…

The Bitter Truth - I am not nor have I ever been an SDL supporter. I have never attended a single SDL rally (including Mere Samisoni's) nor contributed one single cent to the SDL except once to attend a function when I bought a dinner place, because I wanted to hear the speaker, Lynton Crosbie, an internationally renowned election campaign strategist.

As always, I am sorry that my choice of writing under my own name allows people to make incorrect assumptions about the politics that I hold. It is profoundly irritating because apart from anything else it allows people who hide by anonymous names ('verminous, cretinous cowards' I believe is how Graham Davis has addressed such people in the past) to attack the person rather than to debate the issues.

You will not hear from me any glowing endorsement of Qarase or the SDL government, except that they won the consent of the electorate to govern. That counts for something.

In the article under discussion - the academic presented a picture that was wholly partial. Which is fine - most of what he says I agree with as a point of view. Politics can be ghastly business full of compromise, sleight of hand and pork-barrel spending. It is that all across the world.

But the facts are the facts - and some of the key facts in the backgrounder were wrong.

If you are going to write polemics, that is fine, but just get the basic facts right. Or is the cause of the regime so pure, perfect and spiritually uplifting, that we no longer even have to be bothered by getting the truth right?
Anonymous said…
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rusi said…
I think Croz should look at this link and reflect given his relentless advocacy for the regime, their tactics and their thugs. I challenge him to watch it all the way through and then lets hear his thoughts. Note the police radio going off in the back ground and the transcript can be obtained from Barbara Malimali. Note the torturer attempting to break the ankle of the prisoner.
Background on torture said…
What about some background on torture of hogtied defenceless men? It is beyond me how people like you and your wife can support such a human rights abusing terrible regime of thugs? For you to take holidays in Fiji funded by this cowardly and illegal regime says a lot about who you really are.

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