Of Rumours and the Impossibility of Appearing Fair-Minded

Col. Saumatua
This blog has always tried to be fair-minded by generally but not always publishing the argument of both sides on major issues, by checking on stories before publishing them and by acknowledging sources where this is possible.  This does not mean, however, that it is always neutral. From its inception the blog  has given more prominence to the Fiji Government position because up until 2009 the Fiji media published far more opposition opinions, a practice continued by the international media. Since 2009, however, Government has placed restrictions on the local media that were especially heavy under the Public Emergency Regulations. Overt restrictions are fewer today but there can be little doubt that self-censorship by the media has resulted in many items of news and many opinions not being available to the Fiji public. 

Opposing perspectives
Today's situation can be looked at from two perspectives. One perspective is that the lack of access to a free media is an infringement of a basic human right.  It deprives the public of  information, without which they cannot fully participate in the the current political scene.  This is particularly annoying to Fiji's urban, educated public. Another perspective is that those speaking in opposition to Government have almost always been totally negative, often highly personal, and sometimes have said things that are quite untrue. The accusation that Government intends to deprive iTaukei of their land is a case in point. 

My personal view is that Government, from a long time back, should have set up one or more citizen advisory groups to advise Cabinet, or at least informally consulted informed and influential citizens on a regular basis. Had they done this, I think that many who now oppose Government would have continued to support it.    For a while, the Ghai Commission performed something of this role but its 'transition'  proposals for the period leading to elections and the oversight of parliament by an unelected forum  were clearly unacceptable to the Bainimarama Government.   Moderate people must know, from almost weekly examples,  that the barrage of criticism and accusations levelled at Government simply makes it dig its feet in harder, and make it even less willing to listen to the views of others.

Unfortunately, almost all the groups that could once have influenced Government are now unable to do so.  They have been tarred with the same brush as the extreme opposition. It has not helped either, that both Bainimarama and Sayed-Khaiyum take things far too personally, and seem unprepared to compromise. The very sensible suggestion that it should be possible to amend the future constitution in more ways than a national referendum is a case in point,  The impression created is  it's "Their way or no way" which is not the impression any government of the people should project.

However, it's all very well to say that this should not be.  I agree.  But this is how it is.

 If the same people wish to influence Government, they need to rethink their strategies because they are not working. Which brings us to the most important issue: What is Fiji's future and where should the moderate, educated, fair-minded public stand now that the choice seems to be between support for Government or support for the coalition of opposition parties?  

The ultimate choice
Ultimately it boils down to a mix of trust, faith and, hopefully, not too much self interest.

If they support Government,  there is a possibility that the democracy after 2014 may also include a military presence.  If they cannot stand Sayed-Khaiyum, he'll probably be there in some capacity.

If they support the "coalition", they should know that it is a coalition of convenience, not a coalition of principle, and is therefore likely to fragment as soon as the more powerful partner decides it has served its purpose. The most powerful partner is SODELPA, the old SDL in a new guise. And if there is any doubt about what it intends if returned to government, one only needs to look at its submissons to the Ghai Commission and the Government's draft constitution: a return to divisive communal politics; covert racism, enhanced influence by the Great Council of Chiefs with a decisive influence in Senate, and even an outside chance that Fiji may become a Christian State.  No serious attempt will be made to make all citizens feel equally Fijian, and few ordinary iTaukei will benefit from land rents, scholarships, jobs, or even rural development.  The same chiefly-urban elite will be back with the same policies and prejudices.

This is why this blog has moved towards more support for Government. It has, and will, criticize Government from time to time but always in a helpful, positive fashion.

But, given a choice between the risks involved, I think ordinary Fijians will be better off living with the "risks" of a Government-led government than with the "risks" of the old SDL.

I wish there were other choices, but I can't see any.

-- Croz Walsh

An email exchange
I wrote the above  in response to an email from a long-term reader. The emails exchange speaks  for itself:

Hi Croz,    Both of today's papers tell readers that Colonel Saumatua resigned "for personal reasons" from his portfolio of Minister for Housing, Environment, Local Government and Urban Development. But that is not really what happened. What did is that, when the AG dismissed the special administrators of first Rakiraki and then Sigatoka(?) over the past week, the good colonel was never apprised of the matter - all news to him. So he dared to ask the AG what was happening. Result? also dismissed. Another result is that the AG adds another minister's salary to his paypacket - for a while, at least.

To which I replied:

Many thank X. I'll look into it as best I can.   Have decided to make less posts from now on.  Not yet sure of my  timetable, but probably one analytical post a week, and   the more important news items.   Best wishes, Croz

To which X replied:

Croz, Thanks for your note. However, is it possible you are a little disillusioned about the state of affairs in Fiji? If so, then join the club ... The next 12+ months should be interesting in Fiji; I'm thinking that many people would like access to an impartial, objective and insightful 'opposite' read on Fiji during that time - in contrast to what Qorvis serves up in the 'Sun' and where its publishers and none other dares to present insightful, impartial and objective discussion.
Where is the Croz of five or so years ago? X

My enquiries in Fiji produced:

Hi Croz, The Minister gave an interview today saying he was not in great health (he had heart surgery last year) and he needed some time off, he also stated his ongoing support for government, the rest is all speculation and rumours.

My first reader X believes one story; my second reader another. Both cannot be true,  Other readers would do well to note that almost every change in Government has resulted in rumours of the Attorney-General, and not the PM,  running Government and taking largess. These  accusations have always been denied by Government and often, as in Col. Saumatua's case, by the person most affected.    Before you make up your mind, read the press releases below.

“My resignation was for personal reasons”
June 19, 2013 | Filed under: Fiji News | Posted by: newsroom  

The former Minister for Local Government, Urban Development, Housing and Environment, Colonel Samuela Saumatua revealed this to the Fiji Sun at his residence in Lami yesterday.
He said he had tendered his resignation last Friday to the Prime Minister’s Office.
The pressure at work was mounting and he admitted that because of the status of his health he had not been performing well.
“Remember that I don’t do things half way as this to me is not being faithful to my work and especially to the people I serve,” he said.
When asked if the sacking of the Nadi Town Council special administrator had anything to do with his resignation, the former Minister said that the decision was made and for him it was now history.

On his future plans
Asked about Politics, he said: “It’s too early to make any predictions about my political future but at the moment I have no plans to be involved in politics.”
A relaxed Colonel Saumatua said first and foremost he would undertake a de-stress programme to get his health back to 100 per cent.
“I’ll have a good rest for one month to get my health back to normal,” Colonel Saumatua said.
“But there is a military quote that says: ‘Soldiers die with their boots on.’”
Colonel Saumatua said his resignation did not mean he would just stay at home.

Support for Government intact

Colonel Saumatua also reaffirmed his support for the Government.
For him, he said he never ever dreamed he would become a Government Minister but had responded positively to the call by the Prime Minister to join his Cabinet.
He said he had carried out his ministerial responsibilities to the best of his ability and hoped his successor would continue from where he had left.
Colonel Saumatua said on his directive, a team in the Northern Division had worked on the Northern Corridor Master Plan
This master plan, will improve urban development and management growth with the Northern Division especially from Labasa, right up to Nabouwalu, including Savusavu Town.
A similar plan is also being developed by the Department of Town and Country Planning in the Western Division called the Western Corridor Master Plan.

The special administrator for Sigatoka and Nadi, Aisea Tuidraki, and the CEO of the Nadi Town Council, Nemia Tagi, have been terminated.

 In Nadi, Praveen Bala, the Special Administrator of Lautoka, will assume the responsibilities of special administrator until such a time as Mr Tuidraki’s successor is announced.

 And Jay Whyte, prominent businessman and tourism industry figure, will become Sigatoka’s very own special administrator.

Mr Whyte will appoint a committee of local stakeholders to assist him in his duties.

 The changes were announced by the Attorney General and Minister of Anti-Corruption, Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum, who said they’d been made in the interests of transparency and better service delivery for the residents of both towns and would be widely welcomed.

 The Attorney General revealed that Mr Tuidraki and Mr Tagi were being investigated by the Fiji Independent Commission Against Corruption ( FICAC).

 “While charges have yet to be laid, the Government is extremely concerned that both men had declined to cooperate fully with FICAC. Irrespective of the outcome of any investigation, this is clearly not the standard required of our local government officials and we were left with no choice,” the AG said.

 The Attorney-General said there had also been serious complaints made about other aspects of Mr Tuidraki’s and Mr Tagi’s conduct, including allegations of favouritism in the allocation of jobs and contracts. 

It was also being alleged that the office of the Special Administrator had not been keeping proper records.

“Whatever the outcome of the current inquiries, they are secondary to the need to provide the ratepayers of Nadi and Sigatoka with a high degree of transparency, accountability, performance and confidence that their interests are paramount. On that basis alone, the Special Administrator’s and the CEO’s positions were clearly untenable”, he said.

 “The Government is also very grateful that Mr. Whyte has offered to perform the role of Special Administrator in Sigatoka for no remuneration,” the AG added. -- MOI.


Joe said…
Croz, your analysis of sodelpa is spot on. I would like to take the 2014 election scenario a bit further. The Fijians of Indian decent have always block voted for a given party in past elections, ie for NFP since the 60's and then switched to FLP 3 decades later. 2014 will see an unprecedented chunk of indo votes going to Frank's party, which also has a huge iTaukei support base all over Fiji except Rewa and Cakaudrove. This effectively means that Frank's party will have a clear mandate to govern in its own right. Sodelpa is still a formidable force, but will not win outright. A coalition govt is another scenario that should be looked at. Frank will never ever go into coalition with sodelpa or flp. NFP or PDP will be the likely coalition choices for Frank, should the need arise. Having said that, I think FLP will be history this time around. PDP has powerful unionists in their side. It is still fresh in people's minds that these unionists called for a tourism boycott, threatening thousands of jobs and well being of the middle class and their families. The way out for them is to make a public apology for their dirty dealings with foreign powers like Sharon Burrow and Ged Kearny. If they fail to do this, the sympathy votes will go to NFP, and PDP will make it to the history books.
desmond said…
Can it be true that EVEN under this military regime there is corruption? The fact they need to replace mulitple administratorssays a great deal?? Oh dear. I can assume they are going to blame Qarase for this too? What ever happend to the 'crime free Fiji' and rule of law. I am yet to see the justice in a premtive sacking prior to charges being laid. Perhaps we should apply the same values to Bainimaram aand Khaiyum? If not it would be par for the course in the 'one rule for us and one for the rest of you' fijian regime.
Who cares said…
Just another military thug who got what he deserved. Well done khaiyum. Keep showing them who the boss is.
Kai India mai Nakelo said…
@ Desmond

Seems to me that if there is corruption, this government is doing something about it !!
Junta watch said…
You mean like keeping the junta bandits' salary theft secret?
Sick of it said…
Perspectives? How about your perspective on Satish Narayan's sacking by Fiji TV?
Feel free to make lemonade out of these lemons but EVERY sign points to a crumbling and poorly managed government, restricting freedoms and information sharing.

Enough is enough.
Kai India mai Nakelo said…
Junta watch

I wonder what the total salary bill for Qarase's cabinet was, where anybody and everybody was a Minister ??
eoJ said…
The Indian vote will be split between Bainimarama and FLP.

iTaukei on the other hand will overwhelmingly vote for SODELPA.

As Bill Clinton said during the last American elections... it's basic arithmetic. The winner is obvious.
Joe said…
You are not in touch with reality my friend, FLP has lost its Indo support, and the $3.8 million declaration by MPC has put a few more nails in the FLP coffin.
Time-bound said…
Mr Whyte 'has got it ryght'. Work for the best interest of the people 'pro bono publico'. In other words 'UNPAID'. Because is it not self-evident: at the end of the drama when the unpicking takes place, the measure of one's service will be weighed thus: Who used public money to better their own interest? It is a simple equation. When the Commission for Reparations is assembled, this will be the yardstick. There will be others but this is overriding. Who was paid to achieve what ends and under what authority? If we care for ideas, then we need to get serious about them. Democracy does not 'immaculately conceive'. It does not evolve 'sui generis'. A March of Folly may be historically assessed and reviewed. It is time for an examination of conscience. And SMART applies: time-bound.

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