Political Round Up: Last Week in February

By Crosbie Walsh

Tropical Depression 15F, currently bringing high winds, heavy rain and flooding, to many parts of Fiji causing power cuts, water problems, school closures, public service workers being sent home, and evacuation centres to be established, pushed political news off the front pages from Wednesday onwards.

It has also caused a delay in Bainimarama's anticipated announcement on his new political party and on his successor as Commander-in-Chief of the RFMF, leaving us all unsure whether it will be his brother-in-law Francis Kean, convicted of manslaughter for killing a  guest at Bainimarama's daughter's wedding some years back, or the present Commander Land Force Colonel Mosese Tikoitoga, or perhaps some other officer.
Francis Kean
Colonel Mosese Tikoitoga

The National Youth  Party
While the ultimate political contest is likely to be between the Bainimarama party and some coalition of the old political parties, one should not ignore other parties. If the contest is close, the votes they win could be critical.  One such party (if it's serious)  is the proposed National Youth Party that will target new, young voters with promises of jobs, pay increases, help in setting up businesses, and more PhD scholarships.  It's all nonsense, of course, but spokesman Nayagodamu Korovou may be able to fool some of them.

The ineffectiveness of sanctions
The blog Fiji Today reported an international expert on the effectiveness of sanctions who said on a global scale Fiji's case scores very poorly. Gary Hufbauer of the Washington-based Peterson Institute for International Economics says on a scale of one to 16, the sanctions brought by countries like New Zealand and Australia on Fiji have only achieved a score of about four. "Even if he (Bainimarama) allows his opponents to run, there is that question of whether the polling booths will be open long enough, votes will be accurately counted and so forth, so I will hold on to my scepticism til we get much closer. Maybe knock it up to four, but our cut off for success is nine and this is way below."  Other experts have no problem with one day voting.

Hufbauer thought the sanctions would have been more effective had the ANZ governments somehow persuaded or stopped their citizens from holidaying in Fiji.  Between 2002 and 2012, tourist numbers jumped from 398,000 a year to 661,000. Some 48% were Australians and 16% New Zealanders.

Laptop stolen
Earlier in the week came reports that a laptop computer containing sensitive data had been taken from the Elections Office by a member of staff without authorisation  and then stolen from her home. The computer has now been recovered from a well known thief and the officer continues to be employed.

The acting Commissioner of Police has reaffirmed "that the integrity of the National Register of Voters has not been compromised by this incident in any way whatsoever, nor has it affected our ability to hold elections within the time frame prescribed under the Constitution."

Chaudhry's money problems
Of more importance, because it could decide whether FLP's Mahendra Chaudhry will be able to stand in the September election, is that his lawyers are seeking to have the charge against him on three breaches of the Exchange Control Act dismissed.  The charges relate to overseas bank accounts, investments and re-investments.

The first count concerns Chaudhry's failure to surrender foreign currency, where it is alleged that he retained AUS$1.5 million for his own benefit without the consent of the Governor of the Reserve Bank of Fiji. The second count is in relation to dealing in foreign currency otherwise than with an authorised dealer without  permission. And the third count relates to failure to collect debts where it is alleged that Chaudhry, having the right to receive a sum of AUS$1.5 million from the financial institutions in Australia and New Zealand, caused the delay of payment of the sum, in whole or in part, to himself by authorising the continual investment of the sum together with interest acquired back into financial institutions without the permission of the Governor of the Reserve Bank of Fiji.

Australian registrations
The registration to vote of  664 Fijian citizens living in Australia may be the "first of its kind in Fiji’s history" as government claims, but the  nine-day campaign during which five teams travelled to 49 locations around the ACT, NSW, Queensland and Victoria, which have the the the highest populations of Fijian citizens, but the uptake seems small proportionate to the likely costs.

Meanwhile, Cabinet ...
 pressed on with the everyday affairs of legislating for the country, presumably confident what what it rules will stick after the elections.

They approved a $120 million Government Guarantee for the Fiji Development Bank’s (FDB) borrowings and term deposits that will allow for continued lending to essential sectors of the economy, particularly, resource-based sectors including Agriculture, Mining and Quarrying, Manufacturing, Transport, Communications and Storage, Small and Micro Enterprises (SME) in Wholesale, Retail and Hotels, and Professional and Business Services which will assist the disadvantaged of the community to earn a decent livelihood.

They approved amendments to the Value Added Tax (Amendment) Decree 2014, the Fringe Benefit Tax (Amendment) Decree 2014 and the Customs (Amendment) Regulations 2014 that will provide support to the local fishing industry,

They agreed to work with  key stakeholders to establish the first rehabilitation facility for street beggars who are both homeless and mentally challenged. The Interagency Taskforce on Beggars spearheaded by the Ministry of Social Welfare in partnership with the Fiji Police and relevant non-government organisations have embarked on a major plan to build this facility. The Taskforce had gathered information on each of the beggars in Suva and discovered that there are those who have good homes and own properties, while there are those who are mentally challenged and they are neglected by their families. Given these findings, the Taskforce has embarked on a major plan which is to build a rehabilitation facility for  street beggars who don’t have a place to stay. The facility will provide care services to those who are mentally challenged and need medical attention. Vocation training will also be provided to assist them to venture into income generating projects and become self-sufficient.

The Ministry of Social Welfare, Women and Poverty Alleviation is now financially supporting income-generating projects targeted towards assisting women in peri-urban and squatter settlements. Previously the focus had been on assisting rural women. The Ministry is working with the Fiji Women’s Federation Advisory (FWF) Committee to implement livelihood projects to uplift the lives of those who are challenged with poverty and unemployment. Fiji Muslim Women’s League
president, Ms Nisha Buksh has commended the Bainimarama government’s effort to economically empower disadvantaged groups of Fijians in the country.

One of the reasons Bainimarama gave for the 2006 Coup was to get rid of corruption.  Much has been achieved since but the work goes on. During the week, a  former Chief Administration Officer of the Ministry of Public Enterprises pleaded not guilty to charges of receiving a corrupt benefit of $12,592.95 and giving false information. The FICAC laid charges of Bitu in early January. The case hase been adjourned until June. The week also saw the the suspension of Sigatoka Town Council chief executive officer, Anand Pillay following allegations of some ‘shady dealings’.

A last word to  Fiji Live's regular totally unscientific poll. To the question asked this week,  "Should we have more women representatives in Parliament?", 48% said yes and 52$% said no. We do not know the number or the gender of those voting.


Tip 1 said...

Croz - my tip is one will get the RFMF job, the other with get the Police Commissioner gig. A head of police who punched and kicked a man to death (and did no time in jail, get his job and full pay only to be promoted) might be a bit much for even this government so suspect kean will get the army job where his actions are well suited !

What if ? said...

Dear Mr Walsh, Very insterested in your thoughts on what will happen if Bainimarama's new party does not win the elction (or is not able to form a coalition) ? It is hard to imagine he would accept any sort of return to the past and since the others parties are all living in the past ? It is also hard to imagine he would accept any kind of retribution but given he has sought to 'get back' at so many people ? Would welcom your or readers views on 'what if' he losses the election !

Rocky said...

Croz, I think corruption is still a big problem in Fiji. Any where you see, 'whom do you know/how much you can give' is the trend. Ministry of Education is at the top list. Brijlal and Vasundra are taking bribe openly and the Minister - Bole is sleeping in his wheelchair.

Another Ministry is PSC - Parmesh Chand is selling his honesty at the rate of $5,000.00.

Thirdly, Ministry of Lands - the lawyer appointed there knows shit about her job, yet runs such a important Ministry in a bush business way.

Even in the Judiciary, the Principal Admin Officer is handling 'just' everything. Judiciary is overstaffed and more relatives and friends are being taken in to fill the salary folder.

These are few to name, AND you are saying corruption has been dealt with.

I am not against Frank, most of the things he did is very good - changes are welcomed but he overlooks most of the things - that is not good sign of a leader.

Let Fiji decide in September - however it will be a very difficult choice to make this time.

God bless Fiji.

What a mess said...

Fiji is certainly in a deplorable state of affairs. It is going to take many years for Fiji to recover from this collapse of democracy and the rule of law.

Anonymous said...

I agree. We still don't know what the AG,PM or CJ get paid. If what has been touted turns out to be true, I would suggest that is corruption that is unparalleled in Fijian history.

10 grand here and ten grand there pales into insignificance. This nepotism of employing family and friends is also corruption. There is also countless examples of "noble cause" corruption.

The very fact that there is no independence of FICAC (under the AG's control) shows that in a totalitarian state ( in the absence of the rule of law and democracy) corruption thrives.

Croz, how can you continue to right information that is simply untrue. Do you not appreciate the rule of law and democracy and transparency that NZ has. If these hallmarks of fairness are too much for you why do you remain in NZ. You certainly take for granted your homeland. The misinformation you espouse would serve any nasty totalitarian regime well.

You think you know Fiji well. I prefer the observations of an educated person like Mr Dobell. Even Mr Naidu (former Fijian Law Society president). They are qualified to comment. Your rovings are dangerous and downright insulting to the average Fijian. Your inexplicable sycophantic leanings know no bounds. Perhaps one day you will reveal your motivations for supporting a regime that has no sense of fairness and justice.

Anonymous said...

Croz narrowed down his top 2 contenders to Kean and Tikoitoga for the RFMF Commanders post.

And he was right as Tikoitoga was chosen.

This to me shows Croz knows events in Fiji really well, understands the local politics and have a very good degree of understanding of the RFMF.

Well done Croz. You've very reliable and thanks for your contributions. Much appreciated.