By VICTOR LAL
Fiji Sun, 19/7/2008
Two members of the National Council for Building a Better Fiji have once again slammed those who are opposing the direction the interim government and its supporters are taking the country since the 5 December 2006 coup.
Replying to contributor Shailendra Raju in last week’s Fiji Sun (9/7/08), Lorine Tevi and Josefa Serulagilgi, two members of the NCBBF, effusively praised those 200 or so selfless souls who they claim have given up their time for their country. The two also extolled the military as people just like us who want better lives for their children.
What the two failed to point out was that those selfless souls get paid quite well, the military still contains those who tortured, humiliated, threatened and murdered their own people, as well as those who ordered such acts. No apology has been forthcoming. The President’s emergency powers don’t extend to illegally seeking to alter the 1997 Constitution or at attempts to muzzle press freedom in the country.
The NCBBF is directed by a bunch of election losers, not least by a man who has lied to parliament and sought to dodge legitimate taxes on secret overseas accounts running into millions which he collected in the name of his very own people. He is yet to provide a satisfactory explanation as to why he used the $2million, even giving $50,000 to his daughter as a gift, when he never settled down in Australia. Who, for example, is Harbhajan Lal, the Indian Santa Claus, who sent to FIRCA that highly dubious and questionable letter in September 2004?
Another interim Cabinet minister allegedly received a million dollars from a hotelier to fight the last general election but used a part of the money for his own personal use, according to some of his own failed election candidates. I had investigated the allegation and was ready to publish my findings, with supporting evidence, when the interim regime hastily deported Fiji Sun publisher Russell Hunter to Australia
Since its inception, the NCBBF has meant different things to different peoples. Some have branded it as Non-elected Collectables for Bullying and Battering Fijians (i.e. the Fiji Islanders). Others have ascribed other unprintable names to the NCBBF. Whatever name one chooses to describe the NCBBF, it is clear that its power lies not in some obscure edict from the President but is derived from the power of the military guns.
The two NCBBF members have once again defended Father Arms recommendation for changes to the electoral system, for the country to use the PR Open List system. Like everything else, even Father Arms has suggested that the regime should take advantage of the parliamentary void, and push through his electoral recommendation.
But as I have argued elsewhere, it has become very obvious that the electoral reforms is not about a better and fairer voting system but it is about improving the Fiji Labour Party’s chances of winning the next elections, a hope which the military had entertained in the 2006 general election.
The two NCBBF members have also been explaining what the NCBBF means by a truly democratic Fiji and a non-racial Fiji. How can the NCBBF achieve its vision when the interim Prime Minister Commodore Frank Bainimarama struts around also as Minister for Indigenous Affairs. On the one hand, he talks about a non-racial Fiji, accusing i-taukei Fijians of being ethno-nationalists, and yet presents himself as the custodian of indigenous interests. He cannot have it both ways.
The NCBBF claims that, ”Our problem in Fiji is that we have, historically, through inherited systems, institutions, laws, policies and practices, defined and structured our relations in every day life, and especially in politics (the electoral system for example) that constantly pitch community against community”.
What does Cmdre Bainimarama’s indigenous ministry stand for? A non-racial Fiji? Aren’t we perpetuating the historical tradition here, when the British abolished the Ministry of Indian Affairs but strengthened the Ministry of Fijian Affairs? The paramount political chiefs continued the colonial tradition after independence, and resorted to their chiefly power base – the Great Council of Chiefs – to fight for their indigenous rights
Many citizens had welcomed the Commodore’s outburst that the chiefs should go and drink home brew under a coconut tree but now find that many of the pliant or pro-coup chiefs are coming back, whether sober or drunk, to form a new re-constituted Great Council of Chiefs. Isn’t the chiefly Council a relic of the past, which the interim regime is now trying to revive in a new form?
What about the Provincial Councils, another symbol of division among the different races? Instead of abolishing them, only recently the regime dished out $60,000 of public money to enable the Lau Provincial Council to hold its meeting, elect a Mara as its chairman, and vote on the so-called Peoples Charter which has not even been sighted as a first draft. Why was there a need to hold the meeting of a group of i-taukei in the police compound in Nasova? Will the regime provide the compound to Suva’s homeless, mostly native Fijian youth, as night shelter?
There are so much ridiculous and unreal objectives mouthed by the NCBBF? The one regarding the role of the military in righting Fiji’s racial wrongs take the cake. The two NCBBF members claimed that, ”The RFMF wants to return to professional independence and not to be manipulated again in future to support the political agendas of ethno-nationalist politicians and extreme sects such as that represented by George Speight and his followers. The RFMF has learnt from experience that extremists do not represent the larger interest of the nation”.
A member of the NCBBF, Jone Dakuvula, who resigned from the CCF, to take up his new post, says the military will not repeatedly execute coups if it is not manipulated by politicians. He was responding to New Zealand Foreign Affairs Minister Winston Peters’ question on how to stop the coup culture. Mr Dakuvula said the military was being used by politicians to stage coups.
Which politician or politicians manipulated Commodore Bainimarama to execute the 2006 coups? Was it the deposed Prime Minister Laisenia Qarase? Meanwhile, the Commodore is yet to explain why he submitted that famous affidavit to the High Court claiming that taukei Fijian interests overrode all other interests, and had refused to allow deposed Prime Minister Mahendra Chaudhry to return to office. He was assisted in the task by none other than the present President Ratu Josefa Iloilo, whom the NCBBF and the regime have elevated to the status of some demi-god to justify their unaccountable actions.
If one were to accept the logic of the regime, the military, and the NCBBF, that for us to move the country forward, we need a clean slate, than the two most important persons one has to take to task is the Commodore and the President for their respective roles in the aftermath of the 2000 coup.
For if we are to accept Mr Chaudhry’s criticism of the two men in 2001, especially the President, than why should we condone His Excellency’s decrees following the 2006 coup. We may recall that the High Court had ruled in Mr Chaudhry’s favour, paving the way for Parliament to be reconvened and the elected government restored to office. This, however, was hardly what the post-coup authorities had in mind.
“What took place in Fiji next was a blatant and wilful distortion and manipulation of the constitutional and legal system to allow the army-backed regime to continue in office,” Mr Chaudhry claimed. On 14 March 2001, President Ratu Josefa dismissed Mr Chaudhry and proceeded to appoint Ratu Tevita Momoedonu, a member of Mr Chaudhry’s ousted government, as Prime Minister for 24 hours to legalize his next move. He then dissolved Parliament on Ratu Tevita’s advice and reappointed Mr Qarase as caretaker Prime Minister. In his analysis of the events, Mr Chaudhry described Ratu Tevita as “a puppet Prime Minister” and the whole appointment for a day was farcical and it made a mockery of the constitution.
Mr Chaudhry also went on to berate the President himself: “The constitution requires the President to be appointed by the Great Council of Chiefs in consultation with the Prime Minister. In the next questionable move Ratu Josefa Iloilo, placed in office after the coup and who the Appeals Court declared to be in an acting capacity only, convened a meeting of the Great Council of Chiefs, and got himself appointed President.”
What all these events clearly meant, he claimed, was that Fiji’s post-coup authorities had no respect for the rule of law. He also cast doubt on the results of the 2001 general election, which saw Ratu Josefa appoint Mr Qarase as the new Prime Minister of Fiji.
The appointment of one of Mr Chaudhry’s FLP parliamentarians and a member of the NCBBF, Kamlesh Arya, as Fiji’s acting High Commissioner to Australia, will reinforce the opposition of many who see the NCBBF as another outlet for career advancements. In Mr Arya’s case, he has been the most vocal supporter of the coup. Cynics will ask whether the appointment is a sop to the Hindus before the next general election?
Mr Arya is reported as saying that his dream has come true to serve his country. Well, if we are to eradicate the coup culture, we must ensure that dreams are not fulfilled on the back of a coup. I am sure there are many other dreamers, who will now hope for another future coup, to fulfil their various dreams, to serve the country
There is another far more important question that could be raised in relation to Mr Arya’s temporary appointment – as a member of the NCBBF is he privy to the fact that there will be no election until 2010, for who would be willing to resign as a member of the NCBBF, the Public Accounts Committee and the boards of two educational institutes if the Australian posting is for only for 8 months – i.e – until the March 2009 elections?
The two NCBBF members also dismissed the analogy with Burma, arguing that Fiji is not Burma and will never be like that. Fiji is not moving towards a military dictatorship. Fiji is moving towards a better democracy with the RFMF strongly committed to that future.
Let me remind them that Fiji may not be Burma yet but if we do not stand up to a bunch of non-elected collectables, the country will become another Burma – the Nobel laureate and deposed Prime Minister Aung San Su Kyi, still under house arrest, is a living testimony to military dictatorship.
And I am speaking from personal experience, for I knew her and her late husband in Oxford for many years until she decided to return to Burma to confront the might of the Burmese junta.
In conclusion, to those inside the NCBBF who have the gall to criticise the critics abroad, its worth reminding them that the great Indian freedom fighter Mahatma Gandhi had dreamed of freeing India and his people, not in his motherland, but in South Africa where he spent 21 years, from 1893 to 1914.
The views expressed are those of Victor Lal and not that of the Fiji Sun. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org