SV says vinaka vakalevu to Mr. Kamal Iyer for his thought-provoking opinion piece that helps put into perspective, the committments and achievements of our past leaders; leaders who may not have been perfect but were considered giants of their time; who spearheaded the broad transformations neccesary, with the fervent hope that we, as a people, would continue to responsibly build on those dreams and aspirations for a more just, equitable and prosperous society.
“Blame It On The Rain – a hit song by pop star Milli Vanilli debuted on the Billboard Hot 100 on October 7, 1989 on the 100th spot and rose to be the Number 1 ranked song on November 25, 1989.
Perhaps interim Prime Minister and army commander Commodore Voreqe Bainimarama wanted to emulate the success of Milli Vanilli when he blamed the 10 Parliaments and the leaders since Independence in 1970 for all the ills currently plaguing Fiji when he launched the draft People’s Charter public outreach and consultation campaign at the Suva Centre on Monday, August 25, 2008.
Unfortunately, Commodore Bainimarama’s blame game rhetoric was a flop – just like some Bollywood movies produced on mega budgets that are huge flops on the box office.
In reality, Commodore Bainimarama sounded exactly like his favourite “Robin Hood” – former interim Finance Minister Mahendra Chaudhry who has blamed anything and everything under the sun except himself for his inherent failure to deliver the goods when it matters.
The Chaudhry syndrome is precisely what Commodore Bainimarama was parroting on Monday evening. He blamed the past 10 Parliaments of having a “sad and dismal record on nation building”. He blamed the past leaders for “dividing us as a people through their rhetoric in Parliament and outside and exploiting the race-based electoral systems for narrow sectarian interests.
Commodore Bainimarama effectively meant that Ambalal Dahyabhai Patel committed a cardinal sin by starting the struggle for independence that led to the end of 96 years of Colonial rule.
Fiji has had five legitimate Chief Ministers or Prime Ministers. They were Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara, who was first appointed as Chief Minister in September 1967, PM from 1970 to April 1987, interim PM from December 1987 to June 2 1992 and Fiji’s second President from December 1993 to May 29, 2000 when he was removed from power by Commodore Bainimarama for reasons known to him.
Dr Timoci Bavadra was PM for only five weeks from April to May 14, 1987 until the NFP/Labour Coalition Government was toppled by a military coup executed by Sitiveni Rabuka. Mr Rabuka became the elected PM in June 1992 (thanks to Mr Chaudhry) and remained in office until May 1999. MP Chaudhry, who vanquished Mr Rabuka at the polls then became Fiji’s first Indian PM but was removed from power on May 19, 2000 in a coup carried out by George Speight with the help of CRW soldiers from the army. He was succeeded by Laisenia Qarase as interim PM (appointed by Bainimarama) and elected as PM in September 2001 and remained in office until December 5, 2006 when his anointer Commodore Bainimarama removed his SDL/FLP Multi-Party Government by executing the fourth military coup. A man of chiefly authority and embodiment of wisdom Ratu Sir Edward Cakobau was an able ally of Ratu Mara until his death in 1973. Ratu Sir George Cakobau became the first local Governor-General of Fiji succeeding Sir Robert Foster until he retired in 1983. Ratu Sir Penaia Ganilau was the Deputy PM and became Fiji’s last Governor-General in 1983 until 1987 when the coup happened. He then became Fiji’s first President until he succumbed to serious illness in December 1993.
The Parliaments that Commodore Bainimarama has treated with contempt also had highly capable and credible Opposition leaders. AD Patel became Opposition Leader in 1967 when Ratu Mara became Chief Minister but his term was cut short by his death on 1st October 1969. Mr Patel also served as a Legislative Council Member from 1944 to 1947 and then from 1963 until his death. He was succeeded by Siddiq Koya who remained Opposition Leader until 1977 and served another term from 1984 to 1986. Mr Koya was also a Member of the Legislative Council from 1963 until Independence. Harish Sharma boasts the second longest record of Parliamentary service. He became an MP in 1972 and remained in the Lower House until May 14, 1987. He served another five years from 1994 to 1999 until he retired from politics. He was a Senator from 1970 to 1972, Opposition Leader in 1986 and Deputy PM for five weeks in 1987. Jai Ram Reddy is Fiji’s longest serving Opposition Leader; from 1977 to 1984 and 1992 to May 1999. He was a Senator from 1972 to 1977.
Commodore Bainimarama should know that AD Patel is credited with leading Fiji towards Independence and constitutional rule. He spearheaded the formation of or planted the ideas to establish several institutions and legislation like Housing Authority, University of the South Pacific, Denning Award for cane farmers and ALTO as the first legislation giving security of tenure to cane farmers. AD Patel led the formation of FNPF which is the lifeline of the several thousand workers to educate their children, enjoy their retirement, build their homes, financial source of support for the families in the current state of economic stagnation and the institution in which more than $20,000 was deposited into Commodore Bainimarama’s account for his social security after his payout of more than $184,000 for 698 days of accumulated leave.
Ratu Mara and SM Koya cooperated to give Fiji many achievements and oversaw national developments. ALTA for secure land leases was achieved. Mr Koya negotiated public holidays for Deepawali and Prophet Muhammad’s Birthday. During their term in Parliament Fiji became a member of the United Nations and Lome Protocol was negotiated to give Fiji preferred access and prices for sugar. Ratu Mara also founded the local pine industry known as Fiji’s green gold. Internationally, his actions led to the formation of the South Pacific Commission, now known as the Secretariat of the Pacific Community and played a key part in negotiations leading to the signing of the UN’s International Law of the Sea Convention. All major national infrastructure developments like Monasavu Hydro Scheme and the national Queens Highway were constructed in Ratu Mara and Ratu Sir Penaia’s era.
If these leaders were failed national leaders then why are Ratu Sir Penaia’s son Ratu Epeli Ganilau and Ratu Mara’s son Ratu Tevita Uluilakeba Mara trusted allies of Commodore Bainimarama in the interim regime and the army respectively?
Mr Rabuka may have carried out the coup but he reformed from a coup maker to a national leader and cooperated with Reddy to give Fiji an internationally acclaimed 1997 Constitution – a Constitution that Commodore Bainimarama, Mr Chaudhry and the NCBBF’s motley crew are ridiculing with their warped logic and convoluted theories.
The problem with Commodore Bainimarama is that may be he hasn’t read debates of both the Legislative Council and Parliament from 1970 to 1999. So he is unable to understand just like his “Robin Hood” that the leaders he blamed always put national interest before self-enrichment and therefore have and are being recognised internationally for their vision and vast reservoirs of goodwill and wisdom. They were as I said on August 2, giants of their time in ability, understanding and perception of the problems facing Fiji. They were not pygmies.
National leadership and statesmanship are not like a bag of potatoes where one rotten potato makes the whole bag stink. Therefore, Commodore Bainimarama should not paint with his blame brush every Fiji national leader or statesman who has been at the helm of leadership at various stages of our nation’s history just because of one or two rotten and stinking leaders”.
(Saturday 30Aug08 edition, Fiji Times)