AUSTRALIAN public servants can learn nothing from Fiji’s bureaucracy, says a Fijian academic expelled from the country and now based in Canberra.
Foreign Minister Julie Bishop’s meeting a fortnight ago to repair relations with the country ruled by Commodore Frank Bainimarama included a low-key public servant exchange program between the two nations.
But, said Australian National University’s Professor Brij Lal, Canberra bureaucrats will learn nothing in Suva where the heads of departments are military men.
”Their presence at the top stifles process,” Professor Lal said.
”They’re not accountable to the public service commission but report straight to the commodore.
”If you write to any civil servant asking them for an answer, you won’t get an answer. Everyone is scared of putting an answer down on paper – it’s the fear factor.
”If there’s a genuine openness to reinvigorate the Fijian public service, unaffected by dictation from the top, that’s good.”
Commodore Bainimarama, the son of civil servants, has himself had first-hand experience of the public service.
Once, in 2002, he even reportedly attended courses in leadership and change management and policy planning analysis.
But after his 2006 coup, he sacked Public Service Commission chairman Stuart Huggett and there were unconfirmed reports at the time that Mr Huggett was assaulted.
In 2009 Fiji expelled Australia’s top public servant in the country, high commissioner James Batley.
Fijian-born Professor Lal – now an Australian citizen – was expelled from his country after criticising the decision. Fiji last year refused entry to Australia’s proposed high commissioner, Margaret Twomey.
The Department of Foreign Affairs says Fiji’s economy and living standards have been affected by the 2006 coup, particularly because regime supporters and military leaders have been appointed to boards.
Since the coup, Fiji’s economy has been stagnant with an annual growth rate of just 0.7 per cent. This compares with 2.5 per cent growth in the years preceding the coup.
It has only been in the past two years that there has been signs of recovery