May 20 2014
An opinion by Mick Beddoes
Former Leader of the Opposition,
It’s very noticeable that Frank Bainimarama’s image-makers from the Qorvis PR Company have been busy redefining the coup leader’s image. They are trying hard to portray him as a kind and gentle father figure, thinking only of the wellbeing of the people, always ready to lend a helping hand and a completely devoted servant of all things good and true. His old Blue Bus, bare feet and shorts are props to show him as a leader with the common touch.
The latest tactic in the remaking of Bainimarama is an attempt to place him on a very elevated political level. This involves his preaching to the political parties in a recent Fiji Times article by Nasik Swami about the need for them to campaign with honesty, sincerity, love, and – get this – “affection without pretence”.
It gets better. He says his rivals should tell people about their policies in a positive manner, putting the interests of Fiji first, before their political careers.
And then: Everyone must work together to change the culture of “malice and deceit” that many older parties and politicians have practiced and continue to practice. We should all embrace sincere leaders who truly care for everyone. I wonder if he has anyone in mind?
Now, we have all experienced Frank’s repressive military rule and his dictatorial and threatening ways. This not only makes the latest Qorvis Bainimarama p.r. gambit hard to swallow. It stretches credibility beyond breaking point. This time Qorvis have crafted an image too far.
What they conveniently omitted from their scheme – for sound professional reasons no doubt – is that Frank Bainimarama has ruled through fear, persecution, intimidation and abuse of rights.
Fear is his prime weapon of choice to keep the populace under control. He was a master of threatening statements and gestures. I know because I’ve been on the receiving end of many.
Who can forget him, not so long ago, grim-faced in military gear, leading armed soldiers through the streets of Suva? This was pure intimidation aimed directly at the people.
We are in charge, we are armed and dangerous and don’t you forget it. This was the message of honesty and sincerity Frank sent out.
He told us on television, when he was starting to talk about public consultation on a new constitution, that his government would not tolerate an “iota” of dissent. When that kind of comment is made by a military dictator who remains in power by force of arms the meaning is clear. There is no affection and love in that threat.
When he urged massed ranks of his troops to be “professional, determined, tenacious and physically fit” in their support for his government’s efforts to bring about change, he was not expressing gentle thoughts.
It was under his watch that Sakiusa Rabaka, Tevita Malasebe and Nimilote Verebasaga were beaten to death. This was malice in its most hideous form.
We must not forget that many citizens, including Felix Anthony, Kenneth Zinck, Laisa Digitaki, Virisila Buadromo, Jacqueline Koroi, Pita Waqavonovono, Sam Speight and Richard Naidu, to mention just a few, were subject to special and extremely unpleasant treatment. Na Marama Bale Na Roko Tui Dreketi, Ro Teimumu Kepa, was locked in a cell in the dead of night.
His reservoir of affection in these episodes was empty but his bucket of malice and abuse towards his fellow citizenswas overflowing.
Few of us will ever forget the shocking images of a prison escapee and his accomplice undergoing the most savage beating by thugs who appeared to be members of the security forces. This was seen worldwide on You Tube. This certainly did not portray love in paradise. And Frank Bainimarama supported the perpetrators. His men, he said, were doing their duty. His feelings of affection and love were again absent.
Those who were on the Bainimarama regime’s travel ban experienced a very unpleasant type of persecution. They usually did not find out until they were at the airport that they were not allowed to travel. No affection there.
Frank Bainimarama has an unhealthy obsession with pensions. Several thousand hapless pensioners lost a large part of their income because he thought their legally-agreed pension contracts should be changed. Then just to rub it in he enacted a law preventing them from seeking legal redress.
A cruel decree is still in place that gives Frank Bainimarama the power to stop the pensions of retired members of parliament. He used this against former parliamentarians presumably as a form of control and punishment.
Pension entitlements of former Prime Minister Laisenia Qarase is still being withheld today, 8 years on. There are no administrative reasons why he has not being paid what he is legally owed. I believe the payout was approved last year, but the file still sits on someone’s desk in the PM’s office, why? How can a single straight forward pension entitlement take 8 years to process? Do they seriously expect us to believe this is the level of ‘competence’ in processing a single pension in the office concerned? Or perhaps this is what he means by honesty, sincerity, love and affection without pretense? Or is it more likely nothing more than someone in power being mean spirited and filled with malice & deceit.
The other pensioners who lost out are unlikely to feel that he was motivated by care, love and affection when he slashed their pensions for a problem that is still many years away and could have been resolved progressively over a period of time.
In view of his new image, what does Frank Bainimarama have to say about the fouled-mouth abuse he directed at a priest? What was this about? affection without pretense? Or was it just Frank being Frank?
It would seem to me that the reality of this new personality that Qorvis is projecting can be found in the raft of repressive decrees and measures that remain in place today that restrict liberties and rights of the very people whose votes he now seeks. He might even use one of them to punish me for responding to him with this article.
Until he voluntarily forfeits all protection he has given himself under his immunity provisions and willingly subjects himself to the same laws every citizen voter is subject to, and lets due process to take its course, he is hardly putting the greater interest of Fiji before his own.
He cannot offer proof that older politicians and political parties practice malice and deceit because there is none; he’s made this up. I challenge him to name just one of those from this group whose conduct has been as remotely malicious and deceitful as his.
In fact it is fair to say that malice and deceit accurately reflect the governance style of Frank Bainimarama and many of his associates.
The best example of this is Frank Bainimarama’s treatment of our chiefs. He poured unprecedented scorn on them, told them to “go and drink home brew under a mango tree” and then abolished their institution the Great Council of Chiefs. In fact he has virtually said he aims to destroy the chiefly system.
Now he is chasing after them for their votes?
Perhaps there is love and affection growing in his heart? Or maybe it’s still laced with malice and deceit?
Lest we forget.