The dear departed

Some bloggers have been celebrating the passing of Bainimarama and AS-K supporters Sundip Patel and Lt Col Manasa Vaniqi. In doing so, they show themselves to be no better than Bainimarama and AS-K. Those who are calling their deaths a judgement from God need a reminder that they are not God.

Russel Hunter did the right thing and admitted that Sundip Patel never interfered when he was editor and spent a lot of money fighting Hunter’s deportation. Sundip backed Hunter to try to increase the Sun’s circulation and then swapped horses in response to the deportation. In other words, it’s just business, the same story that RFMF officers tell their families when explaining why they backed a takeover by the military.

And then there’s the late Lt Col Manasa Vaniqi. Like a lot of other military men he just did what he was told, but Bainimarama will find it hard to find another PS who will so blindly lead our sugar industry down the garden path to oblivion without a thought for what he’s doing. So let’s not blame Vaniqi for what’s happening to sugar.

In the same context we should mark the passing of Crosbie Walsh as a commentator – not dead but he looks broken hearted. He’s been “left disturbed and puzzled by the resignation of former FNU Vice-Chancellor Dr Ganesh Chand”. And he finds the removal Acting Permanent Secretary of Education Ms Basundra Kumar “equally disturbing”.

Cheer up Croz, we at least have a constitution and hopefully that will start to exert some discipline over Bainimarama and Sayed-Khaiyum. The Fiji Times is keeping them on their toes and who knows, maybe the Fiji Sun will have another change of editorial policy.

Happy New Year to all.

The real problem of crime

Pro-democracy bloggers who blame the Bainimarama Government for the murder of an Australian tourist don’t do the cause of democracy any favours.

As far as I’m aware the murder rate in Fiji hasn’t risen in the 8 years since Bainimarama seized power. It remains fairly low by world standards. If anyone has figures to disprove this please feel free to post them. I’m no expert but I do know murder is different to other crimes. Except in the worst crime hot spots, murders usually result from disputes between family and close friends. People don’t murder strangers for no reason and Fiji is not one of those places full of guns that commit half the murders. Thanks to the RFMF’s monopoly on guns, we don’t have guns making our crime problem worse.

But Bainimarama is not blameless in relation to crime. Playing around with the police force – hounding a top professional Commissioner out of the country, replacing him with a local who has soon despatched and then installing an incompetent military mate who knew nothing about policing, and then replacing him with another military mate – all this did nothing to help make the FPF an effective professional force.

Crime is still a problem, but home invasions are the high end of what we’ve got. (Let’s not get into the question of sedition, political thuggery and treason. The fact that Bainimarama’s constitution gave him immunity against these crimes is a signed confession, but let’s put all that behind us.)

The crime problem that worries us is the problem of burglary and home invasion and that calls for a properly funded, professional police force, which responds to calls for help. The random murder of a tourist should not be laid at the feet of Bainimarama. It’s the damage to the FPF we should be holding him to account on.

What a production!

un delegation

People all around Fiji waiting to have water connected, or reconnected, or just to have some water in the pipes they already have, must be stunned to see the line-up for the presentation of Fiji’s case to the UN Human Rights Commission in Geneva.

The group photo shows fourteen of them all looking very pleased with themselves. Fourteen! Who was this meant to impress? The UNHCR? The rest of us back home or around the world in more humble places? All we can see is a huge tax-payers bill for airfares and four star hotel accommodation at our expense.

I can’t make up my mind what offends me most about this epic production. Is it just the AS-K ego tripping, which I guess I’ll have to learn to live with? Or is it the blatant contrast between all the fine words and the fact that the FPF still says they haven’t been able to catch the perpetrators of a crime that was filmed with many faces visible, not to mention a car registration plate. No police force has ever had handed to them a stronger case on a platter, crying out for charges to be laid. If people filmed were not direct perpetrators but are refusing to speak, charge them with being accomplices or obstructing justice.

Whatever the UN Human Rights Commission may make of this circus of people jumping through process hoops, vaulting over bars set very low for themselves and juggling some big ugly facts, we all know a crime was committed and we all know the perpetrators are known to the Police. None of the fourteen can doubt that. Their appearance in this circus casts them as clowns at best and accomplices in human rights abuse at worst.

30 October 2014: Fiji regime presents ‘clean’ human rights report to UN

why, why, why you ask?

Last week Fiji Democracy Now was puzzled by the decision to set salaries for Ministers and MPs in a decree the day before the parliament met. Wasn’t it an insult to the Parliament to have the salaries set by the two man band the very day the new orchestra was tuning up?

This is no hard puzzle if you look at the figures they laid down in the tablet of stone. The PM rakes in $328K, plus allowances that have no figures on them, while humble MPs are made very humble indeed on $50K. Allowing the humble backbench MPs to speak their own minds about the salary they were paid could obviously lead debate somewhere the duo did not want it to go. They might humbly suggest some comparisons.

Junior officers at the PIF Secretariat earn 27K SDR (Forum money) which equals about F$75K. An Assistant Lecturer at USP, at the bottom of the scale, is paid about $54,000.

The MP salaries make the MPs look like hired hands doing the unskilled job of pounding the rubber stamp on the draft laws prepared for them by the Cabinet. There is no recognition that even the humblest backbencher has been elected by the people, not hired like some day labourer by the PM.

He got away with it for now, but somewhere deep in the breasts of all his hired hands, there will be deep-seated resentment at the way they have been treated. It just doesn’t make sense to treat Parliament in this way. It has all the hallmarks of Khaiyum written all over it. Let’s hope the backbench MPs are able to make Bainimarama aware of just how insulting it is to them, and by extension, to the people who elected them, to have them paid as if they are just junior staff.

SODELPA need to ask: where did we go wrong?

All of the opponents of FijiFirst are now scratching their heads hard to work out what went wrong. Most have accepted that Bainimarama received a strong endorsement from the voters. We can complain about restrictions on media, incumbency advantage etc etc, and even imperfections in the voting process, but the general picture is clear.

What we need to think about is why? If I may be permitted to say to my iTaukei brothers and sisters in SODELPA, “I told you so”. The strong vote received by FFP from the Indo-Fijian community reflected their feelings in relation to the common citizenship trumpeted by Bainimarama. It’s true this was declared by Bainimarama without consultation but his election has now given the decision the stamp of approval that cannot be denied.

SODELPA leaders need to ask themselves whether this was the most important issue of the election. Is this what mattered most to them? It seems to have mattered to the overwhelming majority of Indo-Fijians but clearly it did not matter so much to substantial numbers of iTaukei voters.

Now is the time to sort out what matters and what doesn’t matter. The issues that matter most are good governance, transparency in Government decision-making and the rule of law, not the name Fijian.

A Decree like no other

SODELPA is campaigning hard on 17 decrees that affect its iTaukei supporters, all of which have been passed without any consultation and without an elected parliament.

But there is one decree which stands out among all the others. It contains fewer than 1500 words and yet it grants to the person holding the office of Prime Minister sweeping powers over the the property of indigenous landowners.

This is the Land Use Decree which gives the PM the power to “designate land for utliisation under this decree”. Then Section 14 gives the PM the power to make regulations covering anything to do with the decree. It is in effect a power to write new laws.

The Land Use Decree says nothing about how long leases should be (except to impose an upper limit of 99 years) or what rents should be paid or whether landowners need to approve leases the PM sets up when he “designates” land. All of the law laid down for these vital matters is in the Regulations.

The Land Use Regulations are twice as long as the Land Use Decree and the reason for this is not hard to understand. The Land Use Regulations can be changed without the approval of Parliament. Bainimarama says that 60% approval of landowners is needed for him to hand out land but he knows that he has given himself the power to change this without approval of Parliament.

Bainimarama has shown his arrogance in many different ways but taking to himself the power to make laws regarding land is the height of his arrogance.

But it does not end there. The Land Use Decree denies landowners the right of appeal to a court. This short decree devotes 350 of its mere 1500 words to denying the right to appeal a decision in any court or tribunal. Bainimarama has usurped the role of both Parliament and the judiciary.

This decree is like no other. if anyone thinks only iTaukei should worry about this, think again. Bainimarama and Khaiyum will continue to systematically cut back everyone’s rights in order to cement themselves in power. This is what common and equal citizenry means under Bainimarama and Khaiyum.

Is the real issue Praveen Bala?

No-one is surprised that Khaiyum has come out and defended his Mini-Me in defying the independent Electoral Commission but the real source of this problem is the Electoral Decree and the way in which it was created.

The Electoral Decree gives the Electoral Commission 3 days in which to consider any objection to the nomination of a candidate but it also says “the Electoral Commission must arrange to provide a copy of the objection to the candidate whose nomination is being objected to and must provide the candidate with an opportunity to respond to the objection within such time as determined by the Electoral Commission”.

The Electoral Commission is expected to listen carefully to all sides of an issue before making a decision but then it is given no time to do so. The decree says “the Electoral Commission must make a decision on the objection with written reasons, as soon as possible and in any event within 3 days upon receipt of the objection”.

Regime Judge Kamal Kumar rightly blamed the drafters of the decree for the problem.

But what is the magic of 3 days when the issue is credibility? The nomination of Praveen Bala or Parveen Kumar (it makes no difference what you call him) will hang like an albatross around the neck of Bainimarama.

By over-ruling the exercise of the responsibility of the Electoral Commission, Khaiyum’s man is safeguarded, but this is the man facing charges of causing death by dangerous driving. His court case has been put off until after the elections when the compliant court system can deliver the verdict Khaiyum wants.