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.

To all my friends in SODELPA I have a question I think you need to ponder.

I would not be telling you anything if I said that Frank Bainimarama has broad approval in the Indo-Fijian community but the question you have to ask is: what has he done to earn that approval?

It is certainly not this ‘reform’ of the sugar industry. He made himself Minister for Sugar but he’s provided no leadership at all, apart from taking on the chore of jet-setting to ISO meetings. He has brought to the edge of destruction an industry built with the sweat and tears of generations of Indo-Fijians.

So what is the source of the Bainimarama appeal, which has allowed a bumptious, poorly educated thug to have this broad appeal among Indo-Fijians. If I had to single out one thing that’s given him a bit of appeal it would be his decision to call us all Fijian.

It was always confusing trying to explain to people who didn’t know Fiji that only some of our population were ‘Fijian’. We need to face the fact that our unique history as a small island state in the Pacific is not well known in the wide world, so this linguistic anomaly inevitably caused confusion, not to say awkwardness outside Fiji.

The 1987 coup was more than a dispossession of basic democratic rights. It was a time when people did not feel safe, when they didn’t know what would happen next after experiencing a coup that struck like lightning out of a clear blue sky, but the dispossession went beyond that. It was a dispossession of a right to a sense of identity. Bainimarama’s decision on a new national name healed wounds more effectively than any number of apologies from Rabuka.

Bainimarama hit gold with his decision to call us all Fijian, but let’s not give him more credit than is due. His feelings about this are more likely to spring from empathy for the Kai Loma identity rather than empathy for our Indo-Fijian brothers and sisters. Frank has long had a sense of disdain for things ‘native’; he sees himself as a progressive, a town dweller, not come kai colo from the village, he went to Marist, not QVS, he worked his way up through the ranks, he’s an achiever, not an idle Bauan.

SODELPA leaders would be doing their cause a favour by giving thought to the feelings of their fellow Fijians. This is a change for the better which would be better still if it had support from all communities.

One of the first things a reconvened BLV could do is give its blessing to our new national identity and the Party positioned to provide the leadership needed to do this is SODELPA. Ro Teimumu would be acting as a truly national leader if she pledged to take this to the BLV. It would not be right to speak for the BLV but she can speak for herself as someone who wants to lead the whole nation.

Sa dri yani!

Why does the Land Use Decree have Section 15 (1)?

Bainimarama and his A-G  keep telling iTaukei voters they have provided the strongest guarantees yet for their rights as traditional landowners. 
 Anyone who understands the issues knows that this is a lie. Mataqali cannot be deprived of ownership of their land but they can be deprived of all rights that are supposed to go with ownership.  Under the Land Use Decree Bainimarama can order “arrangements” that lease the land for up to 99 years to anyone Bainimarama chooses and on terms and conditions which are left entirely to him.  The rent, the length of the lease and all other provisions are left to Bainimarama if he is PM.
And if landowners think that any decision made by Bainimarama ignores any of their rights under the Constitution, they are blocked from taking their complaint to a court to have justice. Section 15(1) of the Land Use Decree  of 2010 lays down that no court or any other tribunal can question the decisions made by the PM under the Land Use Decree.
If anyone tries to go the court to appeal a decision the Chief Registrar is required to block it.  They don’t even need to rely on the case being allocated to the one of their tame judges. 
Landowners must demand an answer to this question: how can the constitution protect landowners if they cannot take their claims to a court? 
Up to now we haven’t seen the unrestricted power of the Land Use Act used and the reason is not hard to understand. If he uses these powers this side of an election he will certainly lose the iTaukei vote. If he waits until after the election and retains his grip on power he will hope to be able to bully landowners into accepting his power. With landowners at his mercy, he will have the country by the throat.
The Land Use Decree is not easy for the non-lawyer to follow.  It talks about arrangements, not leases, but it leaves everythng in the hands of a dictator.  The one question to ask Bainimarama when he campaigns in your area is: what is Section 15 (1) of the Land Use Decree for?  Ask him to say plainly what it means.  Why are iTaukei landowners denied the right to appeal to a court if they do not think a decision under the Land Use act is fair? 
If the Government wants to acquire freehold land owned by, say, AS-K, the Constitution says he has to be given just  compensation. If he thinks the compensation is not just he can ask a court to look at how the decision was made and change the level of compensation. If iTaukei land is acquired under the Land Use Decree the owners are barred from going to court.
How can we have common and equal citizenry when one groups of the citizens is denied access to courts to protect their rights? 

The question of Sam

The criticism directed at Sam Saumatua raises some interesting questions.

His critics say he is unworthy of SODELPA endorsement because he was willing to serve the regime he now stands in opposition to. Some just say he’s tainted because he’s ex-RFMF.

Most of his critics don’t know him. Like many in the SODELPA line-up he has a record of leadership in his field. Unlike Bainimarama he served with distinction in the field as a real military leader in Lebanon.

People who think he should have simply overthrown Bainimarama have no sense of how the RFMF was scarred by the mutiny in 2000. Like everybody else, RFMF officers could see that Bainimarama had betrayed the clean-up coup with corruption and cronyism of his own. But what could they do without ripping the RFMF apart and plunging the country further into chaos?

How many other RFMF brothers are there who might have done something but held back thinking the time was not right to effect a clean change? If there ever was a right time Roko Ului and Driti certainly didn’t pick it and who knows when of even if RFMF officers could have done anything to remove Bainimarama.

As for serving the regime, how many others have thought they could exercise influence from within, only to find that the regime is a two man-band? The trail of sacked board members and CEOs who tried to have a voice and ending up only on the scrap heap is long and sad.

Now is not the time for SODELPA to start a witch hunt or allow divisions to grow within, just as it is also the time to draw closer and stand shoulder to shoulder with opponents of Fiji First. Democracy has no future if Fiji First is not decisively defeated.

Can the regime learn anything?

On 25 May the Fiji sun published an article titled “HERE COMES THE YOUNG”. It announced the arrival of Roshika Deo, a young politician with a new vision – a champion of human rights and an avowed feminist.

She’s made the effort to learn iTaukei language and was joined by a young iTaukei student from USP who shared her vision for a genuinely race-free Fiji, not the empty rhetoric spouted by Bainimarama since 2006 (but not in 2000 when it counted).

Somewhere between 25th May and 27th may someone in the regime control room decided that Roshika was a threat and her volunteer’s scholarship was cancelled.  Did someone actually read what she’s been saying and whisper in the ear of the PM?

She’s championing the things the regime says it stands for but it’s clear that she rejects the regime’s credentials.  She’s on the side of real democracy, unrestricted freedom of speech, respecting human rights and encouraging free debate. 

She has supported the United Front for Democratic Fiji group and called for mass peaceful protests to condemn the deficiencies in the 2013 constitution.  Bainimarama did not let anyone participate in the drafting of the constitution and now he’s behaving like a dictator when anyone voices dissent. 

The question is: can the regime learn from its mistakes?  Can it at last realise that it will lose votes through persecuting people like Roshika Deo?

The limit to lies

The Bainimarama government has a lot of faith in propaganda. They’re convinced if they repeat a lie often enough and stop any political rivals from having access to the media to refute their lies, the lies will win.
Sometimes I think they could almost succeed. They pump out publicity and the Fiji Sun laps it up. Every day Sun readers are treated to stories of success and optimism under the ‘popular’ dictator. Inevitably, some people will think good things are happening somewhere even if they can’t see it in their own neighbourhood.
But there is a problem the propaganda machine can’t deal with – the truth. When they tell us how much they’ve improved water supply and health the suspicion grows that we are being fed on a diet of lies. The truth about water supply and hospitals can’t be hidden from people whose taps are dry or sick people turning up to clinics that don’t have the bandages or medicines they need.
Add to that the really big lies. We are told by Bainimarama Native land has never been more protected than it is under the current constitution. But the truth is, under previous constitutions leases for agriculture were limited to 30 years. Landowners would lose their land for a generation, no more. And there were provisions to allow rent increases to keep pace with inflation.
These protections are gone. The constitution says the government can take any land for as long as it needs it for ‘national purposes’ and the government has no limits on the length of time it can take land for ‘national purposes’.
Can rents be revised to match inflation? Yes, but it doesn’t have to be. The Government can set whatever rents it likes. And worst of all, under the Frank Land Bank, any landowners who thinks the government hasn’t followed its own rules is blocked from taking their case to court to get a review.
Propaganda will not paper over these cracks. Let’s hope when Bainimarama goes out campaigning he is asked these questions.

The constitution

SODELPA have said they want to get rid of the constitution. The NFP have promised to review it. We all know the process by which it was imposed. Bainimarama created an independent Commission and then burned their draft report and refused to honour his commitment to have a panel of ordinary citizens representative of our diverse nation offer their opinions on it.

But there are two things the constitution does which are now more precious than anything else. Number one is the constitution restores the rule of law. Bainimarama has bound himself to abiding by rules. It’s true the his rules were made by him to suit himself, but at least he has to abide by them.

The other thing the constitution does is it gives us an election. The election may not be 100% fair, but it is much better than the alternative: no election.

It’s our chance to get rid of him. He may tells himself that the polls in the newspaper tell the truth about what people say, but the truth can only be suppressed. It cannot be changed. And the truth is in the privacy of a polling booth very few people will want to endorse a dictator who has lorded it over them for 8 years.

Distribution of rent

Somebody asked me the other day what was wrong with Bainimarama’s decision to stop distributing a share of rents to chiefs? Isn’t it fair?

The first thing that’s wrong is that it wasn’t Bainimarama’s decision to make. The colonial government never made such decisions without consultation. The NLTB was set up by the colonial government under the leadership of Ratu Sukuna after extensive consultation with the Great Council of Chiefs.

All previous constitutions restricted the ability of elected governments to make such changes without broad-based support – a two thirds majority of an elected Parliament – and support from the Great Council of Chiefs.

Only Bainimarama’s arrogance fuelled by years of dictatorship allowed him to make changes without consulting a single landowner.

He will not listen to the Great Council of Chiefs but he follows every word his illegal Attorney General tells him.

Many iTaukei support a share of land rents going to chiefs and they have said this to Bainimarama when he met them after the decision. If a share goes to their chief, the chief can contribute to projects to help their village and their Vanua. If it goes only to individuals it is lost to the community.

Under the present regime money can be sent out of the country to mataqali members overseas if that’s what the mataqali decides and they have a majority of members overseas.

Who wants this apart from a few selfish individuals who think it suits them?

The Land Bank bureaucracy

Of all the outrageous claims made about the Bainimarama Land Bank, Tevita Boseiwaqa’s claim that the bank has cut out bureaucracy, is the most outrageous.

He is obviously hoping that the public will remain completely ignorant of what the Land Use Decree empowers the government to do. The Use Decree sets up a head lease and sub-leases so that tenants are no longer tenants of the landowner; they are tenants of the state. What is this but bureaucracy?

But the landowners are also cut out. They have no power to approve a lease. They approve only handover of their land to the PM to exercise his power to ‘designate’. Once designated the mataqali has no say in how the land is used or what rent is paid. The land and the tenants are then in the hands of the Land Use Unit. What is that but bureaucracy?

Landowners and tenants are denied access to the courts for any decisions by bureaucrats that they dispute. This is a typical Bainimarama regime modus operandi. All power to the state. If you want anything you come to the dictator on your hands and knees.

Landowners cannot complain that the rent is too low and tenants cannot complain that a rent reassessment is too high when the state appoints a valuer to set a fair market value to raise the rent every five years. In that sense only is the LUD balanced. Land owner and tenant are at the mercy of the state.

In the past many landowners and farmers have thought it would be better if they could deal directly with one another and this has happened, but it’s always been outside the law.

If the Land Use Regime of Bainimarama is confirmed it will further entrench the powers of the state, which already controls media, church meetings and the prices of goods and services.

Does the constitution protect police officers?

Acting Commissioner of Police, Ravi Narayan, has announced that he’s terminated the services of Mr Ligairi for insubordination. We are told that he used his powers under the Constitution to terminate the services of his deputy.

Under Section 129 (7) of the Constitution the Commissioner is empowered “To remove persons from the Fiji Police Force”.

That all sounds very clear, but what about all the protections the constitution is supposed to provide for every individual.

Section 16 of the constitution says “every person has the right to executive or administrative action that is lawful, rational, proportionate, procedurally fair, and reasonably prompt”. It sounds like Deputy Commissioner Ligairi should be protected but the constitution also says the right to fairness is “Subject to the provisions of this Constitution and such other limitations as may be prescribed by law”.

In other words it is worthless. The Executive can do whatever is wants. A policeman does not have the right to decisions by a Commissioner which are rational, proportionate or procedurally fair because the constitution gives the Commissioner the over-riding power “to remove persons from the Fiji Police Force”. The normal protections any police officer should expect as a citizen are subject to this sweeping power.

It’s like the protection of freedom of speech. Our right to freedom of expression is subject any laws the regime may make “for the enforcement of media standards and providing for the regulation, registration and conduct of media organisations”.

This constitution, which no-one other than the unelected Attorney General and PM has had a say in, has been carefully designed by the two of them to keep their iron grip.

You can have “policy”

Is anyone surprised that Frank’s big tour has produced questions from villages about the long-promised by never delivered village By-Laws? The By-laws were about to be delivered in 2010 when they were shelved without a proper explanation.

Since then, for four years, we’ve been told the by-Laws are on the way, but they never arrive. Now as Bainimarama tours villages people are asking: where are the By-laws you promised?

Deputy Permanent Secretary for iTaukei Affairs, Colonel Apakuki Kurusiga, has been pushed out to answer for Bainimarama. The hapless Colonel was forced to admit there have been a lot of questions about Village By-laws. People went through a long process of discussing By-laws and sending them to the Ministry for approval and implementation. They will not be happy to find out this was just going through the motions.

Kurusiga’s response was to advise villages to call a meeting under the turaga ni koro and discuss what they want to be observed by everyone within the village, like the dress code, the consumption of alcohol, respect for village elders, etc. They could then take a vote and agree on a POLICY!

But then what? Anyone can see that Kurusiga is just stalling. Why doesn’t Bainimarama just come out and say it straight: “We are all Fijians, there can be no law that applies only to iTaukei villages.”

At least the IAG who wrote the constitution should tell us if the Constitution would permit Village By-Laws, which apply only in villages, to have the force of law.

Where is the hate?

Ashwin Raj has labelled the speech by Ratu Timoci Vesikula as “hate speech”.

But where is the hate?

The statement that oil and water have not mixed is a simple statement of fact.

The two major communities have not mixed. Is Bainimarama not aware that the RFMF is mono-ethnic? Even if he’s not troubled by this fact, he should have noticed it? (But then again he didn’t notice his second in command in the RFMF, and his logical successor as Commander – he was somehow invisible to Bainimarama).

Then there is the statement that Bainimarama’s most reliable supporters are iTaukei. Is that hate speech?

Ratu Timoci said that Bainimarama could not rely on the vote of ‘others’, meaning those who are not iTaukei. Is it hate speech to suggest that a group of people will not vote for Bainimarama? Most people I talk to think that saying people don’t support Bainimarama is a compliment, a tribute to their intelligence and common sense.

One thing we need to clear up is who is supposed to be the object of this alleged hate. The accusation by Ashwin Raj is that it’s directed at Indo-Fijians and yet there was no mention of Indo-Fijians by Ratu Timoci. The word used for the group we’re talking about – let’s call them the ‘False Friends of Frank’ – was Vasu. Evidentially, this is a new word to Ashwin Raj.

Vasu is not a term of abuse, nor does it mean Indo Fijian. Our vasu are the people outside our group to whom we are most closely related. Vasu iTaukei is a positive way to refer to our Part European relatives. The Melanesian-Vasu-i-Taukei (MVT) development fund, which has been around since 1998, has been funded by Bainimarama to help people from all minority communities (apart from the Rotumans, Banabans and Kioa Islanders, who have access to their own special help).

Prosecuting Ratu Timoci is going to make for some very interesting legal argument. Where is the authoritative source for the meaning of vasu? Not Ashwin Raj, I’m guessing.

What was the “incitement”? He was urging people to vote for Bainimarama! Is the idea that people might vote for somebody other than Bainimarama incitement to hate those people?

This keeps getting better and better. Every speech in vernacular is now going to be handed in advance for Ashwin Raj to peruse in translation. Is this the way Talanoa works? Ashwin Raj may not be aware that Ratu Timoci was speaking in a Talanoa session at the Tailevu Provincial Council.

As I said, this keeps getting better and better.

A problem of his own making

I have not stopped smiling since I listened to the bucket tipped on Bainimarama by his supporter Ratu Timoci Vesikula.

He reminded Bainimarama that the Vanua is his power base and the Vanua was already there when the church and government, the others pillars of iTaukei society, arrived.

And the Vanua demands answers: “you talk of royalties, what about our qoliqoli and our land which is entrusted to you” and “why have scholarships for iTaukei been taken away?”

If Bainimarama thought all his campaigning would be like a visit to villages where overwhelmed villagers sit by and give their big-shot visitor the royal treatment, he has been rudely awakened from that dream.

He is dreaming if he thinks assurances that land is protected and in a the constitution will fool someone like Ratu Timoci, who was a Valuer by profession. He understands very well that a 99 year lease without proper provision for rents to be re-assessed in line with inflation is no different theft and is exactly what the Land Use Decree allows for.

Most important of all: Ratu Timoci is a supporter of Bainimarama. When the Charter was the issue in the early days of the regime Ratu Timoci put his hand up in support. He is not one of the supporters who turns up out of nowhere to mouth words of support on the day. He is a long-standing supporter who is now potentially facing a prison sentence of up to 10 years for simply telling Bainimarama what the ordinary iTaukei voter is thinking.

But what Bainimarama has still not appreciated is that it is his control of the media which gave rise to this problem. The intimidated media toned down Ratu Timoci’s words, attempting to gloss them in a way they thought would be acceptable to the regime.

Then the truth became clear and MIDA made its on translation of Ratu Timoci’s blunt declaration: “we’ve lived together for a long time but the water and kerosene have never mixed”

Bainimarama will hit the media hard, without understanding that self-censorship is the root cause of this blow-up. If he also hits Ratu Timoci hard, he will make matters even worse. His attempt to silence Ratu Timoci will be the focus of discussions around yaqona bowls all over the country, not to mention the barracks.

If long time rivals SODELPA and the FLP can discuss their competing policies freely Bainimarama and his supporters should be able to do likewise.

Our newest politician

On 5 March a grub emerged from seven years in a cacoon and began to flap around the land as a political butterfly.

No longer a Commander issuing orders, he’s now a politican trying to persuade voters that they should vote for him.  He has to listen to their requests, their questions and their concerns. 

As the campaign wears on he can look forward to people asking him about things other parties are saying when they visit.  He can look forward to people asking him how their land is protected by his new constitution.

This is where he is going to have to come clean. He is going to have to spell out how it all works.  He will find himself sitting in front of people with the facts in their hands – the words of his constitution.  He will no longer be able to tell them that their land is better protected than it was under the 1997 constitution. 

Bainimarama’s problem is that he accepts everything Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum tells him.  If ASK says the land is protected it must be protected. The ASK answer is that all assets are protected and land is no different.  The problem with is that it’s not true.  The Land Use Decree gives the Prime Minister the power to issue leases of up to 99 years with rents set at whatever levels he chooses.

In setting rents the Land Use decree says the PM has to make sure “all land available are leased with the purpose of providing a livelihood for all parties concerned”.  The economic rights of the tenant are equal to property rights of the land owners. 

But it’s not only the tenants whose rights must be considered by the PM under the Land Use Decree – it says he “shall take into consideration at all times the best interests of the land owners and the overall well being of the economy”. 

Is ASK’s property subject to these restrictions?  Does he have to take into account his tenants ability to pay or the best of interests of the economy when dealing with his property? 

I can’t wait to hear our newest politician’s answers.