Monday, October 22, 2007

Out of Depth

letter to Fiji Times - dated 21 October 2007
Comment: Read the interview with Bainimarama in Tonga below to understand what I am writing about and decide for yourself! Note the "No, no" or "Yes, yes" responses!!!
Reviewing the performances at the recent Pacific Forum, one is left with a clear take on how the interim Prime Minister (Voreqe Bainimarama) was out of his depth at the Forum.
The reason is simple.

He did not have a mandate to be there among other leaders from the Pacific. He clearly lacked confidence and all the mouthing or more aptly, frothing, about why he overthrew a democratic government came out as shallow and vindictive.
His presence only meant that the Tongan case for moving towards political reform got shunted down the priority ladder. (Pacific Centre for Public Integrity executive director) Angie Heffernan and others are in fact relaying more of the truth about how (Bainimarama) fared at the Forum.
The solution to all this is clear.
Only a leader with a popular mandate is able to champion Fiji's cause in any regional or international fora.
That is why Fiji needs to move to general elections quickly to avoid wanna-be leaders like (Bainimarama) embarrassing Fiji in international fora.

As well, (Professor) Brij Lal summed up neatly the place of the so- called people's charter.
It is not binding on any future Government and is badly designed and poorly led when you have the perpetrator of the coup and a silent supporter of an illegal regime as co- chairs.
Sai Lealea
Wellington

Frankly speaking with Voreqe
MARIA BURESE, Sunday, October 21, 2007

MUCH has been said about the perceived militarisation of the civil service and the military's hand in the shaping of our island nation's future.

Bainimarama: The events of the last four years decided for us what we, the military, were going to do on 5 December. It wasn't something that appeared out of nowhere where we just woke up one morning and decided 'let's kick this people out and let's take over the government'. That decision was taken over the past four years. There's been talks of militarisation. That's all rubbish. Half of our statesmen were in the military Ratu Sukuna, Ratu Mara, Ratu Penaia they were all in the military. Because I put military people in the government, in some areas, does that mean militarization? By the way, who came up with this word, who coined this phrase militarization? If I can remember it was some NGO and you people (media) picked it up.
Times: Don't you agree that all of a sudden military officers have taken up senior posts in government? You had said no officer would benefit from the coup.
Bainimarama: 'ah, suddenly! So where did the suddenness come from? Why was it all of a sudden it came to this?
Times: But aren't there qualified senior civil servants who could fill in the posts that the military officers have?
Bainimarama: 'no, no, we are talking about the suddenness, the 5 December. It's because of the 5 December that there were a lot of 'all of a suddenness', suddenly. Yes or no? Now remember, one thing we have discovered over the last few years is the numerous complaints against the government, the civil servants. Complaints come in day in and day out. This was because of the lack of action on what was to be done. After 5 December, we discovered that service to the general public had not been forthcoming because of this umbrella of corruption and ethno-nationalism. There is no provision of service. Some they come and start at 9am and finish at 3pm, some start at 10am by going straight to the coffee room. If you want something out of the filing cabinet during lunch, you pay about $100. The Immigration Department, whole lot of corruption there with the passport issue. If we want to fix things, let's do it. We cannot depend on Qarase to do it again after 2000 when he abused the power we gave him. That was why I was made Prime Minister it was a decision by the military. Because had I not done it, we would have gone the way Qarase was taking the country in 2006. See.
Times: So what was the decision of the military? That the coup take place and that you...?
Bainimarama: ... That I become Prime Minister. You cannot afford to have a civilian as a Prime Minister. You cannot afford to have the military not take the country forward because it will be abused again, like Qarase abused his power.
Times: So there was no other way for the military to deal with this alleged corruption in the Qarase government?
Bainimarama: Why be part of that when you can make the decision, when you can be the decision-maker? As it is, when we see a department not performing well, we throw in an officer to monitor the situation so we can get the department up and running to get the provision of service to go down to the people on the street. That's basically what it is.
Times: But don't you think that is demoralizing for the civil servants and even intimidating that an officer should take up office where there could be more capable people within to do the job?
Bainimarama: No, no. It has been decided from the outset that after the election, everyone returns to the military barracks. I have lost a lot of officers. I'm running the military with only middle management, all my officers are gone. There's only one or two left behind. The military I'm trying to make sure the military stays as one. Not that we are going to have any problems with security. That's why I need all my top men in government. We have decided come election they will go back to the camp. I've got about four senior officers in China. So it's going well, the training is going well even though training has been stopped by New Zealand, Australia and the Americans, but we are still proceeding with China and India.
As I said, we are running out of options but my priority now would be the government. If the government performs well then the flow on effects will come through the military.
We had decided from the beginning that after election the military officers will go back up to the camp. If the new government wants them to stay, they stay. If the new government doesn't want them, they think the officers might influence the decision taken by the government, they can have them removed. But they will always have a job to come back to.
Times: Will this also include officers who have taken up diplomatic posting at Fiji's missions abroad?
Bainimarama: No, no. Who are you talking about?
Times: Major Leweni, Lieutenant Colonel Mason Smith.
Bainimarama: Yes, yes.
Times: So if the new government comes in and does not have any need for them, will they be recalled?
Bainimarama: Yes, yes, they will be recalled. But they will not be recalled and sent back home. They will always have a place in the military. Now, going back to the leaders, I have not come across anyone who has said, 'look, I don't like what you are doing in Fiji'. In fact, on the contrary, they have all come to tell me they understand the situation back home, 'you made a good presentation', 'it was a good delivery' and 'now we understand it and we support you'. And that came out in the resolution. What came out in the resolution is what I presented. It was the same message I presented to the United Nations General Assembly, so there was nothing new. What I was glad about was that they understood and they supported Fiji.
Times: The charter was also mentioned in the leaders' seven-point resolutions and you said they acknowledged it. Does this mean they now acknowledge the problems you say exists in the country and is it possible to have this problems eradicated, fixed or done away with within the timeframe given for the election?
Bainimarama: Yes. That was part of my presentation. That needs to be taken care of.
Times: The Qarase Government was removed on the basis of allegations of corruption. There has not been sufficient evidence to prove the allegations. You also said you were not too pleased with the slow progress of the Fiji Independent Commission Against Corruption.
Bainimarama: Yes, I mentioned from the start, 5 December is gone and Qarase will not come back and that is a reality. The reality is the interim Government is in. If people kept on with their opposition towards the government, then it will prolong the duration to the election. FICAC is in place and people attack FICAC, the legality of FICAC. What do you think that will do? It will prolong the process of getting there. It's not only FICAC, there's a lot of other areas that have been opposed. I don't know if you know but there are some people who are talking to the representatives of the international community, having coffee every morning, wine and dine every evening these are the people telling the international community 'look the interim Government is doing this, tell them to stop and if they don't, stop their aid'. And they seem to be persuading these guys instead of coming to us. They get persuaded by these people who will lose out politically if this charter goes through. They will lose out politically if the military, the interim Government succeeds in carrying it out.
Times: Going back to FICAC, if their work and the clean-up campaign of the interim government is not done within the timeframe, will the interim Government go back to the Forum for an extension?
Bainimarama: No, no. We will still go into elections and it will be for the new government to fix it.
Times: So that leaves the clean-up campaign of the military, the interim Government incomplete.
Bainimarama: No, I would have completed our mission. I would have put the Charter in place and we would have the elections and a new government in place. That completes the mission.
Times: And then you go back to camp?
Bainimarama: Why? Don't you want me to go back to the camp?
Times: Or are you going to stand for the elections?
Bainimarama: I will be going back to the camp.
Times: Don't you want to stand in the election?
Bainimarama: Ah, no.
Times: Why not?
Bainimarama: Nobody is going to I don't think nobody has invited me to be part of their party.
Times: Well you could form your own political party.
Bainimarama: No, I don't think so. It's a whole lot of work. I have more important things to do right now than to worry about being part of politics.
Times: So everyone in Fiji including Mr Qarase will be free to stand in the elections?
Bainimarama: Don't get me wrong. They (Qarase and party) will not be coming back with the same policies because the Charter will make sure that doesn't happen.
Of course in the charter we have to come up with some provisions on qualifications, that only those who qualify will be able to contest the election. Those with no criminal records, bankruptcy so that we can have credible people in our government.
Times: Given that, will you, the military be monitoring from the camp how the government is conducting the affairs of the nation?
Bainimarama: It's this ... the Archbishop talked about the charter as a covenant. I love the remarks he made about the charter being a covenant. Its an agreement by people who are now alive, people who are dead and the people who are yet to be born. And the charter is that understanding amongst the people of this nation.
Times: How did Archbishop Mataca get involved with the charter?
Bainimarama: His Excellency the President appointed him.
Times: With all due respect, is the President capable of making those decisions?
Bainimarama: Yes. A lot of people don't know what's happening with the President. The President is very sharp in his mind. If you talk to him, he can take you back 60 years in history. And the good thing with him is he makes decisions based on principles of the church on Christianity, so all those people who are talking about Christianity are coming out with rubbish.
Times: Talking about Christianity, you do believe that when we die we will come face-to-face with our Creator and we will have to answer for all our actions on earth, don't you?
Bainimarama: You're kidding! I was born a Christian and I guess that is what we believe, yes.

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