Monday, September 29, 2008

Dictator Voreqe Deeper into the quagmire

Deeper into the quagmire
KAMAL IYER
Monday, September 29, 2008

Interim Prime Minister Voreqe Bainimarama speaks at the UN General Assembly in New York at the weekend
Commodore Voreqe Bainimarama is certainly a fast learner.
Twenty months of rubbing shoulders with Fiji Labour Party leader Mahendra Chaudhry in the interim regime has taught the interim Prime Minister and army commander the art of political flip-flop and how to consistently be inconsistent.
His speech to the United Nations 63rd General Assembly in New York at the weekend was littered with these unholy traits.
The speech reported as a leading news story was published in full as an advertisement on three full pages (pages 19, 20 and 21) in the Sunday Sun yesterday.
Commodore Bainimarama naturally started with an introduction in which he briefly touched on the global food crisis, climate change and Fiji's role in UN peacekeeping.
He spoke extensively about the roadmap for the way forward for Fiji heralding his draft People's Charter as the cure for our nation's debilitating illness and concluded by again referring to the draft charter.
He highlighted travel bans, lamented why regional and international organisations like the Pacific Islands Forum and European Union continue to treat Fiji harshly despite the regime's discussion and dialogue process with them, re-engaging with the Forum Joint Working Group, announcement of no elections in March 2009 and changing the 1997 Constitution's "undemocratic" electoral system in accordance with the draft Charter's proposals.
The Oxford dictionary defines punitive as harsh and very severe punishment. Commodore Bainimarama's description of the travel bans imposed on coup perpetrators, soldiers and active supporters of the coup is understandable but describing them as punitive measures will pale into insignificance if the regime continues down the path of dictatorship.
But by including the proposed electoral reforms under punitive measures, Commodore Bainimarama himself is leading the imposition of very harsh and severe punishment on the people of Fiji through the draft Charter and the draconian electoral reforms.
If electoral reform is a punitive measure then it negates the interim PM's vision of building a non-racial, united Fiji which he told world leaders at UN.
Twice in the past month Commodore Bainimarama accused Fiji's leaders since independence of failed leadership, firstly at the launch of the draft charter consultation process at Suva Civic Centre on August 25, and then at Churchill Park, Lautoka, on September 16.
But at the UN, he narrowed down his blame timeline to post-1987 saying the rot set in following the coups of 1987 and 2000. He told the UN "the coups of 1987 and 2000 were executed in the interests of a few, based on ethno-nationalism, racism and greed".
This is a 180-degree about-turn by Commodore Bainimarama.
On May 22, 2008, Commodore Bainimarama, while addressing villagers in Nadoi, Rewa following the opening of a church extension stated why the military carried out the coups.
Speaking in Fijian he said: "We (the army) have taken over leadership because politicians have failed us. I have spoken to (Laisenia) Qarase and the head of the Methodist Church was there (Rev Laisiasa Ratabacaca), politicians have failed us, that is why the military took over in 1987, 2000 and 2006." (Fiji TV One National News "In-Depth" report - May 23, 2008).
Commodore Bainimarama was an integral part of the RFMF in 1987 when Sitiveni Rabuka toppled the NFP-Labour coalition government. He was the army commander in May 2000 when George Speight with the help of the army's elite CRW unit deposed Mahendra Chaudhry's FLP led government.
Based on his two statements, is Commodore Bainimarama now saying that the army executed the coups in 1987 and 2000 in the interests of a few, based on ethno-nationalism, racism and greed? It also means that the May 2000 upheaval wasn't a civilian-led coup as Commodore Bainimarama told the UN during his address.
Based on his two contradictory statements, how truthful was his claim to the UN that the 2006 coup "was not for any such extremist motivation"?
Commodore Bainimarama also told the UN that the process of drafting the People's Charter has been a "unique and unprecedented one, a nation-wide participatory and consultation process of a scale and type, never before attempted in Fiji". He said the "whole process is one of empowerment, the likes of which the people of Fiji have never experienced before". His claim is baseless.
If Commodore Bainimarama or his speech writer or writers care to read the Constitution Review Commission Report of 1996, the interim PM and his confidantes will learn about the exhaustive work carried out by the Sir Paul Reeves chaired an independent and reputable Commission comprising of Tomasi Vakatora and Dr Brij Lal.
The three-member Commission together with the legal and support staff who were less than a dozen in total including the commissioners carried out public hearings throughout Fiji for four months.
The appendices from page number 759 to 789 of the report titled "Towards a United Future" lists in detail the number of public hearings, private meetings and names of people and organisations that made submissions.
Sir Paul, Mr Vakatora and Dr Lal, heard and looked at every submission before writing a 753-page report excluding the appendices, the terms of reference of the Commission passed by Parliament, appointment of the three commissioners and the tenure of the commission, which were enacted by then President Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara.
The process of formulating the draft Charter is exactly the opposite. The National Council for Building a Better Fiji comprises 45 personalities, including some former and current interim ministers and personalities who claim they are working in the national interest and not for monetary benefit.
A few million dollars of taxpayers' funds have and will be spent on this process.
A draft Charter has been formulated, printed and is being dished out in their thousands to people who have had no input whatsoever in determining its contents.
Compared to the Reeves Commission report, the draft Charter process has essentially been putting the cart before the horse.
Commodore Bainimarama also implied in his UN speech that the 1997 Constitution was a mistake, built on the "proverbial foundation of sand, which is washed away by the evils of self-interest, incompetence, intolerance and greed".
If this is true then why does the draft charter want the people to affirm that "our Constitution represents the supreme law of our country, that it provides the framework for conduct of government and the people"?
Doesn't the acceptance of the Constitution as the supreme law of Fiji by the framers of the draft charter make them guilty of building it, in Commodore Bainimarama's own words "on the proverbial foundation of sand, washed away by the evils of self-interest, incompetence, intolerance and greed"?
It is getting clearer by the day that the interim regime is getting bogged down in the political quagmire of its own creation from which it cannot escape.

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