Wednesday, May 08, 2013

Survey on Dictator Bainimarama's Leadership

Dictator Bainimarama


This is a brief contribution to a survey on Dictator Bainimarama's approach as a leader and in providing leadership over a government.

Bainimarama's Approach as a Leader

Bainimarama is not a good leader. Bainimarama seized power using the Fiji Military to overthrow a leader who was elected by the people in an election. Bainimarama is therefore a dictator, a term given to those who seize power by force and hold on to it by intimidation, suppression of civil liberties, and control of the mass media.

To be a good leader, one has to receive the willing and free mandate of the people via an election and conduct the affairs of government in an open and transparent manner as well as abide by the rule of law. For 7 years, Bainimarama has not revealed the financial accounts of his government nor disclosed how much he and his ministers are being paid. He has done away with many laws governing the rights and freedom of citizens resulting in the abuse, torture and in some cases, death of citizens under the watch of the Police or Military.

A good leader seeks to make laws that benefit the nation and its people. Such laws often have the input of citizens through their representatives in a Parliament. In the absence of a parliament, laws are established by decrees (temporary laws) but usually just to maintain government until a representative government returns. Bainimarama has introduced major changes in government using decrees which cannot be challenged in the courts.

Dictators often get to power by force over those who regard them as usurpers and illegitimate. They therefore will aim to reduce the influence of those opposed to their rule over the general population for fear of generating mass opposition and attempt to reclaim power. Much of their attention will focus on ways to suppress their opponents, especially its key leaders.

Since the December 2006 coup, Bainimarama has specifically targeted two major support bases of the Qarase government – the traditional Fijian institutions of vanua and the church. In the eyes of native Fijians, the Great Council of Chiefs (GCC) hold a very important place in providing guidance and leadership over their affairs. Under the 1997 Fiji Constitution, it is an entirely native Fijian body, traditionally of hereditary chiefs, with the role to advise governments on matters pertaining to Fijians. It appoints the President and Vice-President, as well as 14 of the 32 members of the Senate. During the political upheavals of 1987 and 2000, the GCC played a role in mediating among protagonists and help bring about return of order. The Methodist Church has a Fijian dominated membership and as such were strong supporters of the Qarase government. Like the GCC, it has been associated with previous political crises with some members alleged to have played a role among those who carried out the 1987 and 2000 coup.

Bainimarama went out of his way to weaken and emasculate these two strongholds of Fijian loyalty. Some say, this was surprising given that Bainimarama is of chiefly stock in his village in Tailevu province and a Methodist. His actions and attitude towards the GCC was disrespectful and scathing even telling chiefs to “go and drink homebrew under a mango tree”. Bainimarama’s attitude towards the GCC hardened more when it refused to endorse his nominee for Vice President in 2008 or support his changes to its membership in his attempt to introduce what he regarded as transparency and remove politics from its work. In the end, he unilaterally disestablished the chiefly body by decree which drew widespread condemnation from politicians, NGOs and chiefs.

The Methodist Church was heavily targeted by Bainimarama and restrictions placed on its ability to perform its functions for members. Ultimatums were given to its leaders to stand down and its annual meetings and fundraising activities were cancelled by authorities. A number of church leaders were charged for offences under the emergency rules imposed since 2006. Speaking about life under the Bainimarama regime, a senior church official stated the Church has been “stopped from doing our annual conference for three years already and we have been stopped from doing our other meetings so an attempt I believe was made to try and weaken the Methodist Church.” He added “We have already appeared in court for more than 30 times probably. We've just some you know what they call PTC, pre-trial conference and the pre-trial conference you know was just move it to another date, move it to another time.”

Measures aimed at weakening the trade union movement were also unilaterally introduced by the Bainimarama dictatorship. This included:
  • a decree prohibiting full-time union leaders from representing workers on a range of industry bodies;

  • amending the Public Service Act to stop union pay roll deductions for public servants;

  • using the Public Emergency Regulations to arrest and charge Union President Daniel Urai and a Hotels Union staff member for conducting a workplace meeting without a permit;

  • a decree declaring the public sector, sugar, airline and tourism industries to be essential industries. This prevented the right to strike and effectively bans the right to collectively bargain, receive overtime pay or be represented by independent trade unions; and

  • systematically denying permits to hold union meetings and soldiers physically assaulting Union Secretary, Felix Anthony and other unionists.

Bad Choices Made by Bainimarama and Paid by Fiji and its People

Since December 2006, Bainimarama and his government have been making bad choices for Fiji and its people. Fiji’s key performance indicators during the last six years paint a dismal picture as the slide into economic and social chaos continues unabated. In turn, these bad choices have resulted in the following:
  •  Economic growth is during the last six years is a mere 0.6% of GDP
  • Employment has not grown for the last six years and indeed has gone backwards with more and more young people coming out of our institutions to jointhe  workforce.
  • Employment creation has been in the informal sector and family enterprises with low incomes and low hours/days of work.
  • Underemployment has grown quite significantly and amounts to more than 30% of the labour force. The youth age group is particularly under employed. They are idle about 60% of their working time.
  • Unemployment and under-employment could be a significant factor in increasing crime in Fiji today.
  • It is estimated that thousands of women have left being full-time housewives to try and make ends meet within their households. Virtually all, both men and women, are working far more hours than six years ago
  • Money incomes have not risen much in the last six years while inflation has risen by more than 30%.
  • Real income for almost everyone has fallen by more than 30% and more so for rural dwellers. Government Ministers and defence personnel may be the only people whose real incomes have increased during the six years.
  • Citizens living below the poverty line has increased by almost 50% right across the board. It is now just under 50% of the population compared to 32-33% in 2006.
  • The public debt has increased from $2billion in 2006 to more than $4billion in 2012 (some sources say more than $5billion). The debt burden if shared among all households amounts to $20,000.00 per household.
  • Foreign debt is increasing at an alarming rate, exposing the country to foreign exchange risks. Some foreign debts have been obtained at a high of 9% interest rate while the IMF was lending money at 2%. Contingent liabilities of government are estimated at more than $2billion.
  • Rates of suicide and attempted suicide which were falling around 2006, have risen since then. They are at record levels according to the police’s own figures. Violence against women, both sexual and physical, has escalated to unprecedented levels as reported in the media.
Impact of Bainimarama Dictatorship on Fiji

Six years on, Fiji remains under a military dictatorship supported by civilian sympathizers. Decision-making, laws and regulations for administering government have been carried out by decree with minimal or no consultation. All the apparatus of government are now under the effective and total control of the Bainimarama regime. Although initially, a military council had been serving to advise government on key decisions, it was soon downgraded in importance by Bainimarama, as he consolidated his power among his fellow military officers now in government, and a trusted legal friend as Attorney General. In fact, over time, the two of them came to be seen as the ruling duo, collecting among themselves numerous portfolio responsibilities and, with it, multiple salaries.

Fiji’s judiciary and legal fraternity have been emasculated and cleansed, with changes to operational structures and appointments to the bench sourced from overseas jurisdictions familiar with military rule such as Sri Lanka. Instead of a self-regulating Law Society, a Legal Services Commissioner, has been set up to grant practice licences and discipline lawyers. Unsurprisingly, opponents of the regime soon became the subject of attention for the Commission, and some of them disciplined and their licenses revoked.

Bainimarama’s approach to silencing his opponents is well documented. Members of his Goon Squad are known to be responsible for the torture and inhumane treatment of citizens who were taken up to the military camp in Suva. Testimonies from victims reveal the degrading and inhumane treatment dished out by soldiers, even to women who were pregnant. Bainimarama was reportedly present on one occasion when victims were being maltreated, and according to a fellow military officer who had since left the regime, “Bainimarama even jumped on the back of a pregnant woman killing her unborn child for goodness sake!” (Truth for Fiji –

Placing tight control on the media in Fiji became a potent tool for the Bainimarama dictatorship in controlling public expression and information. Censors were placed in newsrooms to ensure information for broadcast was not critical of the dictatorship or its programmes. Changes to shareholding arrangements for media companies were introduced to limit overseas ownership. License for public TV was placed on short term timelines requiring ongoing application for extension. 

Accompanying physical threats and intimidation is the weapon of legal protection over any action taken by the dictatorship. This was achieved with a decree stating that none of the actions of the dictatorship or its members can be challenged in a court of law. Those adversely affected by the various decisions of Ministers and departments go unchallenged resulting in unfair and arbitrary results for citizens. On the other hand, those close to the regime can expect a good hearing over any issues or complaints they raise or place before the dictatorship.

The sole reason for all these intimidatory actions is to scare people not to protest or resist the dictatorship’s rule. Fear is the key to being a successful dictatorship. Since its rule was seized by force, a dictatorship will continue to implement its rule by force. In the absence of a law-making body such as Parliament, the regime simply regards its actions as sanctioned by its new powers under the pretext of ensuring the orderly conduct of government affairs. The Bainimarama dictatorship has survived this long because of its tight control on power and its ongoing efforts at intimidating its opponents with physical brutality or threat of prosecution in courts that are stacked with its own appointees.

Bainimarama's Impact on Relationship with Other Countries

In foreign relations, suspension of Fiji from membership of longstanding associations such as The Commonwealth and Pacific Forum, have forced the establishment of new alliances. with non-traditional and far-flung nations, some with unsavoury reputation, such as North Korea and Cuba. China and India have been heavily courted for funding and aid assistance.

As a result, relationship with traditional allies such as Australia and New Zealand, have soured to the point of being caustic at times. Bainimarama’s inability to honour undertakings with Pacific Forum leaders has made it difficult for them to trust him. This has split the regional body into geographical groupings with Bainimarama now favouring the emerging Melanesia Spearhead Group of nations that seem to condone his undemocratic approach to governing.

Major Problems for Fiji and How they could be Addressed?

Fiji faces major ongoing problems since the takeover by Bainimarama in 2006 of the democratically elected government. Among the major problems are the following:
  • Absence of a democratically elected government
  • Lack of confidence in the courts system and rule of law
  • Low growth economy resulting in low income and increase poverty
  • Lack of transparency in the conduct of government affairs and finances
  • Increase criminal offending and law breaking
  • Restrictions on media freedom
  • Restrictions and limitations on freedom of association and ability to challenge government decision-making

Ultimately, the solution to Fiji’s current problems is the return of a democratically mandated government that can restore political stability and economic confidence. This will ensure investors regain the confidence to invest in Fiji thereby contribute to economic growth to fund improved income for workers and government revenue. Political stability will engender confidence in the courts system where citizens and businesses can lodge grievances and enforce contracts knowing they are independent and apolitical. 

Return of democracy will enable citizens to contribute to the development of laws that affect them via their representatives in an elected parliament. A free media will ensure open reporting of government actions and that the conduct of public servants and politicians are scrutinised.

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