Sitiveni Rabuka will be ruing the day last July when he foolishly leapt to the defence of the business relationship between the Minister for iTaukei Affairs, Ifereimi Vasu, and the convicted Chinese gangster, Jason Zhong.
The Prime Minister accused “social media” – the Coalition government’s code for Grubsheet and Fijileaks – of sensationalist reporting when we questioned the appropriateness of the iTaukei Affairs Minister being in business with a convicted drug and people trafficker.
It was an extraordinary intervention by the PM that has proved to be extremely reckless and ill-judged. Because surprise, surprise. Jason Zhong has now been charged by FICAC with bribing a former member of the iTaukei Lands Trust Board.
Yes, Fiji, leopards do not change their spots – Jason Zhong or Sitiveni Rabuka, whose pre-election pledge to improve standards of governance lies in tatters, having tolerated a relationship that should never have been tolerated by the minister in charge of one of the government’s most important portfolios.
It was obvious to anyone with half a brain that Ifereimi Vasu would be in a position to use the iTaukei Affairs ministry to benefit his farming enterprise with a man reportedly linked to the Chinese mafia – the Triads. Even if he didn’t, the appearance of being able to do so should have been enough for the Prime Minister to intervene. And as Grubsheet reported at the time, Jason Zhong was holding meetings with landowners to try to secure more leases to grow ginger – their core product.
Grubsheet and Victor Lal at Fijileaks both commented on the gross inappropriateness of the Minister for iTaukei Affairs being in business with a convicted Chinese gangster. Yet instead of ordering Ifereimi Vasu to sever the relationship, Sitiveni Rabuka turned his blowtorch on us.
For his part, Ifereimi Vasu defended his partnership with Zhong, saying that having served a long jail sentence, Zhong “deserved a second chance”. Second chance? Zhong had already been given a second chance. Having been convicted of Fiji’s biggest ever drug bust to that point, Zhong was later charged with people trafficking for sexual purposes. And now he has been charged with bribing a former member of the iTaukei Lands Trust Board over which his business partner, Ifereimi Vasu, presides.
What happens now? Well in a real democracy, Ifereimi Vasu would be obliged to resign from the cabinet and sever all ties with Jason Zhong. In a real democracy, FICAC would begin investigating their relationship and whether there is any evidence that Jason Zhong has had any influence over decisions made by the Minister.
In a real democracy, the Prime Minister would also issue a statement saying that he had ordered Ifereimi Vasu to sever all ties with Jason Zhong on pain of dismissal. In a real democracy, he would also apologise to the nation and express regret that he hadn’t acted sooner to put an end to an extraordinary conflict of interest. And he would say that he was wrong to have naively accepted that the relationship was appropriate when it never was.
But of course, Fiji isn’t a real democracy with proper standards of transparency and accountability. So don’t expect much, if anything, to happen at all. As with what looks like occurring with the Lynda Tabuya and Aseri Radrodro sex and drug scandal, we can be pretty sure that it will all be swept under the carpet. And the only shame will be on the part of the rest of us who can still tell right from wrong.
POSTSCRIPT: In the meantime, Colonel Vasu gets a guard of honour at the RFMF when he goes to meet the Commander, Major General Ro Jone Kalouniwai. Are you perchance aware, Commander, of that old saying about how you can judge a man by the company he keeps? Ifereimi Vasu doesn’t. Do you?