There is something deeply cynical about a government that writes a speech for our Head of State that is mostly in the first person and is riddled with personal references and yet he had nothing whatsoever to do with. The President’s speech opening the parliament is written by Qorvis on the instructions of the AG and is approved by him. I know this because I used to write these speeches myself and know the process intimately.
In his speech opening the new session of Parliament, the Tui Macuata praises a “caring and compassionate government” and even compliments the Prime Minister, saying how “proud” he was of him at COP26.
It is a shocking misuse of the Head of State to put words in his mouth that are so unashamedly partisan. The speech is worthless because when the Tui Macuata says “I” it is actually “they” – the here-today-and-gone tomorrow politicians who have hijacked the presidency for their own political purposes like they have hijacked everything else.
All in all, it was a deeply depressing occasion, and especially with the Chief Justice, Kamal Kumar, sitting next to the President – a man who, wearing his simultaneous hat as Chair of the Judicial Services Commission, has thumbed his nose at the 2013 Constitution by ignoring the course of action stipulated by the supreme law for the dismissal of the Solicitor General.
It was even more depressing seeing today’s Fiji Times, which reports the President’s speech as if it were his own when it knows the truth of what I have reported here yet keeps its readers in ignorance. So that the one newspaper that retains at least a semblance of independence from the FijiFirst government becomes party to its deception of the people.
The Fiji Times Editor-in-Chief, Fred Wesley, is frequently lionised for presiding over a paper that at least gives the opposition a voice in the national debate. Yet he too ignores stories that are too contentious – including a host of those reported by Grubsheet that are legitimate news and that Fijians deserve to know if they are to be fully informed. Alas.
On the day after it became known that the Chief Justice – acting as Chair of the Judicial Services Commission – defied the Constitution in advising the outgoing President, Jioji Konrote, to summarily dismiss Sharvada Sharma as Solicitor General without a hearing, Fred Wesley wrote an editorial referring to unrelated “positive developments” in the country. Here was a direct assault on the country’s supreme law and instead of running hard with the story – as CFL-Fiji Village did – the Fiji Times played it down.
It is said that Fred Wesley is gripped by fear of being sent to jail under the government’s draconian media laws and that his proprietors – the Motibhai Group – want no more big legal bills after having been obliged to fight the Nai Lalakai sedition case. But if a media outlet of the stature of the Fiji Times is cowered, there is no hope for media freedom or democracy in Fiji.
On its front page and in its editorial columns today, the Fiji Times gives full coverage to the President’s speech opening the parliament without reporting that such speeches are always written by governments of the day. In Britain, the annual Queen’s Speech to the parliament is written by whatever government happens to be in power yet in stark contrast, it is devoid of partisan references and is merely a recitation of the government’s legislative program for the session that she is formally opening.
That is what the President of the Republic of Fiji – as our Head of State – is also supposed to do, formally open the new parliamentary session and outline the government’s legislative program. But the Attorney General, Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum, uses these speeches as the opportunity to harness the President’s authority to endorse the government’s political position. And while ever media outlets like the Fiji Times don’t call him out for this travesty of the democratic process and assault on the integrity of the office of the President, the practice will continue.
I have a great deal of sympathy for Fred Wesley in the circumstances. It is scandalous that the government’s media laws are so punitive that they have so fundamentally eroded the basic democractic principle of the people’s right to know. Yet that is also something the people should know. And it is also time for them to take a stand for media freedom by giving FijiFirst and its arch manipulator the boot in the privacy of the ballot box, if and when the time comes.
The Tui Macuata is, to the country’s eternal shame, in the same position as the Prime Minister – a dummy for the ventriloquist who is the real power in Fiji – Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum. We expect that having gone from being President of the ruling FijiFirst Party to President of Fiji, the Tui Macuata and the AG are close. But he is now the Head of State who is meant to represent all Fijians and conduct himself with at least the appearance of impartiality as captain of the ship of state.
You would think the AG and the Prime Minister would show him the respect he deserves by delivering a speech that is apolitical, inclusive and merely outlines the government’s legislative program, which is what a speech opening the parliament is meant to be. But they just can’t help themselves – dictators who have conned the nation with their big talk about genuine democracy but have steadily corrupted the institutions of state during their 15 years in power, including the Presidency of the Republic.