Our recent story revealing that Fiji is paying for the United Nations to be in the country by picking up its rent and is also planning to construct a dedicated headquarters for the UN in Suva is now getting traction in the mainstream media. And as Alice said down the rabbit hole in the Lewis Carroll classic, it just gets curiouser and curiouser.
In its story, Communications Fiji Limited-Fiji Village confirms the details of our own report and carries comments from the two men at the centre of the saga – bosom buddies Aiyaz Sayed Khaiyum and the UN Resident Co-ordinator in Fiji, Sanaka Samarasinha. Both come across as defensive about their secret deal, as well they might.
The AG is just a few months out from the election and faces serious questions about paying for the UN to be in Fiji when Fiji can’t even pay its existing bills without getting into massive debt. And his mate Sanaka, the UN chief in Fiji, knows that the revelation is bound to damage the UN’s reputation, as it comes across as a freeloader leeching off a Small Island Developing State.
Before we dissect the UN head’s interview with CFL-Fiji Village, Grubsheet can reveal that three weeks ago on February 25 2022, Fiji paid its most recent annual contribution to the budget of the United Nations in full – a total of $US114,90 or $FJ 243,933.
No-one is complaining about that. Each country is assessed its annual contribution to the UN budget based on its ability to pay. The latest United States contribution, for instance, is around $12-billion. But the question is this: When Fiji is already paying its contribution to the UN and providing it with peacekeepers and police officers, why are we paying for the UN to be in Fiji by picking its rent? And why in the middle of the Covid economic downturn has Aiyaz Sayed Khaiyum agreed to build it a dedicated headquarters where we will again be paying the rent?
Now let’s go through the Fiji Village story in detail:
Sanaka Samarasinha says “there are a number of economic and financial benefits of having the United Nations in Fiji”. He cites the “$200-million in UN programs in the country since 2019” and says “hundreds of Fijians are currently being directly employed by the UN in the country”. Doubtless wealthy property owners in Suva are also benefiting from the huge private rents paid by foreign UN staff. But his argument is nonsense.
The UN programs are money that would have been spent in the country anyway as part of the UN’s assistance to developing nations out of its global budget to which UN member countries contribute. If Fiji declined to pay the rent for UN agencies in Fiji as it did until 2019, would those programs be withdrawn? Of course not.
The UN Resident Coordinator says “there is nothing unusual” about the Fijian Government paying the rent for the UN. Nonsense. It is very unusual for a developing country with Fiji’s challenges and relative lack of resources to do so. And again, it didn’t do it until Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum agreed to do it without any reference to the parliament or any public consultation.
Grubsheet challenges Sanaka Samarasinha to tell us which other Pacific developing nations pay the rent of the UN or have built it a dedicated headquarters. Our sources tell us there isn’t one, which makes it even more astonishing that Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum did a secret deal to make Fiji an exception when we are beggar nation living on debt and the generosity of our wealthier neighbours.
One of our sources – a prominent Australian working on development strategy in the Pacific – also pours scorn on Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum’s reasoning that “as the hub of the Pacific, Fiji looks forward to being the home of the UN’s Pacific operations”. As this person points out, 18 of the 26 UN agencies working in the Pacific are already based in Fiji and the rest are at the UN’s other Pacific headquarters in Samoa.“This is exactly what has happened with the University of the South Pacific”, he said. “The AG wants to grab everything for Fiji and assert Fijian domination over the other island nations. This is already causing a significant amount of damage to regional solidarity. And to try to do the same with the UN presence in the Pacific is extraordinary”, he said.
All of which means that the Fijian people deserve much more parliamentary scrutiny and much more public consultation about the Khaiyum-Samarasinha plan. It may be is born of their bromance but is at the highly questionable expense of Fijian taxpayers and at the risk to our relations with other countries in the region.
This is quite apart from the question who is going to pay for the new UN building. There is documentary proof that the AG had in mind that the FNFP would do it. But now he talks of “private investors”, doubtless acutely aware of the political cost of involving the retirement savings of ordinary Fijians in yet another of his secret plans. It is high time for some straight answers and a proper debate rather than the customary spin.