Just as I was starting to think that the 50th anniversary of Independence medals are going to worthy recipients based on yesterday’s awards ceremony, look who pops up today? Fiji’s Queen of Nepotism and Conflicts of Interest, Nur Bano Ali – the aunt of the Attorney General, Aiyaz Sayed Khaiyum.
You can read all about Aunty Nur in Part 2 of my posting last Friday on Tangled Webs of Secrecy and Control. But here’s the extract if you missed it:
Nur Bano Ali is the AG’s aunt and is one of the most prominent and controversial business figures in Fiji. She is married to Zarin Khan, who is also a partner in her business, PKF Aliz Pacific. (“Chartered Accountants and Business Advisers”) And her sister is married to Mahmood Khan, who Nur Bano’s nephew, the AG, has installed on three boards – the Council of the USP, the Public Service Commission and the Fiji Revenue and Customs Service.
As is obvious from the number of boards on which Nur Bano sits, her tentacles of influence spread through Fiji’s business, academic, social and fashion milieus. She is admired and loathed in equal measure – admired for such things as her promotion of women in business and loathed, and feared, for her high-level connections and the determined manner in which she wields that influence.
It’s said in Suva that anyone wanting to do business in Fiji can benefit from using Nur Bano Ali’s company to oil the wheels of access to the top of government. Her close relationship with her nephew, Aiyaz Sayed Khaiyum, obviously opens doors that are closed to others.
Educated by the Methodists at Jasper Williams High School, Lautoka, Nur Bano trumpets herself as “the only Fijian practising accountant with a PHD”. Her thesis from the University of Waikato in New Zealand was on development finance, using the Fiji Development Bank as a case study. So she is obviously qualified to be on the FNU Council and her business expertise is undoubtedly an asset to the university. But she is still the AG’s aunt and that inevitably raises the same questions about her independence at FNU as those that swirl around her brother-in-law at USP.
Nur Bano is highly litigious to the extent of spending nine years in the courts suing the Auditor General for the contents of a report in 2010 that questioned the transparency of the restructuring of the Rewa Dairy and specifically named Aliz Pacific and Nur Bano Ali in a finding that government procurement procedures had been breached. She and the company sought an injunction in the High Court restraining the Auditor General or his agents from publishing any reports pertaining to Aliz Pacific and Nur Bano Ali in relation to the Rewa Dairy and removing references to “doubt on transparency”, “government procurement procedure breached” and “transparency questionable” in the documents. When the case failed, they took it to the Court of Appeal but lost again in a decision delivered last November. All of which leaves lingering questions about the probity of what happened in relation to the Rewa Dairy.
There are also questions of a conflict of interest arising from the fact that before the return to parliamentary rule in 2014, Aliz Pacific had the job of paying the salaries of ministers in the Bainimarama regime, including the Prime Minister and the AG. An Auditor general’s report in 2011 said a total of $1.8-million had been expensed for minister’s pay through Aliz Pacific from a budgetary allocation controlled by the Ministry of Finance without any supporting documents. And to this day, there has been no explanation as to why this arrangement was necessary or any record of how much Nur Bano Ali’s company was paid to be the ministerial paymaster.
But while it’s impossible to piece together the precise details of the Rewa Dairy affair and Nur Bano Ali’s arrangement to pay the PM and AG during the dictatorship, other conflicts of interest are obvious. As President of the Fiji Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Nur Bano Ali became the sole conduit between the business community and her nephew, the Attorney General, in the deliberations about how the government should respond to the Covid-19 crisis. Nur Bano Ali organised the “consultation with business” in Suva at which corporate players were given the opportunity to provide the AG with input. And she then did a round of media appearances indicating how pleased the business community was that the AG’s aunt had provided a forum for her nephew to suggest ways in which he could spend the public’s money to combat the Covid crisis. There seems to be no sense of self-awareness at all by either party that it is hardly the best of looks.
But it is even more egregious when Nur Bano Ali appears as a commentator – wearing her Chamber of Commerce hat – on Riyaz Sayed-Khaiyum’s FBC. Here is her nephew giving his aunt a platform on the state broadcaster to comment favourably on his brother and her other nephew. Yep. As conflicts of interest go, it’s the trifecta. And there is no sign at all of any of the parties thinking “mmm, maybe that’s not such a good look”. Because that’s what invariably happens when people have wielded power and influence for too long. Nepotism and conflict of interest become entrenched.
This is not to say that other recipients today aren’t worthy. On the contrary, women of the calibre of Jenny Seeto – the Chair of Investment Fiji – and Dr Salanieta Bakalevu, who is the Associate Dean of Learning and Teaching at USP, are among Fiji’s finest.
Among the other recipients today:
Hasmukh Patel, the CEO of Energy Fiji Limited – 220-million dollars of which was sold off in questionable circumstances last year to the FNPF to help meet the AG’s budget shortfall.
Plus Commander Inoke Luveni
The former Permanent Secretary for Education Dr Brij Lal.
Football Association President Rajesh Patel
Acting Deputy Vice-Chancellor Education Prof Jito Vanualailai
FNU Director TVET, Dr Isimeli Tagicakiverata
Noor Jahan Begum
Senior Superintendent Niko Rabuku
Sister Esther Powell
Professor Arvind Patel
and Kitione Saumadu