There’s nothing like a Prime Ministerial attack to boost one’s readership and I am indebted to Frank Bainimarama for propelling Grubsheet Feejee – within a month of its resumption – into the frontline of the national debate in Fiji. In one grumpy outburst written for him by Qorvis and the Attorney General, Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum, the Prime Minister made me more relevant than I deserve. His comments were on the front page of the two daily newspapers and led the main television news programs and every radio bulletin. So that if anyone hadn’t heard of Graham Davis or Grubsheet before, they do now and that has been reflected in a huge increase in the number of “hits” on this website.
34,348 people visited Grubsheet in the week from Friday September 18 to Friday September 25 (yesterday), with a big spike in the wake of the PM’s comments. So to him I say vinaka vakalevu and to all of you – Dear Readers – an even bigger vinaka for your interest, whether you live in Fiji or the diaspora. This 34,000 doesn’t take into account those who have read my articles when they are republished on Victor Lal’s Fijileaks or cited on social media. So that figure will be even higher.
As I’ve said before, it was astonishing to me that the Prime Minister recorded a formal statement for the cameras accusing me of trading in gossip, of having a predilection for drama when I worked for him and citing my age as a reason for him to wish me best wishes in my retirement. We are the same age – 66. So if I was being cast as “retired” when I’m not, why wouldn’t the Prime Minister also be contemplating retirement instead of insisting on contesting the next election? It was all very weird. And because I know how the government works, a sign of abject panic on the part of the AG, who always uses the PM’s authority in such instances to make a point without any thought of the potential of making him look stupid.
Above all, nothing that I have written in these columns was disputed by the Prime Minister on the basis of fact. Not a single word. He dismissed it as gossip but didn’t say it was wrong. So that what I said is true: The Military Council has asked for reform of the government and the removal of the AG. The cabinet is divided over the issue of the AG’s control of the government. And the PM has nominated Inia Seruiratu as his successor.
The Fiji Times front page today ( September 26) picks up the story and next to a photo of Seruiratu asks: “Will he be next”. Well, yes, if what the Prime Minister told the Military Council in the 2018 election aftermath still applies. The paper says it asked the PM and the AG on Tuesday whether what I’d reported on Grubsheet is correct. Four days later, the Fiji Times says it has still had no response.
I know that some of those closest to the Prime Minister were appalled by his attack on me, and especially his attempt to demean me as some sort of bit player who he knew but wasn’t really important, which merely raised the question of why on earth he’d be attacking me in the first place if that was the case. He knows and everyone around him knows that I was at the centre of government and played a significant role in bolstering its fortunes and those of the Prime Minister.
For years before I joined Qorvis in 2012, I was a Bainimarama supporter – regularly explaining his agenda in articles in the regional media -and especially The Australian newspaper – and from 2011, in the columns of Grubsheet Feejee. For a long time – as many readers will remember – these articles were republished in the Fiji Sun and had considerable impact on wider public opinion. For obvious reasons, the AG-controlled Sun has not displayed quite the same alacrity since the relaunch of Grubsheet last month to resume that arrangement. But those articles – from 2011 to 2014 – are still available for any reader interested in looking back over the Grubsheet archive. And they demonstrate beyond question my support for Frank Bainimarama’s principal agenda of levelling the playing field in Fiji and guaranteeing the rights of every Fijian, irrespective of ethnicity and religious affiliation.
Engaged by Qorvis in Suva on the basis of my writings, I crafted the government’s winning narrative during the tumultuous period leading up to the return to parliamentary rule in September 2014. There was a particular emphasis on service delivery and inclusiveness. “We deliver”, was a line devised by my Qorvis colleague, Sol Levine. To that I added “We serve.” Along with a repeated emphasis on Fiji as a caring society in which the Bainimarama government was giving people equal opportunity and a leg-up, not a handout, to help them help themselves to improve their lives and those of their families.
I wrote the Prime Minister’s speeches that propelled him to national, regional and global status as a statesman and did so as a true believer, not a hired gun. I was especially emotional the night I wrote his announcement of free education as I recalled the many times that underprivileged parents had come to our family home when I was a child asking for assistance with their children’s school fees. I still think it’s the proudest achievement of the Bainimarama era – a leg-up without parallel in Fijian history.
Over the years, I had also grown close to both the PM and AG, peppering them with suggestions and advice and even ironing out differences between them. But I now think they have lost their way and am saying so. As I’ve already reported, I did what I could before I went public in these columns to persuade Frank Bainimarama to change course and especially in the wake of the disastrous 2018 election campaign. He has chosen not to do so. But it is a mistake and I am going to continue to say so.
It often seems that the PM is spooked by the prospect of change. But there is still time for him to reinvent the government, to remove the AG – who has become increasingly erratic and mercurial – and put Fiji on a different course. He has the people there to do it. Mere Vuniwaqa would make a great deputy prime minister and attorney general and the team of Frank Bainimarama and Mere Vuniwaqa has the capacity to beat Sitiveni Rabuka and Lynda Tabuya in 2022, whereas the team of Frank Bainimarama and Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum will not. And Jone Usamate easily has the intellectual firepower to take over as minister of economy, especially assisted by economic heavy hitters already on the government payroll such as Arif Ali, Makareta Konrote, Filimone Waqabaca and Jitoko Tikolevu, and those who could make up an external advisory panel of such luminaries as Savenaca Narube and Biman Prasad.
It can be done and must be done or FijiFirst faces almost certain defeat at the next election and the destruction of Frank Bainimarama’s reputation and legacy. It was never likely, given my personal commitment to his revolution, that the “ageing drama queen” would be deterred by what the Aussies would call some half-arsed attack, even by someone of the statue of the Prime Minister. So, Dear Reader, we press on.