The Coalition is again being plunged into crisis as Grubsheet reveals that the ousted Assistant Director of Public Prosecutions, Elizabeth Rice, is suing the state for unlawful dismissal on the extraordinary grounds of race.
Rice claims that the illegally appointed DPP, John Rabuku, sacked her after telling her that while her performance was commendable, he was removing her because she was white and he wanted an iTaukei in her position.
The highly respected prosecutor – who was preparing to conduct Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum’s trial for abuse of office – was given the choice in writing “to resign or be terminated”. Her lawyers say this amounted to constructive dismissal. But it soon became a case of unlawful dismissal when Elizabeth Rice refused to resign.
Four hours later, John Rabuku formally sacked her and gave her 15 minutes to pack up her belongings and leave the ODPP’s headquarters at Gunu House. She was then escorted from the premises in what her colleagues say was a state of “extreme distress”.
The dismissal has rocked the ODPP and is sending shockwaves through the offices of state and the civil service as news spreads of Elizabeth Rice’s brutal dismissal. According to colleagues, her treatment at the hands of Rabuku leading up to the sacking was “rude, abrasive and dismissive”. But that hasn’t cushioned the shock at her abrupt removal, and especially when she was widely regarded as indispensable to securing a conviction against Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum.
John Rabuku is said to have made statements in verbal and written form that leave him and the government deeply exposed. His reference to sacking Eliabeth Rice because she is “white” rather than because she is an expatriate is a shocking insight into the institutional racism that has taken hold in government since the Coalition came to power.
It will severely dent public confidence, especially among Fiji’s minorities. And it will send a particular chill through Fijians of European descent, and especially those who supported the Coalition. Because they now know that they have joined Indo-Fijians in becoming targets for an ethno-nationalist government engaged in a perverse form of workplace ethnic cleansing in favour of the indigenous majority.
John Rabuku was already being accused of racism for having purged the ODPP of long standing Indo-Fijian staff. This included an administrative assistant who he accused of assisting the suspended DPP, Christopher Pryde, to disadvantage the careers of iTaukei. This woman – like Elizabeth Rice – was sent home in tears but unlike Rice, chose to resign rather than endure the stress of being dismissed.
These events are all the more extraordinary when John Rabuku is not qualified to have been appointed to act in Christopher Pryde’s position in the first place. The 2013 Constitution specifically forbids it on the grounds that Rabuku has been found guilty of professional misconduct. Yet that hasn’t troubled the Prime Minister, Sitiveni Rabuka, who has presided over the illegal appointments of John Rabuku and a Supreme Court judge, Alipate Qetaki, even as he mouths empty platitudes – as he has just done in relation to the dismissal of Aseri Radrodro – about the need to uphold the Constitution.
Did John Rabuku act alone in dismissing Elizabeth Rice on racial grounds? It is inconceivable to senior lawyers Grubsheet contacted that this would be the case. They are convinced that he is acting on the instructions of the Acting Chief Justice, Salesi Temo, and ultimately on behalf of the man who is said to control Justice Temo in a grave breach of the traditional separation of powers -the Attorney General, Siromi Turaga.
Turaga is a dangerous ethnic extremist who has embarked on an active campaign to replace minorities in the offices of state and the civil service with iTaukei appointments. He is on the record as having said that he is intent on replacing all expatriates in the judiciary with indigenous judges and magistrates.
That in itself raised eyebrows in legal circles because judicial appointments are not made by the Attorney General but by the Judicial Services Commission. But Siromi Turaga – who handpicked Salesi Temo to be Acting Chief Justice – is said to have Temo over a barrel because he and the Prime Minister have the power to confirm him in the substantive position that became vacant with the death of the suspended Chief Justice, Kamal Kumar.
We know because John Rabuku’s predecessor as Acting DPP, the late David Toganivalu said so, that he was receiving calls from Siromi Turaga and Salesi Temo instructing him how to do his job – a violation of the principle that the DPP is also independent. One of these instructions – from Salesi Temo – was that Toganivalu personally prosecute cases in the courts rather than be “an armchair DPP”, a term that Temo had used disparagingly against the suspended DPP, Christopher Pryde.
Was Toganivalu’s successor, John Rabuku, similarly instructed to jettison Elizabeth Rice midway through her prosecution of Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum and take over the case himself? We don’t yet know though it is perfectly reasonable to assume so. Because no-one in an acting position, let alone someone unlawfully appointed like Rabuku, can reasonably be expected to have been acting on his own.
John Rabuku is a prosecutor with only a fraction of the experience of Elizabeth Rice, who had gained a stellar reputation for securing convictions in the court. Indeed her strike rate was said to be close to 100 per cent. According to legal sources in Suva, Rabuku, by comparison, is decidedly less than stellar on his feet, sometimes mounting arguments that are hard to comprehend. He is also said to be struggling with a drink problem, with rumours that alcohol played a part in his departure as DPP in Nauru. Staff in the ODPP at the aptly named Gunu (Drink) House also report the occasional whiff of “liquor breath” when they come into close contact with him.
Could it possibly be true that John Rabuku was instructed to take over the prosecution of Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum? Or has he taken it upon himself to be the hero of the hour and the toast of his patrons by putting the ousted AG behind bars? Either way, according to our sources, it is legal madness. Because Rabuku is not a patch on the lethal Elizabeth Rice and the chances of Khaiyum walking free have suddenly increased dramatically.
Rabuku is certainly said to be no match for the doyen of the Suva bar, Devanesh Sharma, and his counsel assisting, Gul Fatima, who will have been raising (non-alcoholic) toasts with their famous client for having escaped the blowtorch of Elizabeth Rice. If Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum walks free, according to these sources, it will be because the trio of Siromi Turaga, Salesi Temo, and John Rabuku allowed it to happen.
All that is to come when Khaiyum is back in court on March 19. But in the meantime, John Rabuku is facing his own blowtorch in the court of public opinion and in the unlawful dismissal hearing to come. You can just imagine the collective exclamation: “You sacked her because she is white? Are you out of your mind?”
Elizabeth Rice did a stint in the ODPP under Nazhat Shameem in the 1990s before being hired again by Christopher Pryde to raise the successful strike rate against wrongdoers in the courts. He already had a respected iTaukei prosecutor as one of his assistant DPPs in the form of Mosese Korovou but Korovou’s untimely death left him with a team of white faces In Elizabeth Rice, Lee Burney and Andrew Jack. That may have been unfortunate given the rise of an etho-nationalist government but as Pryde saw it, colour didn’t come into it. He wanted the best prosecutors Fiji could afford and if that meant hiring from outside, then it was a case of merit triumphing over mediocrity.
Is the real reason Christopher was suspended nine months ago because he is “white”? In the light of John Rabuku’s comments to Elizabeth Rice, we are certainly entitled to assume so. The ostensible reason for Pryde’s suspension was that he was photographed in conversation with Aiyaz Sayed Khaiyum at a Japanese Embassy function. Yet we are also entitled to assume that the reason Siromi Turaga has delayed setting up a tribunal – as the Constitution stipulates – to rule on the charge of misbehaviour against Pryde is that Turaga and Temo are less than confident that any judge – let alone three – would find him guilty.
It is all one hell of a mess – a potent mix of incompetence, cronyism, malevolence and outright racism that has seen the steady degradation of the criminal justice system in Fiji. The great tragedy is that Fiji’s minorities can no longer be confident of equal treatment under the law. And judging from what has happened to Elizabeth Rice, it is certainly open season on whites.
The first public sign that something unusual had happened – John Rabuku informing the Chief Magistrate that he had suddenly taken over the prosecution of Aiyaz Sayed Khaiyum from Elizabeth Rice and needed more time get across the material.