Frank Bainimarama cannot have a formal meeting with anyone of consequence without it being fully scripted for him, which is why his iPad or a set of notes comes between him and anyone who sits down with him, as in these pictures from COP26.
It is the way in which Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum maintains total control over the Prime Minister. Because speaking notes from the various branches of government such as Foreign Affairs go to Qorvis to turn them into conversational style and then Qorvis sends them to the AG, who approves them and forwards them to the PM. So that whether Bainimarama is speaking to Boris Johnson, Antonio Guterres, Patricia Scotland or the World Wildlife Fund, it isn’t so much Bainimarama speaking as Khaiyum. Just as the PM reads out speeches on an autocue that have been approved by the AG, with Bainimarama never once, in my experience, having had input into the content of those speeches during my entire six years of writing them from 2012-2018.
It has always frustrated Frank Bainimarama that Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum invariably keeps him waiting for his speeches and notes. Indeed, he sometimes becomes agitated as the minutes tick by and the time for an engagement approaches and he still hasn’t received what the AG wants him to say.
It always struck me as unnecessary and even humiliating for the Prime Minister to be left dangling like this, not to mention the risk that the PM would fumble his delivery with not enough practice. But the AG’s favoured tactic has invariably been to leave emailing the relevant document till the last possible moment so that no-one else around the Prime Minister has a chance to read it and make changes that deviate from the AG’s narrative.
When I was the author of this material, I cannot count the number of times the PM’s bodyguards anxiously called me asking for a speech or speaking notes when it was the AG who was sitting on them – sometimes for a day or two – without passing them on. The PM was kicking the cat in telling his security detail to pester me because he knew all along that I was under strict instructions not to bypass the AG and send them to him direct.
As Prime Minister, Bainimarama could have easily asked Khaiyum himself to hurry things along but he would never do so, which is a telling insight into their relationship in itself. Because it is all about the desire to control and the willingness to be controlled – the bizarre and frankly sad spectacle of the dummy waiting for the ventriloquist to bring him to life with words that he cannot formulate himself.
With this in mind, I had to smile when Sitiveni Rabuka said again on the weekend that Frank Bainimarama had lost control of the government. Because he has never had control in the first place. It’s the guy next to him or at his shoulder in these telling pictures from COP who pulls the strings and is the real power in Fiji.