Rajiv Sharma has been one of Grubsheet’s most avid correspondents since we began publishing again last August and also one of my greatest critics, continually objecting to my use of the term ” genuine democracy” to characterise the return to parliamentary rule under the Bainimarama government. While I have suspended writing lengthy political articles until a more cogent opposition emerges in Fiji, it’s worth re-publishing our most recent engagement in the comments section. Because as time goes by, events in Fiji have brought Rajiv and I much closer together in terms of outlook. This is a salute not just to him but to all of my contributors, who have proved to be so much more articulate and reasoned than the normal diatribe and venom that passes for much of the commentary about Fijian politics on social media. Vinaka vakalevu to you all! And read on….
Rajiv Sharma says: March 16, 2021 at 5:38 am: In tough times leaders hunker down and do the real tough work. In Fiji, Frank is cutting ribbons, ministers are visiting market stalls, handing seeds and bullocks , giving out roadside stall leases, crying that infrastructure is 60 years old etc.
So when are they actually doing the real work? PM and Ministers should be working hard to develop and implement new economic policies one that will take away dependency from tourism and development other economic sectors so that the rising tide will lift all boats. A real total lack of leadership in Fiji. It’s so sad to see that Govt is broke with everything now being given as aid.
Is this 50 years of independence progress? AG has mismanaged the National purse.
New younger generation of leadership is needed
Graham Davis saysMarch 16, 2021 at 6:51 am :Couldn’t agree more, Rajiv. The government is in total disarray at the worst possible time, with its principal economic architect out of the country and in post operative recovery as the massive loans that he has secured are the only thing between survival and total economic collapse.
Why the leadership is pushing through such things as the FICAC court, the abolition of assessors and now the Police Bill at such a time is astonishing. But it is a sign of their desperation that they now have to introduce potentially repressive measures to have any chance at all of winning the next election.
They are haunted by the spectre of Anthony Gates, the former Chief Justice, allowing their mortal enemy, Sitiveni Rabuka, to contest the last election at the final hour and will not allow it to happen again.
So you can see precisely what the plan is: 1/ Mohammed Saneem, the deeply compromised Supervisor of Elections, will seize on even the smallest infringement of the electoral laws by the opposition to refer them to a FICAC investigation. The results of that investigation will now be fast tracked not through the mainstream courts but a special FICAC court over which the AG will have a great deal of power. Which makes it much more likely than before that opposition politicians will be convicted and excluded from contesting the next election.
2/ The Police Bill provides a range of draconian measures that can be used for political purposes. In many ways, it gives police the endorsement for conduct that is already routine. But in the febrile atmosphere that is bound to accompany the election lead-up – assuming it happens at all – there is nothing to prevent a brutal crackdown on the government’s opponents
.3/ The leadership are making sure that the most loyal of their supporters occupy the major offices of state. Sitiveni Qiliho is returning to Fiji from his military course in Britain in July to take over the RFMF. And there is speculation that the office of police commissioner will be filled by Brigadier-General Ratu Jone Kalouniwai, another senior military officer whose article for the Fiji Sun last year justifying a media crackdown and putting law and order above civil liberties sent shock waves through the intelligentsia. Here’s a link to that article: https://fijisun.com.fj/2020/04/22/the-paradox-of-our-rights-during-perilous-times/
4/ The Bainimarama cabinet is still restive, as I’ve reported all along. The cabinet submission on the end of the 120 plus years of assessors and the setting up of the FICAC court told cabinet members that there had been consultations with the principal pillars of the criminal justice system. Yes, there’d been consultation but the AG had been told by these people that they opposed his proposals. In other words, he alone wanted these changes made. Did the AG tell the cabinet that? No. So these fundamental alterations to the criminal justice system were railroaded through without proper consultation with the cabinet and with cabinet members deprived of knowing they were opposed by the Acting CJ, the DPP and the Solicitor General.
5/ All this has caused grave disquiet within the cabinet itself. The senior members who aren’t aligned with the AG know what is coming – a landslide defeat at the next election because of the government’s tin ear and total disconnection from political reality. Nothing concentrates the mind better in politics than the prospect of individual ministers and MPs losing their seats and their salaries. So this disquiet is bound to gain momentum as the months tick by. Will it produce defections to the other parties? Perhaps.
6/ Cabinet members know that the government has developed a unique ability to upset practically everyone. Academia, the intelligentsia and a lot of the youth vote has been lost because of the appalling circumstances of the deportation of the Vice Chancellor at USP. The vote of the legal profession and those concerned about the independence of the institutions of state – myself included – has been lost by railroading through the FICAC Court and abolishing assessors. And now the government has turned its attack on ordinary people – publicly canvassing increases in the rents of market vendors at a time when they and most other people not on the government teat are struggling. It sometimes seems as if the government is determined to lose the next election. Because none of it is appropriate for a country that is on its knees. As you rightly say, where is the effort to develop alternative industries or the agricultural sector? If “buy back your bullocks” is any answer at all to the current crisis, then they have totally lost the plot.
7/ All the while, hundreds of millions of extra dollars are being borrowed and Fiji is more indebted than at any other time in its history. The legacy these people are leaving for future generations is truly frightening. Not to mention the army of retirees who will be left destitute because the government has “assisted” them to spend their own money. The only plan the government appears to have is that Covid can be defeated by vaccines and Fiji Airways planes will miraculously appear from the skies again and the good times will return. Unfortunately, that’s not going to happen for a long time, if ever. The Bula Bubble is a fantasy. Australia and NZ can’t even agree on a bubble between them and Australia is now turning to Singapore. And even if a trickle of overseas visitors returns to Fiji, mass global travel is over for the foreseeable future. Even if people can travel again, we have no idea of knowing whether they will. Because Australia and New Zealand have turned in on themselves and their economies are booming as domestic consumption goes through the roof.
8/ And through all of this – as you rightly point out – any notion of proper direction from the top in Fiji has evaporated. The AG is flat on his back having undergone a heart bypass operation and a hernia repair in Singapore. He had keyhole surgery for the heart op which meant they didn’t have to saw into him. But it is still a major procedure and he will have been told that he cannot maintain his present life-style or he will be dead a lot sooner than his young family deserves. For his part, the PM seems totally lost and distracted. Because it will have dawned on him that for all his government’s spin, it is failing on a very basic level and his people know it. The disconnect between what is in the Fijian media and the reality on the ground has never been more stark. So, yes. There are even darker clouds on the horizon. In fact, the national situation in Fiji has rarely been so bleak.
9/ And in the meantime, the other politicians manoeuvre. My information is that Sitiveni Rabuka is getting many more signatures than he needs to launch the Peoples Alliance. Reports from the West say he has around 7,000 from there alone. And that all over Fiji, Rabuka and his people – who now include the seriously smart Keni Dakuidreketi – are being besieged by ordinary people keen to put their names to his party and expressing extreme hostility towards the FijiFirst government. The AG has always been the lightning road for dissent but as the months go by, more and more people are expressing dissatisfaction with the Prime Minister. And unless he is completely out of touch, Frank Bainimarama knows it. Will he use repression and the new laws to stay in power at all costs? He might. But his legacy will be trashed and so will his place in history – dragged down by hubris, arrogance and an almost astonishing inability to keep his finger on the nation’s pulse.
I am so worried that a big economic collapse is in order and massive IMF bailout will come one day soon and the results will be devastating as IMF will demand huge structural reforms and these reforms will hurt the poor the most.
This is how silly their thinking has been , reduce to zero duty on white goods to stimulate demand, REALLY . Hand out seeds to start agri revolution, REALLY.
All this climate nonsense ( while good and I agree climate change is really) and use of the word “build resilience” is all BS talk ,good sustainable strategic economic growth is what’s needed then tackle climate change as when over 40% of your people live close to poverty , climate change does not matter to them but putting food on table does.
Whoever forms the next GOVT will deal with a big mess and it will take years to clean up the mess. And yes, so much for Frank’s mention of genuine democracy when as you have clearly stated he is moving more and more towards dictatorship.