“We will not tolerate an iota of disruption to the peace, safety, stability and common and equal citizenry we now enjoy….”
Voreqe Bainimarama, speech to Fiji, 6 January 2012.
Those of us who were there that damp Suva Sunday evening remember much of the strangeness. The empty swimming pool covered in plywood, the piss stench from dozens of men who had drank way too much kava and impeccably dressed George Speight.
It was 9 July 2000, at what we all came to know as “Iloilo’s House” in Maunikau. Down the road, Speight and his thugs held the government hostage, coming up to 58 days. Earlier attempted deals had failed, but this one was different because Inoke Takiveikata, the Qaranivalu of Naitasiri, was involved.
This led to the Maunikau Accords to release the hostages and for the rebels to return the military arms to the barracks. There was a conditional amnesty, which Bainimarama, as martial law administrator, signed on the covered pool, a stupidly self-satisfied Speight standing beside him.
As Bainimarama signed, he said, in a barely audible voice, that it was “the beginning of a long journey” and added, “let us unite as one people for the sake of our beloved country.”
Even as I watched the signing, I believed the Accord was a set up. Surprisingly Speight felt it had moral authority. After all, he could say, Bainimarama had made promises. I was not alone in wondering at the worth of a promise made under duress.
Speight held an “open day” at Parliament to hand back the arms. He strolled up to me for a chat. I did say to him that he faced arrest. He did not see it at all that way; he believed in Bainimarama’s signature.
All this is not to say I feel some sympathy for Speight – he got everything he deserved.
I was not at all surprised when on 26 July 2000, the military grabbed Speight, and next day went into Kalabu and seized 369 coup plotters. While Speight and gang may have felt they had a piece of paper – but what they had not realized was that Bainimarama was not then, and has not been since, a man of his word.
He nearly paid for that little fact on 2 November 2000; the people he had betrayed at Maunikau tried to kill him.
In the only combat action of his entire military career, Bainimarama ran and tumbled down a steep bank as his own men shot at him. He extracted brutal revenge.
The central point though is that the events occurred because Bainimarama promised one thing, and did another.
It is this that makes him impossible to work with seriously – there is no way of knowing whether what he says on Day One is going to be the same as on Day Three. How can anybody do serious business with a man like that?
Jump forward to his second coup, that of December 2006 (his first was 29 May 2000).
Oddly, he promised to stage the coup and kept to his word; illustrating that when something is good for him, he will do it.
In 2007, he then went to the Pacific Forum Summit in Tonga. There he promised to the leaders that he would hold elections by March 2008. Later he denied he made any such promise, but it stretches credibility completely to imagine that he was right and 15 other leaders were wrong.
No, the truth was that as at Maunikau, Bainimarama is simply incapable of keeping to his word. It is impossible to work with him.
I had a good off-the-record relationship with the late New Zealand Governor-General Sir Paul Reeves. Sent to Fiji by the Commonwealth he tried to negotiate a return to some kind of democracy. He was never in any doubt that so long as it was Bainimarama who he was negotiating with, nothing would happen.
Reeves bemoaned how difficult it was to even talk with Bainimarama, how he would launch into bombastic speech even when in a room with a handful of people. Reeves kept trying, but he quickly warned me once not to expect anything: “he is impossible”.
The gap between the promise and the break can be short.
On 1 January 2012, he gave a New Year speech he announced that his latest three year long bout of martial law would cease on 7 January 2012. He said nothing about new rules to come but much of the region took him at his word. His statement was welcomed by the United Nations, the Commonwealth and assorted leaders in the region. Australia and New Zealand were urged to ease sanctions.
He had created the expectation of change, an implied undertaking, if not an actual promise.
Again, he has duped everybody and come out with the Public Order (Amendment) Decree. It breaks that implication of just six days earlier.
Deception taints all Bainimarama’s decisions. He cannot be trusted, but he expects everybody else to trust him.
The latest address is a tour d’force in hypocrisy.
“No modern state wishes anarchy upon itself,” he said.
Of course, no modern state would wish to see a military commander with wrap around glasses and some PLO scarf on his neck, charging into the business district during peak hours. No modern state would wish to have soldiers firing mortars at imagine enemies sailing into Suva harbour at midnight.
Bainimarama did all that.
“In Fiji, we too have experienced terrorism such as the events of 2000, during which government members were held captive by terrorists for close to two months.”
In December 2006, we watched Bainimarama’s men charge into the same Parliament and drag away politicians and staff; one was terrorism, the other was not.
Again, how to deal with a man who has this view of the world?
He talks of the ransacking of Suva and Muaniweni as terrorism; no mention is made of the seizing of people in the streets of Fiji, the random beatings and the occasional deaths.
That in 2000 was terrorism; in 2006/7 it was keeping order and stability.
His order and stability.
Bainimarama has taken a parliamentary act passed at independence to enrich his power. He has decided to “effectively address terrorism, offences against public order and safety, racial and religious vilification, hate speech, and economic sabotage”.
He is quite right to say that other countries have similar legislation, but he misses the point that these laws came only after a democratic process in which parliaments and courts, along with major public inputs, came up with “anti-terrorism” laws. If citizens of those other states disagree with the anti-terrorism acts, they can always vote politicians out of office. No chance with Bainimarama.
In Fiji, Bainimarama just dreamt the decrees up.
No one was asked, although the likelihood now is that the almost entirely passive Fiji public, all their inputs heavily censored and deeply controlled by the military, would have said yes … and gone off to the opium of rugby sevens and beauty contests.
He is entirely disingenuous in saying that a person can be only detained for 48 hours before further detention requires the permission of the police commissioner for another 14 days. He says it as if the commissioner is some kind of objective independent figure with free will and the right to make his own decision. In fact, he is a lower ranked military officer who follows orders from Bainimarama.
He also gives the impression that he is generous in that he says Fiji will not allow “tracking devices” to be installed on individuals. Are Fijians supposed to be grateful? Will it stop soldiers showing up at houses in the dead of night to haul critics up to the barracks?
Bainimarama says that under his regime there has been “an overall decrease in the crime rate”. He is making that up, there is no statistical basis to that at all.
He can take credit for the big fall in the convictions for treason, misprision of treason and swearing false oaths. Since 2006, there has been absolutely no conviction of any of these. Wonder why?
There have been no arrests either (thus order exists) for unsolved murders committed on 2 November 2000, nor has anybody been prosecuted for threatening an entire population with bloodshed and terrorism by marching an army down the main street of Suva.
There is order, and there is order.
Bainimarama says martial law bought “order”, but he fails to state that order existed and had been handed down by the Court of Appeal in 2009. They said he had broken the law and that his government was illegal.
So there has been an “overall decrease” in the crime rate – easy to do if you do not prosecute those who break the major laws?
He lists “reforms and changes”. They can be read in his speech; but the simple, overwhelming fact is that there is no consensus or public approval for any of these reforms or changes – they were simply imposed by Bainimarama and his military council. Some, undoubtedly, are good measures and may even survive past the regime itself.
On 1 January, Bainimarama scrapped martial law that came with tough censorship. Six days later he broke that promise: “Negativity would have been further exacerbated by the media bias in particular of the Fiji Times and Fiji TV. Media is undoubtedly powerful and critical for a well-informed public. However, personal, political and racial agendas cannot be allowed to take precedence and continue behind the façade of a free press.”
How can the public be well informed when it is the military deciding what they can read?
Actually there will be no media freedom in Fiji. Bainimarama has created a clever little control regime, by decree again, in which a committee of quislings including journalists turn on each other and ensure that readers will never really read the truth.
Sadly, in Fiji today, no one knows the truth at all.
To complete the shattered promises, Bainimarama brings out the fist: “Know that those who seek to destabilize society only do so to serve their own interests. They do not serve you. Also know that we will not tolerate an iota of disruption to the peace, safety, stability and common and equal citizenry we now enjoy.”
Thanks to Bainimarama, Fiji is a sadly perverted place in which the expression “Fiji the way the world should be” is turned on its head and it is now “Fiji, the place the world can no longer figure out…”
Or trust or do business with.
7 January 2012