October 14, 2014
Prof Wadan Narsey: The new catastrophic risks to Fijian sovereignty
(Fiji Day, 10 October 2014)
[This article is based on my presentation at a panel discussion on “Post-Election Issues”, organized by the Adi Cakobau Secondary School Senior Old Girls, at the QVSOB Club, Brewster Street, Suva, on 30 September 2014.]
Some are describing the election of the Bainimarama Government on the 17 September 2014 as the “dawn of a new era” and who knows, it may turn out that way if Fiji miraculously sees the emergence of a genuinely transparent and accountable government that we have seen no trace of, over the last eight years.
But the more probable outcome is that the Powerful Two (Voreqe Bainimarama and Aiyaz Khaiyum) will use the “people have spoken” popular mandate of the elections to further tighten their authoritarian and unaccountable rule and media control, under a façade of parliamentary democracy, while they now legally manipulate the revenues and assets of Fiji, including a fire sale of the most profitable public enterprises to preferred clients.
The next four years could see the Fiji economy dominated by a new breed of powerful investors whose disdain for the law could signal the beginning of the end of indigenous Fijian sovereignty in the only country which is home to a unique ethnic group comprising less than six hundred thousand people.
The experience of the last eight years and the 2014 elections make clear that the Powerful Two have defeated all opposition forces that could have defended Fijian sovereignty to take total control of a parliament, to which there are no checks and balances left.
All the checks and balances under the 1997 Constitution, contained in the powers of Senate (Upper House), especially for indigenous Fijian rights and contentious new legislations, are gone, simply because the Powerful Two have decreed that there be no Upper House now.
Bainimarama and Khaiyum are unlikely to allow FFP Cabinet Ministers or backbenchers to act independently, even if Fijian national sovereignty is at stake.
The 2013 Bainimarama/Khaiyum Constitution (2013 BKC) has been meticulously designed to ensure that the Fiji Parliament will be largely ineffective in ensuring the transparency and accountability of the Bainimarama Government.
While Adam Smith’s economic model argues that if all economic stakeholders follow their own selfish interests, then the paradoxical result will be an optimal economy, such a recipe in politics is likely to lead to the slow but sure, and irreversible loss of Fijian national sovereignty.
The writing is already on the wall for Opposition parties, but there are several indicators that the concerned public should monitor, such as: the continued refusal of the Bainimarama Government to make public the full uncensored Auditor General Reports and all other important reports, the likely inability of the Opposition MPs to have constitutional reform items placed on the parliamentary agenda, the lack of internal democracy of the Fiji First Party, the Bainimarama Government’s distribution of membership of public enterprise boards, and the tightening control of the media.
There is an urgent need for a new breed of intellectual Fijian bati, if Fijian sovereignty is to have a reasonable chance of surviving in Fiji.
Adam Smith’s model will not ensure Fijian sovereignty
In economics there is an elegant if paradoxical model which argues that if all economic interests behave selfishly, maximizing personal profits, incomes and consumer satisfaction, then society’s welfare will be optimized (with a few exceptions acknowledged such as externalities and public goods).
But this model is not going to work in Fiji’s politics, when it comes to safeguarding Fijian national sovereignty.
If Government Ministers, parliamentarians, civil servants, corporate interests, professionals and professional organizations, media owners, journalists, anonymous bloggers, and ordinary citizens all continue their “business as usual” in looking after their own selfish interests, as they have done for the last eight years, then there is a catastrophic risk that indigenous Fijians will lose political control of Fiji, with corporate control and the accompanying corruption eventually permeating the highest levels of government.
The catalyst for this erosion of sovereignty will be the entry of new corporate global giants to the Fiji economy, many of whom have little regard for laws that limit their total freedom.
New corporate kids on the block
With high economic growth of 5% or more being essential for the management of the increased Public Debt, it is likely that all large business investors will be given the green light, with minimal due process or regulation.
Over the years, Fiji’s powerful local business interests (usual multi-ethnic names) have exercised their influence over government ministers to obtain special financial and economic advantages in the grant of monopolies, tariff protection, tax exemptions or reductions, controlled price increases, restrictions on wage increases, etc.
These local business houses will continue to receive their special benefits, as reward for their generous contributions to the FFP 2014 elections campaign.
But they will be minor supporting cast to the new breed of new investors, who are global billionaires, with little difficulty, especially in poor developing countries, in influencing government ministers and senior civil servants, using the “universal lubricant”.
Should these giants obtain pervasive influence over Fiji’s key ministers and civil servants, there will be no turning back the clock on Fiji’s loss of national sovereignty, and we will not be the first country by far.
There are several Central American countries whose political leaders and civil service chiefs became so subservient to American multinational corporations that they have been appropriately described as “banana republics”.
There are African and Asian countries today where similar trends are leading also to the rapacious extraction of mineral resources, circumvention of environment laws, and severe erosion of national sovereignty.
Even the corporate giants’ own home governments have difficulty controlling their illegal activities, while the political will to do so is often weakened because of the commonality between global corporate and global imperial interests.
The warning signs in Fiji
Over the last eight years, one visible indicator is that the Bainimarama Government has given permission for many business developments which have resulted in the illegal cutting of mangroves and tirireclamation all over Fiji.
Despite many public queries and protests the Ministers and senior civil servants responsible have refused to reply (the planned rezoning and potential environmental destruction at Uduya Point will be an interesting test case), while continuing to make empty public speeches of their belief in green sustainable development, brazenly doing the opposite, which an intimidated media has been unable to highlight.
There has also been total silence by the authorities on the alleged approvals given to rezoning already scarce public spaces, such as at Shirley Park and Churchill Park, for private commercial development.
There has been no response to the anonymous query on The Pensioner website, on lease approvals apparently given to preferred clients, without public tender, at the Nadi Airport.
Many more such cases about which this government is keeping quiet, will become known in due course, about major mining concessions, government loans, the awarding of tenders, and the sale of shares in Fiji’s valuable public enterprises, some of which such as airports and ports, may also risk compromising national sovereignty at Fiji’s borders.
Many foreign investors have also contribute generously to the FFP elections campaign, and they will also expect return favors from government.
The danger is that elected FFP parliamentarians will not be able to resist unethical decisions by their government because of a fundamental lack of democracy in FFP.
The lack of democracy in FFP
It might be thought that with elected parliamentarians being part of Cabinet, individual Cabinet ministers can be relied upon to protect Fijian national sovereignty, but the September 2014 elections processes and results suggest otherwise.
In one my Fiji Times Elections Issues articles, I had suggested that candidates and voters examine the internal democracy of their own parties. While some prickly friends in the Opposition parties took offence, that article was more relevant for FFP candidates and supporters.
Was there any transparent committee which selected the FFP candidates? Was there a FFP Committee which decided on the FFP manifesto?
Was there a committee which decided on the elections strategy which deliberately engineered the voting to ensure that the bulk of the votes went to the Party Leader Bainimarama, while giving the ordinary MPs minimal votes, as a result of which not a single one can boast that they have any popular democratic mandate from the voters (except for the Powerful Two).
Was there a FFP Committee that transparently decided on the appointment of Ministers and portfolios, or was it again the Powerful Two?
The public have commented that some FFP ministers had marginal numbers of votes while others, with much higher number of votes, were left out, such as Brij Lal (who one would have thought as being appropriate as a Minister of Education).
The public have noted that “proven performer” (according to the Regime spin doctor) Dr Neil Sharma was not returned as Minister of Health, while the new Minister of Health is one who has no experience in that area, and was the Minister of Labor previously.
Most astonishing is that the only elected FFP MP with a PhD in Economics (Dr Mahendra Reddy) was not made the Minister of Finance or the several other Ministries where his knowledge and experience should have been useful.
No doubt these Ministers will do their best in their allocated responsibilities, and some might indeed be quite effective in their limited fields.
But will they be allowed any collective democratic decision-making within the FFP Cabinet and party, with the freedom to oppose any decisions on professional and ethical grounds without fear of being expelled or victimized?
Or will they be so desperate to keep their positions, that they will become pawns to be used by the two Grand Masters?
One indicator of concentration of FFP power outside government will be their future distribution of Board memberships which should be much easier now that sanctions are no longer being applied against Fiji citizens who take up board positions. Will the Powerful Two still continue the eight year pattern of multiple memberships for their select few, despite their inherent conflicts of interest? Will membership of Public Enterprise boards even be restricted to Fiji citizens?
The subservience of military ministers and civil servants
One of the worrying political developments over the last eight years, has been the pervasive appointment of former military officers in key positions, as cabinet ministers or senior civil servants, now legitimated by the elections.
Unfortunately, unlike normal democratically elected ministers or independently appointed senior civil servants, these former military personnel have been trained to obey orders without question, even if they have professional and ethical reservations.
While some have displayed far more ministerial energy than some elected Ministers, will they question decisions which are not in the public interest, as for instance on environmental destruction or questionable decisions on contracts and tenders?
All the FFP cabinet ministers know that they can be easily sacked, since none of them have any independent political legitimacy with a proven voter base.
The same dilemma faces senior civil servants who oppose any political decision on professional grounds, that they can be dismissed with no recourse to appeal as they had pre-Bainimarama.
Most of these former military personnel have no alternative employment opportunities in the private sector. They are also now enjoying vastly increased higher salaries and perks as ministers and civil servants; they have acquired costly mortgages which require regular and substantial servicing; they are quite likely to obey orders blindly, even if it means compromising any professional and ethical principles.
The concentration of ministerial power
A powerful indicator of potential abuse of political power and vulnerability to corporate control, is that one individual has monopolized all the economically important portfolios, each of which would have been more than enough for one Minister.
For eight years, Aiyaz Khaiyum repeated over and over in his public speeches that it was the vision and objectives of “Prime Minister” Bainimarama that were driving the policies of the Bainimarama Government, and Bainimarama supposedly had the responsibility for several portfolios.
No doubt there is some branch of psychology which explains how subordinates to dictators must not only continuously glorify and legitimate the authority of the dictator but that is also a sure technique for wielding his powers from behind the throne.
But the eight year pretense of Bainimarama looking after several portfolios has now been discarded, and Khaiyum has been explicitly given control of all ministries which have the real power over Fiji’s economic resources, some not declared in the original list of five ministries.
[Since my presentation at the panel discussion, Khaiyum has relinquished two ministries (with little discretionary ministerial powers) and reacquired the Attorney General position which will be absolutely critical in the next four years during the likely challenges to the 2013 BKC, and the need for many more new decrees to expedite the fire sale of public enterprises worth hundreds of millions of dollars.]
One dangerous consequence is that important investors seeking favors in any field, will now legitimately have a “one stop shop” (Aiyaz Khaiyum) to make their requests and exchange incentives. Khaiyum’s powers of micro-management will be immense, with only Bainimarama to be kept satisfied, as he has done quite successfully these last eight years,.
Unfortunately for civil service delivery, senior civil servants in a wide variety of ministries will continue to face a “paralysis of decision-making” as they wait for one minister, Khaiyum, to make the decisions.
It is quite likely that most of the other Ministers will have defer to Khaiyum for the final important decisions, as they have done over the last eight years.
It is highly unlikely that any individual Cabinet Ministers or senior civil servants will oppose any decisions by the Powerful Two, even if they undermine national Fijian sovereignty.
Contrary to all our expectations, the elected Parliament will also be unable to stop such erosion of national sovereignty or even raise it for debate within Parliament.
The emasculation of parliament
While many of us have tried to take comfort that after the September 2014 elections, government will now be more transparent and accountable, this may turn out to be “wishful thinking”.
Already, senior appointments have been irregularly made to the positions of Speaker and Secretary General to Parliament, with the Opposition not even being thrown the “crumbs from the table”, with the election of the Deputy Speaker.
There is every likelihood that parliament will be called as few times in the year as the Bainimarama Government wishes, and with limited agenda approved totally by themselves.
Despite the façade of high technology being made available to each and every MP and parliamentary proceedings televised to the world, the reality is that parliamentary proceedings and outputs will be tightly controlled, as will be the media reporting of issues, which is already unfairly monopolized and manipulated by the Fiji Broadcasting Corporation.
It is wishful thinking that the Opposition parliamentarians will be able to question and revise the many objectionable elements of the 2013 Bainimarama Khaiyum Constitution (2013 BKC) that have eroded the basic human rights of our people.
One spin doctor profitably employed by the Bainimarama Government has already given the game away by declaring on his personal blog that the 2014 Elections results should be seen as a referendum on all past policies and decrees of the Bainimarama Government, including all elements of the 2013 BKC, which had been unilaterally imposed on the people of Fiji.
It will be next to impossible for Opposition parliamentarians to bring about any changes without the approval of the Bainimarama Government, because their 2013 BKC requires a 75% majority that the Opposition simply will not be able to muster, even if they could induce a few from government side to vote with them (also an impossibility).
The moving of parliament from the ample more suitable complex at Draiba, to the much smaller Government buildings space was strangely justified by Bainimarama as “coming full circle” to the pre-1987 parliament.
But the physical reality is that situating the parliament at Government Buildings severely restricts the space for the Opposition parties and their research staff, compared to the old spacious parliamentary complex at Draiba.
If the parliament is not going to be too fruitful an avenue for the real restoration of basic human rights, can the Fiji public look to civil society organizations and individual citizens?
The pliant NGOs and professional organizations
It is tragic that over the last eight years, professional organizations of lawyers and accountants have been quiet on the many decrees which have reduced the human rights of Fiji citizens.
Civil society organizations have disputed some, but eventually accepted the illegal “laws” and constitution imposed on them, despite the powerful intellectual and legal comfort of a 2001 ruling by Justice Anthony Gates (current Chief Justice) that no individual has the power to abrogate the 1997 Constitution, regardless of the number of years a tyrant may remain in control, and regardless of his popularity.
But Fiji’s civil society and professional organizations of lawyers and accountants have failed to defend democracy and freedom, because they have not been supported by society at large.
The Indo-Fijian apathy
There is an astonishing intellectual and social apathy of Indo-Fijian academics and students in all the three universities, made evident by their total absence from any national public debate, and refusal of university managers to provide ethical intellectual leadership.
The educated Indo-Fijian elite will continue to enjoy whatever benefits come their way and plan their date of emigration, while immersing themselves in the daily escapist diet of Bollywood that is their new “opium of the masses” peddled by Fiji’s businesses and the media.
The local Indo-Fijian business community have hedged their bets by taking out permanent residency or citizenship in Australia, NZ, US and Canada and moving their families there, “in case things go wrong in Fiji”. You can be sure that they will make lots of money in Fiji before they go.
Expect no ethical activism from them about loss of Fijian sovereignty or lack of accountability of government.
The absence of Fijian whistle blowers and Fijian collaboration
For eight years the public and political parties have been calling for the Bainimarama Government to release all the Auditor General Reports since 2006, to reveal details of ministerial salaries between 2010 and 2013, to release the reports on the massive financial losses in FNPF investments, audits of the RFMF Regimental Funds, and how approvals were given for projects that resulted in environmental destruction.
What should be deeply worrying to the indigenous Fijian community, is that there has not been a single “whistle blower” who has made the information available to the public.
The indigenous Fijian intellectual elites, who merrily wine and dine at the annual charades of accountants’ or lawyers’ conferences, willingly dance along with the smooth propaganda that is thrust down their throats, apparently unconcerned about the dangers to Fijian sovereignty.
Increasing numbers of intellectual indigenous Fijians are escaping by taking up safe employment with regional and international organizations or emigrating like their Indo-Fijian colleagues, to greener pastures, leaving their Fijian communities totally vulnerable and leaderless.
The Fijian bati to defend Fijian sovereignty are only to be seen performing meke for tourists, or lining the driveway to Government House with their clubs and daubed with ashes looking fierce, but only after their High Chief had already been hounded from his presidential office, to die in sorrow at his home in Lau.
While the defense of Fijian sovereignty requires a new breed of intellectual bati, very few of the hundreds of educated Fijians have stepped up to assist those brave few in SODELPA who struggled against the mighty propaganda machine of the FFP and the likelihood of victimization by the powerful state machinery.
A few Fijians continue to vent their anger and frustrations through the blogs, but always anonymously, which reduces their social value to young impressionable Fijians to zero and indeed, had little impact on their very important votes in the September 2014 elections.
Anonymous bloggers also rant and rave about Aiyaz Khaiyum implementing his Master’s degree’s “Sunset Clause” on the Fijian race, when it should be obvious that it is the indigenous Fijians themselves who are driving the tanks and firing the shells at Fijian sovereignty.
Khaiyum, without any personal political base, just happens to a most efficient strategist, very smooth, suave, and successful at serving Bainimarama, who is backed completely by his Military Council and the RFMF, all also completely indigenous Fijian.
Ominously, there is a never-ending supply of prominent indigenous Fijians, (including High Chiefs) who have been willing to join Bainimarama’s Government, parroting the Bainimarama Government propaganda, while keeping the government machinery running, all personally befitting in the process of course.
The uncomfortable reality that Fijians leaders have to face up to is that if indigenous Fijians (including Bainimarama) follow their own individual self-interest according to Adam Smith’s model, as they have done over the last eight years, they could be hammering the last nails into the coffin of indigenous Fijian sovereignty.
Let us hope that this “gloom and doom” scenario of catastrophic risk to Fijian sovereignty is all pessimistic conjecture which will be proven wrong by the next four years.
[The term “catastrophic risk” is usually applied to global phenomena such as global warming, which endanger the planet on a global scale. I believe that the term can also applied to the risks to “Fijian sovereignty” for which there is only one geographical host in the world, Fiji.]