November 24, 2014

SCMP: Xi Jinping thanks Fiji for help in tackling corrupt officials, pledges raft of deals in return

Xi Jinping expresses gratitude to nation once dubbed an island paradise for corrupt officials
PUBLISHED : Sunday, 23 November, 2014, 6:51am
UPDATED : Sunday, 23 November, 2014, 6:51am
Minnie Chan

China appreciates Fiji's efforts to help the government chase corrupt mainland officials and their illegal assets, President Xi Jinping said during his official visit to the South Pacific nation.
In his meeting with Fijian Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama on Friday in Nadi, Fiji's capital, Xi said Beijing hoped to strengthen bilateral law enforcement cooperation with Fiji, Xinhua reported yesterday.
Xi also pledged China's help to Fiji's developing economy, improving livelihoods and tacking climate change, Xinhua added.
On August 19 last year, Chen Yi , former head of Shanghai's largest insurance agency who allegedly fled with 500 million yuan from the company, was caught in Fiji and escorted back to China by police officers.
International relations experts said Xi's speech and other promises indicated that China would develop closer ties with Fiji. The island nation has a very large Indian community who make 38 per cent of the population and a smaller, mostly Cantonese-speaking Chinese community numbering about 8,000. More recently it has become known as an "overseas paradise" for corrupt Chinese officials.
"Fiji has become one of the most popular destinations for corrupt Chinese officials and fugitives in recent years because the country has many hard-to-reach islands," said Zhou Fangyin , a professor at the Guangdong Research Institute for International Strategies, said.
"Law enforcement in Fiji is very poor due to its imperfect legal system and unstable political situation."
Bainimarama, the former head of the army, has been Prime Minister since he staged a military coup in December 2006. China seized the advantage when Nadi's ties with neighbours Australia, New Zealand, other Pacific forum members and the British Commonwealth soured after the putsch.
Xi's state trip to Nadi is also the first by a Chinese president.
In a meeting his counterpart, President Chief Epeli Nailatikau, Xi said China regarded Fiji as a sincere friend and important partner in the Pacific.
"[China and Fiji] should give play to complementary advantages and lift the level of cooperation," Xinhua cited Xi as saying. "China will continue to support and assist Fiji in dealing with climate change."
It said Xi also promised that China would import more Fijian produce, help it tap China's tourism market and encourage more Chinese investment.
"Xi made many promises to Fiji because all the South Pacific nations have strategic value to China, with each country having a vote at the United Nations, despite their small populations," Zhou said.
Xi arrived in Nadi on early Friday. It is the last stop of his three-nation South Pacific tour that also included New Zealand.
This article appeared in the South China Morning Post print edition as Fiji thanked for graft fight help

Indian Express - Chinese Takeaway: Modi’s Indo-Pacific

Written by C Raja Mohan
Posted: November 21, 2014 12:10 am


The last time an Indian prime minister traveled to Fiji was in 1981, when Indira Gandhi arrived there.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s decision to visit Fiji after his pre-scheduled trips to Myanmar and Australia was indeed a surprise. This underlines the new commitment in New Delhi to bridging the gap between the potential and reality of Delhi’s reach in the Indo-Pacific. The last time an Indian prime minister traveled to Fiji was in 1981, when Indira Gandhi arrived there. Since then, much has happened in Fiji and around it. The intensification of ethnic conflict in Fiji between Indian immigrants and the native populations saw Delhi focus exclusively on securing the interests of the diaspora. The many coups in Fiji and the discrimination against the Indian community there led to Delhi’s efforts to isolate the government and lose its broader influence in the island. Modi’s visit comes in the wake of the UPA government’s decision to begin constructive engagement of Fiji a few years ago.

In the island itself, the elections earlier this year saw the strongman Frank Bainimarama shed his military uniform and win a democratic election with the support of ethnic minorities, including sections of the Indian community. If the restoration of democracy in Fiji set a positive context for Modi’s visit, the PM announced a number of steps to boost India’s relationship with Suva. This included the expansion of India’s development partnership with Fiji, improving air links and announcing visa on arrival for the citizens of Fiji.

Fiji Looks North
The diaspora is not the only reason that has taken Modi to Fiji. Long seen as the backwaters of global politics, the region has increasingly become an important theatre in the emerging great power contestation in the Indo-Pacific. As elsewhere, the rapid rise of China and its intensive outreach to the islands in the last few years has stirred other major powers into action. What began initially as a competition  with Taiwan for diplomatic recognition among the island states has now acquired an intensive strategic dimension. 

With their vast exclusive economic zones, the Pacific Islands occupy millions of square kilometres of ocean space and straddle vital sea lines of communication. Some provide ideal vantage points for military power projection. They are also important locations for gathering signal intelligence and monitoring outer space activity. Guam, for example, is now critical for the maintenance of American forward military presence in the Pacific. The US also tests many of its “star wars” systems in the littoral. 

For China, which seeks to expand its own strategic influence in the Pacific, limit American military primacy in the region and gain access to the rich natural resources of the littoral, the Pacific Islands have become an important priority. The last few years have seen China step up its presence through massive aid programmes, civilian as well as military, and frequent deployment of its naval units and the development of maritime infrastructure in the region. China also built a satellite-tracking station in Kiribati which, of course, was dismantled when the island switched its allegiance to Taiwan. 

China’s interest has given the islands more strategic options in their international relations and the means to resist political pressures from Australia and New Zealand. Fiji has consciously articulated a “look north” policy and played the China card with considerable deftness. With China raising its profile in the south Pacific, the US has ended its post-Cold War neglect of the islands and is back in play. Japan, too, is now committed to doing more for the islands. Australia and New Zealand, which had a free hand in the region after the Cold War, are now recalibrating their policies. 

India Card 
Hours after Modi left Fiji, Bainimarama was hosting Chinese President Xi Jinping. Xi is no stranger to the region, having visited the littoral as vice president a few years ago. Fiji and the other islands are eager for a strong Indian presence in the littoral. They know that India can’t match the Chinese, dollar to dollar, in providing economic assistance. The islanders have no desire to switch from a dependence on the West to a total reliance on China. India’s presence offers the prospect of greater regional balance in the south Pacific and offers more economic and political choices to the island states. 

In meeting all the leaders of the Pacific Islands, promising to make the joint forum a regular affair, enhancing India’s economic assistance programmes and unveiling defence cooperation with Fiji, Modi has demonstrated that India is ready to turn its historic links with the south Pacific into a strategic partnership. 

The writer is a distinguished fellow at the Observer Research Foundation and a contributing editor for ‘The Indian Express’

November 23, 2014

The Telegraph India: Fiji mission land-deal niggle for Modi Govt glare on ‘unequal’ swap

Wednesday , November 19 , 2014

Nov. 18: As Narendra Modi’s one-day visit to Fiji gets under way on Wednesday, the Prime Minister will discover that 135 years after the first Indian indentured labourers landed on what is now a popular Pacific honeymoon destination, land is still an issue of contention between New Delhi and Suva, the island’s capital.

At issue since the BJP-led government assumed office is a decision taken by the government of Manmohan Singh without much application of mind to give away a precious plot of land in one of the priciest parts of the capital to Fiji.

The land is earmarked to construct its new high commission building after Suva opened its first diplomatic outpost in South Asia when bilateral ties were mended many years after a military takeover in May 1987 against Indian political domination of the island state.
Such allotments of land are normally done on reciprocity between governments: India has been similarly given a plot of land in Suva for its high commission. The mission was closed in May 1990 by Fiji after expelling the head of mission, T.P. Sreenivasan.

Sreenivasan was asked to leave the island in 72 hours for making an allegedly inflammatory speech in a gurdwara which was burnt and Sikh holy scriptures were vandalised by Fijian ultra-nationalists. The violence against the gurdwara was one of many incidents against Indian immigrants following the coup.

The Modi government’s hesitation in implementing its UPA predecessor’s reciprocal gesture is that land in Chanakyapuri, the prime diplomatic enclave in the capital, is worth many, many crores more than what India is getting in return in Suva, where property prices are a pittance compared to New Delhi.

With a finance minister who is increasingly scrutinising overseas expenses instead of accepting the discretion of the ministry of external affairs, Arun Jaitley’s nominee in South Block on deputation from his ministry feels that the Suva-Delhi deal to build high commissions in each other’s capitals is only doing lip service to reciprocity.

Auditors who annually inspect all Indian missions abroad are also of the view that India has lost hugely on the allotment of land in Chanakyapuri to the Fijians because it is getting much less in exchange in Suva.

Land is also scarce in Chanakyapuri after Jawaharlal Nehru’s decision to give away entire streets as in Shanti Path in the heart of the diplomatic enclave to countries like China and prominent western countries. Nehru was so generous that Sri Lanka declined a portion of the huge parcel of land that it was gifted.

Because there is no more land available in Chanakyapuri, a number of countries born after the end of the Cold War are being exiled to Dwarka where land has been given on a reciprocal basis.

Several other countries that have opened missions in New Delhi more recently following a growing global acknowledgement of India as an emerging power are operating out of rented premises in posh residential areas like Vasant Vihar. They also hope to get land only in faraway Dwarka, near the airport.

Opinion is, therefore, crystallising within the Modi government that if at all any remaining parcels of land are to be given in Chanakyapuri, it should not be for Fiji. Instead, India could negotiate reciprocity in pricey European capitals, where its missions are on rented premises, and thus save millions of euros through hard bargaining.

It is not clear if the issue will come up at the highest level in today’s talks in Suva. Discretion on both sides may let the issue be discussed at official levels instead. But reciprocity in land allotment will be the elephant in the summit hall when Modi meets Fiji’s top leaders.

The issue will be a reminder to Modi that ever since 1879, when the first Indian labourer arrived in Fiji, land has been an issue between the two countries. Fiji’s constitution, which came into force in 1970, affirmed that native land was inalienable and Indians, even after generations, could only get long leases, not own it.

On the happier side of his visit, Modi will have the satisfaction of making a new beginning with Fiji not with ghosts from the past but after burying a distasteful bilateral baggage of many decades. Here, help from his native Gujarat, although unplanned and fortuitous, has come in handy.

In 2007, the young colonel who launched the anti-Indian coup, Sitiveni Rabuka, travelled to Gujarat. Of all the places in the world, even though Fiji’s government would have footed his medical bills anywhere in the world, Rabuka reached out to Bharat Mody, the well known anthroplasty surgeon in Vadodara who is known to the Prime Minister, to perform knee replacement surgery on him.

Inevitably, Rabuka’s choice of India, reckoned till then as the raison d’etre for an audacious coup, made news all over the Pacific, in Australia and in New Zealand. Gujarat benefited immensely.

A statement attributed to surgeon Mody on the website of Vadodara’s Welcare Hospital, where he is chief of the centre for knee surgery, at that time said: “Prime Minister Rabuka’s visit to Vadodara will give an overall boost to the city’s medical tourism. People will now turn to Vadodara for other medical treatments along with knee problems. And this is just the beginning.”

It is not certain at the time of writing if Modi’s path in Fiji will cross that of Rabuka. Sreenivasan’s judgement is that Rabuka “overthrew a democratically elected government, discriminated against the Fiji Indians, brought untold humiliation and suffering on them, tried to disenfranchise them, ordered me out of Fiji and closed down the Indian high commission.”

But these two men made peace in April this year. Sreenivasan was invited back to Fiji almost 25 years after his expulsion. They sat on the same chairs in the Suva Golf Club where they had their first conversation when Rabuka was a mere colonel and Sreenivasan was on the threshold of becoming a joint secretary.

That gesture made it easier for South Block to work on the Prime Minister’s visit. Rabuka told Sreenivasan that after the surgery in Vadodara, his “quality of life had improved”. Few things could please Modi more than that remorseful acknowledgement from someone who was once against Indians.

November 19, 2014

Prof Wadan Narsey: MIDA Chairman changes his tune

19 Nov. 2014
The Media Industry Development Authority was established by the Bainimarama Government in 2010, supposedly to regulate the media industry for the public good.
Yet MIDA’s ready condemnation of journalists from Fiji, ABC and NZRI for alleged biases (read here), its ready condemnation of local media for running alleged “hate speeches” (read here), and its reluctance to subject the Bainimarama Government to the same scrutiny (read here), might suggest that MIDA is being used more to regulate the media in the interests of the Bainimarama Government,
When the current MIDA Chairman (Ashwin Raj) was appointed, he announced his intention to tackle media censorship on a principled basis, and immediately demanded accountability from the media on their editorial policies for opinion articles and Letters to the Editor.
Much of the content of the censored articles and letters to the editor, could have influenced voters in the September 2014 elections.
Following the September 2014 elections and the victory of Fiji First Party (FFP) and Bainimarama, however, there has been a complete reversal in attitude of the MIDA Chairman.
The MIDA Chairman seems to suffer amnesia of the last six years history of the Fiji media being intimidated by the Bainimarama Government, and its biased treatment of different media.
The MIDA Chairman is currently achieving international prominence and status in the defense of the Bainimarama Government on its record on human rights.
It is quite unlikely that the MIDA Chairman will play any significant part in bringing about greater media freedom, and a level playing field for all media interests.
This article is based on my personal experience.
The media censorship and MIDA
From 2009, with the Bainimarama Government tightening its media censorship, Fiji’s print media stopped publishing my critical articles and opinion pieces on public policy matters.
I resorted to writing Letters to the Editor, but found that even these were being censored (see this page on my personal blog, Narsey On Fiji for evidence).
One after another, two professors of literature (Satendra Nandan and Subramani) were appointed as Chairmen of MIDA, only to distinguish themselves by their calculated silence on the ongoing media censorship.
I was more hopeful when an articulate USP administrator, Ashwin Raj, was appointed Chairman of MIDA and I began cc’ing him my Letters to the Editor so that he could see, at first hand, the censorship that was being practiced.
Apparently sympathetic, the MIDA Chairman asked the media to reveal their editorial policies on their decisions to publish or not publish opinion pieces and Letters to the Editor.
With no response from the media, I addressed specific queries to the MIDA Chairman outlining the factors undermining the even development of the media industry (letter of 3 July 2014, edited here for space):
Dear Mr Raj 
1. Earlier in the year, you gave a commitment at the World Press Freedom Day panel that you had written to the editors of the newspapers, seeking clarification of their policies on what letters to publish and not.   
(a) Could you please tell the public what has been their response and whether MIDA is comfortable with their position.  
(b) Could you also please ask all the television and radio stations what their policy is on interviewing experts on public policy issues in various fields (for example, the humble field of economics which all political parties, candidates and voters are focused on currently)?  
2.  As a “level playing field” is an essential part of the development of a free, fair, competitive and transparent media industry, could you please inform the public what is your position on:  
(a) taxpayers advertisement funds being channelled by the Bainimarama Government only to Fiji Sun with The Fiji Times, the oldest Fijian newspaper, being totally denied  
(b) outright subsidies given to FBC via government budget and government guarantees of loans from FDB, with no such subsidies given to either Fiji TV or the other radio broadcasters, Communications Fiji Ltd.  
(c)  the clearly intimidating renewal of the license for Fiji TV on a six monthly basis, while FBC TV suffers from no such restriction  
(d) While Fiji TV’s accounts are available to the shareholders, FBC accounts are not available at all to the taxpayers who supposedly own FBC.  
(e) Mai TV’s “scoop” at obtaining rights to the broadcast of FIFA World Cup (a legitimate entrepreneurial transaction admired in the business world) being forcibly shared by decree amongst the other broadcasters, on financial terms dictated by the Bainimarama Government rather than negotiated amongst themselves as a market transaction.  
3. Given that you (and the PS Ministry of Information Sharon Smith Johns) have often publicly admonished journalists to be “robust” and “boldly investigative” in their work, did you query Fiji TV and the owners Fijian Holdings Limited why respected senior journalist and administrator Mr Anish Chand was sacked from Fiji TV on this year’s World Press Freedom day, because of complaints from the Bainimarama Government (as was related to you during the World Press Freedom Day panel at USP). 
Yours sincerely 
Professor Wadan Narsey
There was no response from the MIDA Chairman.
Another letter to the MIDA Chairman (and the editors of the print media) on 16 July 2014 asked again why the print media were not publishing my Letters to the Editor which were calling on the Bainimarama Government to reveal the salaries of ministers between 2010 and 2013, and why the Bainimarama Government was not releasing the Auditor General’s Reports from 2007 to 2013.  Both issues were of importance in the elections.
Ashwin Raj then cc’d to me a 19 July 2014 letter he wrote to Matai Akauola (CEO of MIDA).
Dear Matai, 
You will attest to the fact that on several occasions, I have requested the mainstream media to disclose their in-house editorial policy. 
In the interest of transparency, the public should know exactly the rationale behind the publishing of select articles, opinion pieces, letters to the editor, to the exclusion of others. ….  
the onus is really on the media to substantiate their claim that they have in place an in-house editorial policy that ensures that the media is balanced, that they are committed to ensuring  access and equity and are transparent at all times….. 
to date, I have received nothing from the media houses. I am now requiring the media to disclose this.    
Appreciate it if you can circulate this e mail to the media. Can we convene an editors’ roundtable soon please?   
Regards, Ashwin. 
The media still did not respond.
I sent another letter to the MIDA Chairman on 27 July 2014, and also to the print media as Letter to Editor, reminding him that he had not replied to my previous queries.
On the 28 July, the MIDA Chairman, clearly irritated by now, replied:
“While I acknowledge your contribution to public discourse on matters germane to national interest, it is imperative that I am not openly (or otherwise) copied in the quotidian nature your correspondence with the media.  ….  this act of openly copying me each time you request the media to publish your letters and opinion pieces can be construed as an act of coercion.”
 But he reiterated that he was still pursuing the media for their editorial policy.
 “You might also be aware from my press conference this week that I am requiring all media outlets to disclose their in-house editorial policy. The public or any other concerned entity has the right to know why some letters, articles and opinion pieces get published to the exclusion of others.”
Just prior to the elections I sent another letter on 20 August 2014 to the MIDA Chairman pointing out that with just a month to go to the elections, the evidence indicated that the media journalists who were interviewing political candidates, and MIDA itself did not appear to be neutral.
One Fiji Broadcasting Corporation journalist, Veena Bhatnagar, soon after showing her pro-Bainimarama bias when hosting an FBC hosted debate between two political candidates (Professor Biman Prasad of NFP and Aiyaz Khaiyum of FFP), became a candidate for FFP.   So also did the MIDA Chairman (Matai Akauola) become a candidate for FFP.
I asked the MIDA Chairman to explain when exactly his CEO began discussions with the FFP to stand as their candidate, and to ask the FBC CEO (Riyaz Khaiyum) when he was informed by his journalist Veena Bhatnagar that she was having discussions with Fiji First Party to stand as  a candidate for them.
There was no reply from the MIDA Chairman.
The September 2014 Elections took place, Bainimarama was appointed as a democratically elected Prime Minister.
The MIDA Chairman then replied on 27 October 2014 with a clear reversal of attitude:
“Please note that the media has the freedom to publish and can equally exercise their right not to publish your letter and MIDA will not interfere in this process. Should you feel that there is a systemic exclusion of your letters, please lodge an official complaint with MIDA”.
How extraordinary that a MIDA Chairman who comes out all guns blazing at a call from Bainimarama, ignores a complaint in an email, and demands a “formal complaint” before he will take action.
The MIDA Chairman also declines to be proactive about the refusal of the Fiji Sun to publish a Letter to the Editor complaining about an attack on me by its journalist Jyoti Pratibha, thereby breaching one of the fundamental principles of media freedom - that correspondents should be given a right to reply to attacks by the media.
The MIDA Chairman and media intimidation
The MIDA Chairman, who easily remembers the wrong doings of British colonialism in Fiji a hundred years, has not been able to take heed of all the intimidation of the Fiji media over the last six years (which largely explains the self-censorship that is taking place currently) and which the public easily forgets as well.
In February 2008, Fiji Sun publisher, Russel Hunter was deported in the middle of the night, despite a High Court injunction against the deportation.  The Bainimarama Government ridiculously claimed that “Mr Hunter was conducting himself in a manner prejudicial to the peace, defence, public safety, public order, security and stability of the sovereign state of the Fiji Islands.”  The facts indicate otherwise.
Russel Hunter stated that he was deported because the Fiji Sun published articles by brilliant investigative journalist, Victor Lal, on the interim Finance Minister’s failure to pay his taxes on time and maintaining large secret bank accounts overseas.  The Finance Minister then was Mahendra Chaudhry who was recently convicted by the Bainimarama Government on other charges relating to the same bank accounts.  Does the MIDA Chairman Ashwin Raj see as relevant to the current media climate that both Victor Lal and Russel Hunter remain prohibited immigrants from Fiji, essentially for revealing the truth as dedicated investigative and analytical journalists that Aiyaz Khaiyum claimed to want all journalists to be?
In May 2008, Fiji Times published Evan Hannah was deported as was his successor, Rex Gardner, in 2009.
In 2010, outspoken editor of Fiji Times (Netani Rika) and Deputy Editor (Sophie Foster) resigned, “in the interests of the newspaper”, when their “crime” was that their principled refusal to formally recognize an illegal government which had taken power using a military coup.
In 2013, the Fiji Times was fined $300,000, publisher Brian O’Flaherty received a six months suspended sentence, and its Editor, Fred Wesley given a two year suspended jail sentence (running out in February 2015) for the republishing of a NZ media item that would not be considered a crime in Australia or NZ.
Does the MIDA Chairman care at all that the media and the journalists have been intimidated, and that he has a serious role to play in protecting the media and journalists so that they can be the responsible watchdogs on governments they should be?
To understand Ashwin Raj’s back-down from his earlier position, it is useful to understand his meteoric rise to power during the Bainimarama reign, both at USP and nationally.
The rise and rise of Ashwin Raj
Just four years ago, Ashwin Raj was a temporary junior staff member at The University of the South Pacific, struggling to find a foothold as a permanent academic.  With a remarkable ability to recognize and fill intellectual power vacuums, Raj soon  rapidly rose in status there.
He also made powerful connections with the Bainimarama Regime and was appointed Chairman of MIDA.
He has not criticized the USP management for curbing academic freedom by removing a speaker from a USP program on World Press Freedom Day nor criticized them for the lack of academic debate at USP on matters of good governance.
The MIDA Chairman has just been part of a large team led to Geneva by the Attorney General to present to the UN, the Fiji Government defense on human rights, including media freedom.
In Geneva, the MIDA Chairman did not raise the many issues of media freedom, media censorship and lack of a level playing field for media companies, that have all been publicly raised with him as Chairman of MIDA, nor did he give any hint of his attempt and failure to obtain the editorial policy accountability he has publicly demanded from the media.
Instead, Raj helped to put a gloss on the Bainimarama record on human rights and media freedom, while berating the international donors and international media for their alleged “neo-colonial” practices, as he has done quite frequently.
As the correspondence above indicates, the MIDA Chairman now refuses to be proactively tackle media censorship, government discrimination against some media in the use of tax-payers funds , penalization of critical journalists, the political bias and lack of objectivity of some media and their journalists, and the state’s intimidation of the media through fines, jail terms and insecurity of business licenses.
All these areas ought to be of central concern to a MIDA Chairman  whose official remit it is to regulate the media industry in the public good.
The MIDA Chairman is silent on the current failure of some media to inform the public about the damaging contents of the Auditor General Reports from 2007 to 2013, shrewdly released by the Bainimarama Government after the elections, and whose contents clearly substantiate many of the concerns raised by Opposition parties, and critical Letters to the Editor, all censored by the media.
Ashwin Raj is yet another in a long line of intellectuals who have materialized in post-2006 coup Fiji, to fill the propaganda power vacuum in the service of the Bainimarama Government.  The public can only wait with bated breath (and a dictionary in hand) to see what further powerful roles he will enjoy in today’s Fiji, which is little different from the military dictatorship we have had for eight years.
The Bainimarama Government is apparently in the process of ensuring complete control of the television media in Fiji by quietly designing and forcing a transition from analog TV to digital TV, in which the final outcome will be virtual control by Fiji Broadcasting Corporation and the total subservience of the other media companies.

November 09, 2014

Prof Wadan Narsey: The bombshell Auditor General Reports for 2007 to 2013

6 Nov 2014
an edited version appeared in Island Business, Nov. 2014

Fiji tax-payers have received an absolute bombshell regarding the use of their money by the Bainimarama Regime, with the simultaneous release of the Auditor General Reports for the years 2007 to 2013, all 28 volumes of them (very much in keeping with the Diwali fireworks and in anticipation of the now forgotten Guy Fawkes night).

These reports are detailed audits of government incomes, expenditures and borrowings, usually tabled annually in Parliament by the Minister of Finance, as a “report on the performance of the government” for the previous year.

All taxpayers must understand what is in these reports, given that annually at least 25% (or more than a billion dollars) of their total incomes is forcibly taken from them by the government as taxes, hundreds of millions further are borrowed by the same government to be paid by the current and future tax payers, and the entire revenue is then spent allegedly on tax-payers’ behalf.

The Auditor General Reports try to verify whether the taxes are being collected according to the law, whether loans are being borrowed responsibly and as planned, and whether the revenues are  being spent the way that parliament approved or as stated in the Annual Budget documents, or whether there are deficiencies in the above.

Upon tabling in parliament and with the elected parliamentarians, the Auditor General Reports are usually released to the media, and hence to the public to monitor and act if they see fit.

That is what used to happen annually for forty six years after independence in 1970.

Then the cycle was broken by Commodore Bainimarama who seized power through a coup in December 2006.

Principles of a sound audit
It is useful to first outline the basic principles which the owners of all organizations, private or public, expect from a good audit whether in accounting, economics or management:

  1. The Auditor General must be totally independent of the Fiji Government (reasonably so) and must be adequately resourced (not so, according to his reports);
  2. The government ministries must give the Auditor General every information that they ask for (they refused in a number of cases);
  3. The audit must clearly point out the major faults (done pretty well), as well as the remedies to the owners, the people of Fiji (not so good);
  4. The owners must be able to make the organizational changes that are necessary to eliminate the faults pointed out (little chance of that);
  5. The next audit must check to see if the faults pointed out the previous year have been rectified (often not rectified) and the public notified of these failures (not done).

Despite the Auditor General’s best efforts, some of these principles have been significantly compromised by the Bainimarama Government (as given in the brackets above), the most obvious being the complete failure to report annually.

No AG Reports from 2007 to 2013
For seven years, the Auditor General Reports have been prepared and submitted to the Bainimarama Cabinet by a very brave group of civil servants in the Auditor General’s Office (read here my appreciation of them).

But the Bainimarama Government and Minister of Finance refused to release any of the AG Reports, despite the many requests from the public and international condemnation. Read here one of my last critical articles to appear in The Fiji Times, 28 October 2008.

The flimsy excuse was that the law required Bainimarama to table the reports in Parliament and because there was no parliament (which he himself had removed), he did not have to table the reports, totally ignoring that the fundamental objective was for the Bainimarama Government to report to the people, not some empty hall in the Parliamentary complex at Veiuto or Government buildings.

For eight years, the unelected illegal Bainimarama Government completely controlled the raising of taxes and loans, and the spending of all revenues, without any accountability whatsoever to the people.

Then, after becoming an elected Prime Minister in September 2014 (promising “equality for all” and “if you don’t want another coup, vote for me”), he released all seven sets of Auditor General Reports, totaling 28 reports altogether.

They are now being read by the curious media and the public, many understandably searching for evidence of abuse and misuse of tax-payers’ funds.

The revelations in the reports
Professor Biman Prasad, the Chairman of the Public Accounts Committee which is charged with examining the AG Reports, has already stated that “it has become abundantly clear there has been widespread abuse of public funds and blatant disregard of fundamental financial procedures (as well as) … pilferage, wastage and abuse of public funds”.

Professor Prasad noted that there had been “continuous disregard of recommendations by the Auditor-General” indicating that the Bainimarama Government carried on “business as usual” year after year for eight years, making no attempt at correcting the mistakes being pointed out by the Auditor General.

These conclusions are quite damming of Bainimarama’s performance as Prime Minister and Minister of Finance, and also of the two most important Permanent Secretaries – of Finance and Public Service.

They also explain why Bainimarama and Khaiyum were adamant in not releasing the reports before the September 2014 elections, given that they would have inevitably influenced the outcome and certainly Bainimarama’s support.

With Bainimarama’s Fiji First Party campaign claiming great honesty, transparency, accountability and opposition to corruption, the Opposition parliamentarians can now legitimately state that the evidence in the Auditor General’s Reports suggest that the 2014 elections were won by Bainimarama and Khaiyum using lies and deceit.

Of relevance to this claim is the personal integrity of Prime Minister and Finance Minister Bainimarama and Attorney General Khaiyum, with respect to the salaries that they paid themselves during 2010 and 2013, and the blatant abuse of process of payment.

Ministers’ salaries
While the Public Accounts Committee will no doubt investigate the many revelations of costly abuse of public funds and lack of transparency and accountability, the public will be especially interested in the revelations about ministerial salaries between 2010 and 2013, and what is still not being revealed.

The public already know that in November 2011, Regime supporters John Samy and the late Archbishop Mataca (Co-Chairman of the National Council for Building a Better Fiji) wrote a letter to Bainimarama, complaining about the increasing lack of transparency and accountability of his Government.

Read here.

Samy and Mataca noted that there were rumors that Bainimarama and Khaiyum “both were being paid exorbitant salaries, not through the Ministry of Finance but a close relative of the AG, through a high-fees based contractual arrangement”.

The leader of the Fiji Labour Party (Mahendra Chaudhry) who had also been the Minister of Finance in the Bainimarama Government in 2007, is also on record accusing Bainimarama and Khaiyum of paying themselves multiple salaries from 2010 to 2012, before reverting them to the lower ones revealed after the elections.

Sure enough, the AG Report for 2010 (Vol. 2, Section 4, p11) reveals that as a result of a Cabinet instruction of 4 Jan 2010, the Prime Minister’s Office issued invoices to the Ministry of Finance to pay salaries through Alizpacific, (an accounting firm associated with Dr Nur Bano Ali, an aunt of Attorney General Aiyaz Khaiyum).

The Report noted that the $1.8 million paid (listed on a monthly basis) had no supporting documents, and was intended to “alter the terms and conditions of engagement of all Ministers”.  The AG Report stated that this “compromises the transparency of payments being made”.

But the Public Accounts Committee must investigate serious breach of process that the AG’s Report did not raise.  First, why should Ministers’ salaries be increased by the Ministers themselves, when there have always been proper independent avenues available to do so?

Second, why should Ministers’ salaries be paid through a private accounting firm when that has always been the prerogative of the Ministry of Finance?

Third, what were individual Ministers being paid in totality in 2010?

Fourth, why was the Prime Minister’s Office refusing to reveal the information to both the Auditor General and the Ministry of Finance?

That is still not the whole story.

The public should note that the AG Report for 2010 and for other years, had complained that there is a Head 50 under which many undocumented payroll expenditures in other Ministries were partly paid, and whose own payroll expenditures were being understated.

For example, Table 4.9 in Volume 2 of the 2010 Report, noted that there was an unexplained $247,200 in emoluments paid to the Prime Minister’s Office, as well as $1,253,625 paid to the Royal Fiji Military Forces. Who exactly received these payments?

Fast forward to the AG Report for 2013, Vol. 2. Section O4, pp.13 and 14. The Report stated their review of the Head 50 Expenditure revealed that the Ministry paid a total of $1,860,947 as Cabinet Ministers’ salaries in 2013, based on the amounts provided by Alizpacific Chartered Accountants & Business Advisers) associated with the same Nur Bano Ali.

This time, individual payments vouchers (but not the names of the Cabinet Ministers) were documented including one for $278,750 (presumably paid to Prime Minister Bainimarama, and which was still way above what had been paid previously to Prime Ministers).

In addition it was noted that Bainimarama received a “gratuity” payment of $57,500 from a different vote, bringing his total recorded salary for 2013 to $366,250 which is way above what Prime Ministers had been paid before 2006.

Again, there were large undocumented payments for emoluments from the Head 50.

Despite repeated requests for the associated documents from both the Auditor General’s Office and Ministry of Finance, the Prime Minister’s Office refused to make the details available, according to the Auditor General.

What an extraordinary and serious breach of PSC rules by the PS in the Prime Minister’s Office (now an elected Minister in parliament) and the Prime Minister himself.  Did the PSC take any action?

The 2013 AG Report on Ministers’ salaries also documented that there was another unexplained “additional Ministers payroll expenditure” of $137,150.   Did this item include the “commission” charged by Alizpacific as had been questioned by John Samy, Archbishop Mataca and Mahendra Chaudhry?

The Public Accounts Committee will no doubt investigate further the Bainimarama Government’s practice of paying ministers’ undeclared salaries through a private accounting company, if necessary subpoenaing the AlizPacific, Ministry of Finance, FRCA and Fiji National Provident Fund officials.

The Public Accounts Committee will no doubt also want to investigate the back pay of $185 thousands that Bainimarama was paid in 2008, supposedly for accumulated leave from 1978, completely against all PSC regulations.

They might also want to investigate the irregular massive increase of some Permanent Secretaries’ salaries just before the 2014 Budget, supposedly recommended by another private accounting company.

I personally believe that salaries of $300,000 or so for a Minister of Finance or a Permanent Secretary of Finance can be justified IF they are qualified and competent, given that they effectively manage “a billion dollar enterprise” with potentially massive benefits or costs because of their decisions.

But the sad evidence before Fiji is that in 2011, an incompetent Minister of Finance and Permanent Secretary of Finance, and the Attorney General (why him?) with the avaricious assistance of ANZ Bank, borrowed $500 million internationally at 9% interest, when IMF was willing to lend the same sum at 2% interest, thereby costing Fiji taxpayers an unnecessary interest repayment of $40 million annually (which we are still paying) (read about that sorry saga here).

More reports to come
The public should note that these 28 Auditor General Reports are only for the Central Government accounts.

They do not cover the dozens of public enterprises and semi-commercial organizations which Government either wholly or partly owns, or for which government and taxpayers have contingent liability for.  The Auditor General is also required to audit them and he apparently has already done so for a number of them.

Some of these public enterprises, such as Fiji Roads Authority, Ports Authority, AFL and others spend hundreds of millions of dollars of tax-payers money, with an equally great capacity to misuse large amounts of tax-payer funds.

Some, such as Fiji National Provident Fund, have already written down $300 million in members funds at its investments in Natadola and Momi, and their associated audit reports have been suppressed as well.

We can therefore expect that there will be perhaps another hundred reports coming out of the Auditor General’s Office in the next year or so, to be also examined by the Public Accounts Committee, parliament, the media and the general public.  Academics will have a field day.

While today Rear Admiral (ret) Voreqe Bainimarama is reminding Fiji that the terrible National Bank of Fiji disaster that cost taxpayers a massive $220 million should never be forgotten or repeated, the next generation will be crying about the Bainimarama/Khaiyum disaster which has already cost Fiji more than a billion dollars over the last eight years, and they have another four more years to add to that.

Consequences of eight year delay
The purpose of issuing the AG reports annually is that the elected representatives of the people can call on wrong-doers to be suitably disciplined and surcharged if necessary.

The public can then see whether there is any improvement taking place at all in the way government is managing tax payers’ money.

Not issuing the report for eight years is therefore a horrendous indictment of the unelected illegal Bainimarama Government’s arrogant refusal to account for tax payers’ money, especially when every year, the Auditor General has refused to give unqualified audits to most of the financial agencies they have audited.

It is as if a school refuses to give the annual report on a student for Forms 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, and 6.

Then it gives all the reports together with the Form 7 Report, which tells the student (and the parents) that he has been failing every year, and is now ineligible to enter university.   What remedial action can the parents and the student take now?

That is exactly the daunting situation faced by the Public Accounts Committee, whose scope for disciplinary action will be totally undermined for two reasons.  First, the guilty civil servants or Ministers will have moved on (except for a prominent few).

Secondly, the Bainimarama Government has supposedly given itself “immunity” in the 2013 Constitution, for undefined actions between 2000 and 2014, although this ought to be tested in the courts, using the wonderful 2001 judgment by Justice Anthony Gates, that no tyrant has the power to change a constitution, regardless of how long he rules and how popular he may be. 

Who should the Auditor General report to?
It is surely ridiculous that the Auditor General reports to the very Government Ministers whose financial performance is being audited, and who allegedly become responsible for making it available to Parliament or the public.

It is equivalent to an examinations report for a student being given to the student himself, who can then decide whether to give the report to his parents or not.

Parliament needs to consider placing the Auditor General’s Office under the Secretary to Parliament, rather than the Ministry of Finance, who has a vested interest or conflict of interest, in the audit.

Better still, given our coup culture and the continuing possibility of lawful governments being removed and parliament being closed down, the Public Accounts Committee ought to consider changing the legislation (what legislation, you might well ask?) to ensure that the Auditor General’s Reports are launched publicly and put on their website, without having to go through any Minister or Parliament.

That is the least that tax-payers can expect for the use of their money by elected or unelected government ministers.

Lessons for parliament and the Public Accounts Committee
For seven years, Bainimarama and Khaiyum have repeated over and over that they did the coup to remove corruption and give the people of Fiji a government that was more transparent and accountable.

The evidence in the Auditor General Reports indicates that the people and voters of Fiji have been grossly and deliberately misled by the current elected Prime Minister and Minister of Finance, through their suppression of the damaging Auditor General Reports, and their refusal to provide the Auditor General and the Ministry of Finance with the information that they asked for and were entitled to receive. 

The evidence of the Auditor General Reports clearly indicates that these two government ministers obtained significant personal financial advantage by paying themselves large increases in salary, decided by themselves.

These irregular salaries were then improperly paid through a private sector company associated with a relative of the former Attorney General and current Minister of Finance. The Auditor General Reports also revealed that this same company has received extremely favorable treatment on business consultancies awarded without tender, and this will no doubt be another focal point for the Public Accounts Committee.

In civilized countries, government ministers and even Prime Ministers resign over improper benefits of a few thousand dollars or allegations of vote buying, as happens regularly in Australia or Japan or NZ. 

Here we are talking of hundreds of thousands of dollars obtained from the taxpayers of a much poorer country through irregular processes.

It would be perfectly legitimate for the Opposition in Fiji Parliament, following the debate on the Auditor General Reports, to file a motion calling on Bainimarama and Khaiyum to resign, if they genuinely believed that all are equal before the law.

The Opposition could call on other Fiji First Party parliamentarians to support their motion if they believed in the principles of good governance, or to at least abstain on the vote.

Lessons for the media
For several years now, some journalists at the Fiji Sun, Fiji Broadcasting Corporation and Communications Fiji Ltd, have waged blatant propaganda campaigns on behalf of Bainimarama and Khaiyum.

During the elections campaigns, they have been viciously unfair towards Opposition candidates and parties who questioned the Bainimarama Government’s record on issues revealed by the Auditor General Reports to have substance after all.

If these journalists had any ethics at all, they would apologize to the public and now present the public with critical analyses based on the unpleasant facts which have been revealed by the Auditor General’s Reports.

What  they do or not do over the next few weeks will reveal whether they were simply misguided naive ignorant journalists or they were and continue to be media prostitutes for their employers, whose financial interests, biases and objectives are well known.

Whatever they do, the media coverage of the Auditor General’s Reports will be visible to the world, and will give journalism students and academics excellent material for case studies on the role of the media and journalists in subverting or defending good governance and accountability in Fiji.

The public and the media might want to seek statements from the Fiji Institute of Accountants and Auditors, the Law Society , Transparency International Fiji or the several departments and professors of governance and law at USP, FNU and FU, but I suggest that given their record over the last eight years,the public would be well advised not to hold their breath waiting for a response.

The record of the Bainimarama Regime on accountability
Readers may wish to read the following earlier articles on the Bainimarama Government budgets:

Prof Wadan Narsey - Letter to the Editors: Is the Electoral Commission reluctant to conduct an independent audit of polling station results?

Letter to Editor (The Fiji Times, Fiji Sun, Ashwin Raj) (sent 27 October 2014)


Dear Sir,

This last week I have been in futile communication with members of the Electoral Commission on concerns held by some political parties and candidates that their votes at some polling stations were not reflected in the final results issued by the Elections Office and that the results may have been “rigged” in some way, between the polling station votes and the final results issued.

These concerns are understandable, given the iron fisted control of the elections by the Bainimarama Government, with the banning of NGOs, pen and paper and electronic recording devices from the polling stations.

I have suggested to the Electoral Commission that these suspicions can be and should be put to rest by an easy audit of the votes of say 20 to 50 polling stations, chosen by the political parties themselves.

The Chairman of the Electoral Commission (Chen Bunn Young) apparently advised one of its members to “hold on” to this request. He has yet to respond to my request, although one member has, but not in writing.

I call on the political parties and concerned members of the public to request the Electoral Commission to conduct the independent audit that I am suggesting, in order to put these suspicions to rest.

It might also put to rest a public perception that the Electoral Commission members are “lackeys” of the Bainimarama Government who choose not to be professional with respect to their responsibilities to the voters of this country.  The term “lackey” has been cogently used by a prolific writer of Letters to the Editor, Rajen Naidu.

Professor Wadan Narsey