Khaiyum has won a pyrrhic victory with his Media Decree but will ‘Mac’ Patel’s Fiji Times deliver nirvana to Indo-Fijians?
Remember Patel and his “The Caroll Report” to Ratu Mara’s 1982 general election campaign?
Remember Patel and his “The Caroll Report” to Ratu Mara’s 1982 general election campaign?
By VICTOR LAL
The forced sale of the Fiji Times means different things to different individuals and institutions. To many Indo-Fijians living abroad it means “payback” time against the paper’s courageous editor, Netani Rika, who refused to kiss the blood-stained boots of dictator Frank Bainimarama, and the backside of the dictator’s master henchman, the illegal Attorney-General Aiyaz Sayed Khaiyum - the initiator of the Media Decree which demands 90 per cent local ownership of Fiji’s media.
At last, according to many Indo-Fijians abroad, they found in Khaiyum their very own Indo-Fijian Goebbel who took on the mighty Rupert Murdoch’s Fiji Times and won. Joseph Goebbel was the blood-thirsty German dictator Adolf Hitler’s chief propaganda minister and a rabid anti-Jew, who exercised totalitarian control over the German media. Khaiyum, on the other hand, is the author of that infamous sunset clause on the emasculation of i-taukei cultural autonomy in their own God-given land.
Now, these Indo-Fijians should be happy that at last the Fiji Times is not only in the hands of a local, but in the hands of an Indo-Fijian – Mahendra Motibhai Patel. Like those Sikhs on hearing the assassination of Mrs Indira Gandhi, the Prime Minister of India by her own bodyguards, took to the streets worldwide in celebration (even distributing sweets), the Indo-Fijians cannot hide their own jubilations on blog sites, and in phone calls to Fiji on the sale of the Fiji Times and the unpredictable future of their bête noire Rika.
They claim that with the change of Fiji Times ownership they can at long last no longer be seized with nausea when reading allegedly anti-Indo-Fijian and pro SDL articles in that newspaper, articles which they claim resulted in the overthrow of their beloved Chaudhry government in the 2000 coup.
These Indo-Fijians choose to ignore the claims of Chaudhry that rich and powerful Indo-Fijian businessman were behind his downfall which, frankly speaking, he brought upon himself, like Khaiyum now, by presuming that the i-taukei was not only different but dumb, and would stand by and watch his land stolen through dubious and illegal land decrees.
When the illiterate Indian indentured labourers arrived in Fiji on that fateful day, 14 May 1874, the Fiji Times was in existence for only five years; it was set up in Levuka on 4 September 1869. During its 141 year history, the Fiji Times also had an Indo-Fijian editor in the person of Vijendra Kumar, but its editorial loyalty remained close to the Mara-Ganilau dynasty, especially in support of the Alliance government policies of Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara.
Will ‘Mac’ Patel’s new Fiji Times make any difference to Indo-Fijians, who are hoping for a new nirvana in Bainimarama’s Fiji?
Machiavelli remarked that “Whoever wishes to foresee the future must consult the past; for human events ever resemble those of preceding times. This arises from the fact that they are produced by men who ever have been, and ever shall be, animated by the same passions, and thus they necessarily have the same results”. In other words, past history is the key to understanding the future.
A Motibhai Group statement declared after it was revealed that the Group had bought the Fiji Times: “We understand the importance of history. The Fiji Times is 141 years old and Motibhai has been operating for 80 years. Together we will take the Fiji Times to new levels of success as we have done with our other major investments.”
History, yes, history! In the euphoria and excitement following the revelation, my thoughts however drifted to another previous era, and to ‘Mac’ Patel. How would the new owner of Fiji Times have reacted in 1982 if it had been revealed that he was a party to a controversial report dubbed “The Carroll Report” for the Alliance Party? A Report on how to deny the Indo-Fijian dominated National Federation Party and a splinter Ratu Osea Gavidi led Fijian Western United Party Coalition victory in the 1982 general elections.
I had grown up in the shadow of ‘Mac’ and Mara, for my father was with the Indo-Fijian arm of the Alliance Party. In 1982, however, I was a journalist not with the Fiji Times, but on the old and original Fiji Sun.
One crispy morning my eye caught a Report lying on our kitchen table – a copy had been passed onto my old man for his consumption. A son in me said leave it untouched for the diehard Indo-Fijian political puppet of Mara; the investigative journalist in me said that it could be “a journalistic scoop”. The latter won me over, and I hurriedly took it to a photocopy shop before returning the original to the kitchen table. Later in the afternoon I went to work – for I was sub-editing the paper which required staying on in the office until the wee hours of the morning.
How to make use of the materials? There were many hurdles to cross, not to mention by-passing the editor who was not only a crony of Mara but was related to him by marriage. As a sub-editor I was acutely aware of the stories he normally “spiked”, and they normally happened to be anti-Mara or Alliance Party ones. I had been collecting a few of them for the rainy day. State of the art technology had not been around in 1982, and hallelujah that it was not. Crumpled pieces of white papers edited, crossed over and crumpled - pieces of history.
The best and safest bet was to approach that great and guiding news editor of our generation, Nemani Delaibatiki, who had cut his journalistic teeth on the rival Fiji Times. He was also a political columnist for Fiji SUN, and later became Editor until Sitiveni Rabuka’s 1987 coups. That night, as luck would have it, the publisher “Jim” and one of the owners “Philip”, both Kiwis, had arrived in the newsroom for a meeting next day. Nemani and I approached them, and showed the so-called “The Carroll Report” and other materials. “Have you shown it to the Editor,” was the obvious question. “No,” I replied, and went on to explain why he MUST not be involved.
Lo, and behold, “Philip” was in Fiji to decide the fate of the Editor over a totally unrelated media issue; to our great relief the Editor was going on leave until further notice. That night I hid huge amounts of highly sensitive materials passed onto me in the publisher’s metal safe and later, in collaboration with local politicians and the foreign media, we exposed the Carroll Report on the eve of the 1982 general elections. One of the key Australian authors of the Report, one Rosemarie Gilliespie, was my key source. She was disgusted with the final outcome suggested in the Carroll Report in a racially divided Fiji.
The Carroll Report and Mac Patel
But who commissioned the Carroll Report? How did it all begin? In November 1980, an Indo-Fijian Gujerati businessman and member of the Alliance Party Management Board, Mahendra Motibhai Patel (MMPatel) needed someone to advise his Motibhai and Company, on the future planning of their company. Discussions with Adam Dickson, a partner of the Fiji branch of the multinational firm, Coopers and Lybrand, auditors and advisers of Motibhai since 1961, led to further talks with Dickson’s counterpart in Sydney, Australia, John Goddard, who subsequently recommended one Alan Carroll of Business International (BI) as the best choice for the project.
BI had described itself as a global research and advisory corporation “serving corporations doing business across borders and those who support and govern them, including bankers, attorneys, accountants, consultants, colleges and universities and government officials”.
In December 1980 Carroll visited Fiji at Mac Patel’s invitation and, following negotiations, tentatively agreed to provide an economic and business survey for Motibhai, at a cost of $20,000. It was also agreed that the survey would not be conducted under the auspices of BI because the company “would charge twice as much for it”. On 17 December 1980 Carroll also gave a talk at Motibhai’s Administration Office about “economics and how politics in America has affected the politics of many countries in the world”. He also raised questions relating to Fiji government policies.
Carroll’s high-powered presentation impressed Mac Patel who, thinking that Ratu Mara “could derive some benefit”, introduced the two men to each other. Carroll’s suggestion to Ratu Mara that it would be useful for the Alliance Party to have a professionally conducted opinion poll in Fiji was accepted. It was further agreed that Mac Patel should arrange for Carroll to return to Fiji in March 1981 to explain to Ratu Mara in greater detail his views on the world economy and its likely impact on Pacific nations.
The public opinion poll suggestion was carried further when, shortly afterwards, Ratu Mara, on his way to London for a Privy Council meeting, again met Carroll in Sydney. It was later claimed that the Alliance Party was not involved in that agreement between Carroll and Ratu Mara.
The two men also agreed, according to the Alliance Party, that the proposed survey would be grafted onto the Motibhai economic review at “no extra cost” which Ratu Mara felt was a personal gift to him from a staunch Alliance supporter.
Given the close political and business links between Ratu Mara and Mac Patel, however this explanation would be unacceptable to the country’s political observers. Three years later, another Patel, Bhupendra, the Lautoka lawyer for the NFP/WUP Coalition at the Royal Commission of Inquiry was to question Mac Patel introducing Carroll to Ratu Mara.
Bhupendra Patel’s view to the Commission of Inquiry was that: “M. M. Patel was and still is a very close personal friend of the PM of Fiji. And that friendship has assisted MMP and his family to amass a large fortune in a relatively short span of time, in fact, Motibhais have built a little empire. Being the astute businessman he is, MMP’s foresight told him that his empire could be in danger if the PM lost power in the 1982 elections.”
In 1985, during the Commission of Inquiry into the 1982 general election, Fiji Times was not part of that “Little Empire”. What were the contents of the Carroll Report?
MORE TO COME