By Professor Wadan Narsey
The Hindus of Fiji have just celebrated the festival of Diwali: sharing food, sweets and companionship with families, friends and neighbours.
Long a national holiday, Diwali, like Christmas, has become a joyous festival for all races and religions, with diya and electric lights brightening up the night.
For Hindus, Diwali is associated with the celebration of Prince Ram’s return to Ayodhya after his unjust banishment and exile, with diyas lit to welcome him back.
Speeches by Fiji’s leaders highlighted that Diwali celebrates the victory of light over darkness, representing the victory of truth over ignorance.
But no leader spoke of the deeper darkness of media censorship imposed by Bainimarama’s military dictatorship, hiding the truth about the disasters besetting Fiji.
The few Diwali delights
Certainly, many Indo-Fijians are happy that Bainimarama keeps talking about wanting racial equality in Fiji. Here at last, is a Fijian Prime Minister who seems to want Indo-Fijian culture to share centre stage with others in Fiji.
Many Indo-Fijians, after a century of being made to feel that they are forever vulagi, are happy that they can call themselves “Fijians”.
A few are pleased that they don’t have to fill out the ethnicity space in the immigration arrival and departure cards. Great!
There appears to be reduced random violence around the country and a greater sense of personal security amongst ordinary Indo-Fijians. And that is most valued.
Tourism Fiji might even include Diwali in their advertisements abroad, and an Indian face or two might make it into their posters.
After four years in power, the Bainimarama Government is now talking about merging scholarship systems for indigenous Fijians with those for the Others.
Great, but already indigenous Fijians are more than 62% of the population, and a financially struggling Government will have great difficulty giving scholarships to all who deserve it, indigenous or otherwise.
And that’s about it - the sum total of Diwali delights for Indo-Fijians after four years of the Bainimarama Government.
Bainimarama claimed that he would enforce a non-racial electoral system, and there is indeed consensus on a “one-person one vote”, proportional system. But Bainimarama is in no hurry to implement it.
Bainimarama claimed to deliver land reform, but there is nothing in sight after four years: other than an unfulfilled Land Bank proposal. There is also an unwise promise of 99 year leases, by which time the land-owners’ children will be dead as well, and Indo-Fijian farmers an extinct species and distant memory in Fiji.
So what else has Bainimarama offered Fiji for four years since his 2006 coup?
The Charter Cloak of Darkness
Bainimarama did the 2006 coup claiming widespread corruption and electoral fraud. Four years later, no great evidence has been found.
Bainimarama claimed that no military personnel would benefit from his coup. But he personally, has enjoyed all the perks of being Prime Minister and Finance Minister (official and on the side); and a little icing on his cake, $184 thousands of back-pay for 30 years of leave allegedly not taken.
His (remaining) senior military personnel have benefited enormously from this coup, through huge increases in salary and perks, and appointments to better paying senior civil service positions.
Bainimarama keeps repeating his hollow mantra - that Fiji will be guided by the principles of the Charter and the Roadmap.
But contrary to the very first paragraph of the Charter, the 1997 Constitution was abrogated last year when the Court of Appeal judgment went against Bainimarama.
While one of the pillars of the Charter is that the Fiji Government will abide by the principles of transparency and accountability to the people of Fiji, that ideal has been trashed for four years now and continues to be trashed every day. Not a whimper from the Charter supporters.
Bainimarama has stopped the release of all the recent the Auditor General’s Reports, and all the other Reports on the disasters at FNPF, Natadola, Momi and FSC.
He has long stopped the audit of the Regimental Funds, thought to have been abused by virtually all the Military Commanders.
Without any public emergency in sight, an illegal Military President mindlessly keeps signing the Public Emergency Decree and enforcing media censorship.
Despite Diwali, the Fiji public will not be allowed to see any light of knowledge, or publicly meet and freely discuss any of the huge disasters created by the Bainimarama Government.
Disasters in the Darkness
It is only when you put them together and estimate the total cost, that the full scale of Fiji’s disaster becomes evident, much due to Bainimarama’s coup.
* in just four since 2006, a loss of more than one thousand million dollars ($1.2 billion) of national income, because our economy has not grown and has probably contracted;
* consequently, a loss of more than $300 millions of potential government revenue, and potential expenditure on health, education, poverty alleviation, etc;
* a write-off of $300 millions in FNPF’s investments in Natadola and Momi, and more to come (public cannot seen any reports)
* likely taxpayers’ loss of $300 millions to cover the mistakes made at FSC by this Military Government’s appointees since 2006; (and what exactly did that Deloitte Report cost, telling the sugar industry what it already knew?)
* loss of $300 millions of EU funds to help the sugar industry and develop alternative livelihoods in the rural areas, because Bainimarama arrogantly and callously refused to hold elections in 2009 (who cares about the lives of 100 thousand, mostly Indo-Fijian people, depending on the sugar industry?)
* loss of $150 millions of tax-payers’ funds through unlawful military over-expenditure from 2006 to 2009 (taxpayers are not allowed to see the Auditor General’s Reports).
* another $30 millions lost through illegal over-expenditure by the previous Police Commissioner; (tax-payers are not allowed to see the Auditor Generals’ Reports).
* combined with the refusal to reduce the illegally expanded military expenditure, the falling government revenues, and the need to spend money to cover the disasters at FSC, will ensure that there will be even larger increases in Public Debt that Bainimarama and Khaiyum will callously pass on to the future generations, in a few weeks, with yet another illegal budget (no questions to be allowed);
* illegal decisions made by this Military Government, on the sale and purchase of tax-payers’ assets worth hundreds of millions of dollars; issuing and cancellation of contracts worth hundreds of millions; questionable changes in the education system; questionable allocations of public funds to special interest groups; plans to introduce socially evil industries like casinos; (cost unknown)
* the continuing destructive undermining of civil service professionalism through arbitrary firing of civil servants without any considerations of natural justice and rights of appeal; appointments of friends and cronies to top positions; and a steady drain of good civil servants (Fijian and Indo-Fijian) who can easily find jobs elsewhere and do (cost unknown)
* the continuing appointment of military personnel to key positions, who by their very military training are unable to question doubtful decisions made at the top, so obey mindlessly; (cost unknown)
* the continuing undermining of the professionalism and the international marketability of the Fiji Military Forces, which has effectively become a private militia swearing personal allegiance to Bainimarama, and not to an elected Government, and Fiji taxpayers who pay their salaries. (cost unknown);
* continuing undermining of civil service financial procedures, with Ministers (including Bainimarama and Khaiyum) allegedly being paid multiple salaries through a private accounting firm related to Aiyaz Khaiyum; (cost unknown)
* the continuing political damage to Fiji’s traditional ties with neighbors and donors (Australia, NZ, EU) and organisations (Commonwealth, Forum Secretariat and MSG); with economic losses resulting (lost aid, banned from Commonwealth Games etc). (cost unknown).
What do all these disasters add up to?
Easily more than $2,000 millions - or half the GDP of Fiji.
The National Bank of Fiji disaster (which cost a mere $200 millions or so) was peanuts compared to what Fiji is facing now.
A once leading legal light, today passionately preaches and quite rightly about corporate accountability, constantly pleading that Fiji learn from the NBF disaster and the Agriculture Scam. But she conveniently ignores the bigger disasters right before her very eyes - but then she started the Bainimarama coup rolling with a coup in the judiciary.
The sad fact is that Bainimarama and Khaiyum have already been running Fiji for four years. Had theirs been a normal elected government, there would be elections this year.
Would a Bainimarama/Khaiyum Government be ever elected, given their record above?
It is no wonder that Bainimarama and Khaiyum want to hang on to power for another four years, without any accountability to tax-payers.
They will continue to rush around the country, making noble speeches, being garlanded by the ever servile business community, increasing numbers of provincial councils, and narrow vested groups.
Bainimarama will feed them generously with tax-payers’ money, in return for statements of support.
But Bainimarama should get his Ministry of Information to dig out similar photos of all past Prime Ministers, Finance Ministers and Attorney Generals.
All were similarly garlanded, and often similarly surrounded by the same faces. And when the tide turned, the same smiling faces deserted to the new holders of power.
Ask Rabuka and Qarase. They left mixed legacies, some good, but mistakes as well.
But at least, voters voted them in to govern on their behalf; and voters must share responsibility for whatever mistakes they made; and the leaders were ultimately accountable to the voters, at the next election.
But Fiji’s voters and taxpayers did not ask Bainimarama and Khaiyum to govern Fiji.
It is surely clear now, that Bainimarama and Khaiyum (and all their collaborators) have no intention whatsoever of being accountable to the tax-payers for what they are doing now to Fiji.
They no doubt plan to walk smugly away, after they have had their fill at the tax-payers’ trough.
They care little about the gutted FNPF, the destroyed FSC and the sugar industry, the increased Public Debt, the increased poverty, and the thoughtless destruction of all the national social and economic institutions, with nothing to replace them.
Where’s the good governance?
How sad that the accounting and auditing bodies (like the Fiji Institute of Accountants) have not uttered a word for this military government to be accountable to its tax-payers.
Instead, their leading lights actively collaborate with the government, in return for directorships and business contracts.
All the three universities in Fiji now have academic courses to ensure that all graduates fully appreciate the critical importance of principles of good governance, ethnics, transparency and accountability to the tax-payers who pay their costs.
Yet no University management in Fiji has publicly stood up for academic freedom, and called for an end to the damaging media censorship that contradicts all the principles of good governance, transparency and accountability.
University managements in Fiji placidly accept that they must obtain permits before they can organize academic conferences, public seminars or departmental retreats, to discuss academic issues.
That same disregard is shown by most organisations in Fiji, such as Principals’ Associations, that have their annual meetings to discuss future directions, and how to create the good young leaders of tomorrow!
The Darkness during Diwali
For two successive Diwalis this military government has spouted the hollow rhetoric that Diwali celebrates the victory of light over darkness, and truth over ignorance.
But their media censorship throws a deeper darkness over Fiji, that no Diwali celebration is going to dispel.
It may be noted however, that Diwali is also about forgiving those who do wrong.
There are no truly evil people in this world, just evil deeds, many resulting from very human people thoughtlessly taking just one wrong turn on the hard road of life.
The coups of 1987, 2000 and 2006 are replete with such persons, from all the major ethnic groups in Fiji, from all the classes, and all the professions.
Most coup supporters have eventually regretted what they did, when they realised the evil consequences of the coups.
All of Fiji’s religions encourage those who have taken the wrong road, to turn back.
Those who did and supported the 2000 and 1987 coups need to seek genuine forgiveness and reconciliation with those they wronged.
Those who have supported the 2006 coup and its Charter, and who now see the light, need to help bring Fiji back from the brink, to bring back true transparency and accountability to the Military Government, to remove the Public Emergency Decree and media censorship, and to help throw light into our current darkness.
That would give festivals such as Diwali a more meaningful significance in our lives.