The Australian based Fiji Democracy Freedom Movement held its AGM over the weekend and elected the following people to executive positions:
National President – Suliasi Daunitutu
Vice President – Vula Yee
Secretary – Tevita NarobaTreasurer – Suka Seviua
The Deposed SDL MP, Dr Mere Samisoni, was one of the speakers at the Melbourne conference. Below is her address.
|Dr Mere Samisoni|
I am speaking in my capacity as the deposed SDL member of the Lami Open Constituency, and as a former MP in the SDL/FLP Multi-Party Government that was ousted from power in the December 2006 coup.
I have been asked to address the subject matter of possible “mistakes and learning” made by the ousted SDL/FLP Government, which helped usher in the present Bainimarama Regime, a regime which the Fiji Court of Appeal has ruled unconstitutional. I have my own views on this but felt that in the interests of fairness and closure, I should ask the respective leaders of Fiji’s two major political parties for their input.
I asked them each the same 4 questions, in the context of the time constraints and the requirement of power sharing leadership within the Multi Party Cabinet. These questions were:
1. What regrets, if any do you have about the role you may have played in helping usher in the current Bainimarama regime?
3. Is there anything else you believe your Prime Ministerial predecessors could have done to also help prevent the current regime?
4. Do you have any other points or concerns in regard to this subject?
As of 5th November, deposed Labour Leader, Mr. Mahendra Pal Chaudhry had not replied to any of these questions that I had sent via his colleague, Felix Anthony. Deposed Prime Minister Laisenia Qarase, on the other hand, gave me his reply within a few days. I list his answers, as follows:
Reply to question 1. What regrets, if any do you have about the role you may have played in helping usher in the current Bainimarama regime?
“I do not have any regrets about my decisions and actions prior to the military coup on 6th December 2006. I upheld the Constitution all the way. I did not bend the law in anyway in order to meet, what I considered, the illegal demands of the Military. I did not play any role to usher in the present unconstitutional government in Fiji. This is unthinkable given my commitment to democracy and its values. The truth is that Bainimarama and his colleagues forced themselves into Government with military power, to protect themselves for personal reasons.
Reply to question 2. What do you think you could have done differently to avoid the present regime?
“I would have done nothing differently. My role as Prime Minister was to uphold the Constitution and the laws of Fiji. To do otherwise would have meant total surrender to an illegal usurper of power. I was not prepared to do this.
The reality is Mr. Bainimarama was determined to take over Government by force for personal and other reasons. The Police were closing in to arrest and charge him for some serious crimes committed. He was not prepared or did not have the courage to face up to the full brunt of the law. The reasons he gave earlier for carrying out the coup were “a cover up” for his crimes.
My commitment was to stand by the Constitution, the truth and what was right.
Question 3. Is there anything else you believe your Prime Ministerial predecessors could have done to also help prevent the current regime?
The greatest mistake made by my predecessors including myself, was to allow the continuation and expansion of our Military force. Fiji does not need a military force. It is already too powerful. The military will continue to be a thorn on the side of Fiji unless it is drastically reduced in size and authority. Better still Fiji would be better off without a military force as it has outgrown its purpose to protect the people of Fiji and their democratic institutions for development, safety and security according to the Constitution of Fiji.
Question 4. Do you have any other points or concerns in regard to this subject?
Evidence now suggests that the leadership of the Fiji Labor Party was actively involved in the discussions and planning of the 2006 coup. It is too dangerous for Fiji’s future if political parties align themselves to the Military Force. By aligning itself to the military the FLP was lending support to an illegal activity, which they now regret.
I thank the former PM the Rt Honourable Laisenia Qarase for this forthrightness. Due to the fact that the situation in Fiji today is utterly unacceptable, there is a sense amongst many that there must have been more that could have been done, to avoid it. But the basic reality of Fiji’s situation for the past decade is that our military has been ruled by an unelected individual prepared to issue any orders necessary to get his way. The 1997 Constitution (assuming this post would always be occupied by someone of noble and just character) was designed to give whoever was Commander all the power and authority needed to get around any other authority. The chances of out-maneuvering that kind of power, was never going to be great, or even significant.
In that sense, Fiji’s current course was really set much earlier than 2006, and it was really just a matter of time for it to play itself out. I have been told by “high-ups” in the SDL that they knew their days were numbered right back from 2003, and that they were simply trying to do as much as possible before being kicked out.
Against that backdrop, peoples’ hopes & regrets for things to have turned out differently are perhaps analogous to the tendency to sometimes blame the victim of rape instead of the perpetrator. Perhaps there were things she might have done differently to avoid it. But any such failures, pale in comparison to the culpability of the sheer, brutal obsession of the rapist to commit his crime in the first place.
That said, there might have been some things I would have done differently if I had to do it all over again – always keeping in mind the rather miniscule chances of success in any event.
There are two main ways to look at this question. The first is what might have been done strategically. The second is what might have been done politically/legally. The first category is obviously best answered by military types (like Col Baledrokadroka) who have access to the kind of inside information that I am not, and was not, privy to. I have had a layman’s tilt at it though, in Appendix 1, which I will not be presenting to you verbally today. It is attached with your copies of this paper, and you can read it at your leisure if you so desire.
The second category of political proposals to the threat of Frank Bainimarama is more my territory and I have included it in Appendix 2, which I will also not be presenting verbally here today. It is in the form of response to what I feel are the most common questions people might be asking themselves today about why we (SDL) didn’t do things differently. For completeness, my speculation on possible responses from ousted Labour Leader, Mahendra Pal Chaudhry, to this topic, is included in Appendix 3.
Once you read my Appendices – particularly Appendix 2 – you may feel these were a bit of a whitewash and an exercise in self-justification by the SDL. I do not want to stand in front of you today and claim, “nothing could’ve been done differently”. But I think the Appendices will make it fairly obvious now that the chances of things turning out differently were not huge. Not at least during the SDL’s time! The real question anyway, is not “What could we have done different then?” It is “What can we do different in future?”
I think in this regard, the main lesson from the 2006 coup is the danger of what I refer to as political irrationality. Fiji is not unique in this regard, and there are plenty of overseas examples of irrational, and irrationally hostile, politics. But these reached completely absurd levels in Fiji in 2006 (and of course, also back in 2000 & 1987). The fact that both sides have now had a taste of this medicine, sets the stage for important lessons to be learned and return to institutional democracy as planned in the 1997/1998 Constitution.
Explaining this from an SDL perspective, the most baffling thing about the 2006 coup to me was the sheer irrational malice that so many otherwise intelligent people had towards us. This malice completely blinded them to the wrongs of the 2006 coup because they were somehow revved up into thinking we were the “lesser of two evils” (probably all the previous injustices done to them). Most have now woken up and realized that we weren’t, and they can see for themselves now that things were nowhere near as bad then as they are now. This “political irrationality” is not just a FLP/UGP phenomenon either! Many educated Fijians (some might include me in this category) likewise couldn’t think their way properly through the 2000 crisis due to irrational fear and dislike of Mahen Pal Chaudhry. The same goes for the 1987 coup and the irrational fear of Indian rule!
I think that kind of irrational fear & politics was the real fulcrum in this drama since it allowed people to remain blinded to the far greater threat to Fiji, of having a military strongman rule Fiji.
At first glance, the 2006 coup may just appear to be a story of greed and power-lust dressed up as political crusading. But if you look closer, you can find real lessons worth learning that will far outlast the stillborn Peoples’ Charter.
The first is that the FLP finally got a chance to prove itself in Government. Looking at their performance without the irrational Fijian political fears of old, we can see that they weren’t so bad! Certainly not anywhere near as bad as made out in 2000, or 1987. The fact that some of their ideas and policies were implemented, and the Fijian race didn’t immediately vanish into the sea, is instructive.
On the other hand, the FLP weren’t that great, either! Certainly not so great as to think Fiji has missed out on huge growth since 1987 by not having any Indian leadership of Government. An expectation has arisen amongst many that because Indians regularly outperform Fijians in non-sport endeavors, that this could also be expected in the arena of Government, too. Anger at the injustices of 1987 and 2000 goaded this prejudice to irrational levels, discounting much Fijian success as simply quota-policy prompted. Once a competent Indian Government was in place, then everyone would see what’s what!
But from what we saw post-2006 though, this was not the case! All the people who thought in 2006 that Government wasn’t firm enough, or that they could do a better job – have all now been empirically proven wrong. And in plain view of the whole country & region, too! (Mahen even reportedly confided privately to colleagues in late 2007 that running Government was hard.)
This means the biggest loss to Fiji and its economy does not come from missing out on a progressive, socially-conscious, Indian-dominated Government, or a steady, underdevelopment-wary, Fijian-dominated one. The biggest problem and cost to Fiji BY FAR comes from removing whatever Government we do have by illegal means, just to install whatever supposedly “better” Government we felt we missed out on!
The cost-benefit analysis of that kind of swap just doesn’t hold water! The estimated cost of the 2006 coup to Fiji is already, well into the $3billion to $5billion range now. It is hard to imagine any Fijian or Indian Government bungling things so badly as to be able to rack up that kind of damage. (Even drunken teenagers would find it difficult). By contrast, even if we had put Lee Kwan Yew of Singapore in charge of Fiji after the 2006 coup, he would take decades, if ever, to claw back the GDP growth lost due to the takeover itself.
But a costly coup and an unconstitutional government were not the only results of this kind of political irrationality. It also prevented good policy-making and even intelligent debate well before the coup, too.
The most obvious of these was the much hyped “Anti-corruption” and “Fraud” politicking of the FLP, subsequently appropriated by the military’s flopped “Clean-Up” campaign of 2006.
Of course there was corruption! But the vast majority of this was either in the civil service (PWD & Agriculture Departments), or had been committed by politicians and ministers of bygone years. Few if any then-current SDL people were involved (as the absence of legitimate “Clean Up” prosecutions against the SDL to date, shows). In their irrational loathing of us (SDL), and their unholy haste to smear us with the “corruption and fraud ” label, the FLP & the military lost sight of this simple fact!
On the other side of the coin, the SDL became dismissive of these constant and erroneous “cheap shots”. Unfortunately, this dismissiveness probably also desensitized us to the exact state of the real corruption in the civil service. Of course we couldn’t just conjure up a Kangaroo Court or sack people because Fiji still had a democratically elected government in place. But there’s always more you can do if you prioritize things appropriately through management objectives and processes.
We did try to set-up the role of the CEO under the Public Enterprises Act 1996, to be responsible for this. And we updated the 1981 Finance Act (in 2004) to require and provide Management Information Systems to keep close track of over-spending and suspicious spending. These developments were aligned to the Paris Declaration 2004/2005 for good governance. But they needed more time (and perhaps more driving) to deliver results than we were given.
Race was one of the other topics treated irrationally by all sides pre-2006. The SDL called “a spade a spade” and played the political reality of having to pander to the partisanship of our majority Fijian electorate. The FLP railed and wailed publicly as a minority against the unfairness and political incorrectness of, while still subtlely pandering to the partisanship of its Indian electorate. Both have now been overtaken by the misguided, and some might claim, irrational race policies of the Bainimarama regime.
Between these extremes of too much and too little, is a perfectly rational middle ground. The trick is simply to formulate policy based on demonstrable causality. Issues whose outcomes are not impacted by ethnicity don’t need ethnic policy solutions. (Don’t give someone money just because he is Fijian). But issues, whose outcomes are impacted by ethnicity, need to be addressed as such (Don’t deny someone help either just because he and his government are Fijian). Credible research, not political grandstanding, will tell us which is which. Irrational responses outside that needed to be avoided.
Realistically speaking though, we know that Fiji has too many political phobias about this right now to expect normality and rationality about it any time soon. In the meantime, affirmative action can be adequately addressed using socio-economic and geographical criteria as Wadan Narsey had previously pointed out! Socio-economic and Geographical criteria automatically will automatically correct for ethnicity/race in most instances anyway, so no need to stir the phobias while we are trying to outgrow them.
Practically-speaking though, race & ethnicity still need to be accounted for by Bureau of Statistics because of the importance of measuring outcomes in development and healthcare. In the SDL’s time, these were used to guide the Alternative Livelihood Programme (ALP) and Rural Outer Island Development Programme (ROD). They leveraged Affirmative Action Polices under the Social Justice Act 2001 to target respective multi-ethnic communities and their respective value systems that are strategic and sustainable for added value with multiplier effects. Thus targeted and appropriate assistance could be delivered where needed.
The final point, I wish to make about political irrationality are the ongoing dangers it poses if not dealt with. If you look at most of the major players who are still supporting the unconstitutional government in Fiji, are all highly driven by grudges and bitterness. You know most of them, and therefore, I will not name them here.
The point I want to make is if those people are all so bitter and driven by past injustices, then how many people are harboring grudges and unforgiveness today in relation to the ongoing perceived injustices of the current regime? How are we shaping our leaders and public of tomorrow? As we can see from 1987 and 2000, injustice breeds bitterness. The antidote then is justice.
The people need to tell their story, let off steam, and receive counseling, and I leave it to the FDFM to come up with suggestions on how best these people, who cannot speak freely because of PER, get their messages out of Fiji
For example, the people of Muaivuso & Waiqanake are not happy with the current lease arrangement with the Tengy Cement Company Ltd of China, which I am more than happy to elaborate in Q & A session.
We need to bear all these things in mind at the next ballot box to keep a proper perspective. Losing an election is tough! But there are worse things! We have seen for the umpteenth time in Fiji that coups are bad, very costly and bring no worthwhile benefits, and the 2006 coup is no exception. Hopefully the coup culture in Fiji will end in our lifetimes. It must end someday since it is not based on any tangible or recognizable issue, principle, cause or phenomenon.
According to former US Ambassador Larry Dinger (2006), and to quote him: “as the post-coup political process here plays out, it will primarily be Fiji's ethnic-Fijian population that determines the outcome. Ethnic-Fijian politics and decision-making processes are often opaque (Narsey’s silence proposition). Still, we figure international actors (and Fijians overseas – my input) can have influence. We will continue to maintain contacts broadly and will try to encourage as rapid and progressive an outcome as possible given the circumstances”.
In SDL’s revised Constitution (as attached and Chaired by Dr. Tupeni Baba, 2008) the SDL Leadership and Party are poised to play a leading role in the future of Fiji as a Multi Ethnic and Multi Religious Society. A list of issues on constitutional democracy from Dr. Baba is also attached to facilitate the return to democratic elections ASAP.
In that context, one major issue for Fiji is how to foster more Teambuilding or Servant Leadership (Qarase 2006), which is authentic and professional towards our multi-ethnic society and sensitivities, as well as to the fact that the majority Indigenous Fijians are lagging behind other races. Since the 50’s, Management Schools throughout the world established and implemented Leadership and Management principles in reaction to the WW2 abuse of leadership power and position by Adolf Hitler. Independent thinking based on valid research needs to impact theory, policy and management of development, within a tailor-made, multi-disciplinary holistic yet strategic framework. Such a model can statistically remove subjective biases, grudges and irrationality. Fiji had started to address these concerns and barriers pre-2006, via our Strategic Development Plans for which Indigenous Fijian development was the sine qua non.
In my experience, race is a variable that affects “success”. It is a valid and significant scientific lateral market differentiator in any success research. More importantly it can be measured and accounted in policy “risks/benefits” analysis and balancing. Race will continue to impact developments, and under-developments, in Fiji regardless of whether it is buried or hidden by the irrational imposition of the elite few from the unelected illegal Interim Regime and their stooge supporters.
Diversity is already socially embedded as part of any market (de Bruin & Dupuis 2003) in respect of customers, capital and companies. Race & ethnicity is part and parcel of any diversity. Global entrepreneurial opportunities are growing at a rapid rate by dint of change and globalization. World markets are also being pushed in that direct by design and support of the World Bank, IMF, Commonwealth, EU and EC through bilateral funding agencies. Ethnic segmentation of those markets is a fact of life that can’t be ignored by anyone who is serious about trading in those markets. Fiji will need to ask itself why it wants to move against the global tide of developments in this regard. The trick in my view, is to neither ignore, nor over-emphasized race – but to simply give it attention that is “just right”!
Nevertheless, accountability is important when an unelected Military government backed by a minority Marxist political party is in place, and remains unaccountable to the public purse nor to a government by the people under Constitutional law. The Cotonou Agreement (articles 96 and 95) signed by Fiji 2000 and 2004 respectively is customized for strategic relevance in five broad areas in order to facilitate opportunities related to both structural and customer values refocus for democratic change.
The broad areas are political, development, investment facility, implementation and management procedures. These areas are linked to the Milbrook Commonwealth Programme on the Harere Declaration 1991 (Hatchard & Ogowewo 2003; Primack & Bilal 2004;Pearson 2005), which deals with unconstitutional overthrows of democracies – an emerging trend in the Commonwealth.
God Bless Fiji!
Dr. Mere Tuisalalo Samisoni SDL member for Lami Open Constituency (Deposed 2006).