Floods and coups: selective blindness [The Fiji Times, 31 January 2009]
Why do our people understand the great value of $10 million dollars of relief funds, but not the $900 millions lost by our people because of the 2006 coup?
Everyone in this country is deeply saddened by the immense damage caused by the recent floods.
The whole public is energised into mounting flood-relief operations- NGOs, government officials, and ordinary citizens.
Everyone is heartened by the financial generosity of our people in giving money, food and household items to flood victims, amounting to $5 millions perhaps.
But where is our national outrage at the far more massive costs of the 2006 military coup, amounting to more than $900 millions for the years 2007 and 2008?
What is there about the rhetoric of racial equality that make our Indo-Fijian political leaders and our so-called progressive people totally blind to the huge costs and the hidden pain caused by our callous coup-makers and coup-supporters?
Are there are some horrible lessons here for current and future Fijian leaders on how to manipulate Indo-Fijian political opinion?
The obvious pain of the floods
The costs of the floods are so clearly felt by the public at large.
Daily on television there have been images of farms demolished, houses swept away, people losing all their belongings.
Whole villages being cut off from markets and shops, sick people unable to get to health centres and hospitals, children unable to get to schools, because roads and bridges have been swept away. Lives have been lost. People openly crying for help from government and NGOs.
These costs are so clear and obvious that the public feel the pain deep in their hearts.
Flood relief campaigns are mounted by newspapers, radio stations and NGOs. Our public gladly reach into their pockets. They warmly and generously donate money, food and household items.
Our donors generously give generously, praised for not being vindictive against theFijipublic in their time of need.
Costs of floods and flood relief?
And the dollar value of the costs of these floods?
The figure of $50 millions has been thrown around. Supposing that rises to $70 million.
And how much will the flood relief appeals raise? $500 thousands? Suppose $2 million.
How much will our donors give? $4 millions? $6 millions? Hell, let us say $8 millions.
$10 millions of flood relief altogether. This is a large sum of money, welcomed and valued by all inFiji.
So why is the Fiji public not outraged that we have lost more than $900 millions in the last two years because of the evil stupidity of those who did the 2006 coup and their supporters, and we continue to lose similar amounts every year, they stay in power?
Cost of the 2006 coup?
In a previous article I have explained one way of looking at the economic cost of the 2006 coup.
How instead of growing at 2.8 percent per year in 2007, we declined by -6.6% because of the 2006 coup.
That cost us $445 million in Gross Domestic Product (or lost incomes) and Government lost (i.e. did not get) $134 millions in revenue (which it also could not spend).
In 2008, we just grew at 1.2% according to the latest Reserve Bank estimates. Against our trend path, we lost another $527 millions, while Government did not gain (i.e. lost) $158 millions in revenue (and potential expenditure lost).
In 2006 and 2007, the military overspent their budget allocation by $74 millions.
Compare these massive sums lost by the public and government, with the likely cost of the floods- which may be around $70 millions, and the $10 millions in flood relief funds which we may get from the public and donors.
Just look at the graph- to get a real sense of what there numbers mean to economists.
Out of sight out of mind
We all know why the $70 million flood pain is so obvious to the ordinary member of theFijipublic.
We can see the pain on our TV screens- the very real physical damage to farms and houses. We can feel the pain of families whose relatives drowned.
But we do not see the immediate costs of the $500 millions in incomes which we lose annually because of the 2006 coup. All the damage is done out of sight.
Jobs and incomes have been lost and continue to be lost, people endure their increasing poverty, all out of sight.
Government does not have the money to spend on doctors, nurses and medicines. Patients – men, women and children – suffer unnecessarily and some die- all out of sight.
But they suffer just as surely and far more in real terms, that that caused by the recent floods.
There has been public anger and outrage over the floods, and lack of significant and timely government assistance. But there has been no such outrage over the very real losses due to the coups.
Indeed, there are many moral citizens who continue to support the evil 2006 coup.
Evil lack of concern
Where has our Interim Government’s common sense gone? Why do they continue to throw away $500 millions of public income every year.
Is it because of their stupid, arrogant and evil desire to hang on to power, whatever the costs to the nation and our people?
But then, the public know that the Commander and his military hierarchy are all benefiting tremendously by hanging on these leadership positions, seized by the guns they hold.
The public can understand why civilian Ministers and former politicians support the continuation of this Interim Government- they could not otherwise enjoy all these perks and the trappings of power.
But why are there so many moral supporters of the coup (do I need to name them again?) who blindly refuse to see the enormous costs that the coup and the Interim Government continue to inflict on theFijipublic?
Rhetoric of racial equality
Over and over again, I have heard ordinary decent Indo-Fijians say to me- “well at least they (the Interim Government) are treating us Indians equally with everyone else in the country”.
They say, “at least, the Interim Government is appointing Indians to high positions- which Qarase never did”.
They say, “at least Bainimarama wants us all to belong toFiji, and to call us all Fijians”.
They say “we don’t mind if they also take a few benefits for themselves. After all, so also did Rabuka and Qarase!”
And what about the lost $500 millions of national income every year and the greater poverty of ordinary Indians?
“So what?” they say stoically. “We will recover one day”.
Lessons for Fijian leaders
There is an extra-ordinary lesson here for current and future Fijian leaders.
The Indian community have been intellectually gutted by the emigration of educated and skilled people for the last twenty two years.
To obtain the support of Indian people in this country (and abroad), all you need to do is chant the mantra of racial equality.
You can ruin the economy, and plunder the national treasury.
You can pay yourselves hundreds of thousands of dollars of unearned cash.
You can have as many double standards as you like.
Just talk perpetually of the equality of races, even if you continue to do what previous governments have been doing in terms of Affirmative Action policies.
And just refrain from referring to Indians as weeds.