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The financial liability of tunnel visions [The Fiji Times, 14 August 2007]


Continually repeating moral arguments, some political parties, religious organisations and normally law-abiding citizens may be leadingFiji’s tax-payers, down a financial nightmare.

In December 2006, the military removed a democratically elected government, claiming vote-rigging, ethnic bias, and corruption.

The Fiji Labour Party, the totally unsuccessful National Alliance Party, and some individuals, joined the Military Junta.  They repeatedly claim to be implementing the “President’s Mandate” under a supposedly intact 1997 Constitution.

Influential figures (like Archbishop Mataca, Father Kevin Barr, Reverend Akuila Yabaki) call for economic justice for all ethnic groups, good governance and removal of corruption, before democratic elections are held.    They appeal to the public to help the Military Junta develop a “People’s Charter” or “People’s Covenant”.

Of course committed citizens would like to help in nation-building.  But can law-abiding citizens support an illegal government, whose illegal actions will lead to massive financial liability for tax-payers, as well as severe economic loss forFiji?

Can law-abiding citizens support a deliberate political choice of violent illegal methods rather than peaceful co-operation, as the means of progressingFijipolitically?

Tragically, uncritical supporters of the SDL continue to arrogantly reject all criticisms of their period of governance.  They simply demand a return to lawful parliamentary democracy, which they expect to give them political control (and presumably the same racially divisive policies of the past).

These are two trains rushing headlong towards each other on the same track, each cloaked in their tunnel vision, refusing to see any legitimacy in each others’ views (see cartoon).

All that awaits our people is further pain.

Rejecting Peaceful Democracy

   Of course, a democratic election will not by itself ensure economic fairness forFiji’s marginalised groups.

And coup supporters may have grounds for thinking that the SDL Party  used the Agricultural Scam to win votes in 2001; did not care equally for non-Fijian needy groups; tolerated ministerial racism against Indo-Fijians; tried to force a reconciliation bill (that was originally an amnesty bill) through Parliament;  tolerated corruption; and allowed cliques to do outrageously well out of public and FNPF funds.

But, regardless of the validity of these criticisms, tunnel vision coup supporters cannot deny:

*       that our multiethnic society had made great progress in peacefully changing from the “winner take all” governments under the 1970 and the 1990 Constitutions, to the 1997 Constitution with cabinet power sharing between the major political parties.

*       that in 2006 the military removed not an “SDL Government”, but a six month old multi-party government in which the FLP had solid ministerial representation

*       that the multi-party government was not given a fair go by the FLP: the FLP Leader personally chose to stay out of the 2006 Cabinet, while the FLP Ministers were being expelled by the FLP because they followed the normal Cabinet rules, rather than Party rules.  (Despite the guidelines of the Korolevu Declaration, SDL and FLP could not agree on multi-party Cabinet rules).

*       that several soldiers were killed in military custody during the 2000 mutiny, and also recently, and to date no charges have been laid.

*       that many of the actions of the Military Junta and their appointees may be illegal.

The mirage of legality?

   Coup supporters keep claiming that the “Interim Administration” is legally carrying out the “President’s Mandate” under a still existing 1997 Constitution.

The public continues to wait for a judicial “judgment” on the legality of the “Interim Administration”.

But the ordinary tax-payers cannot afford to wait, for two crucial reasons.

First, it has a bearing on whether decent law-biding citizens can support the Military Junta in its good endeavours.  And second, tax-payers may well be asked to pay financial damages to those being wronged today.

The public tax-payers, lulled into a false sense of “normality” must remind themselves of the facts of 2006.

In December 2006, the military commander informed the media that he had deposed President Ratu Iloilo, seized Executive Authority and sacked the Qarase Government.

There was no crisis of “necessity” in the country, except that created by the military itself.   There are no provisions in the 1997 Constitution to justify the military deposing the President, and removing a democratically elected Government (corrupt or otherwise).

The Commander then appointed Ratu Iloilo as “President”.   There are no provisions in the 1997 Constitution for the military Commander to appoint anyone as “President”.  To a layman, since December 2006, Ratu Iloilo has been a “Military-President”, not the President under the 1997 Constitution.

The Military-President swore in “Interim Ministers” of an “Interim Administration” with the  “Interim Prime Minister” being the Commander, who had himself appointed the Military-President.

The “Interim Government” claims to be implementing the “President’s Mandate” expressed through decrees and statements coming from the Military-President’s  Office.

Law-abiding tax-paying citizens must ask: are we tax-payers going to be liable for legal damages arising out of the actions of the Military Junta and their appointees?

Will the FNPF and FNPF contributors be liable for financial damages arising out of the actions by the Military-appointed FNPF board members?

Whose Legal Liability?

   Virtually every week since the 2006 coup, legally-binding contracts have been broken by the Military Junta or boards appointed by them.
Interim Ministers, exercising full ministerial powers, have established new organisations such as FICAC, with powers that conflict with the institutions appointed legally under the 1997 Constitution.

Boards have been changed, executives removed or forced out of office, and new appointments made, often of military personnel in key positions.

Deaths have occurred in military custody, without any prosecutions by the police (now headed by an army officer). Human rights have been abused by the military, allegedly acting under emergency regulations.

Undoubtedly, some day,  those harmed will take legal action against the State (and tax-payers) for damages.

Of course, tax-payers should pay for the mistakes of any  government that they had themselves freely elected.

ButFiji’s voters (and tax-payers) have had no part in the takeover of authority by the Military Junta and their appointees.

Why shouldFiji’s tax-payers pay for any legal mistakes of the current Military Junta and their appointees?


TheFijipublic must ask the Ministers in the Military Junta and their civilian appointees to make a public declaration: do they take personal legal liability for any of their actions which the judiciary may later judge to have caused harm to citizens and companies?


Or do they expect thatFiji’s tax-payers must bear that burden?


The inevitability of democracy


   Parliamentary democracy will come some day, sooner or later.


With continued emigration, and past low birth rates, it is demographically inevitable that the numbers of Indo-Fijian voters will continue their severe decline.


More so than in 2006, any future free and fair elections will result in the major Fijian political party (probably the SDL) forming government again.


Common sense suggests that if Indo-Fijians and their political parties want long-term sustainable solutions to their problems, they must co-operate with the political leaders of the indigenous Fijian community, whoever they are.


Political parties must be humble enough to admit past errors: move away from blind tunnel vision support of illegal coups; move away from blind tunnel vision support of bad policies of democratically elected governments.


For there is no light at the end of these tunnels, only further financial pain for our ordinary tax-payers and citizens.


Every year we delay losesFijisome $280 millions in national income, $70 millions in government revenue and expenditure, and untold billions in lost investments and incomes.


Ratu Ovini Bokini (Chairman of the GCC) has called for an understanding of each others’ views, and an end to political arrogance. Former Vice-President Ratu Joni Madraiwiwi has reluctantly raised the possibility of amnesty for 2006 coup wrong-doers.


The onus is on the military, which is currently in control, to initiate the required dialogue between the political parties, hand back power to civilians and withdraw to the barracks and the duties they have been trained for.

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