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“Which Bainimarama Government?” (appeared in Fiji Times, 6 Dec. 2014 as “Specific criticisms”)

06/12/2014

Which “Bainimarama Government?”
(appeared in Fiji Times 6 Dec. 2014 as “Specific criticisms”)
Professor Wadan Narsey

During many sessions of Parliament, the Opposition members have the opportunity, as is their core function and responsibility as watchdog on government, to criticize the Bainimarama Government’s policies and performance.

But which “Bainimarama Government” will they be criticizing?

Will it be the unelected government between December 2006 and September 2014, which some called the “military dictatorship” or the “military regime”, and whose performance is the subject of the Auditor General Reports from 2007 to 2013?

Or will it be the elected Fiji First Party (FFP) Government after the September 2014 elections, which we should perhaps call the Fiji First Party Government, to distinguish it from the earlier one?

I suspect that with the revelations of the Auditor General Reports for 2007 to 1013, even some of the elected FFP parliamentarians may want to keep this distinction in mind for their responses in parliament to the 2015 Budget sessions, or the other sessions when the Report of the Public Accounts Committee and the Auditor General Reports, come to be discussed.

It is not mere semantics

Some might think that there is no difference between the Bainimarama Government of today and the period 2006 to September 2014: the same two individuals (Bainimarama and Khaiyum) are in total control, making all the decisions, with all other ministers merely obeying the orders.

That description might even be reasonably accurate.

But there is one great difference which is at the heart of democracy and the rule of law.

Before the September 2014 Elections, Bainimarama ruled as an unelected Prime Minister, and all his Ministers were appointed at his sole discretion.  They could not claim in any way whatsoever, that they had the “mandate of the people” and they could choose not to be accountable to the public.

However, the current elected Members of Parliament, including FFP MPs and Ministers, can legitimately claim that they have the “mandate of the people” whose interests they are duty bound not only to represent but also be accountable to, even if it means that they may, in rare cases, have to hold and express different views from leaders of the Fiji First Party.

There is such a case coming up now (see below on Bill 13 currently before Parliament), but there is already evidence that a few FFP Ministers have had the courage to reverse the decisions made by the Bainimarama Regime before the elections.

Independent Minister of Education

The newly elected Minister of Education (the Hon. Dr Mahendra Reddy) has already taken the bold step of reversing decisions made by the previous Minister of Education, Filipe Bole.

Bole had begun the disastrous policy of ending national examinations despite the many public criticisms that this would have a damaging impact on academic standards, especially in poorer, mostly rural schools.  Read this: https://narseyonfiji.wordpress.com/2012/03/19/national-examinations-you-dont-know-what-you-have-got-till-it-is-gone-the-fiji-times-27-february-2010/

Goodness knows how many students in the last five years, have been moved up class after class without any awareness that their standards have been deteriorating.

Goodness knows how many good Ministry of Education staff skilled in examinations and assessments have been lost or dissipated to other roles.

The new Minister of Education also has had the courage to call for a review of the Ministry’s secretive policy on the “scaling of marks” which may also have been disguising the decline in standards.

The Ministry of Education has for years blatantly refused to respond to public complaints from parents and school children these last eight years, or to questions raised by independent studies. Read this:  https://narseyonfiji.wordpress.com/2012/04/15/key-issues-in-academic-outcomes-in-fiji-annex-f-fesp-icr-2010/

I have little doubt, on the basis of my previous study, that the Review Committee’s Report on Scaling will conclude that the scaled marks are disguising the national trends in standards, as well as the weaknesses of individual schools and students in some subject areas, and should be abolished, again a reversal of policy.

Protection of marine environment

The second positive example is that of Hon Mereseini Vuniwaqa  (the Minister of Lands) making the decision to  put a stop to commercial developments which have been destroying mangroves, and ensure that a proper mangrove development plan is put to Cabinet and implemented.

However, Fiji’s environmentalists will tell you that the protection of the marine environment has always been part of Fiji’s policies on environment, but over the past eight years, unelected Ministers were making decisions in contravention of this policy, refusing even to answer questions in the media, as here:

https://narseyonfiji.wordpress.com/2013/12/22/who-gave-permits-for-marine-environment-destruction-letter-to-editors-published-14-december-2013-fiji-times/

So the real change is that today, after the September 2014 elections, we have an elected Minister of Lands, who has the courage to change decisions which were made previously, and who is being rightly commended by the public.

The public should give support to Hon. Vuniwaqa to discourage any move to over-rule her, especially where some of the  tiri reclamations have been half completed, as between Grantham Road and Fletcher Road, and at Nasese, and massive investments have been planned.

 Ban on sale of freehold residential land to foreigners

A third potential example, over which there may be some fireworks in parliament over the next few weeks, is government’s proposed Bill No. 13 to ban the sale of freehold land to foreigners.

In my previous budget article, my concluding paragraph was about the FFP Government trying to bring in policies which were not part of the election manifestos at all, and this is one such example.

What makes the case interesting is that there are very powerful lobby groups against Bill No. 13.

One such group comprise Savusavu expatriate residents and investors, who are pressuring an Assistant Minister in Parliament (Hon. Lorna Eden) to ensure that Bill 13 is withdrawn.

Their arguments are many, such as likely long term damage to their financial interests, reduction of foreign investment by retirees, a decline in the local Savusavu economy and benefits of employment and incomes, and reduction of charitable work by foreigners.

Probably most important of all for general foreign investor confidence, is the basic breach of trust with them, given the conditions under which the Government originally gave them permits to buy and invest in residential land in Fiji.

Hon. Eden has been told, in no uncertain and bitter terms by many expatriate residents, that the FFP elections manifesto gave no hint of this proposed change in legislation, and had they known of it, would not have voted for Hon. Eden, who they are calling on to push for the withdrawal of this Bill No.13.

It will be interesting to see how much weight the Hon. Eden places on the demands of the voters who elected her, and the wishes of those in control of Fiji First Party who appointed her as Assistant Minister.

Lessons for parliamentarians and the public

It is important for Opposition parliamentarians to specify exactly which Bainimarama government they are referring to, in criticism or praise: the unelected Bainimarama Regime between 2006 and 2014, or the elected FFP Government?

It would not be fair for Opposition MPs to criticize the elected FFP parliamentarians who were not part of the Bainimarama dictatorship between 2006 and 2014, for what took place during that period.

Neither should Fiji First Party parliamentarians, who were not part of the Bainimarama Government between 2006 and September 2014, feel obliged to defend any ethically questionable actions and policies of the old Bainimarama government.  Far better that they remain silent and let the “old guard” defend themselves.

Of course, some of the new FFP parliamentarians might genuinely agree with some of the previous government’s very positive policies (such as improving access to education at all levels for the poor) and express that agreement and support.

But naturally, there will always be some who will try to earn some “Brownie points” (i.e. “curry favor”) with the FFP Leaders by defending the previous government in entirety, regardless of what is revealed by the Auditor General Reports and the Public Accounts Committee.

The public, however, need to keep in mind, there is a very real distinction between the previous Bainimarama Government which imposed itself on Fiji through a coup, and the one of today which has some legitimacy in being elected by the voters, to whom they should now be accountable, as is required even by their own constitution, imposed unilaterally on Fiji.

 

 

 

 

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