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When the line is not drawn (FT 13/2/2021)


When the line is not drawn: who to blame?

I have been both encouraged and saddened at the same time by the huge outpouring of protest and anger over the deportation of the Vice Chancellor of USP (Professor Pal Ahluwalia) and his partner (Sandra Price) who is an employee of Fiji National University.

There is little doubt that the justification given by civil servant Yogesh Karan has absolutely no basis whatsoever and the public anger is totally justified.

But the public need to go beyond their immediate reaction and ask really fundamental questions given that this is not the first time that residents of Fiji have been summarily deported.

Why are Fiji’s civil servants (Immigration and Police) acting in this clearly inhumane and unethical fashion without any protest from the Public Service Commission?

Why is the Director of the Fiji Human Rights and Anti-Discrimination Commission (Ashwin Raj) totally reluctant to call out this clear breach of his department’s principles and still keeping his position?

Why have many of the powerful social and religious organizations not thoroughly condemned all such breaches of good governance although quite a few have, but with muted voices?

Why are Australia and NZ, major financiers of USP not formally protesting and condemning such unethical and dictatorial behavior by the Fiji Government.

Why did USP Council appoint an Acting VC when the current VC can be based in any country?

Why did Fiji’s voters vote for a government such as this which appoints clearly undesirable persons to such high positions, despite the fact that there were alternative parties who they could have voted for?

But first, let us remember that the Fiji public has not drawn a line in the sand when the Bainimarama Government did similar unethical things to other Fiji residents, citizens and former Fiji citizens.

The other inhumane treatments

Blogsites like Dr Victor Lal’s Fijileaks have been leading the charge in pointing to many of the previous similar breaches of human rights.

Newspaper publisher Russell Hunter was brutally deported when his paper revealed through articles by Victor Lal about undeclared bank balances by a Bainimarama Government Finance Minister who was later convicted of breachers of foreign exchange laws and later resigned as Minister.

But the media organizations did not draw the line in the sand.

Professor Brij Lal was brutally deported from Fiji and he and his totally innocent wife (Dr Padma Narsey Lal) have been banned from re-entering their country of birth while all kinds of other foreigners are welcomed by this Bainimarama Government.

Despite the fact that Professor Brij Lal is indisputably the most illustrious of descendants of the girmitiyas, there has been no sustained protest from the Indo-Fiji organizations (like Arya Samaj and Sanatan Dharm) and former senior academics (like Professor Satendra Nandan and Professor Subramani) who bang on about the glorious heritage left Fiji by the girmitiyas.

Neither have any of the Gujarati organizations protested about one their most illustrious and pioneering daughters being banned from her country of birth for the “crime” of being the partner of Professor Brij Law, a moderate critic of Government (just as Sandra Price just happens to be the partner of the reviled USP VC).

Nor did the USP Alumni organization keep their protests burning at this shameful treatment of arguably their most illustrious alumni and there is not even a mention of abominable behavior of the Fiji Government or USP censorship of academics and students in the USP 50th anniversary publication supposedly authored by a “historian” and former USP academic (who should be ashamed of her role in whitewashing USP history).

These organizations did not draw the line in the sand.

One senior USP economist (and former parliamentarian) despite more than thirty five years of service to USP at the highest academic and administrative levels was forced by the former USP VC and his Senior Management Team to resign, with the USP Management alleging Fiji Government financial pressure (withholding of $30 millions). 

The USP Senior Management Team and Staff and Students’ Association did not protest and the USP VC continued with his questionable deeds, some of which the current VC Ahluwalia has been revealing.  All of this banned economist’s valuable work for the Fiji Bureau of Statistics and Ministry of Planning was also callously stopped, with no replacement even seven years later.

No line was drawn in the sand for these academics.

Then they came for Professor Pal Ahluwalia and his partner.

And it seems that there are more public protests but will anything change?

The Fiji Un-civil Servants

One of the horrifying aspects of all the deportations I have mentioned here is that Fiji’s Civil Servants were at the frontline of these deplorable actions by the Fiji Government.

I have no doubt whatsoever that buried somewhere in the training of civil servants (including police and the military) is what to do when their political superiors (Government Ministers) ask them to perform some action which appears to be in breach of good governance.

There are not only whistleblower provisions but also responsibility on the Public Service Commission to take up the cudgel on behalf of the civil servants so that they are not victimized.

But it is clear that in Fiji in recent years, the Public Service Commission has not just been a toothless tiger but a lapdog of government.

While one could easily point to the fact that the Chairs are expatriates, but senior local persons  including senior academic and corporate types who also refuse to draw the line in the sand and through their silence sanction the unethical behavior of the Government.

It is an utter personal tragedy for them that decent Fiji citizens (and even expatriates) totally compromise their integrity by refusing to resign from their positions rather than carry out unethical orders of their superiors.

This applies not just to Permanent Secretaries of Government Departments but also DPPs, Police Commissioners, FICAC officers, the Supervisor of Elections and Electoral Commission, and many others.

Let me not waste any space here on the disgraceful lack of integrity and commitment of the head of the organization who is paid valuable taxpayer funds to defend the human rights of ordinary residents of Fiji and who has for years been an utter lapdog of government rather than a protector of human rights.

The real power behind the throne?

The Fiji public have refused to question that for more than three decades since the 1987 coup, the highest military officers (and former military officers) of the RFMF have failed to abide by the usual military allegiance to lawfully elected governments.

Once upon a time the ready arguments, bought by indigenous Fijians and their institutions like the Great Council of Chiefs, that it was vital to remove non-indigenous control of Fiji’s government and institutions.

Well, since 2006, the military officers have removed lawfully elected governments led by indigenous Fijians or directly colluded in their removal and non-indigenous persons and indeed foreigners are merrily appointed to the highest levels, despite there being many capable Fiji citizens available.

Former senior military officers have been appointed as ambassadors, speakers of the House, Heads of Police and Prisons, and even as President of Fiji purportedly signing into law a constitution never approved by any parliament, yet allowing the Government to totally control all the institutions of state.

There is yet again another military President supposedly to represent all Fiji and parliament, but who condones the Government’s actions by his total silence on all the contentious issues.

One blogsite alleges that there is a Military Council which is still consulted by the Fiji Prime Minister, for purposes unknown.

Silent Institutions of State

One of the sad developments in Fiji is the lack of public accountability and good governance of all the critical institutions of state, which have gradually brought Fiji to its current debilitating state.

These include the prosecutors, FICAC, the police, judiciary, prisons, the electoral system and oversight organizations themselves, so that the government allegedly is a check on itself but primarily keeps in check the rest of society.

Sadly, the independent organizations of lawyers, accountants, auditors, academics and all their senior practitioners also all keep their silence or are conveniently muted in their responses.

Possibly the most bizarre of it all was the recent call by the President of the Fiji Law Society for Fiji to “follow due process” regarding the DPP’s decision to not refer a case of alleged culprits of a bombing incident in 1987 to Police.

It would be abundantly clear to all that the “due process” has been totally engineered by a 2013 Constitution not approved by two thirds of any Fiji Parliament although to change it would allegedly require that majority.

It is a joke, apparently lost on the current President of the Fiji Law Society and his call condoned by the silence of senior legal practitioners of Fiji, which include some of his (and my) good friends, that it is facile to argue that the alleged crime was “thirty years ago” and how difficult it would be for police (forget the ample evidence). The current head of police made no comment.

One can point to any number of incidents that illustrate what I am pointing out above.

The USP Council and Australia/NZ

It is totally inexplicable to me that the USP Council has appointed an Acting VC and thereby making the deportation a surrogate for the VC’s removal from office, when it should be abundantly clear that the current VC can act from any USP Member Country.

Ahluwalia should reconsider his decision to base himself in Nauru which has totally inadequate infrastructure, a tiny number of students, and is totally inconvenient to travel to and from.

Far better for him to be based in Vanuatu which has reasonable infrastructure, room for expansion and has yet to set up its own university, unlike Samoa, the Solomon Islands and Tonga.

Vanuatu is a far more pleasant location than a mined out little island like Nauru, which I suspect has never been visited before by VC Ahluwalia.

I am sure that Australia and NZ are making known their displeasure to the Fiji Government in a quiet and diplomatic fashion to safeguard their strategic interests in the Pacific.

But they may give a far more effective message by channeling all their future USP contributions to building up USP facilities in Vanuatu for regional students currently going to Fiji.

Fiji’s voters

It should be abundantly clear that Fiji’s voters are getting the government they voted for an they surely deserve all they get.

They have not drawn any line in the sand previously.  Will they do so now?

Or will it all blow over in a year’s time and freebies freely handed out through a burgeoning Public Debt and a docile Supervisor of Elections, yet again deliver the same engineered result.

Then they came for me

More than five years ago, I wrote an article (“No voice for Padma” Fiji Times 12 Dec. 2015) which concluded with the famous words of Pastor Martin Niemöller, a victim of Hitler’s Nazi Germany, once wrote:

First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out – because I was not a Socialist.

Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out – because I was not a Trade Unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out – because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.

Is Fiji there yet?

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