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“Giving thanks but what follows: voters must strengthen voices of reason” (FT 12 June 2021)


With most of Fiji suffering from the COVID crisis in large measure due to the callousness of a few holding power, thousands of ordinary citizens are giving thanks to the many social leaders who have publicly stepped up to shoulder the burdens of leadership.

There are also many other quiet professionals also doing the same, but out of sight of the public eye. Indeed, even in well developed Melbourne I still appreciate the decades of quality service my own family enjoyed in Fiji from our family doctor (Theresa Yee Chief) or dentist (Imtiaz Sahu Khan) (my lolomas to them).

But with terribly dark days yet to come, Fiji needs to not just publicly acknowledge the commitment of those committed but quiet professional citizens who are the foundations of Fiji’s decent society, but go beyond.

That positive public acknowledgement is already visible due to the legitimate public outcry over the extremely unfair attacks by a powerful few among the political leaders on one social leader and her CSO colleagues, whose commitment and dedication to Fiji and its needy are beyond reproach.

But the responsible and articulate citizens of Fiji need to do far more in the sorry arena of politics to ensure that in future their taxpayer and donor funds are used for the good of the genuinely needy, if Fiji is to emerge from this dark tunnel with currently little light at the end.

For their own salvation, the Fiji voting public must give political strength to those public voices of reason who have for several years now been calling for good governance and proper accountability for taxpayer funds, even though these voices of reason have been contemptuously ignored and ridiculed by those in power.

The public is already thanking The Fiji Times for reporting truthfully on all that is happening in society. This newspaper must also be thanked for giving a platform to the voices of reason such as Professor Biman Prasad and Savenaca Narube.

More importantly, the public must also actively protect this courageous newspaper from attacks by those that hate a free media and the voicing of truth.

Thank the Social Leaders but what then?

Fiji has seen an astonishing outpouring of public support for the tiny diminutive figure of Sashi Kiran, the CEO of FRIEND, who was viciously attacked by a powerful few in Government.

Under her leadership, FRIEND has stepped up to fill the huge gap left by Government in the support of the needy and unemployed.

Also stepping into the breech have been other social leaders like Shamima Ali (FWCC) Nalini Singh (FWRM) and their colleagues in the CSO Alliance, all similarly attacked by the Government as being “politically motivated”.

Union leaders have also stepped up to express their solidarity and support for the CSO Alliance.

Organizations like FTUC, FTU, FTA, and FNA have massive outreach and I am sure they are already active on the ground attempting to alleviate the hardships that are tearing Fiji apart, but can they do more for the future?

Some political leaders and especially government ministers are able to fill the public media horizon with their control of government funded media and those that feed off taxpayer funds, giving the impression that they are the ones doing anything.

But the reality is that throughout Fiji, the real burdens of society are shouldered by doctors, nurses, teachers, engineers, tradesmen, farmers, civil servants and yes, even hardworking housewives.

All these decent citizens of Fiji must surely see the huge mess that Fiji is in and that MUCH WORSE IS TO COME because of the wastefully created massive Public Debt.

Massive Waste of Taxpayer funds and Ballooning Public Debt

Let us remember that for eight years after 2006, a military government ruled Fiji with total lack of public accountability, refusing to release any Auditor General Reports, till all were dumped after the managed 2014 elections.

The same Government went on a spending spree with massive unregulated expenditure on infrastructure never seen in PWD days.

Without any proper cost benefit analysis of the kind demanded by ADB and WB, there was no guarantee of economic rates of return, as The Fiji Times bravely pointed out in my article of 18 November 2015 “Baap ke paisa nahin: a PhD from FRA”).

I say “bravely” because the public has forgotten so quickly that throughout those censorship years the Editor (Fred Wesley) and Publisher (Hank Arts) were facing draconian fines and jail sentences for merely doing their job.

There was some superficial economic growth for a few years, but the sugar industry decline was not reversed and no sustainable industries were created.  Economic growth was already slowing even before COVID hit.

Worryingly, Public Debt was ballooned from a manageable $2 billion when Qarase was Prime Minister to over $8 billion under the “management” of Bainimarama and Khaiyum, and we all know that it will be frighteningly more if taxpayer guaranteed public enterprises like FSC and Fiji Airways go bankrupt.

The Fiji Times had again bravely published my article of 3 Dec. 2016 (“Sleeping Public Debt Nightmares”) warning of the dire consequences of a Public Debt which had risen to a “mere” $4 billion.

It is now $8 billion and former Governor of the Reserve Bank (Savenaca Narube) has been correctly and responsibly warning in numerous articles in recent months, that this massive public debt has dire consequences down the line for public expenditure on education, health, and social welfare.

I had also warned in 2016 (and again even more today) that the foreign component of the Public Debt (which must be paid in foreign exchange) has also increased and our current balance of payments crisis poses a serious possibility of a severe devaluation of the Fiji dollar, with resulting inflation and rising cost of living and all the hardships that will entail.

It would really help if the current RBF Governor whose is lawfully independent of Government, were to publicly also voice his concerns about Fiji’s worsening balance of payments and ballooning Public Debt.

Few in Fiji can really envisage, as hard-headed economists can, the hardship that is yet to come.

A COVID out of control

To make things worse, the arrogant Bainimarama Government has utterly failed to respond to the COVID in the manner that the responsible governments of NZ and Australia have.

They failed to reduce public expenditure (including their own massive salaries), instead allowing employers to cut FNPF contributions and even encouraged FNPF members to disastrously draw down their already meager balances.

They have failed to use taxpayers and donor funds to support the really needy who have lost their jobs and incomes because of lockdowns.

Through arrogant personal disregard for proper quarantine measures as advocated by the sensible Dr James Fong and Dr Aalisha Sahu Khan, the powerful but irresponsible few have allowed a virulent strain of the COVID virus to enter the Fiji community where it is now raging out of control, ending any hope of Fiji joining the Pacific Bubble with Australia and NZ, which could have been the salvation of Fiji’s tourism industry and economy.

Instead, this Government has been throwing red herrings around by engaging in frivolous antics in Parliament while totally jeopardizing a quality regional university and forever damaging its leadership role in the region.

The Responsible Opposition Parties

It is an unfortunate feature of Fiji’s political system that Parliament has become a totally destructive adversarial system with the political voices of reason in Parliament easily and contemptuously disregarded by those holding power.

Let us remember that this political system was created after a treasonous coup in 2006 resulting in an imposed  2013 Constitution which has never been passed by any Parliament even though, ridiculously, it demands a two thirds majority to change it.

Yet for more than six years, the elected Opposition Parliamentarians who have the social legitimacy of hundreds of thousands of votes behind them, have continued making numerous constructive suggestions for improvements to the economy and society.

Sadly, these sensible legitimate constructive voices have been met with total ridicule by the two most powerful persons in Government (with the depth of knowledge possessed by a military man and a mediocre lawyer) gleefully echoed by a few other Government MPs who themselves have pitiful numbers of votes behind them. The good Government MPs must cringe on a daily basis.

It is to the credit of these responsible Opposition political leaders that they continue their dedicated work for Fiji, and I sincerely hope that Fiji’s voters understand who they need to vote for at the next election if Fiji is to brought back from the brink of the disaster that awaits.

But ultimately, the public (and many of its now quiet intellectuals) must ask themselves the uncomfortable question: have they also contributed to this horrible mess by putting into power and supporting totally inappropriate political leaders whose only tangible success seems to be doing well for themselves and their families?

Other than thanking those social and political leaders who have stepped up during these hard times, what can the public do to ensure that they elect leaders who lead for the common good and future generations, and not own selfish interests?

Whatever happens, the public will deserve whatever they get.

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