Pacific Scoop

PM Tuilaepa ‘invites’ Bainimarama to Samoa for dialogue

Voreqe Bainimarama ... Photo: Scoop/Selwyn Manning

Fiji PM Voreqe Bainimarama ... talanoa offer. Photo: Scoop/Selwyn Manning

By Tupuola Terry Tavita in Apia

Prime Minister Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi has suggested possible ways in which to re-engage with the Fiji interim government following the Pacific Islands Forum’s reaffirmation of its membership suspension in Cairns earlier this month.

The Prime Minister says in an interview with the Samoan government newspaper Savali it would be useful for the interim Prime Minister Commodore Voreqe  Bainimarama to come to Apia for a talanoa (talk) session with him.

“There are plenty of direct flights between Fiji and Samoa and I would personally invite him over for a chat if he would come,” the Prime Minister said.

“I guarantee his safety and diplomatic immunity,” said Prime Minister Tuilaepa.

“In fact, he’ll be treated in chiefly fashion.”

During such a visit, the Prime Minister said, he would take Bainimarama around the country, giving him an insight into how things are done in Samoa.

“The Samoan traditional systems of government are along similar lines as in Fiji,” said Tuilaepa.

“Fiji’s ratu system and Samoa’s matai system have similar foundations and social underpinnings. The Samoan matai system dates back more than 3000 years and is still vibrant and relevant to this day.

“I want Bainimarama to see for himself whether there are ways that we do things in Samoa that could help resolve the current situation in Fiji.

“Bainimarama may be disenchanted with Fiji’s traditional chiefs, but the matai like the ratu of Fiji are by culture and by virtue the decision-makers of the people. It’s a system you have to work with and improve, not work against.

“I’ve also been told that Bainimarama has some Samoan connection … so this is perhaps an ideal opportunity for him to get in touch with his roots here. Who knows, he may want to be bestowed a Samoan chiefly title.”

For instance, there was the Tuilaepa title in Samoa, the Prime Minister said, which compares to the Tuilakepa title of Tonga and the Tui of the Lakemba Islands in Fiji. This was one possibility, the Prime Minister said.

Such a visit, he added, would also allow the commodore to observe Samoa’s modern government, and governance practices.

“We have a lot of opposition here. A lot of newspapers who often publish nonsense about government and government policy. Our media also think that I say similar things about them. But we get along fine. We talk, we smile at each other and we pray together. No hard feelings.”

A visit to Samoa by the Fiji interim Prime Minister, Tuilaepa said, would also be an indication that dialogue and lines of communication between the region and the global community with the Fiji interim government were still open.

“Fiji is not being abandoned nor cast adrift. It’s up to the commodore if he wants to engage in dialogue.”

The Prime Minister said that he has some understanding of the motives behind the 2006 coup, but the fact is, no democratic system of government in any country is perfect. It is why, he said, all democratically-elected governments have proactive systems of controls, checks and balances.

Tuilaepa concedes that democracy has its faults. However, he said, “until a better system is developed, democracy is still the most representative, most transparent system of government available.”

“If Bainimarama is sincere in his good intentions and hope for his people, then he should swiftly return Fiji to democracy. He should immediately stop suppressing the media, immediately cease suppressing people’s right to free speech and freedom of opinion and stop interfering with the church and people’s rights to religion and worship. He should also immediately refrain from interfering with the judiciary and justice system. These are the very pillars of democracy.”

The longer Bainimarama forcefully stayed in office, Tuilaepa said, the deeper the economic, social and governance problems would be for Fiji.

“He may have wrested power from the former government to clean up corruption, but governments are human institutions where corruption is inherent in all its forms and manifestations. We are already seeing signs of corruption in his own interim government. The only way to combat corruption is to have in place the appropriate systems of controls, checks and balances that can only be established through acts of Parliament under a democratic government.”

“No aid donor or funding agency in their right minds will throw money at countries ruled by military regimes brought to power via a military coup.”

Prime Minister Tuilaepa admitted that he had a “soft spot” for Fiji as he had had many Fijian friends and colleagues throughout his long political and diplomatic career.

“They are our neighbours and we share a common history, ancestry and culture. If all else fails and Bainimarama refuses to budge, then it might come down to a development none of us in the Pacific would want to see.”

Tupuola Terry Tavita is editor of the Samoan government newspaper Savali.