Pacific Scoop

Fiji ‘not a failed African state’, says Bainimarama

Prime minister Voreqe Bainimarama ... upbeat on Fiji's future. Photo: Indian Newslink

Prime minister Voreqe Bainimarama ... upbeat on Fiji's future. Photo: Indian Newslink

By Venkat Raman, editor of Indian Newslink

Visions of military personnel guarding airports, roaming the streets, seeking identities of people at will and people living in fear vanish almost as soon as one lands in Nadi International Airport.

No one confronts planeloads of people – most of them businesspeople and tourists-  as they go through immigration and customs to reach their destinations.

In fact, it is difficult to see even a policeman on the beat, let alone a gun-wielding soldier.

Of course, the Military Council commands considerable power in running the state as Commodore Josaia Voreqe Bainimarama engages himself in the civilian task of running the country as the chief executive.

But they too are seen in civilian clothes performing administrative tasks and none seems to be conscious of their titles as lieutenant-colonel or commander functioning as permanent secretaries in a couple of ministries.

Many people are aware of the adverse publicity that the Western media has been according to their country since Bainimarama ousted the Laisenia Qarase government on 5 December 2006 but have no means to counter them.

Fiji has been called a “banana republic,” “a country on the verge of collapse,” and “a nation in which people live in terror and dilapidation”.

None of these slogans fit reality and Bainimarama began the interview with me with a categorical statement: “We are not a failed African state. We are a nation of people that seeks dignity and honour in the international community.”

It is almost impossible to ignore the charming smile of the man who is almost single-handedly combating the disinformation being disseminated abroad, although some of his staunch supporters believe that expulsion of two successive high commissioners from New Zealand “could have been avoided”.

A responsible media
But Bainimarama made no reference to the diplomatic incidents. He was keen to explain his stand on the media.

“Freedom of the press is vital for democracy but such freedom must be preceded by responsibility and those who cannot substantiate what they write, publish, telecast or broadcast must face the consequences,” he told Indian Newslink in an exclusive interview at his office in Suva before the Commonwealth full suspension of Fiji.

He insisted the Fiji press was not muzzled but officials do visit the media offices to check on what is being printed, published, broadcast or telecast. It may sound as strange logic but in his books, irresponsible reporting has already caused serious damage to the country’s image, investments and the perception of the international community.

“No country should tolerate irresponsible reporting; anything said or written must be substantiated,” he said.

It seemed incredulous when Attorney-General and Minister for Anti-Corruption, Trade and many other portfolios Aiyaz Sayed Khaiyum told this journalist (at an earlier interview) that it was hard to fight the anti-government stand of the privately owned newspapers, television channel and radio stations (see separate story in Indian Newslink’s special report on Fiji).

Bainimarama said any visitor to Fiji could go about “anywhere, anytime” freely and discover the true state of affairs in the country.

“Do not listen to the media. Come and see for yourself. We have had enough of coups, violence, disharmony and discard in this country. If we have to move forward, we must bring about radical changes in our systems, thinking and approach. We must be an all-inclusive society,” he said and asked, “Can you tell me if there is anything wrong with that?”

The way forward
As far as the outside world is concerned, there are three types of people: those who know everything about Fiji and care but can do nothing; those who know everything about Fiji and do not care and hence do nothing; and those who know nothing about Fiji and do not care.

Bainimarama is convinced that political, economic and social reforms are imperative before the country can face an election.

Neither he nor his people want Qarase to return to power.

“There will be another coup which the country cannot afford,” they say in unison.

“The People’s Charter is the only way forward,” Bainimarama said.

“In this day and age, it is untenable to even think of marginalising one or more communities. Every person born in this country should have equal rights to education, health, ‘economic and political suffrage,’ everything in fact that would make every person lead a dignified life.

“I will not budge until I have achieved the common good,” he said.

But can an interim government, which is not elected by the people, make changes to the constitution?

The interim prime minister was quick to answer.

“The Charter has been taken to every city, town and village in this country – not by my officials or the army but by those who are interested in Fiji’s future. These are common people with a common cause,” he said.

Dijendra Singh, Fiji Media Council vice-president, National Charter for Building a Better Fiji member and a former Ba mayor, agreed, saying that Bainimarama wanted Fiji to be “everyone’s country.”

“New Zealand and Australia must understand our point of view. The People’s Charter has been endorsed by more than 70 percent of the population,” he said at a meeting at his home in Ba.

Dual citizenship
Bainimarama’s cleansing process does not end with political reforms. He is keen to bring about a positive change in every aspect of Fijian life.

“Since the 1987 coup, we have lost hundreds of thousands of our talented people to other countries. Fijians [he meant Indo-Fijians] have successfully settled down in other countries. We have bled talent and this brain drain must stop.

“I would like all our people to come back home, participate in economic development and help Fiji prosper. But they will return only if they can be treated with equality and respect,” he said.

His government has reinstated dual citizenship, the details of which appear elsewhere in this report. It is understood that the facility, which had existed prior to 2000, was removed by Qarase “in a bid to keep Indo-Fijians out of the country.”

Better bilateral ties
Bainimarama said he was pained by the ‘continued inability of New Zealand’s leaders to understand, appreciate and support his stand to cleanse Fiji of racial politics and put in place orderly politics and economics which would in turn lead to a more progressive and prosperous society.

“New Zealand and Fiji have a long history of association even through the military. Even today, Fijians have fond memories of Brigadier Thorpe. We have been good neighbours since long and there is no reason why we cannot continue the cordial relationship,” he said.

[Brigadier Ian Thorpe was contracted to command the Royal Fiji Military Forces from 1979 to 1982. Following his retirement from the New Zealand Army, the Fijian government invited him to establish the Fiji Military Forces Officer’s School after foreign military assistance was cut off soon after the first coup in 1987.]

Brigadier Thorpe and his wife Pat were instrumental in establishing the Honours and Awards of Fiji, which was made effective by then President Sir Kamisese Kapaiwai Tuimacilai Mara on 8 March 1995.

Bainimarama said he had neither abused authority nor misused funds since taking over the reins of administration almost three years ago.

“I am here to stop Fiji from declining in wealth, peace, harmony and prosperity. It is time all these problems are fixed forever. While a majority of our people have accepted the need for reforms, some of those in rural areas need to be educated. Their mindset is also changing; which is why we need more time. We will be prepared for elections in 2014,” he said.

Venkat Raman is editor of the Auckland-based weekly newspaper Indian Newlink. He has just made a seven-day visit to Fiji and his 24-page special report can be read here.


  1. Na Dina [Fiji Truth], 3. September 2009, 14:11

    Yeah right! Another Journalist bites the dust. Just because he has, quote, ” the charming smile of the man ..”you’ve gone all wobbly !! This journo writing this report must be either ignorant or have been given money under the table.

    One only need to look at the poverty increase in Fiji families. Squatter settlements are over populated. Joblesssness is at its peak. The Indigenous Fijians are now being so marginalised & profiled to remain at a level that they do not take any leadership role in their own homeland.

    Do us a favour and read what Commonwealth Association of Journalists have just written with regards to this Pariah of the Pacific!!
    Check this link for a blog on same.

  2. Roshni G, 4. September 2009, 7:38

    Sorry but I disagree with Venkat’s story. Yes there are no soldiers roaming the airports etc intimidating people and life on the ground appears normal.

    “Bainimarama said any visitor to Fiji could go about “anywhere, anytime” freely and discover the true state of affairs in the country.”

    Of course they can, as long as they don’t comment publicly against Bainimarama and his interim regime or ask the hard questions.

    “He insisted the Fiji press was not muzzled but officials do visit the media offices to check on what is being printed, published, broadcast or telecast.”

    Venkat is a seasoned journalist himself yet I’m surprised he can’t see through this! If not muzzled or censored, what do you call the media not being allowed to publish anti-interim government stories or stories like water cuts etc that show the people of Fiji are suffering and not getting basic services like water and electricity.

    And talking about irresponsible reporting by the Fiji media, this article itself is irresponsible in the sense that he did not interview editors or journalists in Fiji, non-governmental organisations and people who have in the past voiced their opinions of what’s happening in Fiji but have now been silenced by the military.

    Is this the free Fiji the journalist believes he saw himself?

    I see this special report on Fiji by the Indian Newslink as a Public Relations exercise, to make Frank Bainimarama look good. I haven’t seen the rest of the Special Report but can see from this article which way the rest of the report would go.

    He’s already tried it with SBC TV in Australia then Al Jazeera and unfortunately the Indian Newslink has fallen for it too.

    Come to think of it I’m not surprised with the Indian Newslink’s stand. Radio Tarana and Indian Newslink have a close relationship and the owner of Radio Tarana, Robert Khan, is known to have a strong friendship with Frank Bainimarama.

    How else do you think Radio Tarana is able to have access anytime to Bainimarama and interview him when they see fit, then email the interview to media in NZ to boost the Indian station’s publicity.

  3. Sam, 4. September 2009, 12:38

    Frank Bainimarama’s photo reading the Indian Newslink is the proof!

  4. Mereseini, 4. September 2009, 21:09

    You give journalists a bad name Venkat, but then again you’re not a journalist.

  5. Rahul, 7. September 2009, 15:19

    i write to contradict all the comments made so far regarding this. hello guys, wake up. if you think there are no squatters in Australia and New Zealand look again. i am a student in Australia and i can tell you first hand the people here also live as squatters. you cannot compare Fiji with Aus or NZ. Fijis economy is very small.

    as for the media freedom in question, does anyone of all the people above know that what bainimarama has done with the media in Fiji the same is being done with media organisations in Australia? the press is forbidden to reveal or make any comments which can destabalise Australias Image on the international market front. but then again the diffrence between journalist in aus and the journalists in fiji is that the journalists in australia have pride for their country and they dont make a mockery of their country like our journalists do(netani rika who shares his personal experience in Australia rather then his proffessional) on the international stage.

    And in respects to what the common wealth association of journalist say, it is amusing that you mention them because isnt the like of Netani Rika members of such organisation? I ask any other reader a fair question. “wouldnt their reports be biased?”

  6. Sam, 9. September 2009, 16:37

    Rahul you seem to be so disconnected from what’s happening in Fiji and Australia.

    For your information the media in Australia do question the government and run critical stories of policies etc. That’s what democracy is. I’m sure the media in Australia would be insulted to see what your comment about them.

    To defend Netani, yes he is a member of the organisation but he doesn’t write the rules or principles of what the organisation stands for.

    Not worth wasting time justyfing your comments, all I will say is get informed and get a dictionary!