Dracula guarding the blood bank
On 4th January 2007, the then Commander of the Republic of Fiji Military Forces (RFMF), Voreqe Bainimarama, while purporting to hand back Executive Authority to the then President Ratu Josefa Iloilovatu Uluivuda, outlined 25 reasons for taking over the Laisenia Qarase led multi-party government on 5th December, 2006.
The following were reasons 8,9 and 10 as part of his long-winded national address to justify the toppling of a democratically elected government at gunpoint: -
“8. The repeated acts and incidents of Government and civil service corruption including SDL politicians. Those involved continued to be members of the cabinet, those holding senior Government positions and civil servants;
9. The growing cycle of corruption, clientalism and cronyism also involved the extremely unhealthy influence and involvement of certain businessmen and women in the governmental decision making processes;
10. The failure of the Qarase Government to pass any anti-corruption legislation in the past 5 years despite the growing and repeated acts of corruption which has undermined the very foundations of our civil service and institutions and the economy”.
Highly significant statements to consolidate support for the coup and for people to forget the fundamental premise of governments to be elected or removed only through the ballot box.
It led to the usurpation of democracy being described by cheerleaders as a coup to end all coups. Because Bainimarama claimed it wasn’t a coup but a clean-up campaign. And the cheerleaders danced to the drum roll of “Clean-up”.
However, more than 16-years after those 3 reasons to justify a treasonous act, the real “clean-up” is surfacing.
The over-bearing stench of the coup has seemingly been the clean-up of the hard earned taxpayers funds, siphoned off by the very people who became part of the cabal of the Bainimarama and later Fiji First governments.
At least, that is what’s begun to see daylight, having been hidden away all these years in the labyrinth, thanks to regressive and draconian laws shoved down the throats of the people, which effectively curtailed their fundamental rights and freedoms.
Fiji in the last fortnight witnessed a painful episode of “Dracula guarding the blood bank”. Revelations of payment of stratospheric salaries, allowances, benefits and bonuses in two organisations, which have been heavily supported by taxpayers’ funds, may just be the tip of an ice-berg. Let’s look at one organisation at a time.
Payments of $32,000 per month in salary to the now terminated Fijian Broadcasting Corporation Chief Executive Officer, as well as rewarding him with over $224,000 in bonuses, shocked the nation. Almost four days after his termination, the disgraced FBC CEO tried to rubbish the revelations.
Unsurprisingly, he offered no evidence to prove his innocence. As a career journalist, he should have rebutted it the very day FBC Board Chair announced his termination. On Monday the FBC Chair hit back with exact figures of salary, bonuses and funds of over $200,000 paid to a car dealer to purchase a car for the now axed CEO.
But one thing stood out last week. The long-winded rebuttal of the terminated CEO was symptomatic of a person who like many others thought it was their God-gifted or inherent right to demand a pound of flesh from every taxpayer.
He forgot in the euphoria of the coup and its aftermath that this wasn’t a medieval era but an independent sovereign Fiji where no one has the right to rule for eternity.
And now, even the 8-speed automatic transmission VW Touareg, that has been shipped from Auckland, New Zealand, securely in the hands of the authorities probing this financial debacle, cannot help the FBC CEO escape the clutches of an intensive probe into all aspects of an organisation that received over $93 million in grants under the “Public Service Broadcast” budgetary provision since 2008.
Zeal and reveal
In his zeal to defend himself from the serious claims, the booted out FBC CEO in his statement on Thursday – which quite astonishingly for many but highly predictable for others - was shared by Fiji First Facebook page – revealed that the broadcaster had won a separate tender to provide preferential price advertising and production work for the entire government machinery.
To a layman, preferential price means at a higher price than being offered to others. For example, Fiji used to export sugar to the European Union at a preferential price, which was significantly higher than the world market price of sugar for many years ,until more than a decade ago.
Does this mean that FBC was going to be paid a much higher rate for advertising and production work, than what would normally be charged by other media?
Wasn’t this financial burden to be shouldered by the taxpayers? And what for? To make the FBC CEO look good that he is churning out profits? To further increase his salary from $32,000 per month? To pay him heftier bonuses for increasing profit because of more injection of public funds?
It will be helpful, for clarity’s sake, if those probing the financial dealings of FBC re-visit the tender process and all documentation to establish the truth.
The other issue is – who approved the bonus payments for the FBC CEO? Was it the Board alone? Did the Board make recommendation to the Minister for Public Enterprise – who for most years was the Attorney-General & Economy Minister Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum? Or were bonus payouts approved with the concurrence of the then PM Bainimarama?
Bonus approval and timing
It just doesn’t make sense why the Prime Minister has to approve the bonus payment to the FBC CEO. Does it mean that Voreqe Bainimarama had full and absolute knowledge of the salary, perks and privileges of the sacked CEO?
Does this mean that as PM, Bainimarama fixed the salaries and approved payment of bonuses to CEOs of other organisations, either wholly owned or controlled by the State, as well as where taxpayers’ funds were injected?
Having been provided with a screenshot of a bonus payment approval letter, I have no doubt whatsoever that Bainimarama was fully informed of the nature of approvals being granted by, in Bainimarama’s own words, his “right-hand man” in Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum.
Because that is exactly what the bonus payment approval letter says in respect of a payment for the 2017 financial year for the FBC CEO.
The letter, dated 8th November, 2018, states,
“Following consultations with the Prime Minister, approval is granted for the bonus payment of $21,259 to the Chief Executive Officer of Fiji Broadcasting Corporation Limited Mr Riyaz Sayed-Khaiyum for the 2017 financial year”.
The letter was signed on behalf of the Attorney-General and Minister for Economy, Public Enterprise, Civil Service and Communications (Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum).
November 8, 2018 was a day after Diwali and 6 days away from the general elections.
A perfect timing of bonus approval for the boss of a radio and television station that had converted itself into a State broadcaster instead of being a national broadcaster.
The rest is history.
Scratching each other’s back
There is little doubt from the revelations the disgraced FBC CEO: -
· received a exorbitantly high salary totally non-commensurate with his experience and work ethics.
· received bonuses beyond the wildest expectations of the boss of a corporate firm with multi-million dollars’ worth of turnover and profit.
Further, because of who the CEO was, it resulted in: -
· an astronomical increase in public service broadcast grant to over $11m a few years ago, totaling over $93 million since 2008.
· the design and award of a tender on preferential price, aimed at injecting more public funds into FBC apart from millions paid in PSB grants.
This saga is an anathema, which unfortunately but predictably will unravel in many other major organisations and sectors as the real faces personalities who treated taxpayers coffers like a gravy train are unmasked.
Kamal Iyer is a former journalist and a member of the National Federation Party. The views here are his and not necessarily shared by this newspaper. As published in the Fiji Times 11 February 2023