Saturday, December 30, 2006

Dear Commander 29-Dec-2006 - Dionisia Lewanavanua, Bau, Fiji.


I WOULD like to take this opportunity to utter a few words of gratitude to our self proclaimed President and current Commander of our military forces, Mr Frank Bainimarama. I would like to speak my mind about the current situation and show our brave and noble dictator how I’m feeling right now. Because of you Mr Bainimarama:
My mother has lost her job that she has been doing for the last 5 years;
My father’s pay has been reduced by half of what he was getting before all this happened;
My parents will not be able to send me to school next year because of financial problems;
I didn’t get to visit my grandparents in the village like I use to every single year during Christmas and New Year;
I will not get the opportunity to meet my cousins from overseas who were supposed to visit my family for Christmas and New Year; and
I didn’t get what I would have normally wanted for Christmas (gifts and presents);
Finally I would like to say that you Mr Bainimarama probably had a wonderful Christmas Day spending it with your family, friends and most of all your grandchildren.
I’m sure that they (your grandchildren) must have really enjoyed their Christmas receiving all those wonderful gifts and presents while me and thousands of other innocent children in Fiji had to go through Christmas without those special pampering. I’m sure that the good Lord will look down upon us all and comfort us in these times of need and most of all, in these times of misery.

Same Old Swan Songs 29-Dec-2006. T Lesu Woodridge, QLD, Australia


I CONTINUE to be amused by the repeated comments from the National Alliance Party headed by Ratu Epeli Ganilau and the Kadavu Provincial Council Chairman, Ratu Jo Nawalowalo.As we know, Ratu Epeli was dropped from the GCC by Laisenia Qarase and he did not even attract a significant number of votes in the May 2006 General Election to make him or his party pretend that they speak for a lot of people.And Ratu Nawalowalo got overlooked by the SDL party to be their candidate for Kadavu, even though he applied for an SDL ticket.Their bitterness with Mr Qarase and the SDL party and their support of the military clean up is therefore understandable.I am just wondering why they continue to beat aloud their drums of support in the same tune, with the same words in the media almost everyday.If you support the military, which is your right, say it once maybe twice then enough. No need to keep shouting it aloud for everyone to hear it again and again, especially when you are speaking for yourselves only, or for a minority of people that voted for you in the last election.I am sure the military has noticed your support already and will give you two men senior positions in the new interim government.Just put to rest saying the same thing over and over again. We want to read and hear something new and more constructive in the media and not the same song and tune from Ratu Epeli’s party and my tauvu, Ratu Nawalowalo in Kadavu.If you want to comment again, sure do so. That’s your right. But say something different and better too please.

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Chairman of Fiji's Great Council of Chiefs - Ratu Ovini Bokini

AMELIA VUNILEBA Sunday, December 24, 2006

THE Bose Levu Vakaturaga or Great Council of Chiefs is an important part of Fiji's society and has been so for quite some time now.
This is a body that is made up of chiefs from different districts and provinces and is often looked upon for wise counsel.
The position of GCC chairman could be considered as one that comes with a lot of power and demands a person who can rise to the challenge of whatever situation or issue is thrown his way.
The GCC was brought to the fore of the country's political spectrum recently during the impasse between the military and the Government.
And in the midst of all the furore, there stood the GCC chairman, Ratu Ovini Bokini in all his calmness.
Ratu Ovini holds the title of Tui Tavua of the district of Tavua which comes under the province of Ba in the Western Division.
Since his appointment to the GCC chairmanship and with all the issues the council has to deal with, Ratu Ovini always seems to maintain his composure no matter what the mood of the council or the country for that matter at that particular time.
You can't help but wonder if ever he raises his voice in anger because he is a very soft spoken person.
Such is his stature and such is his personality.
He is 62-years-old, having turned a year older just last month and he is the son of Ratu Etuate Bokini and Sereima Lalavanua.
He was born in Tavualevu and educated at Tavua District School, Marist Convent School, Ratu Kadavulevu School and Queen Victoria School.
Apart from that, he attended some management courses at the University of the South Pacific and worked firstly at the Colonial Sugar Refinery before it changed to the Fiji Sugar Corporation Limited.
He is married to Tavo Bokini and they have four children and it was his eldest son Ratu Inoke Bokini who shed a little light about Ratu Ovini.
"I may be a bit biased but he is a good father no, he is the best father," Ratu Inoke laughed.
"He was always firm and caring and always believed in sharing whatever we had with others," he said.
"We grew up with a lot of cousins because he wanted us all to have an education and for us his children, we had to go without some things so that there was enough for all of us."
"And that was not only for family members but for anyone who would come to him for help."
Ratu Inoke said although Ratu Ovini was well employed at FSC, the family didn't have much in terms of material things or that which many young people yearned for.
This, he said, was because his father centred his attention on education and would try and spread his earnings to cover for the educational costs of family members who came to stay with them.
"Now the FSC homes were big but our home was always full," he laughed.
Ratu Inoke said although there were four children, and they were a family of six (including Ratu Ovini and Tavo), this was extended by two members when Ratu Ovini took in two nephews who are now counted as part of the family.
He said one was named after Ratu Ovini and he works at the Tavua Water Supply while Nacanieli was considered the youngest and was presently a student at the Fiji Institute of Technology in Suva.
He said although these two cousins were registered in the Vola ni Kawa Bula under their father's name, Ratu Ovini took them in as his own sons and that was how things remained to date.
Apart from Ratu Inoke who is the Human Resources Manager at the Housing Authority, the other son is Ratu Totivi who works at Douglas Pharmaceuticals, Kelera Naborisi, a teacher at DAV Girls College in Samabula and Sereima Korosaya who works at the Bank of Baroda in Suva.
Altogether, Ratu Ovini has 13 grandchildren 10 from his four children and three from his namesake.
Ratu Inoke said because his father was very busy with his work and his traditional commitments when they were growing up, he didn't really have much time for them.
But, he says, that is a totally different story with his grandchildren.
"One woman who looked after us while we were younger and who passed away recently, used to tell us that when we were babies, he (Ratu Ovini) would hardly change our nappies or carry us when we cried," he said.
"But it is totally different with his grandchildren when one cries, he is there ready to carry them and he changes their nappies whenever he can," he laughed.
"Oh they are getting a lot of love and attention from him and when he's home, they get to choose what movies they watch at home and he sits and watches with them."
Ratu Inoke says his father is one person who doesn't really show much emotion but takes in whatever's happening and "keeps his cool".
He said Ratu Ovini was the kind of person who accepted other people's views but didn't make decisions straight away, rather, choosing to listen to everyone's views before he makes up his mind.
And in the recent weeks with what has transpired in the country, Ratu Inoke says Ratu Ovini's grandchildren provided a welcome distraction for him when he would get home as he would sit and talk with them and would end up laughing with them.
"He hardly loses his temper but I suppose he has a good 2IC in our mother," he laughed.
Ratu Inoke says his brothers and sisters talk with Ratu Ovini frequently and this has become a daily thing since the impasse started.
Daily Routine
Ratu Ovini has maintained a similar routine for a number of years now where he wakes up at 3am everyday and has his morning devotion.
"So when we get a call at around 4am, we know that its him because that is a time when he makes some calls," said Ratu Inoke.
At around 5am, the family is woken up and a family devotion follows suit.
Following that, Ratu Inoke says the village elders or qase ni vanua would come for a meeting at his home and they would then plan what sort of work is to be done in the village on that particular day.
"They would discuss developments that are useful like plans for planting crops that could earn cash for the villagers or things that would ultimately eradicate poverty," said Ratu Inoke.
He said these developments would also include discussions like getting computers for the village or getting youths and villagers to learn courses that would enhance their knowledge.
Also, this included discussions that could get women involved in cooking courses that were on offer.
Ratu Ovini was one who believed in mixing with other cultures and sent his children to Drasa Indian School.
"He wanted us to mix with other races and encouraged us to learn Hindi and we speak it fluently now," he said.
Ratu Inoke says his father is a spirited and firm person and a disciplinarian but was very patient.
He said his father would never forget being asked to serve in the government that was formed following the 1987 coup by then prime minister Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara.
"All his life he has worked for the FSC and when he was called by Ratu Mara to serve in the interim government, he had some second thoughts at first but these were quashed when Ratu Mara told him it was an opportunity to expose himself and his talents which would help in nation building.
"He was still working at FSC then and was receiving more money but decided to resign and join the interim council.
"He thought the call of duty was more important than the money he would have received and that's why he accepted.
"It was a call of duty and when he finished off from there, he was the general manager of the Rarawai Mill.
And just like that time, Ratu Ovini Bokini is now served with the task of heeding the call to duty. Ratu Inoke says the family has rallied behind their father/ grandfather during this time.
And he would like to thank all those who've prayed in ernest for Ratu Ovini and asked them to keep praying and remain calm even.
And just like his nature, Ratu Inoke says his father has remained calm throughout this ordeal between the military and the Government.
"Basically I know he's a person who speaks from the heart and I suppose that is why he's penniless," Ratu Inoke joked.
Career Brief
Apart from being a member and chairman of the GCC, Ratu Ovini held previous positions in various boards and committees like the Fiji Development Board, the Liqour Tribunal in the Western Division.
He has held senior managerial positions at both the Fiji Sugar Corporation Limited and the Penang Mill in Rakiraki.
While his hobbies were gardening and fishing before, his eldest son Ratu Inoke says that has changed to spending time with his grandchildren.
Ratu Ovini became the chairman of the GCC in 2004 and was re-elected to the position in 2005 for a term of three years.
Ratu Ovini became chairman after his predecessor Ratu Epeli Ganilau was not re-elected by the GCC.
This was in July of 2004, after the GCC decided that the position of chairman should go to a chief from either the Kubuna or Burebasaga confederacies since Ratu Epeli was from the Tovata confederacy.
Last year when the Promotion of Reconciliation, Tolerance and Unity Bill was introduced by the Laisenia Qarase led government, Ratu Ovini said the council was not consulted and their attempts to get a copy of the controversial Bill was futile.
And during Ratu Sir Lala Sukuna Day celebrations, he stated in his speech that reconciliation was not something that could be forced or was one sided.
Ratu Ovini also holds the position of chairman in the Ba provincial Council in his capacity as the Tui Tavua.
He was a member of Parliament in the 1990s during the Soqosoqo Vakavulewa ni Taukei government's term in power and also held Cabinet positions.
He contested the Tavua open seat in the 2001 general elections but failed to win the seat and he stayed in his village, involving himself in various activities in his village of Tavualevu.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

What is Commodore Bainimarama Running Away From?

TIME South Pacific magazine - Dec 18 2006 Issue

For months before he appointed himself President and put Fiji's elected leaders under house arrest, military commander Frank Bainimarama had been threatening to stage a coup unless Laisenia Qarase's government abandoned plans to pardon those behind the abortive coup and mutiny of 2000. But some in Fiji say Bainimarama, who during the mutiny narrowly escaped assassination by rebel troops, has another motive: ending a police probe into the killings of four soldiers from the mutinous special- forces unit.

"It's cold-blooded murder," says Ana Kalounivale, "and that's what Bainimarama is running away from." The 37-year-old widow says Bainimarama must bear some responsibility for the bashing deaths of her husband and three other special-forces soldiers. If he did not order or know about the killings at the time, she believes, then he failed to properly investigate them afterward. "Now we don't know if we will ever have justice," says the mother of four.

The commander has repeatedly denied any responsibility for the deaths of Selesitano Kalounivale, Jone Davui, Epineri Bainimoli and Lagani Rokowaqa." I never gave any orders to kill," he said in 2003. However, in the weeks before the coup Bainimarama was under increasing pressure over the murders. Police probes and court actions by victims' families and surviving soldiers could have seen him suspended, forced to give evidence about the killings, and potentially facing charges and a six-figure compensation claim against the Fiji Military Force. During the mutiny by members of the elite Counter-Revolutionary Warfare unit, three loyalist soldiers were shot and-in an experience which some officers say has haunted him ever since-Bainimarama was hunted by armed rebels through a jungle-choked valley behind Suva's Queen Elizabeth Barracks. After the barracks were retaken, loyalists rounded up CRW soldiers regardless of whether they had taken part in the mutiny. Selesitino and the other soldiers allegedly fell victim to a violent paroxysm of revenge.

Among Bainimarama's increasingly peremptory demands to the Qarase government were the shutting down of the police investigation into the murders and the removal of Fiji's Police Commissioner, Andrew Hughes. The day after the coup, Dec. 7, Bainimarama sacked Hughes, who had already left the country after death threats to his family, and appointed Army intelligence chief Jim Koroi as acting Police Commissioner. Next day his soldiers took in for questioning six former CRW soldiers, alleging that they could foment civil unrest.

In the past year, Bainimarama and the military had been fighting four separate legal actions. Three were lodged by former CRW soldiers who survived beatings in 2000. The fourth was a compensation claim by Ana Kalounivale, who successfully sued the Commander and the government for worker's compensation over her husband's death but has yet to receive any money. In a hearing last April, the court was told that after he was first picked up, Selesitino had a 30-minute meeting with Bainimarama and was then taken to the local police station on the Commander's orders. He was later taken from the station by four or five soldiers. Acquaintances of his told the court they were working in a building next door to the police station when soldiers arrived with Selesitino. They said they heard him crying out for help as he was driven away in a military vehicle. According to the judgment of Magistrate Ajmal Gulab Khan, "He was on the floor of the van and bystanders could hear swearing, hitting with rifle butts and kicking at the back of the tray." Around midnight, his hideously injured body was delivered to the morgue. Magistrate Khan found that "the assaulting soldiers may have exceeded in the scope of their duty by assaulting the deceased, but they acted as soldiers of FMF and were responsible for their actions in the general scope of their duties." He awarded Ana Kalounivale $24,000, but she says the military is appealing the judgment. But it has never explained where the soldiers took Selesitino or why he was singled out. But documents lodged in support of civil lawsuits by the three CRW soldiers who survived beatings give a chilling insight into what might have happened. The soldiers "seized me at gunpoint and handcuffed my hands behind my back," said Sergeant Viliame Lotawa of the night he was taken from the police station. "I was punched, kicked and beaten with blunt objects such as rifle butts and iron rods. I was beaten all the way to [Queen Elizabeth Barracks]." Lotawa says his attackers included a former Fijian rugby international, Sergeant Jack Komaitai. Komaitai told Time last week there was no truth to the allegation. Another survivor, Metuisela Railumu, told the court he was taken by soldiers to a shooting range and "beaten with wood and iron rods all over my body." The case of the third survivor, Barbados Mills, is due to go to trial early in 2007.

All three suits include Bainimarama as a defendant, charging that as military commander he was responsible for the actions of his troops. Police have interviewed 12 soldiers about the bashings, but the military has reportedly insisted that a senior officer attend all interviews; in at least one case, the officer prematurely terminated the interview. When Time put Lotawa's allegations to Bainimarama's spokesman, Major Neumi Leweni, he said, "Who told you that?" He has since refused to speak to the magazine.

Police have told Time the military conducted its own investigation, under the supervision of then officer Jack Koroi, Bainimarama's hand- picked new acting Police Commissioner. None of the alleged perpetrators named by Lotawa and his fellow survivors has faced any military trial or disciplinary hearing. Police are unhappy about Koroi's appointment. Says one officer, who asked to remain anonymous: "Koroi knows what to look for in the files. He's a former Criminal Investigations Department officer and he was the point of contact up at the barracks for people wanting to interview soldiers in the past." Contacted by Time last week, Koroi said of the police investigation,"[The suspects in the bashings] have all been questioned but they have decided to stay mute. There is a lot of difficulties with this. I have to see the file before I comment."

Since leaving Fiji, sacked Police Commissioner Hughes, an Australian, has said one reason for the coup was self-preservation on Bainimarama's part. "He's been resistant to the investigation into the murder of the Counter-Revolutionary Warfare soldiers in 2000," Hughes told ABC News. "We believe he has some questions to answer in that regard himself." Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer shares Hughes' view. "I think, in particular, Commodore Bainimarama is deeply concerned about investigations by the police into the Fiji military itself," he told ABC Radio. A senior Fiji police officer tells Time he and his colleagues have new evidence suggesting some of the "top [military] brass ordered the actions." Now, he says, they are bracing for the day when soldiers march in and remove their files. But "We've got copies," he says. "We won't give up." Ana Kalounivale may get justice yet.