On Saturday (August 9) morning, I was invited to an interview with Fiji Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama.
Other New Zealand media other than Venkat Raman from Indian Newslink were refused interviews.
I was free to ask anything and everything in a wide-ranging interview.
Some of the insights are very interesting.
For readers who do not know, I was born in Fiji, I am a Kaiviti.
The parts I found most interesting were the insights into the changes that were necessary in the new Constitution in order to create a state where there are no divisions on the basis of race and the removal of the Great Council of Chiefs and any other race based institutions.
In many respects, Fiji has recognised that racial divisions are poison and they have moved to address that.
In addition to the removal of race-based policies, Fiji has also moved to crack down on corruption and created the Fiji Independent Commission Against Corruption.
This, according to Mr Bainimarama, has been imperative in addressing corruption at all levels and Fijians have embraced this with rat bag lawyers, politicians and businessmen being prosecuted under the new corruption laws.
Coupled with that the Constitution has brought changes to electoral laws and Fiji is endeavouring to ensure free and fair elections. Measures like rules regarding political party membership, donations and enrolment procedures are all to ensure that the elections will be fair and unfettered by the things that corrupted earlier elections.
Parties must have a minimum of 5001 members and $5001 in their bank account.
Only natural persons can donate to political parties, and only up to a maximum of F$10,000. Foreign donations and donations from corporates or unions are forbidden and all donations must be declared.
Coupled with that all voters must have a Photo ID Voter Registration Card. This is to stop what happened in the last election – there were more votes cast than registered electors in some electorates.
Mr Bainimarama did not hold back on the attitude of the Governments of New Zealand and Australia. He was mindful though to praise those Kiwi and Aussie tourists who continue to support Fiji by holidaying there.
In one instance, he calls Australian politicians who were lobbying for the Security Council seats ‘bullshitters.’
I queried him on media freedoms, and he was unequivocal that the media is perfectly free to report on anything they wish in Fiji, unfettered or unsupervised.
You would never know that from reports in New Zealand media.
The last part of the interview I concentrated on the assumption by many that if Mr Bainimarama lost the election, and was rejected as a politician in the election he would not accept the results and continue to govern despite the results.
He was adamant that in that event he would retire and spend time with his 14 grandchildren. He does not think that is going to happen though, but is happy that his legacy will be a fair Constitution, a new democracy with proper rules and the removal of race based laws and policies.
Mr Bainimarama was an engaging and intelligent interviewee.
He certainly appears driven to improve Fiji and create an environment that will allow Fiji to flourish. He sees education, information technology, and improved infrastructure as the keys to future prosperity for all Fijians.
Cameron Slater is an Auckland based journalist. His blog ‘Whale Oil Beef Hooked’ attracts thousands of visitors from across New Zealand and overseas. The above is the first of a series of interviews that he began with key people in Fiji ahead of the general election scheduled to be held in that country on September 17, 2014.
(Pictures by Steve Cook for Whaleoil Media)