Guest Post – A Tale of two chiefs: Mara, the father and Mara, the son

Thakur Ranjit SinghThis commentary, through historical perspectives, analyses the flight of Bainimarama?s former right hand man, Ratu Ului Mara to Tonga and the disappointing role of media.

As the Air Pacific?s French built turbo prop ATR 42 glided into Apia?s Faleolo International Airport, I was overjoyed with the prospect of visiting Nukualofa. The year was 1988, in the aftermath of Sitiveni Rabuka?s coup in Fiji which had an interim government. I was an internal auditor with the Carpenter Group of Companies which owned Morris Hedstrom (MH) stores in Fiji, Apia (Molesi), and Nukualofa. I, together with my fellow auditor Chattur Singh was scheduled to audit MH Nukualofa after the Apia stop.

However, this dream of visiting Tonga was dashed when Tonga imposed a racially discriminatory rule that Indo Fijians from Fiji were prohibited from entering the Kingdom. Then, Fiji?s interim Prime Minister was Ratu Ului?s father, Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara who was defeated in 1987 Fiji?s elections by Dr Timoci Bavadra?s Fiji Labour Party. Bavadra?s government was overthrown on 14 May, 1987 in a coup executed by Rabuka just after a month in power. It had been widely speculated and also exposed by Rabuka that Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara was aware of the coup and had given his blessings for the rape of democracy in favour of indigenous superiority and ethno nationalism. Mara Senior claimed he accepted the position of Fiji?s Interim Prime Minister because he could not stand by and watch his house burning.

Ratu Sir Kamisese remained silent and failed to raise any objection against this blatant racism by his cousins in Tonga against half of his subjects in Fiji. It therefore should not now come as a surprise at accusations that the Tongan government aided and abetted the escape of Ratu Ului to Tonga by breaching Fiji waters, supposedly in a sea rescue mission. The evidence from the murky waters suggests that Ratu Ului may be less than honest about his escapade. His checking into a hotel under a false name, hiding his identity, the customary protocols of fishing alone by a chief, and the failure of respective New Zealand and Fiji navies to detect any distress signals indicate that the truth is somewhere out there.

This case also exposed New Zealand mainstream media?s blind dependency on a political blogsite, Coup Four Point Five, which hardly resembles a respectable, free and independent media. This site has anonymous and faceless publishers and editors whose credibility has been under scrutiny by various academics and this author because of their selective, unsubstantiated and unbalanced news-postings. This is Qarase?s SDL Party site tasked with getting the racist regime back into power under the sham of democracy. It is such questionable blogsite that the mainstream New Zealand media, including NZ Herald and TVNZ, have relied upon as a source.

The Indo-Fijian bashing angle is used once again. With Tonga?s history of racially humiliating Indo-Fijians in 1988 with ban on entry, it is no wonder Ratu Ului had a field day in using the race card as well, where he said that Aiyaz Saiyed Khaiyum, Fiji?s Indo-Fijian Attorney General was solely calling the shots in Fiji.

What a gullible media fails to realise is that Fiji?s military is 99.95 per cent indigenous Fijians. Of the 21 Permanent Secretaries, only three are Indo-Fijians, only two ministers are Indo-Fijians and other top echelons of the civil service comprise of some 80 per cent indigenous Fijians. Yet, Ratu Ului, supported by NZ media, wishes us to believe that one Indo-Fijian had Frank Bainimarama in a trance. Ratu Ului is degrading and shaming his own race by saying that Khaiyum single-handedly manipulates Fiji?s administrative, political and military machinery dominated by indigenous people. This is the biggest insult hurled on indigenous Fijians since the unceremonious flight of Ratu Ului?s? father from the Government house.

Ratu Ului?s defence of the Great Council of Chiefs (GCC) and the Methodist Church as saviours of democracy is highly laughable. These two institutions have been the biggest threat to democracy, human rights and social justice in Fiji. I still remember, how in 1987 after Rabuka?s coup, the churchgoers from the Methodist Church used to go and man the roadblocks which were put in place to persecute non-Christians. During 2001 Fiji elections, the Assembly of Churches, led by the Methodist Church, took out paid advertisements, urging indigenous Fijians not to vote the heathens and non-believer Indo-Fijians into the leadership of the nation. Is this the Methodist Church which is now identified as the defender of democracy? The Chiefs were so immensely engrossed in politics, supporting ethno-nationalism of George Speight that the non elected GCC lost all its credibility, respectability and neutral advisory status. The GCC which had been an initiative and legacy of the British colonists had been banished by Bainimarama after 2006. Its absence had hardly been felt by the rank and file indigenous people in the last five years.

Ratu Sir Kamisese?s son, now absconded to Tonga, appears to suffer from memory loss. In 2000, the GCC and the Methodist Church hierarchy fully backed George Speight in cruelly removing his esteemed father, Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara as President of Fiji. In a hugely undignified manner, Ratu Sir Kamisese had to flee in the night, fearing for his life. He was transported by navy boat to the safety of his home in the Lau Group, never to recover from this humiliation. He died a very sad, bitter and lonely man. ?What Mara?s son Ratu Ului forgets is that this was the unkindest act of betrayal by the Fijian chiefs against one of their greatest chiefs.

Today, for convenience and expediency, Ratu Tevita Mara has heaped insult to the memory of Ratu Sir Kamisese by embracing and praising those who had disgraced, humiliated and indirectly exterminated Fiji?s greatest political leader- his own father.

Nowhere in the NZ media has there been any reports that other prominent businessmen, bureaucrats, civil servants and chiefs have gone through Fiji?s justice system, so what was particular about Ratu Ulai who absconded. There is hardly any mention of investigations and alleged fraud of $3 million from Fiji Pine Commission.

New Zealand Government and John Key should take heed of this revelation. They have been warned not to bend rules to welcome Ratu Ului, who still has connections with the Military personnel in Fiji, thus further distancing and provoking Fiji. Any such action less than six months before the Rugby World Cup, in which Fiji plays, and the general elections, are not advisable. With a sizable Indo-Fijian population and Indians and Asians sympathetic to Fiji?s cause of self determination, Key needs to play his cards wisely, before officiously embroiling in a domestic squabble of Pacific relations.

NZ needs to be reminded that despite history bestowing him with this honour, Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara had not really been that last bastion of multiracialism and social justice in Fiji. Neither is his son Ratu Ului Mara.

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(Thakur Ranjit Singh is a political commentator and had been through Rabuka?s and Speight?s coups. During the latter, he was the publisher of Fiji?s Daily Post newspaper, which has since been closed because of past government interference. He was AUT/PIMA Pasifika postgraduate scholar in 2009/10).