COMMENTARY: By Graham Davis
Stung by successive Grubsheet articles revealing how the military wants changes to the Fiji government and also revealing the name of his designated successor, Prime Minister Voreqe Bainimarama has made an astonishing personal attack on me on the front page of the government-controlled Fiji Sun newspaper today and in the government-controlled Fiji Broadcasting Corporation news.
While conspicuously failing to deny the substance of anything I have reported, the PM accuses me of “trading in gossip” and makes a number of snide personal references that are gratuitous and totally beside the point.
Once again, the PM has evidently been used by his Attorney-General, Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum, to engage in an ill-considered public relations blunder that elevates me personally and the substance of what I have written and drives even more Fijian readers to my website.
Whether it was on the advice of my former colleagues at Qorvis Communications is an open question.
One of them has already commented that: ”Someone should tell him [the PM] to keep a cool head. He’s doing his own negative PR by being so aggressively defensive”.
If Fiji is going to pay Qorvis $800,000 this year in highly straightened circumstances on top of the many millions it has expended over the years, the Prime Minister and his de facto number two could at least heed their advice.
Here’s the text of what the Prime Minister said to the Fiji Sun:
“It’s funny, people outside of Fiji often have the most to say and the least to offer the country. Graham is no different. I know him, and he did some work with Qorvis, but that ended sometime back.
“I think I remember the stress was sometimes too much for him. I don’t know why he’s dealing in gossip these days, but I also remember even in the best of times he always seemed to find drama. And if he couldn’t find it, he’d make it up.
“I have no idea what he wants now. Maybe attention, maybe a job. I really don’t know. I don’t care and we don’t want to give him either. But he needs to understand that an attack on Fijian democracy, our Constitution, any of our independent institutions, or any of my ministers is an attack on me.
“If you’ve read our Constitution, you know Fiji is a democracy. We are not a dynasty and I do not handpick my successor. The only ones who choose the Prime Minister of Fiji are Fijian voters.
“I know, because they have picked my government twice. As the leader of FijiFirst, I am appointed under our party’s constitution, like all our office bearers. And I will once again work hard to earn the votes of the Fijian people when I lead FijiFirst into the next election.
“Until then, we have to recover our economy and get industries running again, get jobs back and get help to those who need it most. I am working on these issues every day. We don’t have time to waste on gossip blogs. But for old time’s sake, I wish Graham all the best in his retirement in Australia.”
The Davis response
And here is the text of the statement that I have released to the Fiji media in response and that it is obliged to publish under Fiji’s media laws guaranteeing the right of reply to criticism of this nature.
“I thank the Prime Minister for drawing public attention to my blogsite – grubsheet.com.au – in that many more Fijians will know that far from me criticising him or eroding his position, I am in fact trying to strengthen it by calling for the government to re-invent itself so that it can win the next election.
“I take it as confirmation that what I have said is fact that in his statement, the Prime Minister does not deny anything at all that I have reported over the past month or for that matter, dispute any opinion that I have expressed.
“In relation to his comments about the Constitution, the Prime Minister knows that a political party such as FijiFirst decides its candidate as leader before the people get to vote on that selection. So his preference as party leader is critical and as I reported, he has told the Military Council that his designated successor is Inia Seruiratu.
“While I thank him for his best wishes, I am far from being retired – being of the same age as the Prime Minister – and am working for his re-election to prevent him from going into enforced retirement himself. He remains a person for whom I have a great deal of respect and affection.”
The Davis column drew some lively online debate today, including from Rajend Naidu who writes:
“People from outside Fiji comment on Fiji’s situation on behalf of people inside Fiji who have been silenced by a repressive state and are fearful of reprisal should they have the audacity to speak out against the corruption, nepotism, favouritism, debasement of institutions of state through politisation and patronage, and a sword of Damocles hanging over the free press in the country.”
- Grubsheet Feejee is the blogsite of Graham Davis, an award-winning journalist turned communications consultant who was the Fiji government’s principal communications adviser for six years from 2012 to 2018 and continued to work on Fiji’s global climate and oceans campaign up until the end of the decade.