Fiji PM Rabuka downplays ‘loyalist’ nepotism allegations

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Fiji Prime Minister Sitiveni Rabuka
Fiji Prime Minister Sitiveni Rabuka . . . "It is a good thing that people speak out [about good governance concerns]." Image: RNZ Pacific/Phil Smith/VNP

By Kelvin Anthony, RNZ Pacific lead digital and social media journalist

Fiji’s Prime Minister Sitiveni Rabuka has played down criticism he is leading an administration that practices nepotism and favouritism.

The Rabuka-led three-party coalition government has been accused of rewarding loyalists with top positions in state-backed institutions and organisations.

There are some Fijians who claim Rabuka’s coalition is walking the same path as the previous FijiFirst government, which was also accused of rewarding party supporters with government jobs and contracts when it was in power from 2014 to 2022.

But Rabuka, while not categorically denying the accusations, said the opinions of detractors did not worry him.

“[My reaction is] that I should not worry about that,” Rabuka told RNZ Pacific at Bau Island following the conclusion of the first meeting of the Great Council of Chiefs.

He said criticism received by his government was healthy and a part of democracy.

“It is a good thing that people speak out [about good governance concerns].”

‘Can they do better?’
“What I can say, or all I can say is ‘can they do better?'” he added, pointing out if his critics were good enough to offer a better alternative.

But the country’s former attorney-general and economy minister Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum has alleged Rabuka’s government has been offering people unfair advantage on the basis of “political allegiance”.

Speaking to local media outside a Suva courthouse on Tuesday, Sayed-Khaiyum said former prime minister Voreqe Bainimarama’s FijiFirst-made appointments to government boards and institutions were due to “their capability or the capacity to assist”.

“We have people being appointed on boards not because of what they know, what they can contribute but who they are, who they know, whose political allegiance they have,” he claimed.

“When we [FijiFirst] appointed people to boards it was all about those institutions, those bodies started making revenue, start collecting revenue, start paying dividends to the government.”

He gave the example of Airports Fiji Limited, a government commercial company, paying more than F$40 million in dividends to government which he said was “unprecedented” when it happened before the covid pandemic.

Sayed-Khaiyum claimed Rabuka’s government was rewarding individuals based on the political connections they had rather than on merit.

“So, people are now being appointed to those positions not because of their capability or the capacity to assist but over who they are, which political parties they belong to, what province they come from, what ethnicity they are, who they know, [or] whether they were failed [political] candidates or not.”

This article is republished under a community partnership agreement with RNZ.

Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum speaking to journalists outside a Suva court on 13 June 2023.
Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum speaking to journalists outside a Suva court on Tuesday. Image: FijiFirst FB
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