(First published in The Dominion Post, March 22.)
APOLOGISTS for the illegitimate Fijian government led by Frank Bainimarama have melted away as the regime’s true thuggishness has been exposed.In the years following Bainimarama’s seizure of power, many gave him the benefit of the doubt, deluding themselves that he was genuinely concerned about breaking the dominance of the Fijian elite and protecting Fiji Indians from discrimination.
But in the murk of Fijian politics, it seems no agenda is pure. Whatever his motives at the start, Bainimarama has morphed into a stereotypical melagomaniac.In the unlikely event that anyone still believed in him after he intimidated the media, suppressed dissidents, repeatedly postponed elections and tore up a draft constitution (partly paid for by the New Zealand), then the ugly truth must have finally dawned when Bainimarama defended the police thugs shown on video beating up two prisoners.
There can no longer be any doubt that Bainimarama is the Pacific’s Papa Doc. Which raises the question, what can we do?We can certainly no longer look the other way and pretend it isn’t happening. Neither can we expect that normal diplomatic tut-tutting will cut any ice. Bainimarama is impervious to such gestures and grows more arrogant by the month.
On an individual level, New Zealanders can protest by not going to Fiji for their holidays. The smiling faces on tourist posters can’t disguise the reality that Fiji is an oppressive police state, run by a tyrant who is contemptuous of human rights and the rule of law.But acts of individual conscience are not enough. New Zealand and Australia should be thinking hard about the putting the squeeze on Bainimarama by applying economic sanctions.
The argument against such sanctions is that they penalise the innocent. Jobs will be lost and people may go hungry. But that argument didn’t stop the world from blockading South Africa in the apartheid era, and ultimately it worked. Bainimarama has shown that he is immune to anything less.* * *
THE COUNCIL of Trade Unions has backed calls for a “living wage” of $18.40 an hour. At the same time, it’s concerned about the high rate of unemployment. But aren’t these two positions contradictory?In a struggling economy that’s bound to shrink even further as a result of the drought, bullying employers into paying higher wages hardly seems likely to encourage them to take on more staff. It can only have the opposite effect.
Now here’s an alternative idea. Rather than being made to pay their rank-and-file employees more, why don’t companies pay their executives less? It would free up money for investment in productive capacity, possibly creating more jobs, while also making a powerful symbolic statement.Corporate executives alone seem insulated against adverse economic trends, their pay packages increasing year after year regardless of performance. Just look at Solid Energy, where CEO Don Elder was paid $1.1 million for a year’s work even as the state-owned company’s finances were in freefall.
That sum included a “performance” payment of more than $300,000. By what sprinkling of corporate fairy dust was that justified? And how come, in the year ended last June, 427 Solid Energy employees were paid salaries of more than $100,000?On the face of it, these sums bear no relationship to the company’s fortunes. But such is the way these days in the corporate sector, where stratospheric salaries and mysterious formulas for the payment of so-called “at-risk” bonuses – “at-risk” apparently being management-speak for “guaranteed” – are evidence of an out-of-control entitlement syndrome.
What a dramatic signal it would send if CEOs began taking voluntary pay cuts. If business wants to enhance its image while at the same time deflecting calls for higher wages for employees, it has the means to do it.* * *
THE SPORTS NEWS is no longer mere soap opera. It has become a morality play.
Former All Black Zac Guildford was paraded before us on the 6 o’clock news, a rugby union minder at his side, and made to admit his alcoholism. Did anyone else find this distasteful?Guildford is an imperfect human being like the rest of us. But because he’s a sporting hero, he’s considered public property.
The journalists at the press conference and the nation at home sit in smug judgment. We now own people like Guildford and demand that they appear before us to confess their sins and beg forgiveness.Never mind that he thrills crowds with his talents on the field. We want more. The price he pays for being a great rugby player is public humiliation. Professional sport contracts don’t include words like privacy and dignity.
Now we’ll all watch and wait for Guildford to transgress again, so we can tsk-tsk and see the ritual abasement repeated. What a degrading spectacle – for us as well as him.