|BAINIMARAMA: Playing nation for a fool with outrageous back pay claim. Payout authorised by Chaudhry (below).|
By VICTOR LAL
He began life as an ordinary midshipman on a paltry pay in 1975 but after his 2006 treasonous coup ordered Warrant Officer J. Degei, a low ranking officer in the military and the RFMF’s chief clerk, to hand over to him a cheque, authorised by his then illegal Finance Minister Mahendra Pal Chaudhry, of $184,740. In total the military leader and self-appointed Prime Minister stole a whooping $205,147.29 from the taxpayers of Fiji under the guise of leave pay and other payments he claimed was due him for thirty years.
In order to make sense of his controversial and daylight robbery back pay, we need to look at his 2004 Terms of Employment Contract, and his own CV which he provided when he demanded that the then Prime Minister Laisenia Qarase re-appoint him as Commander of the RFMF in 2004.
As I noted in a previous instalment, the above documents are contained in the Cabinet files that were made available to me from inside the Military High Command at Queen Elizabeth Barracks shortly after the coup.
According to the documents, Bainimarama was born on 27 April 1954. He attended Marist Brothers High School in Suva. On 26 July 1975 he joined the Fiji Navy as a midshipman, an officer cadet or a commissioned officer of the lowest rank. He was twenty-one years old when he was put to sea. On 28 November 1977 he passed his Midshipman Fleet Board Certificate, which qualified him to become a commissioned officer.
Let us begin with the RFMF Leave Computation Form (RFMF LCF) in our possession titled “21915 Commodore J. V. Bainimarama PM/COMD RFMF – Last Tour Commenced from Date of Enlistment: 26 July 1975”. We will then compare with the other above-mentioned documents, also in our possession. His backdated leave pay begins in 1978 but there is no mention of the date or month in that year.
According to RFMF LCF, Bainimarama claimed the following for 78/79: Annual Leave: Total, 37 days, Taken, 16 days, Balance, 21 days. But what was this mediocre midshipman up to in the years 1978-79? According to his CV, on 23 January 1978 he was attending a midshipman supplementary course in Australia. And, between January-June 1978 he was attached to HMAS Jervis Bay for Navigation Training. The following year between January and June 1979, he was attached to Le Esmeralda, the Chilean Navy Training Ship.
Esmeralda – The Ship of Death and Bainimarama’s sojourn on Board
As a digression, the above Chilean Navy ship has a brutal and bloody terrifying history. In 1973, in the aftermath of a bloody coup, supported by business leaders and the CIA, against the democratically elected government of President Salvador Allende, the Chilean Navy helped the new military junta led by General Augusto Pinochet, to be used as a prison and torture chamber.
According to testimony collected by Amnesty International and the Organization of American States, at least 110 political prisoners - 70 men and 40 women - were interrogated aboard the ship for more than two weeks without charges or trial.
The former Mayor of Valparaiso, where the ship was stationed, described being tied to one of the ship’s masts and subjected repeatedly to electric shock. “I couldn't sleep for six days because they woke me up every six minutes, night and day,” he said. “We could hear how the others were tortured right where we were.”
According to a Chilean lawyer held on board, military officials stripped and savagely beat the prisoners and shot them with high-pressure jets of water that produced “an unbearable pain in the head, ears, eyes, and lungs”. At least one of those tortured on board La Esmeralda, a British-Chilean priest named Michael Woodward, died as a result. His body was thrown into an unmarked mass grave. The ship was under the Command of Jorge Sabugo Silva and his Eduardo Barrison. In 1979, Bainimarama had a taste of the ship of death.
Meanwhile, according to the RFMF LCF, Bainimarama earned 30 days Long Service Leave in 1980/1981, 56 days in 1983/984 and 56 days in 1987/1988. Amazingly, given that he joined the Navy in July 1975, he had already in thirteen years of service earned 142 days of LSL.
What was the dictator up to during these years? Again, let us turn to his CV. In December 1980 he passed his Second Mate Certificate Pacific Island Vessels; January 1981, Junior Command & Staff Course, RNZAF, NZ, October 1981 NBCD Course, NZ, March 1892, Completed Short Navigation Course, HMAS Watson, September 1983, attached to the United States Coast Guard Training Centre, New York, March 1984, EEZ Surveillance Familiarization, NZ.
As noted elsewhere, according to the RFMF LCF, Bainimarama did not take a single day’s leave in 10 years between 1983 and 1999, and again in the 8 years between 2000 and 2008. What was Bainimarama doing up to 1999 before he took up the Commander’s post, which he did not deserve, according to highly classified Military and Cabinet documents? Let us, again, allow his CV to guide us.
Bainimarama: Promotions and Appointments, 1976 – 1999
On 9 August 1976, he was promoted Able Seaman, 12 December 1976, Appointed Midshipman, 1 November 1978, promoted Sub-Lieutenant, June-December 1978, Appointed Navigation Officer HMFS KIRO, June 1979 (NB: in 2008 he claimed annual leave at $263.77 per day for 21 days on so-called $96,276 per annum salary and throughout his career until 2008: what was his salary in 1979?), Appointed Executive Officer HMFS KIRO, August 1981, Promoted Temporary Lieutenant, 1 November 1984, Promoted Lieutenant, February 1985, Appointed CO HMFS KIKAU, 17 February 1986, Promoted Temporary Lieutenant Commander, September 1986-September 1987, Served with 2FIR [MFO], Sinai, as Company Second in Command [2IC], October 1987, took delivery of FNS LEVUKA, LAUTOKA from US Navy, 19 April 1988, Appointed Commanding Officer [CO] Fiji Naval Division, 4 October 1988 Promoted Temporary Commander, 1 November 1991 Promoted Substantive Lieutenant-Commander, January 1992, Resumed Command of Fiji Naval Division, 3 October 1994, promoted Acting Captain [Navy, N], 1 September 1995, promoted Temporary Captain[N], 10 November 1997, Appointed Acting Chief of Staff, 18 April 1998, Appointed Chief of Staff, RFMF, 1 March 1999, Appointed Commander, RFMF and promoted Commodore, on the recommendation of a co-kana loto Epeli Ganilau, his predecessor and raider of the RFMF Regimental Funds and the collapsed National Bank of Fiji.
Meanwhile, in 21 December 1990-21 December 1991, Bainimarama was attached to the Malaysian Armed Forces Staff College, October-November 1992, Maritime Surveillance Course, Warfare College, Newcastle, Australia, May-June 1993, Disaster Management Course 15, Asian Institute of Technology, Bangkok, Thailand, June-August 1994, Exclusive Economic Course, Dalhousie University, Halifax, Canada, and January-June 1995, with the Australian Joint Services Staff College.
The Swindler’s Other Payments
The RFMF LCF reveal that Bainimarama collected another $29,139.11 in expense and ration allowance. His service allowance came to $3,832.02, duty allowance was $23,013.92, gratuity for one year was $24,069 and for another 10 months was $20,057.50. The RFMF LCF shows a FNPF deduction of $20,406.71 which went directly into his FNPF account. What the RFMF LCF did not disclose was that the taxpayer had to fork out a similar amount ($20,406.71) to FNPF as the Employer’s contribution to Bainimarama’s account.
Tax Fiddler Chaudhry endorsed his Master Swindler’s Payout
Probably as a favour for protecting him from his own tax fiddling and secret $2million in Australian and New Zealand bank accounts, the then illegal Finance Minister (and in previous incarnation a Government Auditor) Chaudhry claimed that there was nothing sinister about the leave pay. In July 2008, he said he was not aware of any irregularities regarding the payment of $184,740 paid to Bainimarama for leave owed from 1978.
Chaudhry said while some people criticised the payout they could not produce evidence there was some impropriety in the 698 days. “All they are saying is that Commodore Bainimarama is not owed the leave,” he said. Chaudhry said previous governments should be asked why they allowed the leave to accumulate. He omitted to include his own short-lived FLP-NFP Coalition government from 1999-2000. “We are trying to clear all liabilities and that is why we paid it out,” he said. Chaudhry saw nothing sinister about the rate of $263.77 per day based on Bainimarama’s basic salary the payment was made on. “Every day you carry this forward it will be claimed on higher costs,” he said.
2004 Terms and Conditions of Salary and Other Allowances
We wonder if Chaudhry had enquired or had even seen the Terms and Conditions for the post of Commander that was signed between Bainimarama and the Government on 5 February 2004, before signing off the cheque to Bainimarama. As pointed out elsewhere, it is clear that simple arithmetic throws up glaring arithmetical errors in the RFMF LCF, let alone the justification of the entitlements. For instance in 1985/86 the schedule shows that Bainimarama used up all his leave but Degei allocated 8 days of outstanding leave, and Chaudhry turned a blind eye to it.
As noted above, Chaudhry said while some people criticised the payout they could not produce evidence there was some impropriety in the 698 days. Well, did he recall the Terms and Contract of Bainimarama’s appointment? The RFMF LCF of February 2008 states the following calculations: Basic salary, $96,276.000, Daily $263.77, Days 698, Gross $184,441.46; Service Allowance, $2003.05, Daily 549, Days 698, Gross $3,832.02; Duty Allowance, $12,034.50, Daily $32.97, Days 698, Gross $23,013.92; Gratuity (1yr) Annual $24,069.00, 10mths $20,057.50, Gross $44,126.50; Expenses Allowance, $12,5000, Daily $34.25, Days 698, $23,904.11, Ration Allowance, $2,737.50, Daily $7.50, Days 698, $5,235.00. Gross taxable $255,083.90, Tax (31%) $79,076.01, FNFP, $20,406.71 Net $155,601.18, Expenses Allowance 23,904.11 (Non-Taxable), Ration Allowance, $5,235.00 – Net Total: $184,740.29.
Like his own fraudulent tax returns to FIRCA, Chaudhry and other defenders of Bainimarama’s back pay of $263.77 for 678 days can not defend their position. Bainimarama’s basic annual salary is stated as $96,276.00 on 1 February 2008 in the RFMF LCF. And yet, on 5 February 2004, from his Terms and Contract, Bainimarama was hired on a basic fixed salary of $89,352 per annum. In four years, in 2008, his salary has jumped by $7,000. Even setting aside the sum, how on earth was Bainimarama paid a consistent amount of $263.77 per day for 678 days when his salary in 2004 was not $96,276? His CV also reveals his various positions in the navy – are we to believe that the midshipman’s salary in 1978 was $96,276? He was, after all, in that year, a navigation officer on the HMS KIRO.
Again, from the RFMF LCF of February 2008, Bainimarama is cited as being owed annual leave of 29 days each for March 2004, April 2005, and May 2006, before the treasonous December coup. How, on earth, can those defending Bainimarama, including Chaudhry, claim that in March 2004, a month after he was appointed Commander, he was owed $263.77 per day for 29 days on a salary of $92,276 when Bainimarama had, on 5 February 2004, agreed to take command of the RFMF on a basic salary of $89,352.00.
Maybe, it is time those over-paid Sri Lankan lawyers with FICAC should be called in to look into the scandalous back pay, and investiagtive Bainimarama, Chaudhry, Aiyaz Sayed Khaiyum and all others who colluded in robbing the taxpayers of over $185,000. According to foot soldiers at Queen Elizabeth Barracks, Officers and Other ranks have been corruptly known to sell back leave owing at HQRFMF.
They claim that prior to the Dec 2006 coup, Bainimarama gained a lot of officer support by officers cashing in on outstanding leave. The practise has been highlighted by previous audits of RFMF and all ranks have been always told to always take annual leave owing when in the country. It is plain corruption what Bainimarama did - order a low rank in the RFMF pay office to make out his annual leave entitlement, the foot soldiers claim. Did Bainimarama sell his own annual leave and went on to pocket $185,000?
Other Allowances in Bainimarama’s 2004 Contract
For the record, here is what other allowances Bainimarama had agreed to in February 2004. Ration Allowance of $2,737.50 per annum; Housing, a rent-free Government housing from the RFMF Institutional Quarters; Reimbursable Allowance: telecommunication, a telecommunication allowance of $1,200 per annum, Official Expense (An Official Expense Allowance of $1000 per annum), Professional Subscription (Professional Subscription Allowance of $1,000 per annum; Vehicle, a fully maintained vehicle for official purposes; Superannuation (A Superannuation contribution in accordance with the FNFP Act at the rate of 8% by the Employee and 10% by the Employer); Insurance, (1) A 50% Government contribution towards a life or medical insurance cover of the Commander’s choice subject to the insurer’s terms and conditions, (2) In lieu of overseas travel insurance cover the death of the RFMF Medical Scheme will apply to the Commander; Overseas Travel, A Business Class Overseas Travel package with a Per Diem of 10% loading on the United Nations prescribed and applicable rates. Local Travel: Hotel Accommodation, Hotel Meal Allowance and Subsistence Allowance.
As pointed out in an earlier story on Coupfourpointfive, Bainimarama had agreed to retire at the age of 55 when he signed the 2004 Terms of Contract with the Government of Laisenia Qarase. He was, however, reminded in no uncertain terms: “You are aware that in accordance with the Constitution and the RFMF Act, the Commander RFMF is responsible to the Minister in exercising executive command of the RFMF and in the proper management of public funds approved for the RFMF by Parliament.”
The $44,126.50 Gratuity Payment on back of 2006 Coup
On 11 March 2004 Bainimarama acknowledged the letter of his appointment but he touched on the issue of a payment of gratuity and the required age to retire at fifty-five. “A common provision that has been provided to the Chief Executive Officers of Government Departments and Constitutional Office holders is a payment of gratuity, recognising the services of the office holder,” he wrote. “The position of Commander is much different in that, whilst other Constitutional Office holders or Chief Executive Officers are permitted to work until they reach the age of sixty, the Commander is required to retire at the age of five-five. We are of the opinion that it is only appropriate that the Commander be paid a gratuity at the end of his service the sum of two times his annual gross salary,” he stated in his letter.
In other words, he agreed to the terms and conditions regarding the retirement age as well placing himself under the control of the Minister and to properly manage public funds approved for the RFMF by Parliament. But four years later, in 2008, he not only refused to retire under the State Services Decree (exempting himself), but collected nearly $45,000 in Gratuity payments, while providing a park to the 55 plus whom he has thrown to the dogs.
Leave Pay Unlawful
In the end, it took one of the supporters of the Peoples Charter, Akuila Yabaki of the CCF, to call upon Bainimarama and the regime to reverse the “unlawful, flawed decision to award leave pay for 698 days dating back to 1978”. Yabakii said the normal practice was that all outstanding leave had to be used before the end of any contract period. “As far as CCF is aware, Bainimarama's previous contract as army commander ended in January 2004. Therefore, all leave prior to January 2004 that had not been utilised by Bainimarama would have become null and void," he said.
Yabaki said Commodore Bainimarama's new contract as army commander began in February 2004. “As such, he can only claim for leave not utilised after the February 2004 date. Even for the post-February 2004 period, Bainimarama should not claim for leave pay outstanding beyond one year, unless he can provide good reason why he did not utilise his leave,” Yabaki asked. He said if Bainimarama did not want to use his leave since 1978, then he should accept that was his choice. “To claim for that leave now is bad governance and shows poor and non-transparent leadership," Yabaki said.
But Yabaki’s comments fell on the deaf ears of Bainimarama, the self-appointed Prime Minister and Minister for Finance, National Planning, Public Service, Peoples Charter for Change and Progress, Information, Sugar, iTaukei Affairs, and Multi-Ethnic Affairs and Provincial Development.
RFMF should hang its head in shame on Independence Day
As Fiji celebrates its 40th anniversary of the independence on 10 October, the master “Indian Rope” trickster has come out with a message to the nation: “Our post-Independence history has been dissimilar to some other countries. We have had events which we could have done without. We have had politics which we could have done without. These situations led to regression as opposed to progression. It led to stagnation as opposed to modernization. Today, however, is not a day of condemnation or recrimination. Today is a day of celebration. I wish you all a happy Fiji Independence Day.”
The biggest thief in Fiji’s history will be flying the national flag on the country’s 40th independence anniversary, with other crooks and kana lotos singing his praise. We say, instead of saluting their thieving army chief, the soldiers should be hanging their heads in shame. For they are led by a crook and swindler who, after joining as a midshipman four years after Fiji’s independence in 1970 now, forty years later, has swindled the nation of $205,000 in bogus back pay.
In his 1971 New Year message, the late Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara, as Prime Minister of independent Fiji, described 1970 as the “year of hope fulfilled”. The peaceful transition from colony to independence for him was “a pearl of great price which can perhaps be shared with the world at large.”
As we celebrate Fiji Independence Day, we must ask ourselves what price needs to be paid, in sweat, toil and even blood(for there is no easy walk to freedom), to return the country to democracy, to free ourselves from the economic fraudster and his supporters, who have made corruption and oppression their plaything – and giving themselves obscene salaries forty years after independence under various illegal decrees.
Fiji, The Way The World Should Not Be! Independence means FREEDOM.