Fiji: Acting PM's Resignation and Water Boss 'Deportation'
Acting PM's Resignation and Fiji Water Boss 'Deportation' Has Media Buzzing
By Alex Perrottet of Pacific Media Watch
AUCKLAND (Pacific Scoop/Pacific Media Watch): A dispute over Fiji Water between politicians has led to a resignation, a deportation and plenty of speculation among the Pacific country’s media outlets.
On Wednesday, Fiji Live broke the story that the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Defence and Immigration, Ratu Epeli Ganilau, had resigned from his ministerial post.
The article quoted Permanent Secretary for Information Sharon Smith-Jones who confirmed that Minister for Primary Industry Joketani Cokanasiga is now the Acting Minister for Defence, Immigration and National Security.
Smith-Jones’ comments in the Fiji Times article the next day seemed to suggest that that it was a case of Ratu Epeli jumping before being pushed.
“The Prime Minister may wish to elaborate on this when he returns,” said Sharon-Jones.
The report said that Ratu Epeli had cited personal reasons and was heading back to Taveuni to be with his family.
However, later on Thursday, Vijay Narayan and Roneel Lal at Fiji Village reported that Ratu Epeli had confirmed his resignation was due to issues surrounding a top executive of Fiji Water.
That executive is Fiji Water’s external affairs director David Roth.
Less than a month ago, Roth received a “Special Citation Award” from the US Ambassador to Fiji, concerning Fiji Water’s completion of three boreholes and the installation of clean water tanks funded by the Fiji Water Foundation.
Then even later on Thursday, Radio Fiji reported that Roth had left the country.
“Roth left Fiji on a 10.45 flight from Nadi to Los Angeles last night,” said the report. It also said Roth’s wife and two children remained in the country, for now.
Radio New Zealand International also obtained a quote late last night from Smith-Jones who was unclear of the circumstances of Roth’s departure.
“David Roth, I believe, left last night for Los Angeles…My office has not been informed or notified in any way that he has been deported,” Smith-Jones said.
“I do know however that he has left the country.”
Prime Minister Commodore Bainimarama is still out of the country on a trade mission trip to China, leaving the newly appointed Cokanasiga the Acting PM.
Smith-Jones was quoted as saying that there is a lot of speculation and rumour-mongering over the incident.
However, that is no surprise given the tight restrictions in media reporting in Fiji. The same regime that complains about rumour mongering has effectively muzzled the media’s reporting on government affairs, and appears to be complaining about the consequences.
Today, there has been further speculation and possible revelations by Rowan Callick in The Australian.
Callick reports that Ratu Epeli’s resignation was because he and Bainimarama “had some differences over the David Roth issue.”
Callick also reported that Bainimarama had asked Ratu Epeli to sign documents that would remove Roth from Fiji, and that Roth was deported by the government.
“His wife and children, aged five and three, were planning to follow soon,” wrote Callick.
“The five-year-old was blithely singing Fiji’s national anthem during a farewell tea given by Fijian friends.”
Callick also reported that the alleged matter of the dispute was the government’s proposals to alter Fiji Water’s sourcing operations.
“Sources close to Fiji Water, however, said that it was believed the government wished to localise Mr Roth’s position and to take steps towards changing the access to the 40m-deep artesian aquifer in the Yaqara valley in the north of Viti Levu, the main island, which is the source of the water.”
Until the Prime Minister returns next week, and undoubtedly long after, one can imagine there will be continued rumours in Fiji over the events.
Perrottet is contributing editor of the Pacific Media
Centre’s Pacific Media Watch