The last two weeks have been “interesting” ones on the local political scene. The drama began with the Black Friday (October 13th) announcement of a cabinet reshuffle. As reshuffles, it was pretty spectacular, as it managed to earn the wrath of the Fiji Law Society, the RFMF, SODELPA and Shamima Ali all in one go!
AND it was released when the Prime Minister and all his Deputies were out of the country, highlighting again something that is becoming an increasing embarrassment, the amount of travel undertaken by leaders of late.
The following ten day or so stirred up much debate and chest thumping from legitimate critics and some who, well let’s just say, their political nerve is astonishing. For YB, who refuses to become a member Chicken Little “the sky is falling” brigade, it was another example of how refreshing it is to live, once again, in a democracy where a Government submits itself to public scrutiny and responds appropriately when they screw up!
AND did they screw up! This was a significant blunder on several fronts but in fairness, at least where the reshuffle was concerned, made with the best intentions, as it sought to fix two major areas of weakness but we will get back to that.
Vijay Narayan’s Straight Talk interview with the Prime Minister, if you haven’t watched it, DO IT NOW, is very revealing. The Prime Minister suggests that the statement was made without his authority! While this might be hard to believe, it does seem strange that he would allow something like this to go out while he was out of the country. Rabuka may be a bit loose on detail in many situations, but he is a stickler for protocol and so one would have thought he would have insisted on informing the Presidient and the proper gazetting of the announcement before he made the announcement.
Whatever the excuse, the result is that he and his government has been made to look foolish and heads should roll as a result. It does however point to a wider problem that the government must address, as it approaches its first anniversary. From its beginnings, the coalition has shown a real ineptitude in managing its message.
Once again the reason for this tracks back to the shambles left by the previous administration. The Bainimarama/Khaiyum administration relied almost entirely on the million-dollar Qorvis to market themselves. They were supported in turn by the local agency Vatis who picked up large amounts of government and semi government public relations work. None of this came cheap and their work was largely focused on promoting Bainimarama and Khaiyum rather than the general workings of Government.
Pre the regime this work was typically handled by the good old Ministry of Information which since colonial times pumped out daily government releases and various publications that very few actually read. Over the last 16 years, MINFO, as it was known in media circles, was left to wither away to the point that when the new government took power and immediately cancelled funding for the propaganda merchants, they were left with no one to manage their own message beyond a few former journalists who had assisted them with their campaigns. This created a dangerous vacuum particularly in this social media age where there are any number of players ready, able and very keen to twist messaging to their own advantage.
As the Coalition’s first anniversary fast approaches, this is a serious problem for the Government.
In the 21st century the competition for influence and power, especially political, is being fought on social media. You will live or die by it. It is ugly and often unfair but leaders must accept that debate can by twisted by anyone with a smart phone, anywhere and at any time.
Golden rule number one, you either fill the influence space with your message or someone will fill it for you. IF you want to see an example of a local organisation doing a great job of this, join the Fijian Drua feeds. All messaging needs to be designed for this platform. The classic strategy that the PM might be familiar with, lengthy speeches at ”ribbon cutting ceremonies”, is done. Now key points, no more then two or three, should be packaged in under three-minute moments preferably supported by strong video. Those key points are then presented on endless repeat by everyone involved, NO DRIFTING!
In her glory days Jacinda Adern was the master of this, giving the appearance of empathy and accessibility when in truth she minimised exposure to real scrutiny from actual journalists. Another example is the failure of the YES campaign in Australia. Despite a massive budget and initial majority support, they surrendered social media to the conspiracy trolls and naysayers.
YB understands that some may feel we are overplaying this after all if any toddler can get online and post, what’s the big deal. It is bigger than just posting, it is about strategizing, planning and delivering a consistent message of strength and ability. Clearly no one around the Prime Minister is capable of that currently and that’s where the change must start.
Let’s get back to where we started from, there is no doubt, that there is an urgent need for change when it comes to the administration of justice. The damage done over the last 16 years to the Courts, Prosecutions and the Police, is hard for anyone not working in the Law to appreciate. Without stable, impartial, and able administration of the rule of law, democracy cannot fully function. A fact reinforced by the PM and Vosarogo when they invited critics to challenge their initial decision in court. That’s all very well, but if you don’t have a system that can deliver a timely, independent, and legally competent decision?????
The logical answer is for the Prime Minister to appoint Filimoni Vosarogo, who the PM admitted in his interview has been his first choice from the beginning, as Minister of Justice and then seek a competent outsider from our legal community, stress competent not a member of the old boys club, to take up the role of Attorney General. It avoids any issues re the constitution and gets things moving in this key area. This is the advice the PM received from those best qualified to offer opinion, YB only hopes this latest fiasco doesn’t divert him from making the right call.
We referred earlier to this reshuffle dealing with TWO problems, the second one being his discomfort with Aseri Radrodro as Minister of Education. This of course takes us back into the murky depths of SODELPA, a topic for another column. Some readers maybe wondering why SODELPA is obsessed with retaining the Ministry of Education. We would love to think that this was about delivering better schools etc for our children. NO, it is about leadership of the FIJIAN Teachers Association, representing iTaukei teachers, retaining control over the Ministry and Radrodro is their guy (even though he is an accountant). But as we have said, this a deep dark topic for another day.
Finally, the one person who didn’t get a reprieve was the former leader of the house Lynda Tabuya.
Shamima Ali has already called the PM out re gender discrimination and she may have a point.
Lynda is an intriguing political figure, smart, articulate, charismatic and a proven vote winner. She is a natural. The thing she struggles with is in her hyper enthusiasm for the political “game” she can rile people up. Clearly the Speaker isn’t impressed! However, with the right support i.e., someone to manage her excesses, she could be the person to invigorate the Government’s “message” on social media. Here’s an idea, Sashi Kiran promoted to Minister for Women, Children and Social Protection and Lynda Tabuya to take over Information, Heritage, Culture and Arts. Just saying??????
Stay tuned for the latest news on our radio stations