OPINION: Fiji’s leadership, the coalition Government

The coalition Government has been in place for over a month and we have witnessed some encouraging feats as well as lessons that we must heed.

Emerging from sixteen years of a restrictive and authoritarian government, the coalition Government is the long-awaited salve to a self-censoring and hurting nation.

There have been some very significant quick wins including a palpable lifting of fear across the country, removal of arbitrary persecutions, reversal of questionable workplace terminations, reigning in of strong-arm tactics, etc.

However, here are a number of early observations to think about as we work together to shape the Fiji that we want for our children and their future.

We have waited too long for this change to happen and now that it is here, we have a collective responsibility to make an enduring and genuine change for a prosperous nation.

Appointments, localisation and locally-led action

It is pleasing to note that the coalition Government has signalled its mandate for localisation of key senior positions, including those appointed as permanent secretaries, heads of statutory bodies and board members.

The significant number of qualified and experienced Fijians, whether in Fiji or in the Fijian diaspora, and Fiji’s steady churning out of qualified graduates provides a ready source of tested and work-ready executive skills.

The Government’s localisation mandate offers an opportunity for Fijians to step forward and offer their services to rebuild Fiji and fortify our position in the Pacific.

Any skilled leader must be remunerated at appropriate market benchmarks to maintain Fiji as a fair and competitive employer and a lucrative place of employment.

Right fit for purpose appointments must be key in attracting and retaining local executives.

Performance benchmarks must be clearly set and achieved with clear objectives to realise growth and profit.

There must be agreement early on for succession planning and mentoring of capable and high-potential staff.

However, should there be a lack of specific technical skills among Fijians, then the public service should be open to international recruitment, but only after exhausting local options.

In terms of board appointments, each board has its core mandate and this must be matched to appointees’ skills.

There should be alignment the organisation’s business needs and the competencies and capabilities of its board members to benefit and grow the organisation.

Otherwise, board members who do not have the requisite skills and experience become a liability to the organisation’s strategic growth and become an impediment to the board.

Representative inclusivity on boards cannot be ignored as it is an expectation in today’s modern public and corporate boards.

However, due diligence checks must be made compulsory prior to any appointment to ensure that the Government appoints suitably qualified and skilled persons who have demonstrated integrity and are fit to serve in office.

Genuine stakeholder engagement

The coalition Government must ensure that established and prescribed processes are complied with for genuine stakeholder engagement.

A good start is the media conference held by the PM, Sitiveni Rabuka, following each Cabinet meeting to keep the public informed of key Government decisions.

Stakeholder consultation and collaboration is a pillar of accountability and should be held in a manner that is appropriate and genuine.

It cultivates transparency on the part of the Government and ensures that the public is well informed of its plans, dealings, appointments, procedural matters, etc.

It also ensures that people are included as part of the Government’s decision making process and that public voices are heard and considered in any major decision, creating a strong sense of trust in the process and the parties.

Public perceptions

While the coalition Government has made numerous statements that have been well received by the public as seen in the Letters to the Editor and anecdotal social media postings, any misplaced statements receive their equal share of attention.

It is important for ministers and senior government officials to carefully consider their messages and how they communicate.

They must have the emotional intelligence and a firm understanding of people’s perceptions and thought behaviour to know the appropriate tone, timing, audience and sensitivity of their statements.

When there is wrong messaging and insensitive timing, this creates an environment for backlash and negative perceptions which can overshadow progress, impact local and international perceptions and adversely influence investor confidence.

What might be appropriate is for regular media training as well as psychology awareness be made part of ongoing professional development for senior government officials.

It is a welcome relief that the coalition Government now provides regular updates directly through the ministers or through the news and various media platforms.

This has alleviated the vacuum that existed under the FFP government who had a poor record of keeping the public regularly informed.

Critics of the FFP government were prone to being questioned or persecuted for making statements or raising questions against the former government and self-censorship was the order of the day.

Repairing Pacific regionalism

Fiji’s current geopolitical position in the Pacific has been weakened by the behaviour and affront displayed by the former PM and A-G.

Their disrespect for Pacific countries and their leaders has eroded Fiji’s historically strong leadership position through their constant self-grandiose and illusions of power over the region.

Their disregard and bullying of Pacific leaders and selective engagement display a severe lack of understanding Pacific relationships, the traditional ties that exist, the Pacific way of comradeship and the region’s unifying geographical challenges.

Lording the interests of Fiji while minimising the issues affecting Pacific countries was a trait of the Bainimarama government.

Mr Rabuka’s successful visit to Kiribati within the first month in government demonstrates the seriousness of repairing regionalism.

His actions show leadership, respect, humility and quiet strength (matanigasau and veisorosorovi – seeking forgiveness and mending
broken relations) in recognising Pacific leaders as equals and belies Fiji’s role as a big brother to smaller island nations.

  • There is still much work to be done to repair these broken relationships. Examples include the following: The decision by the FFP government for Fiji Airways not to service the Northern Pacific air route broke the longstanding arrangement, even if not financially lucrative, for Air Nauru to service this route. This highlights the disregard by the FFP government of Fiji’s relationship with Northern Pacific small islands states.
  • The well-known PIFS fallout of the five Micronesian countries over their vehement complaints that the “gentleman’s agreement” had not been honoured on the rotation of the organisation’s leadership role.
  • The withholding of grants by the FFP government to USP has also shaken relations in the Pacific. The promise by the Coalition Government to pay the grant will undoubtedly assist the university and its students continue their education and provide the Pacific with much needed qualified workforce.

The role for regional and international organisations and partners

Fiji must determine its own path in the region and internationally.

While traditional partner countries have maintained ongoing relations with Fiji, Fiji must not be coerced to choosing between the US and China.

Development partners must support Fiji’s ambitions and not attempt to coerce, drive and direct it.

Mr Rabuka has already stated that Fiji should be on par with Australia and will partner with whom it finds appropriate and beneficial.

Regional organisations such as PIFS have a role in providing political intelligence to its member countries to enable them to make the best
informed decisions for their countries.

USP has a role in providing research capacity, policy support and information to its member countries to help each country chart the course it wants to pursue.

PIDF has a unique perspective free from Australia and New Zealand’s influence.

SPC, FFA and SPREP’s technical assistance must be harnessed.

It is equally important to highlight the leadership of regional organisations and the shadow that they cast on the organisation’s behaviour.

Regional organisations must be led by those who have a deep commitment to changing the status quo and achieving gains for the region.

They must encourage greater ownership of Pacific ambitions, resources and capacity building.

There must be greater impetus and presence by regional organisations to assist all Pacific countries, especially as we come out of the global reset presented by the COVID pandemic.

The Pacific cannot continue to be a holiday destination for highly-paid expat workers who are passive about knowledge transfer, succession planning and localisalonialism through regional organisations and development partnerships whose mandate seems to be to garner more mileage for themselves.

We must put a stop to the perpetuation of the colonised psyche keeping Pacific countries in the passenger’s seat instead of the driver’s seat.

In addition, Pacific countries must pay closer attention to investing in local leaders to lead these regional organisations.

A test of a well-respected leader is their ability to retain high-performing staff whilst growing the organisation and finding new innovations.

We must remind ourselves that productive workers leave because of bad leadership, not because of bad organisations.

This basic test also offers an early indicator of the type of leadership and culture in an organisation.

Concluding remarks

There is no room for any discord or distrust between the Government and the public as well as within the Government itself, its institutions and public officials.

The sixteen years under the FFP’s climate of mistrust, fear, paybacks and cronyism is over.

The coalition Government must arrest and remove any individual ego from among its midst and proceed in unison to achieve the
goal to “Let Love Shine” and deliver the people’s mandate.

The Prime Minister has repeatedly demonstrated the leadership and personal traits which have garnered him a significant following across the country, with the Fijian diaspora, in the Pacific and internationally.

Members of the coalition Government do not need to look far for which leader to emulate.


• These are the views of MARITINO NEMANI and not necessarily of the newspaper. He is a former Fiji and Suva football captain, coach and president, a corporate executive, a former lecturer, former chief adviser to the government of Nauru, former permanent secretary and executive director for People & Strategy at USP. He also stood for the 2022 General Election under the People’s Alliance banner.

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