Citizenship and belonging
18 March, 2023, 3:55 pm
Last week’s article focused on how human conduct, especially in the public domain, plays such a critical role when viewed from the perspective of acceptance and belonging in a multi-cultural context.
This is because actions are interpreted through different cultural lenses and if there is prior negativity — like resentment and/or suspicion — the judgements can be harsh.
It is these judgements that then determine reactions from the other and one would be naïve to expect charitable and/or “soft” reactions forever.
At some stage, like any other human sentiment, cross-cultural charity has to run dry. Even once-fragrant and rosy love evaporates when things fall apart.
I focused on public tenders and contracting out of Government services in my last article. We centralized the case of sanitary services at CWM Hospital and highlighted that there appeared to be huge problems with the $2.5m annual contract that guided it. That contract was issued in 2021 and the dismal verdict on delivery (“sub-optimal” according to Permanent Secretary for Health James Fong) only saw the light of day in February 2023 – more than a year later.
This happened because the public began to clamour for answers within a newly-freed political environment. A closer look at this cleaning contract raises a number of highly intriguing issues.
Firstly, this $2.5 million dollar per year contract was awarded by the Government Tender Board for a period of three years on 24th November 2021. It would have been completed in November 2024 at a cost of roughly $7.5 million.
The Government Tender Board provides final approval and advice for all Government purchases above $50,000. In other words, no projects costing more than $50,000 can be approved (or even entertained) without the direct involvement and scrutiny of the Government Tender Board.
It is, therefore, a key cog in the overall management/governance system overseeing government expenditures. The immediate question that should arise is, if the Government Tender Board plays such a key role in the management of government expenditures, who sits on the Board?
A quick search of the relevant Government site on 15th March 2023 showed the following persons as sitting members of the Board:
- Mr Ariff Ali – Governor, Reserve Bank of Fiji (Chairperson)
- Mr. Vilash Chand – CEO, Unit Trust of Fiji
- Ms Joann Young – Assistant FAO representative to Fiji and
- Mr Ravi Singh – Partner, Parshotam Lawyers.
Further research revealed Dr Anirudha Bansod – Post Fiji Chief Executive.
This leaves one post as being vacant. According to Regulation 10 of the Procurement Regulations 2010 the Board consists of a chair and five other members appointed by the Minister for Finance.
Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum was the Finance Minister at the time.
That hospital contract
Point two in this analysis focuses on the $2.5 million per year cleaning contract itself.
By any standards this would appear as a highly lucrative contract for cleaning services. How was this figure arrived at? Was there a previous contract for the same services?
Why was contracting-out being considered as a preferred option?
What did the Government Tender Board think of it? After all, that is part of their job.
Who applied for this contract?
And most importantly, who was lucky enough to secure the contract?
In fact, in what appeared to be an acknowledgement of shortcomings, PS Fong opined that the process of outsourcing and managing contracts need to be strengthened (fijivillage 3/3/23).
This was when he described the services provided as “sub-optimal”. This brings us to point three in this analysis. Why was it that no questions were raised among government circles about ‘sub-optimal’ service?
PS Fong only acknowledged it after a delegation led by the press and concerned individuals made a tour of the hospital and presented the public with video recordings and photos that clearly brought to light the dilapidated conditions,
decrepit state of hygiene and sanitation facilities and sub-quality services at Fiji’s main public hospital.
This was irrefutable evidence that had been in the hands of hospital personnel, health sector staff, visitors and patients.
In fact, it was in response to this that CWM Hospital’s Board of Visitors, International Women’s Association and other interested partners organised a clean-up campaign using volunteers. This brings us to the main part of this article – the emergence of a new model of management.
The new model
Observers will have noticed that an ominous silence shrouded this case during FFP rule. Questions raised in Parliament by the
then Opposition were shouted down, heckled or trivialized and dismissed with the ubiquitous phrase, “the fact of the matter Mr
Speaker Sir …” Media-wallahs were silenced through a draconian and punitive regulatory regime. Concerned members of the public were wary of personal safety and security.
The intelligentsia was cowed in the same manner.
Those on the periphery of power could only shake their heads if they wanted to avoid harassment, embarrassment and a removal from the trough of opportunities.
The business community hadto live in the country and make money.
Civil servants could not jeopardize their job security. Too many had lost their jobs for minimal or imagined infractions. Set processes that would have protected them under normal circumstances were either frowned on, ignored or bent to provide pre-determined outcomes.
Thus there was no space for dissent. Now I come to the packages of CEOs in our public enterprises. CEO and Executive Chair Abdul Khan was apparently earning $802,800 as base salary and $37,200 as allowances, which totaled $840,000, between 2011 and 2016. His predecessor, Graham Clark, was earning $550,000 as base salary and $178,128 as allowances.
The case of former Fijian Broadcasting Corporation CEO Riyaz Sayed-Khaiyum is even more interesting. He was receiving an annual salary of $304,453.08 in 2022 and was paid a total of $224,792.84 in bonuses during his 14-year term at
FBC which began in 2008. This was despite the public broadcaster consistently running at a loss and being leveraged at critical times by friendly Government inlays. Ajay Amrit, the new FBC chair, alleged that during Riyaz’s term, FBC would have incurred a loss more than $63 million if it had not consistently received annual grants from the Government.
Fiji Roads Authority makes another interesting case. CEO Neil Cook took up office in 2013 and went through hard negotiations
before accepting his contract. John Hutchinson succeeded him in June 2016 at a reported salary of $500,000.
In June 2017, Hutchinson was succeeded by Robert Sen as Acting CEO. In October 2017, Jonathan Moore joined the Authority
again at a reported $500,000. Three years later, Moore was replaced by Kamal Prasad who is also reported
to be on a high salary package.
What is of relevance to this column is that the decision-makers were predominantly Indo-Fijian. I will unpack this further next
- DR SUBHASH APPANNA writes
on issues of historical and
national significance. The views
expressed here are his alone and
not necessarily shared by this
newspaper or the University of
the South Pacific, his employer.