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Katonitabua Reveals Why He Intervened

Katonitabua Reveals Why He Intervened
The Fiji Tmes Publisher Hank Arts outside the High Court in Suva on May 1, 2018. Photo: Fonua Talei
May 02
12:02 2018

The High Court in Suva heard in evidence yesterday that after the 2014 General Election the Nai Lalakai covered issues which were sensitive to the iTaukei communities and as Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of iTaukei Affairs, Naipote Katonitabua had to intervene to correct the information.

Mr Katonitabua continued giving evidence before Justice Thushara Rajasinghe, marking day two of The Fiji Times trial.

Standing accused are Nai Lalakai column or letter writer Josaia Waqabaca, Nai Lalakai Editor Anare Ravula, The Fiji Times Editor-in-Chief Fred Wesley, The Fiji Times publisher Hank Arts and the Fiji Times company.

Mr Katonitabua was questioned during cross examination by The Fiji Times lawyer Wylie Clarke when he mentioned that a report tabled by his ministry in June, 2016 showed that the iTaukei communities that they had consulted with were sourcing their information from the Nai Lalakai.

Fiji Times company lawyer Wylie Clarke outside the High Court in Suva on May 1, 2018. Photo: Fonua Talei

Fiji Times company lawyer Wylie Clarke outside
the High Court in Suva on May 1, 2018.
Photo: Fonua Talei

He said the information highlighted fear among the communities that iTaukei land had been taken away, adding that the Nai Lalakai had the ability to cause instability in the country.

He said the ministry received its copy of the Nai Lalakai newspaper every Wednesday and on April 27, 2016, he came across the alleged seditious letter in the paper.

He said he looked at the issues and directed his consultation team to address it.

Mr Clarke put to Mr Katonitabua that he did not take any steps to alert the Nai Lalakai or The Fiji Times about his grave concerns in regards to the letter.

Mr Katonitabua replied that he sent an email to The Fiji Times, but he could not find a copy of it.

Mr Clarke then told the witness that no such email was ever received by The Fiji Times or Nai Lalakai, to which Mr Katonitabua stated that the Ministry’s Information Technology (IT) department has been given three days to go through his emails from 2016 and 2017 and to procure the same.

Mr Katonitabua said the alleged seditious letter was among issues discussed during their monthly senior management meeting, which he chairs and it was his decision to report the issue to the Police. The meeting took place about four weeks after the alleged seditious letter was published.

Mr Clarke asked Mr Katonitabua if a resolution was reached during the meeting to have the matter reported to the Media Industry Development Authority (MIDA) and he replied there was no resolution.

Mr Katonitabua also gave varying answers about his 10-page Police statement while he was being questioned by Mr Clarke. He was asked if he had discussed the contents with anybody prior to submitting it to Police. He said he did not.

However, he recanted and said that the Police statement included the ministry’s observation on the issues raised.

He then added that the Police statement was never shown to the Minister of iTaukei Affairs, who is the Prime Minister.

Mr Clarke asked Mr Katonitabua if the minister was aware that the matter was being reported to the Police, to which he replied that he verbally informed the minister about the action taken after the Police statement was recorded.

Further, Mr Clarke asked the Permanent Secretary to name the contributors of his Police statement.

He started off saying that the public relations team had prepared it based on the statements received by the ministry and then he mentioned the Deputy Secretary of iTaukei Affairs. However, he later said the Deputy Secretary did not contribute to his Police statement.

Mr Katonitabua revealed that since his Police statement was lengthy he prepared part of it prior to submitting it to the Police then he gave further oral statements at the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) Headquarters.

Mr Clarke asked him to clarify the terminology ‘IMG’ which was mentioned in his Police statement.

He said it was a generic term meaning “Issue Motivated Group”, which was devised by the ministry.

Mr Katonitabua testified that Nai Lalakai column writer Josaia Waqabaca was a part of the “Issue Motivated Group”.

He testified that the label was devised to categorise groups that discuss particular delicate issues which deviate from the facts.

Mr Clarke asked Mr Katonitabua to identify some hot button issues which were dear to the iTaukei communities.

He said some of the issues were land, equal citizenry, the Great Council of Chiefs, religious groups and vacant leadership positions within the iTaukei communities.

He said the issues raised concerns in regard to the correct information being disseminated as far as the ministry was concerned. Mr Katonitabua said a large number of people that they had consulted had indicated to them that their main source of information was the Nai Lalakai newspaper.

Mr Clarke then responded to Mr Katonitabua that the Nai Lalakai only had on average a circulation of 6000 copies being sold.

The witness testified that the ministry’s relationship with the Nai Lalakai changed a lot after the matter was reported to the Police.

Noda Viti

A copy of the government publication Noda Viti was produced in court during trial yesterday.

Mr Katonitabua agreed with Fiji Times company lawyer Mr Clarke that the Government had a publication arrangement with the Fiji Sun for the iTaukei newspaper called Noda Viti. Mr Katonitabua said the Government publication in the Fiji Sun was prepared by the Department of Information, which was a separate department from his.

He said the newspaper was read by the iTaukei communities, however during their consultations it was never found to be a source of misinformation.

The court heard in evidence that most information printed in the Noda Viti were development projects related to government development plans.

It was also heard that the iTaukei publication utilised the Fiji Sun circulation network and as a result there was nothing in the publication, which the Government was unhappy about.

Petition

During cross examination, Mr Clarke questioned Mr Katonitabua if he took steps to confirm if such a petition mentioned in the alleged seditious letter was ever given to the Attorney-General.

Mr Katonitabua said no.

Mr Clarke asked him to describe who the adversaries of the Government were.

He said those were groups that had different information about land, the Vola ni Kawa Bula (VKB) and the Great Council of Chiefs (GCC).

He said the groups provided these information to the general public without clarification from the ministry.

In a nutshell, he said, adversaries were those who did not share the same views as the Government.

Mr Katonitabua testified that the statements made in the alleged seditious letter about land contradicted records of the ministry.

He agreed with Mr Clarke that although it was an old issue; land issues still engender grievances by the iTaukei landowners.

He added that some of the statements included in the letter deviated from what was in the 2013 Fijian Constitution.

Page 8 of Police Statement titled,

“Observations”

The section was read out in court by Mr Katonitabua, who said it was the nub of his Police complaint.

He said the alleged seditious letter was “a clear indication of support towards Fijian Native Tribal Congress, Issue Motivated Groups and iTaukei Volunteer Groups who have opposing views against government.”

The Police statement claimed that the iTaukei Volunteer Groups were the main orchestrators behind the petition to have the A-G exiled.

He said the letter was a personalised attack on the A-G and Muslims and it created fear and polluted the minds of indigenous Fijians.

Mr Katonitabua said the accusations against the A-G and Muslims was insensitive to the iTaukei and it was a manifestation of the groups’ racial ambitions.

Mr Katonitabua agreed with Mr Clarke that when he said groups having opposing views against Government he was referring to the FijiFirst Government.

Mr Katonitabua said in evidence that the proposal by Waqabaca in the alleged seditious letter to have a national reconciliation was similar to the, “coerced reconciliation conducted by the Laisenia Qarase government with victims of the 2000 coup”.

He replied in the affirmative when asked if that was the Government’s position on such proposals. He said misinformation was opinions expressed by people which the Government did not agree with.

Re-examination by Mr Burney

Mr Burney questioned Mr Katonitabua what his concern was regarding ethnicity and religion that arose from the seditious publication.

He said the concern was that the letter referred to Muslims and iTaukei and this could create inciteful messages to communities and they had been receiving feedback of fear and insecurities during their consultations.

Mr Burney asked Mr Katonitabua if he was concerned with the mention of the A-G in the letter to which he said he was.

Referring to the alleged seditious letter Mr Katonitabua said it portrayed a shallow understanding of the Constitution and it incited political upheaval.

Mr Burney is expected to continue his re-examination of the PS today.

Edited by Epineri Vula

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