ANALYSIS: Quiet Achievers Of Bainimarama’s Cabinet

They are the quiet achievers of Cabinet. They don’t frequently appear on newspaper headlines but they are hard at work behind the scenes.   Timoci Natuva, Minister for Defence, National
31 May 2016 09:53
ANALYSIS: Quiet Achievers Of Bainimarama’s Cabinet
From left Inia Seruiratu, Semi Koroilavesau, Timoci Natuva and Jone Usamate.

They are the quiet achievers of Cabinet.

They don’t frequently appear on newspaper headlines but they are hard at work behind the scenes.


Timoci Natuva, Minister for Defence, National Security and Immigration

While we were busy celebrating our World 7s Series back to back win last week in Suva, Mr Natuva was enroute to Moscow.

There was no fanfare or a major media event. There he signed a Memorandum of Understanding between the executive office of the Security Council of the Russian Federation and the Fijian ministry on bilateral co-operation.

He also attended the VII International Meeting of High Level Officials Responsible for Security Matters in Grozny, Chechen Republic. Critics of Government foreign affairs policy on the Non-Aligned Movement and our expanding relations with Russia quickly forget that Fiji had developed diplomatic relations with the then Soviet Union on January 30, 1974. That was at the height of the Cold War between the East and the West and concerns now raised would have been relevant then.

Years after the demise of the Soviet Union, on February 8, 2010, Ambassador Isikeli Mataitoga presented credentials to the then Russian President Dmitry Medvedev. In February 2012, Russian Minister of Foreign Affairs Sergey Lavrov visited Fiji in the first-ever visit of a high-level Russian official. During Prime Minister Voreqe Bainimarama’s inaugural visit to Russia in 2013, five bilateral agreements were signed, including new protocols on military technical co-operation.

Russia’s new Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev stated that Russia wanted to pay particular attention to assisting Fiji with its UN peacekeeping deployments. That was followed through when Russia delivered $19 million worth of military arms and equipment to help our peacekeepers abroad in February this year.

The PM’s bilateral agreements have forged the increasing positive relations on Defence co-operation with Russia. The  MOU signing provides a framework for both parties to establish regular consultations and exchange of views on matters of common interests. In the high level talks, Mr Natuva called for the setting up of an international security data base and the sharing of information.

He raised an important concern that terrorism and security threats have now become a global concern and Fiji cannot afford to stay aloof. Apart from the external threats, Mr Natuva is also fully aware of internal security threats.

That may come from illegal activities like separatist movements that are politically motivated or the rise in criminal activities that may create instability and insecurity. His military background, qualification and experience have helped him to meet the challenges of the job.

He is so focused on the work that he does not think much about the media. It’s his personality.


Jone Usamate, Minister for Health and Medical Services

For a non-medical person, he has earned respect from the health and medical fraternity because he listens and takes seriously all the criticisms and different views.

You can see Mr Usamate in the media spotlight only when there is a major event. His biggest challenge is how he can stretch his Health Budget to meet our national expectations.

It’s a tough ask because his budget realistically cannot cover for everything we want. He is not alone in this.

His counterparts overseas face a similar challenge. There is always not enough money to go around. In New Zealand, hospitals have been told to make $138 million in savings over this financial year and some have signaled they’ll cut costs through staff vacancies which have not been filled.

There is fear this will increase safety risks because of stressed, tired, overworked staff. Mr Usamate’s NZ counterpart Dr Jonathan Coleman said their health budget was at a record level of $15.9 billion, $400 million more than last year. Mr Usamate’s mission is to make sure his $280 million Health Budget for this year is well spent.

This is $11 million more than the previous year’s allocation. While some hospitals in NZ are putting a freeze on hiring replacement staff and extra staff, the Fijian Government has budgeted an extra $9 million to recruit an additional 150 doctors and 200 nurses.

Mr Usamate can expect an increased Budget in the new National Budget to be announced next month because of the emphasis Government places on people’s health. He, assisted by Veena Bhatnagar, has been working hard to change the old culture and make the health services more responsive to people’s needs.


Semi Koroilavesau, Minister for Employment, Productivity and Industrial Relations

Mr Koroilavesau is putting his wealth of experience in the Navy and the private sector to excellent use. Those who have worked with him admire and respect the integrity of the “gentle giant”.

The former Government Whip and member of the Public Accounts Committee joined the ministry during the tense standoff between the trade unions and the Government over the new labour reforms in the Employment Relations Promulgation (Amendment) Act 2015.

The Fiji Trades Union Congress had threatened to call for an International Labour Organisation sponsored Commission of Inquiry which would have been detrimental to our economy. Mr Koroilavesau is said to have this unique kind of charisma. You can’t help it but to respect him when he walks into a room.

He is easy to talk to and commands respect when he stands his ground during negotiations. It is understood that FTUC’s general secretary and chief negotiator Felix Anthony has a lot of time for the big man. The commission of inquiry was averted after Government and FTUC signed an agreement.


Inia Seruiratu, Minister for Agriculture, Rural and Maritime Development and National Disaster Management

Mr Seruiratu, who is No 3 in the pecking order, is in some ways like his predecessor Pio Tikoduadua. He just puts his head down and works away from the glare of the media spotlight.

But when he fronted up to the media like he did after Cyclone Winston, as Minister Responsible for Relief and Rehabilitation, he was impressive. In some of the briefings that I attended, his military experience came to the fore. He cut to the chase.

He was clear and succinct and officials who attended understood what was expected of them.

On the debating chamber in Parliament, he speaks with passion and authority and captures the attention of both sides of the House.

Based on the four’s performance so far, their future in Cabinet is assured.

Edited by Rusiate Mataika



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