The importance of respecting the Constitution

Fiji Times 23 October 2009, by Charlie Charters

Consider this: I worked with the last four people to sit in the hot seat, that of the most senior paid official of the Fiji Rugby Union. It physically crushed two of them, one dying in office and the other within a very few months of leaving. For a third CEO, the experience was such that he had a dramatic religious experience, joined a charismatic faith and even changed his name.

As for the fourth, probably the FRU’s most successful chief executive, I don’t think I would be telling tales out of school when I said Pio Bosco Tikoisuva was thoroughly unhappy for large stretches of his time in charge and couldn’t wait to leave.

This might surprise some, who thought the job was all dancing girls and sponsors’ cocktails but, simply put there is nothing in the country comparable for generating stress and mangling up your life as being the helmsman of Fiji rugby.

So one can safely say that the reason Keni Dakuidreketi rema-ins acting CEO of the FRU has nothing to do with his own vanity or personal empire-building.

Last week Dakuidreketi offered his resignation to the FRU board after appearing in court on FICAC-related charges of abuse of office and fraud.

The board refused. “Much is happening in rugby and it is important that a steady set of hands remain at the helm of leadership,” FRU chairman Bill Gavoka explained to the Fiji Times.

Interestingly, you could not describe this board as pro-Keni. The current directors have served for just under six months, having been elected in April. And if anybody was tilted towards letting Dakuidreketi go it would be this group, because what characterised their selection as board members was that they rode into office on a wave of New Blood/anti-Dakuidreketi sentiment.

The outgoing board — of which Dakuidreketi was chairman — was unceremoniously dumped by the provincial unions, who picked five new board directors: chairman Gavoka, Waisake Radrodro and Meli Tora, plus the accountant Alipate Naiorosui and lawyer Kitione Vuetaki.

The only hold-over was Dakui-dreketi (who polled the second highest number of votes after Gavoka); aside from him not one elected member who served the previous two-year span of office survived.

Yet this board — with an overwhelming mandate from the provincial unions to put a new broom through Rugby House — have looked at all of the options and decided they need Dakui-dreketi to remain acting CEO in the short term.

He didn’t ask to stay on but instead was asked/implored to continue serving. To me, this is the most important piece of the jigsaw in support of retaining Dakuidreketi.

Like all sports, rugby has its rule book and rugby union has its constitution. And what we are seeing is the FRU’s constitutional process being upheld. You might not like the result (plenty of correspondents to the Fiji Times would seem to be outraged), but Dakuidreketi continuing to serve as acting CEO is not his choice but the FRU’s choice, as provided for by their constitution.

It is certainly not an ideal situation (for any party) but what would be considerably worse would be ripping up that structured process and fixing all decisions on the principle of He-Who-Shouts-Loudest-Wins.

Remember, political power flows from the provincial and affiliated unions to the FRU board. After six months in office, the board has a fair understanding of the practical, political and financial realities in which the FRU operates, any illusions about quick fixes and silver bullets having been well and truly pricked.

The board would also have a file from the local accountancy firm hired last year to head-hunt a new CEO; they would know which candidates were still available (not many, if any, I understand) and on what conditions. Taking all of this together, the board, answerable always for their actions to the provinces, have assessed the various options and unanimously agreed that retaining Dakuidre-keti is the best short-term option.

That’s not to say the matter is closed. The constitution also provides a clear mechanism for special general meetings to be called if the board loses the trust of its political masters (or does not deliver on any other significant matters, like the promised reforms).

If such a broad sentiment is held by enough of the unions, just the threat of an SGM might be enough to reverse the board’s position.

I would assume the FRU board has already taken at least informal soundings before reaching their unanimous agreement.

I say ‘unanimous agreement’ because the media reports I have seen say the decision was upheld by all the directors. Which is interesting because sitting on the board also is a direct nominee representing the Prime Minister.

So what do the board know that we don’t, especially those lusting for Dakuidreketi’s head on a plate? Did the Prime Minister’s nominee vote in favour of retaining Dakuidreketi as reported, if so what convinced the nominee to vote for retaining Dakuidreketi when the PM is campaigning for his resignation, or perhaps he abstained, or was simply absent from the meeting?

I’m afraid I can’t answer any of this.

What I do know is that when you become CEO of the Fiji Rugby Union (for a few weeks in 2002 I was acting CEO) you enter a world where nothing is as it seems or should be, and nobody would believe you if you said it was so:

Where you quickly learn the difference between those who talk, and those who do, that fantastic players can make surprisingly lousy coaches, and many of your best young prospects can’t wait to leave and play for some other national team, and when they do the local media will cheer and whoop, and call this a great day for Fiji rugby.

When every outbound tour requires a dance with the immigration department to make sure those owing child support are allowed to leave. Where the richest companies in the country profit off the back of your sport without investing a cent and were the wealthiest beg for complimentary tickets, yet the poor queue to pay in hard-earned cash.

Where the leading lights of the game say one thing in the public (often with bible in hand) and do another in private.

And the rules, politics and conduct of international rugby seem to do their very best to keep small, developing world nations like Fiji as screwed down to the floor as possible.

Perhaps it was knowing a little of this bizarre world that the FRU board made their decision.

With a completely new fifteens management and a relatively new 7s coach, perhaps a bit of experience in the cockpit was what they judged the situation merited.

I don’t know, but I do know it was Fiji rugby’s decision to make. They made it within the precepts of their constitution and the best way to reverse it is to uphold that document, work through the provincial and affiliated unions, and not shred it in the rather vapid court of public opinion.

So it boils down to this, you ignore your constitution at your own peril.

OK – so our national game ‘gets it’.  Why are We The People being thwarted from our own Constitution? Don’t let the bullies win.  Tabu soro.  Free and fair elections NOW.

God bless Fiji

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