Reportedly New Zealand support included provision of $NZ950, 000 ($F1.4 million) to design and implement the Election Management System (EMS), including the purchase of associated hardware and other services. So far so good.
The problem is with the originating country to whom a supposedly transparent tendering process awarded the tender to – Pakistan.
Pakistan has never been a shining and glorifying example of fair elections or democracy. But even that is not the issue. The real issue is that NZ funded tender was given to Pakistan's National Database Registration Authority (NADRA), which appears to have questionable credentials, like the country it comes from. NADRA had come under fire from political parties in Fiji because of reports their officials allegedly accepted bribes in return for producing fake IDs, some of which were made for suspected terrorists.
According to Fiji Times of 24 June, 2017, the following response from an unnamed New Zealand High Commission spokesperson was provided:
"The ministry (MFAT) is aware of the claims relating to the company selected by Fijian Elections Office to supply the system. However, we are confident that the EMS (Election Management System) has been delivered in line with the contract process and that New Zealand funding has been used appropriately and for the intended purpose.
Under the contract between MFAT and the Fiji Elections Office, the procurement of the system was undertaken by the Fiji Elections Office under Fiji Government procurement rules.
This included a requirement that the Fijian Elections Office undertake appropriate due diligence of the supplier and the system as part of its procurement process." (Good, Kiwis know how to cover their butts).
According to reports from Fiji’s Supervisor of Elections, Mohammed Saneem, NADRA beat five other companies for the tender, which was awarded based on the assessment by the tender board and an evaluation committee. Saneem assured that a terrorism financing search was also carried out and it was all clear. But he failed to say who the other five tenderers were, and who cleared the so-called terrorism financing search. Neither do we know which other countries the tender came from - NZ? Australia? Britain? India? Does Pakistan have a High Commission in Fiji?
It would appear New Zealand Government which financed this project gave approval, cleared and sanctioned, that all was clear. They owe a duty of care to people of Fiji that since the financing came from them, the selection followed the rules, transparency and accountability of a First World New Zealand rather than a Third World Fiji.
On assurance of a Fiji Government audit, Fiji’s Labour Party Leader (FLP) Mahendra Chaudhry said a government audit would not address the issue and the NADRA contract should be terminated. He reportedly said the FLP was worried about fake IDs being used to vote in Fijian elections and of the possible manipulation of the system to rig the election.
The reason why I brought this subject in New Zealand is that our taxpayers funded this project and supposedly New Zealand Government sanctioned the selection and choice of this Pakistani company. And I, as a citizen of both Fiji and New Zealand, would hold NZ Government accountable, should the doubts hold true about this Pakistani choice.
This was my comment in Facebook discussion on this subject:
“What surprises me is that a country which is more of a military dictatorship and lesser of a successful democracy is the one where this election system was found and awarded. I wonder whether they have ever participated in any credible elections in our living memory. I wonder whether this system will be as defective as Pakistan's democracy. In Hindi, they say, bandar ka jaane adrak ke swaad, A near English translation is: “Casting pearls before swine.” Since when did Pakistanis become experts in free, clean elections and democracy?
Before I am accused of any phobia, let me clarify two issues: 1) India has more Muslims than Pakistan and 2) When Indians were brought as Indentured labourers to Fiji between 1879 and 1916, Pakistan did not exist.”
Pakistan has also come under radar of international community of doing this. Does the master-mind of 9/11 terrorist attack, Osama bin Laden’s name ring a bell? Bin Laden was not found or captured until 2011, when American intelligence learned he was sheltered in Abbottabad, Pakistan, where USA directed a surgical attack to kill him on 2 May 2011.
Narendra Modi, Indian PM has openly accused Pakistan of promoting and harbouring criminals, especially in relation to Taj Hotel terrorist attack and other acts of terrorism in India directly linked to Pakistan. Even USA is aware of this.
What surprises me is that despite all these, New Zealand and Fiji Governments are supporting and sanctioning a supposedly terrorist nation when Gulf Council Cooperation (GCC) is under threat of breaking because of opposition to countries supporting terrorism and terrorists.
My duty was to inform New Zealand people of the dealings by MFAT in the Pacific, and should anything go wrong in Fiji, do not say you were not warned. It is upon Opposition parties in New Zealand to seek proper answers from MFAT and Foreign Affairs Minister Hon Gerry Brownlee and seek clarification, transparency and truth, unlike the Tape Gate 2 in Clutha!
[About the Author: Thakur Ranjit Singh is a Kiwi-Fijian journalist who runs blog FIJI PUNDIT, and is based in Auckland.]