Life on the edge – PM recalls tough days

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Prime Minister Sitiveni Rabuka and his wife Sulueti Rabuka with their great grand son, Dallas Ligamamada Ropate Newman Wye, 3, infront of their home at Namadi Height in Suva . Picture: SOPHIE RALULU

BY MERI RADINIBARAVI AND SHAYAL DEVI

Today he is the Prime Minister but wind the clock back 23 years, Sitiveni Rabuka was a man living on a financial precipice.

His Soqosoqo ni Vakavulewa ni Taukei party lost the 1999 General Election to Mahendra Chaudhry’s Fiji Labour Party and he was forced to sell property and assets to keep his head above water as he had earlier undertaken a significant investment.

And seven years later, just when he was starting to find his feet, the government led by military coup leader Voreqe Bainimarama, removed Mr Rabuka’s pension and entitlements including use of an official government vehicle.

At one point things were so tight, Mr Rabuka was forced to collect plastic bottles and sell them to stay afloat due to financial obligations linked to his estate in Vanua Levu. But that is all water under the bridge.

Today, as head of the People’s Alliance-National Federation Party-Social Democratic Liberal Party coalition Government, things are beginning to turn around.

And one of his first endeavours is to make sure Mr Bainimarama does not endure the financial hardships he did. Even though his predecessor removed his pension and entitlements, including use of an official vehicle for 16 years, Mr Rabuka is prepared to provide the Opposition Leader an official government residence, free of charge – on top of his other benefits.

Speaking to The Fiji Times, Mr Rabuka described the removal of his income and entitlements by the Bainimarama-led military regime of 2006 as “the best thing” that could have happened to him. He said it forced him into living on very scant resources.

The PM said despite everything, Mr Bainimarama put him through, he still considers him a “friend”.

“I know he needs quarters as the Leader of the Opposition,” he said in an interview with The Fiji Times.

“I was Leader of the Opposition for two years, and I would have performed much better if I had official rent-free quarters.

“I could work from home. At the moment you have grandchildren, great grandchildren running over your feet while you’re trying to work and prepare yourself for the next debate. He could do that much better if he had official quarters which I have done to make available for him, an official quarters at rent free.”

The PM said when Mr Bainimarama removed his entitlements in 2006, it turned an already precipitous financial situation into a worse one.

Sitiveni Rabuka filling up a bag with empty plastic bottles at his home in Namadi Heights, Suva, back in 2017. Picture: ELIKI NUKUTABU

“I had to find ways of remaining above water. I was in a lot of debt. I owed a lot of money to the bank to acquire the (Vanua Levu) estate, it was a big one.

“And I had calculated my earnings for almost the rest of my life in politics. And then I got defeated in 1999 and was out of Parliament. “Because of my election to be (Great) Council of Chiefs chair, I couldn’t do both. And the law forbade that.

“So I had to sell up a lot of things and reduce my debt and it was difficult. I collected plastic bottles along the seawall and then I saw somebody else collecting plastic bottles. I thought he needed it more than I did. So we both collected for him.

“Yeah, the sale of some of the things that I had sell, had to happen. It was difficult. No car but we had a small family car.

“(It was)Difficult but not impossible to live without a pension.”

Mr Rabuka said his political journey with SO- DELPA and then forming the People’s Alliance to winning the 2022 General Election was difficult and challenging.

However, he said going into the 2022 polls, he was prepared for both outcomes, whether it was victory or loss.

“Well, I was working hard during the campaign, and at that time I had to picture myself at the tape at the end of the campaign and at the tape there were two scenarios. One was becoming Prime Minister and the other, possibly becoming a member of the Opposition.

“We have to be very human in our consideration, and I was psychologically preparing myself for that. The best thing that happened to me in the last 23 years was having the Bainimarama military regime take away my pension because I knew then that well, some of us have to go through some very distressing moments in life.

“I knew it was possible to live through something like that so I was comforted.”

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