Fiji finance minister accused of racism for 'ape gesture'
Fiji's opposition whip has accused the country's acting Prime Minister of making racist gestures towards him during a heated exchange in parliament.
Fiji's opposition whip has accused the country's finance minister of making racist gestures towards him during a heated exchange in parliament.
On Wednesday, Ratu Isoa Tikoca accused the minister, Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum, of corruption, claiming he had proof of it in documents he tabled on Friday.
Ratu Isoa says Mr Sayed-Khaiyum then imitated his voice, made grunting noises, and raised his arms in an ape-like gesture towards him.
EXCERPT FROM PARLIAMENT AUDIO:
"AIYAZ SAYED-KHAIYUM: He is making accusations of corruption. Do you have any proof?
RATU ISOA TIKOCA: I have the proof.
ASK: Oh, then present it! Then present it, my friend. You don't have a leg to stand on.
RIT: Calm yourself down.
ASK: Oh, yes. (grunts) "
On Friday, Ratu Isoa raised a point of order demanding that Mr Sayed-Khaiyum apologise for the remarks, which he says are are insulting to the country's indigenous iTaukei.
But that was overruled by the speaker, Jiko Luveni, who said he should have raised the matter at the time.
But in a statement released late on Friday, Mr Sayed Khaiyum says he was mimicking the voice and pose of the Star Wars character Darth Vadar in a lighthearted manner.
He then went on to accuse the opposition of deliberately twisting his comments to imply that he made a racial slur.
However, Ratu Isoa Tikoca told Jamie Tahana that, in his view, the comments definitely were not lighthearted.
RATU ISOA TIKOCA: It came about when they purposely declined our request to send permanent secretaries to answer to very important issues that are coming out from the budget under the various ministries. So I raised that, and during that we ended up in a few exchanges and in the process he actually imitated my voice and it was quite insulting the way he did it and he's, like, actually referring that we indigenous Fijians, iTaukei people, that we are gorillas or monkeys, whatever he's trying to implicate.
JAMIE TAHANA: Can we just clarify what he was doing? So, he was imitating your voice while gesturing in an ape-like manner?
RIT: Like a monkey or like a gorilla, it's up to you when you look at the action that he does it probably covered both like a monkey or a gorilla. And to us it's an insult to indigenous people and that's probably what he does.
JT: How was that one gesture - how can you interpret that as being aimed towards all iTaukei?
RIT: Well, uh, my voice, as you've probably heard, is a deep voice and it looks at us as the way he actually interprets things, he looks at us on a different lineup together, and that's why I'm saying that he is actually inferring, or referring, to us that we are that type; probably a gorilla, or probably a monkey in the way that he's acting, and to us that is an insult.
JT: Mr Sayed-Khaiyum released a statement [on Friday] saying that he was mimicking Darth Vadar's speaking and not acting in an ape-like manner. Through that, he also accuses the opposition of trying to interpret his light-hearted Darth Vadar impression as a racist gesture. What do you make of that?
RIT: You know, what comes out of you is the reflection of what is inside. You can hide it as much as you can but once you are pushed in the corner you can't control yourself, your inner being is revealed. It is just a load of rubbish he is actually trying to justify. But did you see his action? Oh, come on. It took me three days waiting for him to apologise and after three days, he doesn't want to apologise.
JT: In parliament, you did ask Jiko Luveni to force Mr Sayed-Khaiyum to apologise; that didn't happen, she overruled that request didn't she?
RIT: Yeah, yeah. They said that it's unbecoming [and] I should have raised it there and then. But we were in a committee of supply, so I took that opportunity. Two things; one, three days for that guy to apologise. Secondly, if he does not I will then raise it up when parliament's proper proceedings begin.
JT: So Friday's parliament session was the first opportunity you had to?
RIT: Yes, yes, yes I know my standing orders, I cannot raise it any earlier than that.
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