Jale Baba

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Jale Baba
Personal details
Political party Soqosoqo Duavata ni Lewenivanua
Profession Businessman

Jale Baba (born 27 July 1958) in Lautoka is a Fijian businessman and political organizer. A forestry graduate of the Australian National University, he worked for Fiji Pine Limited for more than 20 years, before leaving in 1999 to start his own company- Baba Forests. He also serves as the campaign director of the ruling Soqosoqo Duavata ni Lewenivanua Party, or SDL).[1] He was General Secretary and more recently National Director of the party, but relinquished this post on 1 January 2006 in order to take charge of the campaign for the general election to be held from 6–13 May.

In his party role, he worked aggressively to consolidate his party's support among indigenous Fijians, while attempting with little success to make inroads into the Indo-Fijian electorate. At the previous election held in 2001, the SDL received barely one percent of the vote in the seven contested communal constituencies reserved for citizens of Indian descent, a figure that only marginally improved in 2006. He also made a token bid for the Ba Open Constituency for the SDL, but garnered only 60 votes. On 15 June 2006, Baba announced his resignation from his party post.

Business controversies[edit]

On 16 December 2005, Baba was accused by two Senators of corruption. Senator Ponipate Lesavua alleged that Baba, along with Laisenia Qarase, Jr. (the son of Laisenia Qarase, Fiji's Prime Minister) and Lalesh Shankar (another SDL official), benefited from a mahogany harvest at Sote Village in Tailevu. Baba was subcontracted to Fiji Hardwood and was operating an illegal circular saw, Lesavua maintained, while Qarase Jr. and Shankar owned a company called Trapper Haulage, which had been granted the contract. "This is nepotism in its highest degree," Lesavua said. Another Senator, Ratu Dr. Epeli Nailatikau, alleged that the Fiji Development Bank had lent Baba F$79,600 for six months, then F$24,000 three months later, to buy the saw. He questioned why Baba should be granted such loans, when the landowners themselves were not.

The next day, Baba angrily denied what he called "cowardly" allegations made under parliamentary privilege. "It is a cowardly and vilifying attack and if there is any truth to it then the gentlemen should state what they have said, outside of Parliament," Baba told the Fiji Times. He said that as one of the most qualified foresters in Fiji, he had been invited by the Sote landowners to help them set up their logging company.

Fiji Hardwood chief executive Edrian Hazleman supported Baba, saying that there was no truth to Lesavua's claim that Baba was subcontracted to the company. The Prime Minister, meanwhile, said that his son was not involved with Trapper Haulage, as alleged, having withdrawn on his father's advice from his previous shareholding in the company. The allegations had been fabricated by Opposition parliamentarian Poseci Bune, Qarase said.

Civil contempt conviction[edit]

On 10 February 2006, Justice John Connors of the Lautoka High Court found Baba guilty of civil contempt, fined him F$500, and ordered him to pay court costs of F$2,500. According to a Fiji Television report on 1 March, Connors found Baba guilty of noncompliance with an order made on 15 August 2005, in which he was given three days to deliver machinery to the Merchant Finance and Investment Company Limited, his client and plaintiff. Connors noted that Baba had eventually complied with the order, but only after contempt proceedings had been initiated, and ruled that a penalty was necessary to deter other members of the community.

The 2006 coup d'état[edit]

In the wake of the military coup that deposed the SDL-led government on 5 December 2006, Baba found himself at the centre of an investigation into alleged shady business dealings and political manoeuvrings. On 26 January 2007 he was taken to Suva's Queen Elizabeth Barracks for interrogation about alleged recent comments against the interim government. He was released the next day.[2]

Baba was again detained on 28 January, and under intense grilling by Military officials, admitted to approving the sale a government vehicle belonging to the Lakeba Pine Scheme, which he managed then. He made the admission in the presence of the buyer of the vehicle and of a Fiji Sun journalist, the Sun reported on 29 January. In 2000, he approved the sale of the vehicle to Naitasiri farmer Lemeki Natorogia for F$700. He claimed not to have known at the time that the vehicle was government-owned.