Some 400 people have arrived on Vanuabalavu – a remote island on Fiji’s eastern sea borders – as they prepare to bury one of their favourite sons who became the country’s sixth prime minister.
They are the first of many people that Mavana village expects to host for Laisenia Qarase’s funeral, planned for tomorrow (Wed).
A delegation from the Fiji Government is expected to arrive later today aboard the government boat, the Veivueti.
Mourners underwent body temperature screening when they boarded last night, as Fiji’s medical officials continued their efforts to combat the spread of COVID-19.
The body of Qarase will be flown in by chartered plane tomorrow, and driven to Mavana by road for a church service before burial. He will be accompanied by his widow, Leba Qarase and close family members.
Qarase was chief of Mavana, bestowed with the traditional Tui Kobuca title.
He rose to national prominence in 2000, when he was handpicked by then-military Commander Frank Bainimarama to head an interim government after the elected government of Mahendra Chaudhry was ousted in a coup in May of that year.
Qarase went on to contest and win the general elections of 2001 and 2006, before he was ousted by Bainimarama in a coup on 5 December, 2006. Prosecuted for a corruption- related offence when he was on the board of Fijian Holdings 16 years earlier, Qarase was jailed for a year in 2012.
Ironically, Qarase was instrumental in the creation of Fijian Holdings as the main investment vehicle for Fiji’s indigenous community.
Following his release, and barred from contesting the 2014 elections, the 79-year old banker plunged himself into the affairs of his home island, successfully uniting what used to be two divisive districts into forming one united investment company.
Vanuabalavu Vision Limited was registered in 2018, and now has a paid up capital of $3.5 million and an asset portfolio valued at $10m.
Qarase died Tuesday last at a private hospital in Suva after suffering from a mild stroke.