Saturday August 24th 2019
Thank you for being here today at the party’s AGM. We have opted for a quiet, low-key event rather than a full national convention. It is still only a few months since the last general election. We sense that, other than the diehard party members, many of whom are here, ordinary voters are a little tired of politics after last year’s election and other political events. But we are glad to see many loyal party executives and supporters here.
This AGM is the first since the 2018 election. After the intense activity of 2018, we have encouraged our party activists and supporters to take a break to reflect on the past and plan for the future. We believe the party ran a strong and principled election campaign. In it, we set out our plans for Fiji. We know that we were outspent, 10 to 1, by the Fiji First Party. We know they ran an unprincipled campaign, based on fear and threats to people’s security.
And we now know the result. The Government achieved a paperthin majority of 50.02%. They were saved by a flawed electoral system that uses the d’Hondt method of calculating proportional representation. Despite getting almost 7.4% of the votes in the election, NFP got only 6% of the seats in Parliament. If it was proportional representation NFP would have got 4 seats.
Then we had the fiasco of the election case in the Court of Disputed Returns. SODELPA and NFP jointly challenged the election result. We were treated to the spectacle of the elected Government of Fiji hiding from the people of Fiji for two days and two nights. There they were, camped behind locked doors with mattresses and takeaway food while the people stood outside. They came out only after the time had passed for them to be served with court papers.
We could not continue our court action because the Government has never issued written rules on how an election petition should be conducted. The court ruled against us on how we should present our evidence – although we have never had written reasons for the court’s decision.
But the enduring memory of the court case is how the Government of Fiji hid away, fearful of the very laws that they themselves had made. The term “Level 9” is now a special phrase in Fiji, meaning weak excuses and dishonesty. Perhaps, after a decade or so, this will be the Fiji First Party’s only real contribution to our country.
Our party is in good shape and good spirit. For the first time in the 13 years since the December 2006 military coup, Fiji’s longterm future is becoming clearer. It is a future in which the Fiji First Party will be a distant memory, soundly rejected after years of sowing fear and intimidation among the people. But it is a future in which NFP will play a big part. We are a party with deep roots in the past. We are strengthened by the challenges we face in the present. And this gives us the knowledge of the important role we will play in Fiji’s future.
We are a party that challenged colonial oppression and fought for Fiji’s independence. We have never joined military adventurers who threatened Fiji’s integrity. We have always fought for democracy and democratic institutions.
I want to first thank my Parliamentary colleagues for the great work they have done since the election. Our President Pio Tikoduadua, our newest and most popular MP, Lenora Qereqeretabua, have contributed courageously and positively to public debate, both inside the Parliament and outside of it. They work hard and speak up for people in need of their support. They have highlighted issues of national interest and the many grievances facing our people.
I want to thank all the people who work hard to support our MPs in Parliament and outside of it – Seni, Kamal, Dylan, Apenisa, and Sharila. Not forgetting Sharveen who was with us for 3 years. I want to thank our NFP Youth wing, who are always passionate, pro-active and brimming with ideas.
So this is a team that is strong, united, ready to serve our members and ready to fight for Fiji. And this fight continues now. A few days ago there was an article in the Washington Post which described another country as an “elections-only democracy”. And that would be an apt description for Fiji. The Government has talked for years about “true democracy”. But the phrase “true democracy” is now more often used by its critics as a joke.
The Government holds elections but it undermines and politicises every public institution that should support democracy – the public service, the statutory bodies, the Police, FICAC – all because they are afraid of the people. They fear losing control, because they know that one day, the oppressive laws they have created may be used against them.
After 13 years of Frank Bainimarama and his cronies, what is the state of Fiji? Let us look behind all the talk about so-called economic growth and look at how our people are faring in reality.
Government services are collapsing because the Government has no money. Wages are kept low while prices of basic goods rise. Public health and medical services are deteriorating. Trade unions are ignored, their leaders arrested and harassed. They are not even permitted to march in support of their demands.
Poverty drives social stress. We have some of the world’s highest rates of NCDs. Domestic and sexual violence is rife. Our media reports an epidemic of hard drug use. The Police have even lost control of Suva’s main street, Victoria Parade, to thuggery and violence.
There is nothing on the horizon to give us hope that things will improve. Business confidence is down and interest rates are rising. Investors are sick of bureaucracy and the bullying tactics of the Government’s tax collectors. And the Government says nothing and does nothing. The Economy Minister is always looking for someone else to blame. He says if the opposition talks about our economic crisis this will destroy the economy. It is not our words that are destroying the economy. It is his actions – 13 years of his actions.
But what can the Government do? As I told Parliament, last year the Government ran out of ideas. This year they have run out of money. Ministers and civil servants are just going through the motions and pretending everything is fine. Our Economy Minister, who used to run around the country talking about reforms and talking up his government, is quiet now. Even the Fiji Sun, the Government’s favourite newspaper, is running out of flattering material.
Fiji is heading towards social and economic crisis. But the Government either cannot see it or pretends that it cannot see it. Most leaders, in a time of national crisis, would try to bring people together, to consult, to share ideas and agree a way forward. But this government hides away from the people. They hide in their air-conditioned offices. They hide in their four-wheel drive limousines. They hide in the first-class cabins of aeroplanes.
NFP has asked for joint Parliamentary inquiries on the ailing sugar industry. We want an inquiry into our disorganised and demoralised education sector. We have asked for inquiries on health care issues and the current drugs epidemic. Let us all understand why we are doing this.
We are not asking for this just so that politicians can talk about it. We are not saying that Parliamentarians have the answers. But Parliamentarians have the ability to hold public inquiries and ask for the views of the people. We can consult the experts and encourage debate about the big problems we face as a nation. That is why we are asking for these inquiries.
But every time we move a motion to ask for these inquiries or select committees, the Government uses its Parliamentary majority to vote them down. The Government does not want to talk about these things. The Government wants to pretend that everything is fine.
The Prime Minister travels around the world talking about talanoa. But he will not practise it at home.
This is not leadership. This is weakness. The Government is afraid that the people will find out that others have better answers for Fiji’s problems. But a government that is working for the people should not be afraid of this. They should have the courage to admit that they do not have all the answers. But this is the basic thing about governance, politics and democracy that Frank Bainimarama and Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum do not understand. They talk about it, but they do not understand it.
Democracies are successful because they encourage people to work together. In democracies people are not afraid to share problems and ideas openly. They are not afraid of disagreement and dissent. They use a free and independent media to make their ideas public.
They use lobbying and public protests and marches to send out signals about what they want, and to pressure the government to follow good policies.
And these are the democratic mechanisms that are absent in Fiji. And this is the reason why we can honestly call Fiji what the Washington Post said – an elections-only democracy.
And what happens when the leader of the Government, our Prime Minister, is criticised and confronted? He lashes out. Yesterday, a video was released of what happened in Parliament two weeks ago. The video clearly shows how Voreqe Bainimarama used violence against the President of the NFP. It was also reported by Radio New Zealand. And look at the front page of today’s Fiji Times. Pictures tell a thousand words!
Now the people can decide. Was it assault? Or was it, as Frank Bainimarama claims, a “stern talking to”? Two weeks after this incident, despite having the video footage, despite having a formal complaint from our President, the Police are doing nothing and saying nothing.
In a so-called true democracy, everyone is equal.
Everyone is equal before the law and everyone is treated equally under the law. What do the Police have to say about this incident? Why, when everyone talks about what will happen next, why does everyone say that the Police will do nothing about it?
This is just one more example of why we have told the Government. You have lost the moral authority to govern. You do not set a good example of leadership and good behaviour. You have run out of ideas. You have spent all the money. You hide from the people.
You talk but do not act. You ignore the deep economic and social problems in this country that are staring you in the face. You refuse to consult others. You even excuse the violent actions of your own leader.
And we are saying to you – it is time to show some humility and leadership. Admit that these problems are too big for your two leaders to solve. Ask for help. Talk to the opposition. We are the alternative government. And we will respond. We will help you. Because it is the people and the country who are important.
Let us see where we can pool ideas or consult others. If people want to march to air their demands, let them do it. If people want to criticise you and point out your weaknesses, have the courage to let them do it. Create the atmosphere, create the environment where we can show the world that our political leaders are working together.
We need to give confidence to our investors, our workers, our young people who are looking for opportunities, our public servants, our doctors and nurses and teachers who want the power to serve their fellow citizens and do good.
And so we are telling the Government – show courage. Prove you are leaders, not mere politicians afraid for your jobs.
It is time for national dialogue and an open discussion about Fiji’s social and economic problems. Ask the opposition to talk with you about what we can do together. If you are genuine, if you are honest about wanting to solve Fiji’s problem, you will find us willing to help. This is no longer a time for politics. This is a time for leadership.
May God bless NFP.
May God bless Fiji.