Farce of democracy

‘Time limit’

Nasik Swami

THE FIJI TIMES. Wednesday, April 27, 2016 

A PROPOSED change to Parliament’s Standing Order 37 could limit the Opposition’s time to no more than five minutes to respond to a motion moved by a Government member.

This, as the Government tries to limit debates on petitions in Parliament by using its numbers to push for the change to the Standing Orders.

In a one-and- a-half hour heated debate during yesterday’s sitting, the Opposition labelled the proposed change as a facade to democracy and abuse of Parliament’s rule.

NFP leader Professor Biman Prasad said such “nonsense” by Government in Parliament needed to be stopped because it was painting a wrong picture of the genuine democracy Prime Minister Voreqe Bainimarama always talked about throughout the world.

“This is a complete abuse of the parliamentary process to change the rules when it does not suite the Government side,” Prof Prasad said. He said the change in the petition (February sitting), requiring 40 per cent of the Parliament to decide whether the petition was going to go to a standing committee in the first place was abuse of the powers and the numbers that the Government had.

“Because they know that the Opposition does not have 40 per cent. They would never allow a petition to go to a committee, isn’t that ridiculous enough to make this a mockery?

“And what the A-G is trying to do today (yesterday) is because they realised that the change they made to the Standing Orders with respect to the petition was not what they wanted. So today (yesterday), we see another change, you are abusing it. Abusing, abusing and abusing the parliamentary process.”

In an interview, Mr Bainimarama said the Opposition misinterpreted what they (Government) were trying to do.

“I think they have got the wrong end of the stick. They could not figure out what we want done and I think they misinterpreted what we are trying to do,” the PM said.

He said the Opposition seemed to think that the Government was trying to destroy democracy.

Leader of Government in Parliament Inia Seruiratu explained they had an issue with the way Standing Order 37 was being used in Parliament.

“This motion is based on the discussions, considering the fact that Monday to Thursday are Government business days and it should be given priority and Standing Orders 37, as it is, needs to be clarified so that Government orders remains priority,” Mr Seruiratu said.

NFP MP Roko Tupou Draunidalo said the proposed change by Government was “like playing in a game”. It’s like if you are playing a game, whenever one side wants to suspend the match and change the rules, they will suspend it,” Roko Tupou said.

She said the proposed change was demeaning the House of free speech.

Speaker Dr Jiko Luveni said she would seek advice on the matter and return to Parliament with her ruling.

The proposed change to Standing Order 37 states that the “member moving the motion may make a statement on the reasons for referring the petition to the Standing Committee, and the time limit for the statement is 20 minutes. There is no debate on the statement but if the motion is moved by a member of the Government, the Leader of the Opposition, or his or her designate may comment on the statement for not more than five minutes”.

Parliament: NFP Leader questions AG about Freedom of Information Bill

‘Opposition queries A-G’

Nasik Swami

THE FIJI TIMES. Wednesday, April 27, 2016

THE issue of freedom of speech and how it is defined in Fiji’s context has always been central to many debates locally and internationally.

Yesterday, the Opposition used its mandate to question Attorney-General Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum on when will Government introduce Bills in Parliament with a view of enacting accountability on freedom of information as per section 150 of the Constitution.

NFP leader Professor Biman Prasad asked when the Freedom of Information Bill would be brought to Parliament.

In response, Mr Sayed-Khaiyum said the Government was working on the Freedom of Information Bill and it would be tabled in the next session of He said the Bill could not be rushed.

In relation to the Freedom of Information Bill — this is a very large piece of document and indeed a very complicated document — we have done our second draft, we have also sought the assistance of the governance section of UNDP to give the input, this has been forwarded to them, Mr Sayed-Khaiyum said.

He said the Bill would be tabled as soon as the UNDP reverted with its Mr Sayed-Khaiyum also said the Code of Conduct Bill, which established the rules, processes and procedures for the implementation of the Code of Conduct by the Accountability and Transparency Commission, was to be tabled in Parliament yesterday.

The Bill provides for the implementation of the code of conduct by the Accountability and Transparency Commission.

However, the Bill was not tabled as certain motions chewed up Parliament’s time.

Freedom of Information Bill: Chapter 8, Section 150 of the 2013 Constitution states that a written law shall make provision for the exercise by a member of the public of the right to access official information and documents held by the Government and its agencies.

Farce of Democracy

‘Ridiculous change’

Nasik Swami

THE FIJI TIMES. Tuesday, April 26, 2016

CHANGES in Standing Orders for petitions to be voted on in Parliament before being referred to a standing committee, curtails the views of the people to be heard in Parliament, says the Opposition.

Under recent amendments to the Standing Orders, petitions will no longer be automatically referred to the relevant standing committees by the Yesterday there was extensive discussion of the effect the new amendments would have on the freedom of speech.

National Federation Party leader Professor Biman Prasad said the amendments were a “ridiculous change.”

“With government having a majority in Parliament and in Standing Committees, these important petitions will be voted out,” Prof Prasad said.

He said in a democratic system, people’s voices through its elected members of Parliament should be heard.

NFP MP Roko Tupou Draunidalo said whether petitions were accepted or not, it should be referred to Standing Committees.

SODELPA MP Salote Radrodro said Parliament was disallowing Fijians to voice their concerns.

Tourism Minister Faiyaz Koya said the debate on the matter was wasting Parliament’s time.

Standing Order 37 (5) states that “following the presentation of a petition by a member, the member must move a motion that Parliament vote on whether the petition is to be referred to the standing committee under which the subject matter of the petition falls.”

Section 37(5) of the Standing Orders requires a minimum of 40 per cent support for the petition to be referred to the relevant standing committee.

Ridiculous change


NFP Leader’s speech at Ratu Sir Lala Sukuna Memorial Lecture

Ratu Sir Lala Sukuna Memorial Lecture “Trust is the Foundation of Leadership and Destiny Demands Diligence”

FTA Hall, Knollys St, Suva. Saturday, April 23, 2016

Thank you for inviting me to share my thoughts on the relevance of the principles of Fiji’s first statesman to our nation’s social, economic and political landscape – with the benefit of a historical hindsight and its significance in our Independence.

Ratu Sir Lala Sukuna was without doubt, the embodiment of chiefly authority and wisdom. It was this that moulded him into the statesman that we herald him as today. It is quite fitting that this inaugural lecture forum to honour Ratu Sir Lala Sukuna is one that is a beginning in which to open eyes, hearts, minds and worldviews so that we can engender and build on multiracial conversations and unification. After all, no one in this room here today wants what is not the best for Fiji.

Much has been written about the life and work of Ratu Sukuna. All are excellent pieces of academic work no doubt requiring thorough research but in essence all these works establish that Ratu Sukuna was a firm believer that life is more satisfactory if it is dedicated to selfless service and humanity.

The selfless service is illustrated by Ratu Sukuna – a chief, statesman and a decorated soldier – by walking the length and breadth of Fiji especially Fijian or i-taukei villages, convincing them that as landowners they needed an institution to protect their land from being exploited. And this resulted in the establishment of the Native Land Trust Board – the Trustee authority of all native land in Fiji.

Had Ratu Sukuna not had the foresight and not sacrificed his time and energy towards setting up the system of i-Taukei registration that is the Vola Ni Kawa Bula, which was closely aligned to i-Taukei land custodianship records, there would not have been a space in later years to then consider how to then give effect to land legislation that would develop our then fledging economy for the benefit of everyone, via the NLTB.

Ratu Sukuna won the trust of the people and ensured that their trust and faith in him was not misplaced. For over 7 decades or so the NLTB or TLTB as it is now known, has acted in the national interest, albeit with a few exceptions during and after the political turmoil or the coup culture that started almost 29 years ago.

But then, as Trustees of native land, the TLTB acted in accordance with the wishes of the landowners who did not wish to renew expiring land leases from 1999. This was largely driven by the political climate prevalent at that time, especially nationalism amongst our two major ethnic communities.

Ratu Sukuna could not have envisaged this scenario, especially in a nation regarded as a paradise. It is worth pointing out that while convincing the landowners of the need to entrust their administration of land to what evolved as NLTB, Ratu Sukuna also had the national interest in mind – that is the growing Indo-Fijian population and agriculture for economic growth, especially from the sugar industry.

Ratu Sukuna’s understanding of the importance of the sugar industry and its link to the Indo-Fijian community who chose to make Fiji their home at the end of the Indenture period in 1916 would have had this view at a young age because up until now he is the most famous alumni of Wairuku Indian School in Ra – a school established in 1898. And he was an able and bright student.

This later evolved into a legitimate tenancy arrangement when the Agricultural Landlord and Tenant Ordinance (ALTO) was formulated in 1966 that required the minimum tenure of a lease to be 10 years.

Ten years later in 1976, progress was made when ALTA – the Agricultural Landlord and Tenant Act was enacted – increasing the minimum tenure of all agricultural leases to 30 years.

The fact that Indo-Fijians had access to native land and in the latter years enjoyed security of tenure, brought about the growth of the sugar industry into the economic mainstay of our economy for several decades until the turn of the century.

Despite the industry’s downturn, it continues to directly and directly impact the livelihoods of 200,000 people of Fiji or more than 20% of our population.

Despite the common stereotype, cane farmers are now very much a multiracial industry.

The vision to establish the NLTB to administer leases for all native land on behalf of the landowners and the recognition of the land use needs for agriculture of the Indo Fijian population is a perfect demonstration of Ratu Sukuna’s manifestation of Trust. The Trust he created with landowners manifested into Trust given to a 3rd party the TLTB to mediate between landowners and lessee’s for win-win solutions – he triangulated Trust via dialogue. I would venture to suggest that no other indigenous group in the world can claim such visionary protection such as the recording both on paper and in electronic format of native land and i-qoliqoli in such a systematic way.

Ratu Sukuna was a visionary when it came to politics and both personally and posthumously mentored those who later became household names in Fiji.

He is also credited with forming the Fijian Association, which later became the Alliance Party that ruled this country for 17 years.

Above all, the statesman is credited for what is famously known as the “Big Four” – Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara, Ratu Sir Edward Cakobau, Ratu Sir George Cakobau and Ratu Sir Penaia Ganilau. Even then, Ratu Sukuna was ahead of modern day management principles such as mentoring and succession planning. These 4 gentlemen upheld the principles of Ratu Sukuna. And they commanded the respect of our people in no small measure. Together with national leaders at various times of our history like, A D Patel, S M Koya, Harish Sharma, Dr Timoci Bavadra and Jai Ram Reddy, they were, as it has been rightly said – giants of their time in their ability, perception and understanding of the problems facing Fiji.

Trust was the foundation of their leadership. Honesty, integrity and putting national interest above everything else was the bedrock of their larger than life personalities.

The Lord Denning Award that provides a fair distribution of revenue to cane growers, ALTO, ALTA, the establishment of FNPF, negotiations for Fiji’s Independence, the 1997 Constitution, negotiation of various protocols and treaties which have or are still benefitting Fiji economically and development of major infrastructure — through trust, consensus building, dialogue, painstaking negotiations, perseverance and above all selfless service for the greater good..

They did not use the barrel of the gun or impose Decrees forcibly like the Land Use Decree; they did not abuse their parliamentary mandate in riding roughshod over people, they did not impose on the people a Constitution, they did not impose their will on the people by muzzling other’s voices by imposing media censorship.

They made these milestone achievements through trust, consensus building, dialogue, painstaking negotiations, perseverance and above all putting national interest above everything else.

These are the principles of a national leader and a statesman. These principles, together with chiefly authority and wisdom, were the most valuable possessions of Ratu Sir Lala Sukuna. He had nothing of any significant monetary value or material wealth when he died.

The Maori have a very wise proverb that sums this up well: Ka mura, Ka muri. Which translates to mean that we look to the past to inform the way we move into the future because we learn from those who have gone before us. We walk backward into the future with our thoughts directed toward the coming generations but with our eyes on the past.

There are 2 great lessons that I take away from the life of Ratu Sukuna that I wish to share today:

The first is the respect for the rule of law. Despite the trying times as an Administrator in the colonial times and Ratu Sukuna’s fervent aspiration for the self-determination of the i-Taukei at that time, Ratu Sukuna worked within the boundaries of all the colonial regulations triangulating Trust through dialogue with the colonial leaders at that time and with the i-Taukei people before he embarked on that big project of native land registration.

Ratu Sukuna, even as a decorated and hailed French Foreign legionnaire and traditional chief of high rank would not have dared to even think about imposing his view on others such as what is prevalent in Fiji today via the Land Use Decree and abuse of parliamentary mandate to ride roughshod over people.

My other lesson from the life of Ratu Sukuna is that shared leadership and unity is the way forward. There are 2 quotes from speeches both made to the Bose Levu Vakaturaga or the GCC that I want to share that bring this point home I quote Ratu Joni Madraiwiwi – another eminent Leader and paragon of outstanding Leadership — in his brilliant piece at a public lecture to honour Ratu Sukuna last year where he references Ratu Sukuna’s address on native land in the Taukei language to the Bose Levu Vakaturaga in 1936, Ratu Sir Lala Sukuna observed among others as follows:

“We cannot in these days adopt an attitude that will conflict with the welfare of those who like ourselves wish only to live peacefully and increase the wealth of the Colony. We are doing our part here and so are they. We wish to live; they do the same. You should realise that money causes a close inter-relation of interests. If other communities are poor, we too remain poor; if they prosper, we will also prosper. But if we obstruct other people without reason from using our lands, following the laggards, there will be no prosperity. Strife will overtake us and before we realise the position, we shall be faced with a position beyond our control, and certainly not to our liking. Lastly I beg you to think of the big changes that have come over us and of the complications consequent on dealings based on money. You must remember that Fiji today is not what it used to be. We are not the sole inhabitants; there are now Europeans and Indians. Should Fiji progress we shall all benefit and vice versa…”

Justice Jai Ram Reddy, former NFP and Leader of Opposition, the first Indo-Fijian Leader to address the GCC reflecting also on what Ratu Sir Lala Sukuna believed said on 6th June 1997 and I quote, “What we seek is partnership. We seek a country whose children of all races grow up with a deep understanding and respect for each other’s cultures languages and traditions. We seek a country which encourages the best and the brightest – indeed, encourages all its people, of all races – to work together”.

It is a complete disappointment therefore that this government, when it was a military regime, unilaterally removed Ratu Sukuna Day as a public holiday. This decision was a deliberate attempt to overthrow, revise and reset history – this also comes through very strongly in their bid to change the flag and the coat of arms, but the answer lies with “You, The People” and the power to change government policy is in your hands.

This government must know that history is like indelible ink. It can never be erased and with oral traditions still very robust the legacy of Ratu Sukuna can continue if we know what we’re talking about and embed those principles in our lives. Ratu Sukuna’s legacy lives on but the question for us all is whether we will preserve his legacy with the honour, decorum and dignity that it so rightly deserves?

Let me end here with a quote again from Justice Jai Ram Reddy’s speech to the GCC in closing:

“Let us, therefore, gather our courage and set ourselves, united, to the finishing of the noble task to which our history, our heritage, and our motherland now call us. This generation must keep its rendezvous with destiny. And then, to future generations, much will be given.”

Ladies and Gentlemen, once again thank you for the invitation and it has been my honour to speak to you today.

Vinaka Vakalevu.