President of NFP, Hon, Pio Tikoduadua’s Maiden Speech – Parliament of Fiji

Video of Hon. Prof. Pio Tikoduadua’s Speech is available here.

NOVEMBER 30, 2018

Madam Speaker, It is good to be back in this august House after some three-and-a-half years. And it is a mighty relief not to be sitting here as Leader of Government business, something that I had to painfully endure for 9 months until May 2015.

Madam Speaker, I join other honourable Members in thanking his Excellency for his most gracious address when he opened the new sitting of parliament on Monday 26thNovember. While many have rightly stated that His Excellency was ungraciously compelled to read a Fiji First campaign speech, His Excellency is made of far sterner stuff that most Fijians do not know of.

I can vouch for this as I have known him for the last 30 years since 1988 when I joined the RFMF as an Officer Cadet. Like His Excellency, I have known three other honourable Members for the last 30 years. The honourable Prime Minister was the navy Commander back then. The honourable Minister for Defence was an Officer Cadet like me. And the honourable Leader of the Opposition was the  Commander.

Unfortunately, the words I heard him speak were not the type of words that I would know that he’d speak. His Excellency during his military days stood for the people. Stood for peace. Building bridges, mending fences and standing up for principles. That came out quite distinctly during his term as Chief of Staff, Deputy Commander RFMF and later as Force Commander of the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon. I am saddened that His Excellency found it fit to read that speech as I heard it.

Because, it is a stark contrast of what I know his person to be. I hope to see in the next four years of the term of this parliament that HE would demonstrate more of the traits and characteristic that I once knew him for.

Of course, yesterday we all heard from the honourable Leader of the Opposition of the bravery of His Excellency while serving our nation on peacekeeping missions. I am sure that the camaraderie, leadership and bravery displayed by His Excellency during his time as a decorated army officer, will come to the forefront in his role as symbol of unity of our nation.

Madam Speaker, I congratulate you on your re-election as Head of Parliament for the next four years. Your role as Speaker has become even more important than the last four years due to the numerical composition of Parliament’s opposing sides, with Government having a wafer-thin majority of only three seats having just got to the tape with 50.02% of votes.

Like your erstwhile predecessors, you have a chance to make history Madam Speaker – and for all the right reasons in being the authoritative but calm and rationale voice of reason. This is critically important given the bitter and acrimonious nature of debate hurling fire and brimstone from the Government side – just like business as usual like the last four years.

I only hope that they will be magnanimous and start talking to us – instead of talking at us. Because talking at us will not bring equality, dignity and justice to all our people. Talking at us will not result in lasting social, economic and political advancement. Above all, talking at us will cause irreparable damage to race relations in our beloved nation.

Madam Speaker it is easy to differentiate truth from lies. And we were bombarded with gutter-level lies by Fiji First and its leader during election campaign, resulting in polarisation of the nation like never before.

The nation has been divided right down the middle – instead of promoting equality, common and equal citizenry, this imposed Constitution and its framers have perpetuated ethnic division through their racial bigotry, demonization of SODELPA and its leader, preaching fear, attacking the NFP and its leader, and handing out freebies. Tragically, this Parliament resembles the true portrait of Fiji.

And the blame for this must squarely lie on the shoulders of the Fiji First Leader. He set the ball rolling of spewing statements that were full of lies and racial bigotry during his party’s fun day at Nausori on 6thOctober. This was the launching pad of what would be a case of repeating lies ad-nauseam throughout the country, including through print media, television and radio advertising.

It is no use repeating them here. But the end result is this tragic portrait of parliament – racially compartmentalised. The onus is on all of us to ensure this compartmentalisation does not filter down to our ethnic communities and result in volatility because as we know from world over, fanning flames of racism can be catastrophic.

Since Tuesday, that election campaign has been brought to this Parliament. And for the past three days we have been hearing the Government side accusing the Opposition and its supporters of promoting racial bigotry.

It is a case of the pot calling the kettle black Madam Speaker. While social media has been mentioned, there is no mention of fake profiles and trolls who are for all intents and purposes, FijiFirst supporters. There has been no mention or condemnation of fake Facebook pages with logos of Fiji One News or Fiji village.com accusing SODELPA and NFP of forming a coalition or SODELPA removing Diwali as a public holiday. Surely, we are not living on an Animal Farm here – or are we?

Yesterday  we heard Government interjections of VHP – Vishwa Hindu Parishad when the honourable Leader of NFP was speaking. VHP has been described as an extremist organisation by the honourable AG. But ca he furnish evidence that VHP Fiji is an extremist religious organisation?

For argument’s sake if it is, then why didn’t the honourable AG say this in 2014 when VHP executives openly campaigned for and provided financial support to FijiFirst?

And what is a Trustee of an extremist organisation, Honourable Ashneel Sudhakar doing on Government benches as a Minister? Why did he become the founder general secretary of VHP?

Talk can be cheap Madam Speaker – just because VHP Fiji didn’t support FijiFirst, it became an extremist organisation. But the honourable AG forgets one of his key Cabinet Ministers is still a Trustee of VHP! That is why I am saying this racial nonsense has to stop as it is doing us great harm as a nation.

Madam Speaker, I have returned to this House after 3 ½ years of leaving and recovering in my home village of Delasui. I had resigned from this House giving health and my personal wellbeing as reasons for doing so.

Madam Speaker, I treasure every day I live because managing Cancer, High Blood Pressure and a Blocked Artery is not a matter of beauty but of courage. The kind of courage that requires the patience to endure the challenges of everyday life. I amliving with this condition. However, I will not allow it to impede my passion for serving this country.

But Madam Speaker, 18 months ago I revealed that there were more reasons than just my health that caused me to leave the FijiFirst Party. Essentially it boiled down my lack of confidence in the leadership of Honourable Josaia Voreqe Bainimarama.Primarily, my differing opinion to that of the Prime Minister about the method of realising his vision for Fiji. A vision that I inherited with him from the year 2000.

During my maiden speech in 2014, I said one thing that I still remember quite distinctly. Madam Speaker, it was that I shared the vision of the Hon. PM that the RFMF should return Fiji to the Government that was voted for by the people. This was a vision of a Prosperous, United and Democratic Fiji. A Fiji of Talanoa, Consultation and an Appreciation of each other’s differences.

Madam Speaker while I still share that vision, it is of great concern to me that the Prime Minister has shifted in his methods of achieving that vision. As I alluded to earlier, he set the ball rolling by hurling racial bigotry and false accusations at NFP and malicious claims about the NFP and its Leader ducking for cover and running in the cane fields. Its like we owe our existence to him! This is not the Voreqe Bainimarama that I have known for many, many years. A leader proclaiming election campaign to be a battle of ideas changes tune three months later and spews racist venom!

I wonder Madam Speaker – Why? Has the honourable PM done an about-turn? Yes, for all intents and purposes. Has the honourable PM shirked collective responsibility in favour of making decisions solely or together with few of his loyalists? Yes again!

Two-man rule is what Fiji will have to endure for the next four years – unless the Court of Disputed Returns have something else to say. Two men Madam Speaker – who in my firm and unequivocal view are behaving like the political judge, jury and executioner. And I can say this with absolute authority.

Madam Speaker, unknown to the people of Fiji, even to FijiFirst supporters, members, financiers or even its Members of Parliament, only three people under the party’s constitution can become the party leader. They are the founder President, Founder Leader and Founder General Secretary. Unless things have changed of course in the unlikeliest of events.

The Founder President is out because that is you Madam Speaker. So it leaves just two – the honourable PM and his right-hand man the honourable AG. All three are foundation members of FijiFirst. And only they, and they alone can become leaders. No one has any say. There is no vote taken in an AGM.  Simply Madam Speaker, dictatorship at its worst. Now that you have been out as a Foundation member for the last four years, the PM and his right-hand man will have to out-vote each other in the event there is a contest. Even dictatorship can sometimes look ridiculous!

A most undemocratic constitution that has been accepted by the Registrar of Political Parties in direct contravention of the Code of Conduct of Political Parties under the Political Parties Decree or Act.

And now the same dictatorship is trying to entrench itself upon the people of Fiji through another imposed law – the 2013 Constitution.

This is a stark contrast to the principles of democracy that gives power to the people. The power now is vested in the constitution. A constitution in which the people did not have a voice in its making.

There are many other things that the Constitution endorses that I do not necessarily agree with. But the Prime Minister is not willing to change. And disagreement with the Constitution, despite taking Oath to uphold it doesn’t mean that one cannot aspire to change it.

Madam Speaker, 27 Indo-Fijian MPs led by NFP’s then Leader Honourable Justice Jai Ram Reddy, 37 indigenous Fijian MPs, 5 General Elector MPs and 1 Rotuman MP, twice took an oath to uphold the 1990 Constitution. Indo-Fijian MPs, particularly from NFP were elected after solely campaigning to seek changes to the Constitution. For them, this was paramount.

The NFP MPs, 20 after the snap elections of 1994, led by Honourable Jai Ram Reddy, worked together with honourable PM Rabuka to get the racist 1990 Constitution changed. It was an historic and a unanimous decision of the House of Representatives, the Senate and the Great Council of Chiefs. Impossible was nothing for them.

Because each side, from their own perspective of change and resisting change respectively, came to the middle ground,  purely for national interest. The oppressor and the oppressed came to the same table, just as Nelson Mandela did for his people three decades ago. And the Indo-Fijian MPs had sworn an Oath under the very same Constitution they wanted changed.

The indigenous Fijian MPs took an Oath to uphold the supreme law of the land that permanently put them into power. So this argument of one being hypocritical by asking for changes to the 2013 Constitution after taking an Oath to uphold it – is warped logic. And the honourable AG knows this too well, but as usual is being overly dramatic.

Madam Speaker returning to the 2013 Constitution, specifically, the role of the Military under Section 131(2), the Commander, his senior officers, former Military commanders, defence analysts and strategists would agree with me that an institution like the RFMF today does not have the capability, the ability and the capacity to objectively meet and deliver effectively the “well-being” of the Fijian People.

Being able to provide for the wellbeing of the people is much more than security and derogation of power. It is about a home, a loving family, security from climate change, fighting poverty and the pursuit of happiness. This is something that the Military cannot realistically do.

Madam Speaker, I know why that the provision of the “Well-being of the people” is there. That is to provide a net that would make as a reasonable excuse for military intervention. I refer specifically Madam Speaker, to the use of military personnel to stop the installation of Ratu Epenisa Cakobau as Vunivalu.

Madam Speaker, the next thing I would like to discuss from the constitution, is the perception of the people as to the unfairness and bias of various state institutions such as the FIRCA, FICAC, Police and the Military. The people view them as tools of subversion. I can only advise that it is important that state institutions not only need to be independent they must also seem to be so.  Currently, the perception is that they seem to always lean on the side of government when it comes to controversial issues.

Madam Speaker, I would like to speak about our equality, more so our inequalities under the Constitution. I would be the first person to stand for equality. However, I accept that we are not all the same. The dignity of the human person dictates that we must not treat people differently. However, one size does not fit all. Yes, we are One. But we are also many. To view equality from a simplistic approach of everyone getting the same, could defeat the very intention of pursuing equality.

Madam Speaker, finally, I would like to share with the house my experience of admission in the hospital. I am saddened to say that the government has blissfully ignored the continued deteriorating state of our hospitals.

I was on every occasion on my movement from ward to ward at CWM required to provide for my own linen and beddings. The furniture— even in paying wards were infested with bedbugs.

And, on one occasion an entire ward of more than 100 people both men and women were forced to use only one toilet and bathroom facility.

The only good thing that I am able to report on our nation’s hospitals is the commitment and kindness of its staff –Both medical and ancillary. I’d like to especially mention the young Doctor Rabukawaqa of whom I was well pleased. Vinaka Vuniwai!and also the Senior Medical Officer at Korovou, Tailevu. Doctor Lasaro. My sincere gratitude to you the nurses and ancillary staff that attended to me whilst I was admitted there for 2 days.

Dr. Rabukawaqa, if you weren’t there, death would have come sooner to me.

But now, Madam speaker, death has to wait because I still have a lot to say and even more to do for all our people.

And I look forward to the rock-solid support of all those who voted for me and provided me moral and financial support during my darkest days as well as for the elections. A special Vinaka vakalevu to Momo Tamai Kini from Dakuivuna who was my campaign manager and members of my team. And how can I forget my loving wife Sereana and my family. You have provided me strength and inspiration. To the vanua and people of Tailevu North especially the villages of Dakuivuna, Navunisole, Nalidi, Soa, Nailega/Vadrakula, vanua o Wainibuka, Namalata, Saukasa, Dawasamu, Verata, Vugalei and Taivugalei – I say thank you. Last but not least, my own people in the villages of Nakorovou and Delasui.

To Team NFP and all our supporters ably led by our Leader – you are part of a legendary 55 year old party that has survived because the roots of the NFP mango tree are unshakeable. We have survived many, many pitfalls, not of our making, and we will continue to survive for the next 55 years. Political parties  have dissipated before our own eyes – and more will disappear – but we will live on. Because we have been ably led in the past and our current Leader honourable Professor Prasad is doing exactly that. Together, we will overcome al the challenges that lie ahead because we are not feint-hearted.

Thank you Madam Speaker and May God bless Fiji.

Leader of NFP, Hon. Prof. Biman Prasad’s Maiden Speech – Parliament of Fiji

Video of Hon. Prof. Biman Prasad’s Speech is available here.

Thursday 29 November 2018

Madam Speaker

It is the tradition during the debate on the opening of Parliament to thank His Excellency the President for his most gracious address. But I must say that this time it is difficult to say it.

Madam Speaker, I respect our President. Just as you symbolise the unity of Parliament, His Excellency should at all times symbolise the unity of our multi-ethnic, multi-cultural and multi-religious nation. He does not get involved in politics. His job is to give to Parliament the address prepared for him by the Government.

But I agree with my Opposition colleagues. Those who prepared his address were far from gracious. And they should not have put him in the position of giving a speech that was a continuation of the Fiji First Party election campaign.

It is also traditional for the Opposition in a new Parliament to congratulate the Government on its election win. That is, for now, the official result. The courts may still have something to say about it. But for now, we respect the official result.

And let me also, while I am here, remind the Government that we are the loyal Opposition. We are loyal to this country. We are loyal to the people. Our role in opposition is to serve the people. We do this by scrutinising the Government. We do this by criticising the Government when their actions require criticism.  We do this by offering alternative policies to the people. And I assure the people of Fiji today, that this is what we will do in this Parliament.

Madam Speaker, Last week, we reminded the country that the election may be over, but Fiji’s problems are not. We have serious poverty and economic inequality. We have a failing sugar industry. We have under-developed opportunities in agriculture. We have no new industries to create jobs and opportunities for our young people. We have poor public services. Our education, health, welfare and disaster relief is in a pitiful state. Fiji’s score on NCDs and domestic violence are rampant and amongst the highest in the world.

Madam Speaker, We can fix these problems faster if we work together. We have said that if the government wishes to work positively with the opposition parties we are ready. We will do it from the Opposition. I have said that we will scrutinize and criticize, because that is the Opposition’s job. The Government also has a job in this Parliament. It is to listen to that scrutiny and criticism, and to change where needed. This is what democratic governments do.

Madam Speaker, only one party is coming into this Parliament with fewer seats than before, the Fiji First Party. The people of Fiji have sent the government a clear message. They have asked it to change the way it behaves in government.

But the early signs are not good.  The Honourable the Prime Minister has been reported by the media to have criticised prisons officers for not voting for him.

On the campaign trail he described the villagers of Vunidogoloa in Cakaudrove as liumuri because they did not vote for them after they got new houses. Whatever message he gave those voters, Madam Speaker, they certainly sent him a message back. He got one vote there.

Madam Speaker, the Prime Minister needs to be reminded that the election is over. As long as he has the PM’s job, he must serve everybody, whether they voted for him or not. That is what the taxpayers of Fiji are paying him for. They are not paying him to complain about who did not vote for him.

The Prime Minister talks about the politics of fear. Yet it was his right-hand man, who sits next to him, who told an audience, in Hindi, that voting for the opposition was like “putting a dagger to your neck.” And even now, the Honourable Bala speaks in this House about how NFP and SODELPA are voting together. I will come back to him, Madam Speaker.  But yes, we are the Opposition.  And yes, we work together. We work together to make this a better country.  And we are not seeing this from the Government party. We are very happy to work with this honourable party.

Madam Speaker, the Prime Minister and his party spent the whole election campaign demonising SODELPA and attacking NFP.   Perhaps this is what won them the election. But this does not make Fiji a better place. It leaves us more divided.

And it is now continuing the same vitriol and venom in this honourable House. The Government’s MPs have spent this debate attacking the Opposition side, demonizing the SODELPA side and the new Leader of the Opposition. And I am now asking them – respectfully – to stop this.  The election campaign has left Fiji bitterly divided, including on ethnic lines.  Do not reinforce this division in this place.

I want to say to them, Madam Speaker, you are the government. You have won the election. Be gracious. Be generous. Talk about the future.  The people want to hear about the future. They do not want to hear your personal grievances about the 1987 coup. They do not want to hear about Mr Rabuka and the SVT Government. The 1987 coup is history – just as your leader’s 2006 coup is history. Just as all the violence and lawlessness of 2006 is history. So talk instead about how you will build national unity and make Fiji a better place.

Madam Speaker, one of the Government’s favourite themes is security and stability. But security and stability do not come from the armed forces. Security and stability do not come from passing laws in this House.  Security and stability do not come when the people of Fiji are not united. The Government’s performance in this debate is promoting, division, not unity. So I say again, Madam Speaker – stop demonizing the opposition side. Look for ways to work together. This is what the people expect from us.

Look at what happened on Monday, Madam Speaker. There, we witnessed the Government side doing what it does best – bullying, threatening and bulldozing its way to approval of the Standing Orders. We have asked the Government to re-visit the Standing Orders. This is so Parliament can be more effective.  We want Parliament to perform its role properly. We want stronger select committees; we want Parliament to hear and debate the people’s petitions.  We want the Public Accounts Committee to be chaired by the Opposition. This has been the rule in every Fiji Parliament until the Government changed the Standing Orders.

As usual, nothing from the Government side. As usual, they have just said the Opposition was lying. Madam Speaker, that is the only thing that the Fiji First Party can say. They never say what we are lying about; they never offer their version of the truth; they just say the opposition is lying.

Madam Speaker, on Tuesday honourable Minister Bala made remarks in this House which are typical of the way the Government has behaved in this debate.

He asked me if NFP had entered into a coalition arrangement with SODELPA at midnight on election night. The answer is that we did not – but why ask such a silly question?

Then he accused SODELPA of being greedy for wanting the return of the 1997 Constitution. He has joined the Fiji First Party chorus against that Constitution. They have attacked that Constitution. Fiji First has attacked the Great Council of Chiefs and its role in that Constitution. But Madam Speaker, let me remind the honourable Bala of a little bit of his own personal history.

Madam Speaker, the Honourable Bala is a former Mayor of Ba. He got there on NFP votes, but that is another story. And at the time of the new millennium, in 1999, our far-sighted Mayor – let us call him our millennial Mayor – invited a chief guest to the unveiling of a special millennial plaque.

This is what the plaque says, Madam Speaker:

This plaque was unveiled by Major General Sitiveni Ligamamada Rabuka (honours listed), Chairman of Great Council of Chiefs and former Prime Minister of Fiji, to commemorate the new millennium on 31stDecember 1999. The foundation of this symbolic millennium structure was laid by His Worship the Mayor of Ba Cr Praveen Bala on 8thDecember 1999”.

Our Millennial Mayor, Madam Speaker!

And on 6 October 2006, our Millennial Mayor was Chief Guest at the Fiji Day celebrations held in Ba. And what did he say about the 1997 Constitution and the multi-party government of the day? This is what he said, Madam Speaker, and I quote: “For the last 5 months, a Multi-Party Cabinet representing all races of Fiji has been governing the country. This concept of Government must not be allowed to fail. It allows us all to embrace our shared future”.

But that is not all our Millennial Mayor said, Madam Speaker. He went on: “Unfortunately, irresponsible elements who now see their personal and political ambitions derailed by the multi-party government are hell-bent on destroying this concept that is the way forward for this country. Such elements must not be allowed to succeed. They must be told in no uncertain terms that they are living in the past. If they cannot gauge the mood of the nation, they must eat their humble pie. Otherwise they can continue their destructive and divisive attitude at their own peril”.

So, what did our Millennial Mayor say 12 years ago about the 1997 Constitution, Madam Speaker? “A concept which must not be allowed to fail. A concept which allows us all to embrace our shared future”.

And now, Madam Speaker, our Millennial Mayor is happy to serve and sing praises of his Leader – the very person who led the overthrow of that Constitution and that multi-party Cabinet!

Madam Speaker, the honourable Minister Bala and his colleagues would be blind if they can’t see that their government now hangs onto power by its fingernails. Their mandate this election was 50.02 per cent. They must be able to see that they are already the government of the past.  But they are still the government.

So we ask them, use this debate to tell the people what you will do for them in your last term of office.

You say you will “study” the minimum wage.  Give us a plan, give us your timetable, to improve it.  Because it is shameful and wrong that while you are paid $200,000, $300,000 in salaries, while you are collecting your thousands of dollars in nightly allowances, while you are staying at fine hotels in Bonn and New York, you are leaving the poorest people in Fiji behind.

For the sugar industry, the Fiji First Party’s glossy manifesto said virtually nothing. They offered farmers a 10% shareholding in the bankrupt Fiji Sugar Corporation. As soon as the election is over, the Government calls for submissions on a sugar industry strategic plan.  For the best part of 12 years, this government did nothing for the sugar industry and allowed it to go into decline.  Only when it was facing elections did it begin to throw money around. It still has no vision, no plan. For the sugar industry, this has been a wasted decade.

There is a new Minister for Local Government, Madam Speaker. We do not wish to hear from her about her sufferings in the 1990s.  She is a Minister now. We want to hear from her about when local government elections will be held.  For four years her predecessor, the Millennial Mayor, famously stalled and delayed. Why? Because he was afraid of the results. Because for the Fiji First Party, it is never about allowing the people to have their say.  They know that big billboards with 688 cannot win them local government elections. So, Madam Speaker, the new honourable lady Minister is on notice from NFP. Make a commitment to give people local government – and stick to it.

And to the rest of the Government – what will you do for farmers, for unemployed graduates, for our health system, our education system? What new industries will you create to grow the economy? What will you do about NCDs, domestic violence and suicide? Talk about that. Be useful.

And finally, Madam Speaker, some advice to the Government. We know you do not take advice very well, but you must try. Don’t be arrogant. You can’t be arrogant with a 0.02 % majority.

You must now think about your place in history. Will you be remembered as a government that brought our nation together? Or will you be remembered as one that deepened our national divisions? The government that would not listen to the people when they asked you to change your ways?

Madam Speaker, if the Fiji First Party wants to continue on the road to its own self-destruction, we on the opposition side will be happy to see you go. But as the government it has a responsibility to work positively for the country, to build national unity and to show respect to the Opposition as the alternative government. So once again my plea to them, stop your vitriolic attacks and venom.  Focus on thefuture.

Thank you and May God bless Fiji.

Hon. Lenora Qereqeretabua’s Maiden Speech 2018 – Parliament of Fiji

Video of Hon. Lenora Qereqeretabua’s Speech is available here.

Thursday 29 November 2018

Thank you, Madam Speaker.

I return all honour, glory and praise to my Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, who has sustained me, lifted my head, given me strength and provision during this journey.

It is an honour and privilege to stand in this house to deliver my maiden speech knowing my beloved parents and husband are sitting in the public gallery.

I congratulate you on your reappointment and wish you good health, Madam Speaker.  I also offer my congratulations to my former broadcasting colleague Hon Veena Bhatnagar, on her election to the position of Deputy Speaker.

I congratulate the Honourable members of the house especially the ladies on both sides for your election to represent our people here.

The voters definitely want to see a change. I believe that behind having 10 women voted in is the hope that we will transform this house into a place where we will see more inclusiveness and bipartisanship.

I acknowledge the brave and often outspoken contributions of former NFP MP’s Mr Pramod Chand of Labasa and Mr Prem Singh of Nadi.

Madam Speaker, I enter this house at a time when we face serious challenges as a nation;

  • Where the cost of living is high and the minimum wage is low,
  • Where the classroom is one of the most stressful places to work,
  • Where certain sections of the media are either muzzled or have completely lost our trust,
  • Where the elections campaigning has left many polarised and bitter.

I enter this house at a time;

  • Where the divide between the haves and the have nots continues to widen,
  • Where the threat of victimisation is a reality, preventing many individuals, communities and companies from actively and openly supporting political parties opposed to the Fiji First party,
  • Where returning home and contributing actively in their country is not an option for many intellectuals, academics and professionals because they dared to have views and opinions that differ from government’s.

I enter this house at a time where we lecture the world on climate change but refuse to do the simplest things to reduce carbon emissions, right here at home, in fact right here in this house.

Why I joined

At this time last year, I decided that it was high time I contributed to my country from within these walls.  This was after Govt announced that it was going to spend $35, 000 to welcome home a government delegation to the CoP 23 meetings in Bonn. A delegation that had gone to work, earning salaries and allowances.  I could not believe that this was happening less than 2 years after TC Winston, the most intense tropical cyclone in the southern hemisphere on record as well as the strongest to make landfall in the southern hemisphere, devastated much of the country and tragically claimed 44 lives in the Western, Eastern, Central and Northern Divisions.  I could not believe that Govt was prepared to spend $35, 000 on a celebration whilst huge parts of these same divisions still lay in ruin and many children faced the reality of beginning the new school year – January 2018 – still under tents.

I took to social media asking those who agreed with me to share my Facebook status using the hashtag Cancel the Party, and to write to the newspapers pleading with govt to have a change of heart and to instead channel the $35, 000 to more deserving projects including the rehabilitation of TC Winston victims, and ensuring hospitals had basic necessities.

The result of my letter being printed in the paper and the outcry on social media was quick;

  1. There was a flurry of media statements which at first defiantly claimed that my opinion was my own and that the celebrations would continue conveniently using the excuse that Traditional Protocols were important. Yes, these are the same Traditional Protocols that were shamefully set aside just last month for the Traditional welcome for the royals.
  2. The blame was passed onto “well-meaning but naïve civil servants”,
  3. The party was cancelled, and
  4. Finally a toned down and (I hope) cheaper welcome event was decided upon.

But I had made my point and people took notice. If this could happen with one issue, imagine the possibilities!  So I joined the fray!

Civics and Citizenship

After sitting the FJC exam at Shri Vivekananda High School, now Swami Vivekananda College in Nadi, I went to Canberra to complete high school. One of the units I took was Legal Studies.  This is a course that I believe we should seriously look to introducing to year 9 students, if we want to raise Civic minded citizens.

Civics and citizenship education builds students’ knowledge and understanding of the ways in which citizens can actively participate in their country’s diverse society. Students learn about the civic institutions and the processes through which decisions are made for the common good of the community and they also develop the skills and understandings that relate to the organisation of a harmonious democratic society.

These are the skills that will allow students to effectively participate in society and become responsible, informed and active citizens.

The challenge in Fiji right now is NOT that people are uneducated.  The challenge is that many are educated just enough to believe what they’ve been told. But not educated enough to question. And here is where tyranny can reign unchecked.

Media

The media provides a vital role in discerning fact from fiction and reporting thereof from a neutral, unbiased perspective.

We assume expertise as well as a professional attitude on the part of the journalists, the providers of our news. This assumption implies something that is of even MORE value than expertise and professionalism: that is TRUST.

In Fiji, our media is either muzzled or has lost our trust.

Misinformation matters because media outlets have great power. They shape the way we understand the world and, ultimately, drive our behaviour. It is no exaggeration to say that their activity can have life-and-death implications.

Indigenous Concerns.

As a member of the indigenous people of this country, I am very conscious of the fact that are only 500, 000 of us on this planet, out of the 7.7billion.  Our language is unique to us, as are our indigenous traditions.  It is only natural that when there are so few of you, the urge to preserve what can be lost is keenly felt.

It is not racist therefore to want to preserve my language and my traditions. It is not racist to want to ensure that the native traditional lands and fisheries of the first people of Fiji are protected.

The Hon Kuridrani was told to say quote and unquote when he mentioned the traditional titles of the chiefs and chiefly households, he wanted to pay tribute to yesterday, because the Standing Orders prohibit members from speaking their mother tongue. This must change.

This is the people’s house. How is it that we, the people, cannot use our own languages here? These are the languages we learned at birth. These are the languages in which we express our most intimate feelings. Why should this House only be a place for people who can speak good English? How can we talk about preserving our unique languages – our many Fijian dialects, our special Fiji Hindi – if we cannot speak those languages here?

The parliament of New Zealand made Te reo Maori an official language in 1985. MPs in New Zealand can address the house in Te reo with the use of an interpreter. We can have translators in our courts. Why can we not have them in this House?

Eventually we could move to simultaneous translation with trained translators. This is what happens elsewhere. This is the 21st century. We have technology that can record what we say and how we vote. So it is not hard to have simultaneous translation. Good, high quality translators would not just be useful in Parliament. They would have skills we could use in many other settings where dialogue and consultation are required.

This is not about practicalities. This is about being willing to do it. And we should do it. It is about our unity, our dignity as Fijians of all races, and our pride in our country and its culture.

On the subject of Human Rights;

I wish to remind the Hon Members of the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence, an international campaign to challenge violence against women and girls. The campaign runs every year from 25 November, the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, to 10 December, Human Rights Day.

Now that Fiji has been elected to the United Nations Human Rights Council, I hope that the government will take a long hard look at the Amnesty International Report on Fiji, pointing out the need for government to establish an independent and effective mechanism to investigate and address the systematic use of violence by the security forces and police and to make such reports public.

Environment

I have heard in several speeches this week how the Fiji First govt has led the way in Climate Change actions.

Since March 2012 residents and members of the public have been lobbying Government for the protection and NON-Industrialization of Draunibota Bay, in Lami; home to one of the few large remaining stands of mangroves in the Suva area.

An EIA submission by the proposed developers showed major errors. Proper procedures were not followed.

In October 2012 The Bay of Islands Preservation Group was formed. What we do is we raise awareness to Save Draunibota Bay from industry and the destruction of over 36 acres of Mangroves for proposed industrial development. So far, we have been successful.

In 2015 The Hon. Prime Minister stood on the shore of Draunibota Bay and released 7000 young mud- crabs. He gave a speech, and this is what he said:

“Nothing is more important to every Fijian than the preservation of our environment, and especially those living things on which we all depend for food and for making a living. So I’m especially delighted to be here today to celebrate a wonderful event – the release of several thousand baby mud crabs into the wild to help repopulate the mangroves in Draunibota Bay.”

But, in that very same month – April 2015 – the land in Draunitoba Bay was rezoned to allow commercial building, heavy industry and car parking.

In May 2015 we appealed against the Rezoning to the Environment Minister, with a petition signed by 560 people.

Then another developer bought the site, fenced it and cleared it of mangroves.

Two years after we lodged out appeal, in May 2017 the then Minister for Environment, Hon Praveen Bala, disallowed our appeal.

Now approval has been given to build a Paint Factory on the rezoned land.  A paint factory, right next to mangroves.

Madam Speaker, did you know that if you want a copy of an Environmental Impact Assessment report you must pay $4.85 per page!

Some EIA reports have hundreds of pages!  But you cannot get a soft copy emailed to you. Nor can you go and photocopy the report yourself.  So, being able to challenge changes to our environment is a costly exercise. And yet, the people who are most affected by development are often the poorest people. What will the Government do to improve this?

The saga surrounding the destruction of the cloud forest at Wainisavulevu Weir by EFL is another example of how carelessly we view sustainable development, where inadequate public consultations are the norm, where there is a disconnect between the overseas preaching and local action, where there are even attempts to hide the truth.

Let’s come closer to home, or should I say, work.

How many single use PET bottles does this house go through each day, each week?  I reckon during one working day, more than 100 single use plastic bottles? For this chamber alone? Multiply that by 5 days and you have a lot of plastic bottles.

I would like to invite this house to please consider phasing out single use plastic water bottles.  Our parliamentary offices have filtered water dispensers, which are a blessing. Why can’t all of us honourable members consider bringing our own reusable water bottles from home and filling them up at the dispensers? Or, God forbid, why can we not just drink plain tap water like most of the people who voted us in here?

As one of our sayings from Kadavu goes, “Mai ya so?” I use a reusable water bottle with a filter that I change every two months or so depending on tap water quality.

Secondly – we sure go through a lot of paper in this House.  Since we MP’s are being supplied smart phones and laptops, I hope we can use less paper in our communications.

Thirdly is the air-polluting habit of government four-wheel drive vehicles. Waiting for their Honourable passengers, no matter the duration of their meetings or meals, with both engine and air-conditioning running. May I urge honourable members to consider asking their drivers to cease this practice for the sake of cleaner air, our health and environment.

There is a young lady, called AnnMary Raduva who has already made a name for herself as an environmental activist.  AnnMary, with the help of her family has started a campaign called “Say No to Balloon Releasing”.  AnnMary has written a letter to The Hon PM, in the hope that the Government, along with stakeholders, classify releasing balloons into the air as littering.

Ann Mary started her campaign after watching a balloon release recently to celebrate the launch of Walesi, and after watching a YouTube video with her 11-year-old sister which showed turtles and sea birds dying from swallowing plastics and bits and pieces of balloons.

Ann Mary is 14 years old and is a Year 9 student of Adi Cakobau School; she deserves credit and assistance to not only see her project succeed, but to promote her as an activist.

On Equality

On Equality, I ask the Hon Minister for Education to please look urgently at levelling the playing field, in regards, Education resourcing in the maritime zones and rural areas, so children in Kadavu for example can compete more strongly with their peers in urban centres. This would be a huge step towards true equality.

Hon Koroilavesau  on Tuesday said his information was that transportation and shipping had never been better because of the franchise shipping system.  I don’t know how many times the Hon Minister travels as an everyday citizen, because while that is true in terms of regularity for us islanders, I invite him to travel like I do, like my parents often do and like most of us islanders do – in vessels that are dangerously over-crowded, where passengers outnumber life-jackets, if you can find them and where there are no safety announcements.  I invite all Hon ministers to attempt maritime travel like the majority of this country travels.

Leadership

To quote Leadership guru, John C Maxwell, “Everything rises and falls on leadership.”

I believe that is the same when it comes to a country; when the leadership is fair, when the leadership is compassionate, when the leadership leads with love first and foremost, you see that reflected in its citizens.”

Having watched the interjections, aping and other behaviour on show in this house over the last four years, I cannot help but be reminded of a school-yard bully and the obligatory gaggle of buddies, always jostling for an approving pat on their backs.

Just about everyone I speak to hopes that we will be better behaved over the next four years.  That should be easy to do IF we keep in mind always who put us here and why, and who pays our salaries.

In my first few days in Parliament, I see, hear and feel the ‘might’ of the Govt Side, and hear of how they are the only ones who have and are capable of the many great things quoted endlessly. The Hon PM said in his speech on Monday, “I am here to listen to you and take your concerns seriously.  And I am here to build a better future for all Fijians, wherever they may be in the country.”

Well, we on this side of the floor represent 49.6% of the Fijians the Hon PM was talking about.  So please take the concerns of that 49.6% of Fijians seriously when we highlight them in this House.

Any Government must remain transparent and answerable to the public at all times, and a good Opposition should put the spotlight on serious issues and have them resolved quickly.

Thank you

To each of you who believed in me enough to entrust me with your vote, thank you. I will do my utmost to be worthy of the honour and privilege of representing you in parliament.

I thank the leadership of the National Federation Party, Professor Biman Prasad, Mr Pio Tikoduadua, Vice Presidents, Executives and Selection Committee members for deeming me worthy to represent my party, the NFP.

To fellow NFP candidates; we fought a good, clean, issues-based fight without resorting to personal attacks and vitriol. We all should hold our heads high.

I have nothing but gratitude for the NFP Staff and Youth; your energy, positivity, good vibes and tonnes of knowledge continue to be invaluable.

I am grateful to all NFP supporters, blue collar, white collar, no collar, in the factories, offices and on the streets, who campaigned for me, with or without my knowledge, at home and abroad; you are the machinery that drives this push to be that positive change Fiji so desperately needs.

 

Thank you – To my close family from Dravuni, Buliya and Navoka who were the people I relied on the most to get my message out. My two Tavales, Tamai Oveti at Lomaivuna and Tamai Sala at Navoka, and my brothers Semi Sarasau in Buliya, Jolame Koroivuya in Dravuni and Sailosi Vunidakua in Sakoca .  I also thank my Bulou Tauvu Titilia from the chiefly village of Tavualevu for her energy and passion.

To the amazing team of young people who were my polling agents, I am so grateful.

Thank you – Mum and Dad, Poasa, Ana-Lisa, Zac and Em, I could not have gone on this journey without your support from Day 1.  .

There are those who kept me in their prayers, from within my church family and from without: thank you for your prayer support.

There are many I will not thank publicly because they risked their jobs and income to support me, a sad reality in today’s Fiji, but I am so grateful to you all.

I pledge to be worthy of your trust in me.  I pledge to be the change you and I want to see in parliament and in Fiji.  I will need all the help I can get and promise to listen so I can be a good servant.

No one lives forever.

We, our children and their children will reap what we sow.  Pride comes before the fall.

Jeremiah 9; 23 – 24; “Thus says the Lord:

“Let not the wise man glory in his wisdom, Let not the mighty man glory in his might,

Nor let the rich man glory in his riches; But let him who glories, glory in this,

That he understands and knows Me, That I am the Lord, exercising lovingkindness, judgment, and righteousness in the earth.

For in these I delight,” says the Lord.””

Vinaka saka vakalevu, Bahut dhanyavad, Fai’aksia, Xie Xie, Shukria.

Statement by NFP President Mr Pio Tikoduadua; Commenting on the outcome of the 2018 General Elections

November 21, 2018

We do not want to miss this opportunity, on behalf of our party, to thank our leader, Professor Biman Prasad, for his wise, courageous and principled leadership in the last four-and-a-half  years.

We know that he is not happy with the electoral result. But we want him to know that our party is solidly behind him. A legendary party does not look at the short term. It remembers contributions from the past and it looks to the future.

Biman came to NFP’s leadership at its lowest ebb, at a time when the country was under military government and there was little hope for the opposition. In spite of that, he re-built the foundations of our party and led us into Parliament; and he has kept us there.

He has changed the face of the party into a truly multi-racial grouping; he has constantly reminded us that we are here not for ourselves, but for the people, particularly the most vulnerable in our community.

He has faced all manner of personal attacks and intimidation, including a vicious campaign against him this election by Fiji First. He is undeterred – and so are we.

The party is strong and united under Biman’s leadership.  We are an accountable, democratic party because of his leadership. Many of us came into this party because of his leadership.  And we have a solid, credible platform for the future because of his leadership.

Authorised by Pio Tikoduadua

President of the National Federation Party

Work together to resolve Fiji’s problems

November 21, 2018

Election campaigns are usually intense and sometimes even acrimonious and divisive.  The 2018 election campaign was no exception.

The heat of the campaign is now over. The scrutiny of the election count is not.  When there is a result as close as this one, we owe it to our supporters and to the country to ensure that it is correct.

The official result is that the Fiji First Party has won the election. We of course respect that result. We are looking carefully at it.  If a legal challenge is merited we will bring one. But if it is not merited, we will not. We are looking at the evidence and taking advice. I cannot say anything more about this now.

For the moment, and based on the official result, it is appropriate to congratulate the Fiji First Party for its lead in the polls.

I want to acknowledge the great restraint and tolerance demonstrated by all our people both during the campaign and during the balloting.  It is a real credit to them.

I ask everyone to maintain that same calmness and unity, whatever the final result proves to be. Whatever we feel about the current election outcome, instability and division would be worse.

The election result was close. The official results show that Fiji First received only 147  more votes than the opposition parties. Its majority in Parliament has been slashed from 14 to 3.

Even that majority comes only because of a special formula that Fiji First chose for itself in 2014. On a simple proportionate count, Fiji First’s majority would be 1 seat. The lead is marginal, probably most embarrassing result for a ruling party, and nothing to gloat about.

On a result that close, whoever is in the government should think carefully. If so many people have voted for alternative policies and platforms, a good government would show respect to that.

This election result is a rejection of Fiji First’s dictatorial and bulldozing style of government. If it is smart, it will change the way it governs.

The election may be over, but our problems are not. They are the same as they were before the election. We have serious poverty and economic inequality. We have a failing sugar industry, under-developed opportunities in agriculture and poor public services including education and health. Fiji’s score on NCDs and domestic violence are rampant and amongst the highest in the world.

We can fix these problems faster if we work together. If the government wishes to work positively with the opposition parties on Fiji’s problems, we are ready. We will do it from the Opposition. We will always scrutinize and criticize, because that is the Opposition’s job. The government’s job is to accept that scrutiny and criticism and to change where needed. That is what democratic governments do.

For NFP, we did not get the result we wanted. We increased our share of the popular vote but we fell a few votes short of increasing our numbers in Parliament. We will continue to fight, inside Parliament and out, for better wages for our workers, a lower cost of living, better housing, fair prices for our farmers, better education and health and better opportunities for our youth. That does not change with the election result.

In accordance with our party rules and procedure I will present the result to the NFP Management Board when it meets next week so we can consider our future direction thereafter.  At some point in the near future the right thing for me to do is to put my own leadership on the table. I have made no decisions at this stage about my own political future. I will consult the party leadership and supporters first.

I want to finish on a positive note. I have worked with a great team of candidates. I want to thank them enough for stepping forward. It takes courage to put yourself forward as a candidate. But it takes double that courage to do so in the climate of fear that is maintained by Frank Bainimarama’s government.  They and our party activists, particularly our young people, in these elections has been an overwhelmingly positive experience for me.  There is a whole new generation of leadership in the NFP. Our time will come. The results of this election mean that it is only a matter of time.

We call ourselves a legendary party.  We are not here for power or prestige. We are a party of principles. We are not a personality cult that blindly follows one individual. We are a party that believes in lasting social, economic and political advancement of all Fiji’s people. That will never change.

Authorised by:

Professor Biman Prasad

NFP Leader

Remarks at 2018 Manifesto Launch Vunimono Community Hall, Nausori Thursday, November 1, 2018 By NFP Leader Professor Biman Prasad

Welcome to the launch of our manifesto. I will try to be brief in my comments tonight. Because this is a document we want people to take away and read.

The manifesto has some of our ideas for government.  We had meetings with many people, all over Fiji, for many months. We listened to them. Our NFP candidates also listened and talked to the NFP leadership.

We received so many ideas. We could not put them all into this document. So these are the main plans we have for government.  But we have many more.

When the Prime Minister announced the election and launched his election campaign, he promised a campaign of ideas.

Then – nothing. No ideas. Nothing from Fiji First. Nothing except attacks on the opposition parties.   Fiji First is just reacting to what NFP has to say.

We talk about increasing the minimum wage. They say they will “study” it.  We talk about change. They say nothing needs to change.

We disagree.  We say – change is coming.

We are the party setting the agenda in this campaign. We have laid out clearly what we will do.  And because we have been in touch with people, we know what to do.

  • We will implement a $5 per hour minimum living wage
  • We will pay fair prices to our cane growers, including a minimum guaranteed price of $100 per tonne of cane
  • We will make 15 food items VAT-free and reduce VAT on medicines, kerosene and a range of other critical products
  • We will change the face of university education
  • We will spend $200 million a year on housing
  • We will reform our health and education systems.

And tonight one behalf of Team NFP, I proudly announce the 15 basic food items that will be made VAT free or zero-rated. You must remember that 6 basic food items plus kerosene were VAT free, until  Fiji First in a gross betrayal of its 2014 election promise, re-imposed 9% VAT on them.

But do not worry.  We are addressing your greatest concern, which is the exorbitantly high cost of living. The 15 basic food items are: –

  1. Rice
  2. Flour
  3. Cooking Oil
  4. Tinned Fish
  5. Tea
  6. Powdered milk and liquid milk
  7. Butter
  8. Noodles
  9. Potatoes
  10. Onion
  11. Garlic
  12. Canned Tuna
  13. Locally Produced Eggs
  14. Bread
  15. Locally Produced Frozen Chicken

Additionally, NFP will make VAT FREE the following:

  1. Prescription medication
  2. Kerosene
  3. Women’s sanitary products
  4. Baby milk formula
  5. Diapers
  6. Toilet paper
  7. Soap
  8. Imported fruits

NFP will also REDUCE DUTY  on imported:

  • Lamb products
  • Ghee
  • School shoes
  • School bags

As well as

  • Reduce by 20% Excise Duty on locally produced Beer and Spirits

On the Social Welfare Pension, Ladies and Gentlemen, We will increase social welfare allowances for our poorest people, the sick and intellectually handicapped below the threshold of $30.000.  Social Welfare allowances for the ages will be increased as follows:

Age group                   Allowances

60 – 65 yrs                    $100 per month

65 – 70 yrs                    $200 per month

Over 70 yrs                  $300 per month

 

The benefits of a growing economy should be available to all and not just the rich getting richer.  Hardworking Fijians deserve to eat healthy and have the basic necessities of life.

These ideas have come from months of listening and consulting.  Because that is how every government should operate. .

Today’s Fiji Times carries a report with the headline “Wife shares daily struggles. Bimla Wati of Wailea Settlement in Vatuwaqa says and I quote, “Sometimes my husband and I have to fast so our son can eat because we don’t have any food”. This is because her husband earns only $70 a week as a grasscutter and has no formal employment.

Why has Fiji First said nothing? Because they do not yet know what their policies are. They are waiting for the Attorney-General to think up more gimmicks and more freebies.

So we do not really care what the Government says now.  They are yesterday’s story. We are tomorrow’s.  We have listened, and we have learned.  And we are ready to deliver.

Today Attar Singh and I had a meeting with the garment manufacturers who criticised our minimum wage policy. We had a good conversation. We have not agreed on everything – not yet. But we are talking to each other. We are working together. And that is exactly how we want it to be – with everybody.

We offer our plans for government to the people of Fiji with humility and a strong sense of purpose.  Fiji has had years of two-man rule, propped up by propaganda and handouts.

We want something different. We want a strong, proud, vibrant Fiji in which we are working together and expressing our views passionately on what we want. We want a smart Fiji where we are combining our talents for the common interest. We want a compassionate Fiji where we never lose sight of the most vulnerable people in our society and we are ready to support them.

This is how we want Fiji to change. And we say again – change is coming.

Ladies and gentlemen in a NORMAL democracy the convention and indeed the practice is that once an election is announced the outgoing government gives the country a STATE OF THE NATION report and fully discloses the government’s finances, revenue and expenditure performance, budget position, accumulated surpluses or deficits as the case may be.

But we know we are not in a normal democracy.  The hallmark of the Bainimarama government has been secrecy.  They have withheld or kept as closely guarded secrets the vital statistics and data which should be in the public domain.  Where they have disclosed the data has been obsolete and unreliable.

In these circumstances all opposition parties have to rely on our own estimates and projections for as we plan our policies.

We therefore ask that our Manifesto be read with that cautionary note.

Be that as it may, the majority of the policies outlined in our Manifesto and other policy statements are cost neutral and will be funded by budgetary realignments.

Ladies and gentlemen an NFP government will allocate over one billion dollars over the next four years on our package of policies and measures for reduction in the cost of living, improving public health care and education.

There will be no new taxes as the revenue reduction and additional expenditure will be funded from within the budget and from savings outlined in the manifesto especially in curtailing government extravagance and abuse, making the public service more efficient and further improving revenue collection.

Government’s capital expenditures will be reprioritised with an additional $200 million allocation to provide critical housing support to the most vulnerable in our society.

We will ensure there is greater transparency and accountability in the use of public funds.

Ladies and gentlemen our Manifesto is about re-empowering our people with fundamental freedoms and the ability to live and work with dignity.

The combined effect of the policies and measures are targeted at achieving GDP growth rate above 4% a year over the next four years.  We will create at least 5000 new public sector jobs over the next four years.  And at least 10,000 in the private sector.

After four years of thoroughly scrutinising Government policies in Parliament, we can confidently say that this Government not, transparent, not accountable and is dictatorial.

Many, many, of our questions and Motions on national interest, transparency, accountability and good governance,  did not even reach the floor of Parliament after being rejected by the Business Committee determining the proceedings of parliament.

But that is history. Because a new dawn with clear blue skies and a night filled with glittering stars will start on 15th November.

Light will prevail over darkness, good will triumph over evil, unity will prevail over division.

Change is coming

Change is inevitable

Badlaao nischit hai

Ena yaco na veisau

God bless NFP

God bless Fiji