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Madam Speaker and Honourable Members of the Peoples’ House,
Again, I am grateful for the opportunity given to me by the electorate to give this response to His Excellency the Presidents address to this, the Peoples’ House.
I acknowledge that it is the convention that the elected government write the speech of the Head of state but it is certainly not the convention that the elected government disrespects the office of the President or Governor or Queen by writing him or her a politically partisan speech on very sensitive and live issues that embroils the Head of State in petty politics.
That is because the office of the Head of state is one that should be independent, neutral and above all the politicking. This includes the appearance of independence and neutrality.
That is why their speeches are referred to as gracious speeches, exalted ones. Not for muck raking.
Unfortunately, this elected government couldn’t respect the office of Head of state enough to write him a gracious speech especially when it was his last as Head of state. Very sad indeed.
Sad but not surprising. Well I’m certainly not surprised. This is after all a revolution, where all conventions, laws, good manners etc etc go out the window.
The elected government talk of their revolution and this is what revolutions entail, turning the state on its head to change the order of things.
And due to my respect for the office of the Head of state, I shall address that speech in a way that stays well away from His Excellency while at the same time addressing the issues contained therein.
As many have expressed anger and dismay that His Excellency would have read that speech but my answer to that is this – His Excellency led by example to the military for which he is commander in chief.
Let me start on this subheading by saying that before we got this section 131 of the constitution which reads:
(2) It shall be the overall responsibility of the Republic of Fiji Military Forces to ensure at all times the security, defence and well-being of Fiji and all Fijians.
… the military came under the authority of the parliament via the executive through cabinet and the minister for Defence.
What we now have with s. 131 puts the military, theoretically – above parliament.
That provision of the constitution gives the military a greater scope of governance than parliament which limits us in section 46 to law making, full stop.
Of course, the assumption is that in making laws for the realm we in this the People’s House are concerned about the nation’s peace, order and good governance but that overriding responsibility is spelt out under the military power in s.131 of the constitution.
So in the haste and non consultative way in which this constitution was made, the then unelected government put this executive institution with armouries and a bad past (of interfering with parliamentary rule) above the people and the people’s House which now includes the Fiji First government.
But thankfully, the power in s.131 of the constitution can be read as one which gives the military a discretion. That is certainly how I would interpret that section to the military so that it exercises these extraordinary powers wisely.
Recently I read that the military says it’s using it’s powers under the constitution to do things, help the police, go shopping while fully kitted what have you – but that power also means the exercise of restraint to do nothing in the interests of peace, order and good governance.
At this point I wish to draw the military’s attention, through you Madam Speaker, to one of my favorite excerpts from the writings of Thucydides the Greek military philosopher who wrote “Of all manifestations of power, restraint is the most respected.”
Some powers Madam speaker are best used when they aren’t. This one in s.131 of the constitution is one of them.
The military must understand that the wide powers given to them means that they are no longer the political football of the elected government to be used in political fights between political parties. This elected government or any other into the future.
S.131 of the constitution puts them above that and gives them a discretion not to act (when told to do so by political masters) if it is their opinion in the best interest of national security, the nation, it’s peoples and this the people’s House.
Because it is the people who pay their salary. They have to heel to the people and not the other way around.
To most democrats including myself, this is anathema. How can an unelected body paid for by the people second guess the people’s elected House?
Madam that is the genius that only the Attorney can explain as this is the constitution which he drafted for us and which now places heavy expectations and burdens requiring the balancing of expectations and rigorous thought of competing interests (the kinds of burdens usually reserved for elected officials) at the feet of the military.
In terms of solutions, on how to deal with this bad law that we have – I urge the military to use s.131 in that light of ‘restraint’.
Not only must it restrain itself from carrying out another military coup as it is the only institution that commits coups in this country – it must also restrain itself from being used in political fights by politely refusing orders that they believe are not consistent with the overall good governance of the nation for now and into the future.
In that context Madam speaker, in reading that speech, as politically partisan and muck raking as it was. – the Head of state as commander in chief led by example to the troops in showing restraint, he brought his high office down to defer to the 32 elected members on the other side.
He did what Heads of state in proper democracies do – they defer to the will of the people in the people’s House. Proper democracies with constitutions like the 1997 and 1970 constitutions.
But those constitutions were overthrown by the military in 1987 and 2006 respectively (after their attempt in 2000 was unsuccessful).
But now under the 2013 constitution I would have counseled the commander in chief to exercise even more restraint under s.131 and not read the speech prepared by the elected government because it embroiled his high office in political muck raking which is well beneath the neutrality and grace expected of the Head of state.
The lesson however to the military from the speech of the commander in chief is, that you must always defer to the elected government of the day.
The people will judge whether the elected government gets another term or not. That’s none of your business.
Do not be used to get involved in any way. Stay in the shadows and do what you’re told by the elected government after tendering advice on national security issues.
But again madam speaker I say, s.131 gives them even more power.
And the Head of state as commander in chief had the discretion to not read the speech prepared by the elected government if he assessed after taking advice from the military that such speech would not augur well for peace, order and good government.
The military can and should use it’s powers under s.131 of the constitution to independently and fearlessly advise the elected government of the day to not embroil the military in political matters. As this leads to trouble of the kind that we all wish to avoid.
Again Madam speaker I say to the military forces through you, if there are no security threats, then it must independently and fearlessly advise the elected government of the same. National security is its domain.
If it believes that the elected government is saying and doing things that incite or may incite security issues then it is the duty of the military to independently and fearlessly advise the elected government of the same.
But you must never usurp government, that is not your role.
In that same vein madam speaker, the military must not publicly comment or act on political matters. That’s not for them. No one elected them.
On that note Madam Speaker and Honourable Members I’m pleased to note what was in the print media a few days ago in which the military was requested to make comment on what the Honourable Nawaikula said on social media about the President’s address… but the Land Force Commander resisted as it was in the political sphere. That is encouraging, please stay on that track.
Moving on to the other topics contained in the speech by the Head of State, let me start with the electoral mandate of the elected government. Let me say this much, the fact that the opposition is here to face the elected government in parliament shows the world that we have accepted that it is the elected government.
In fact, we have been asking the elected government many, many, many times for us to sit more often in this, the Peoples’ House to thrash national issues out in a peaceful and civilized way….with the elected government as the government of the day and we as the elected opposition.
At this juncture Madam Speaker and Honourable Members may I say that we are one year after the polls and 2018 is just around the corner. And yet the elected government is still very sensitive about this matter of the last elections. So sensitive. It’s embarrassing.
As with the other desperate acts of the government to create drama, and tension in the country – this is all to do with the government getting bad feedback from the electorate. The people aren’t happy with them. We in the opposition are going to win the elections in 2018 and it’s driving some people loopy.
And again madam speaker – making the Head of state use the word ‘free’ when referring to the MOG Report on the elections when the word used in that report was the word ‘credible’, not ‘free’
Again madam speaker, embroiling the high office of President in muck raking. Very disrespectful.
And again, all to do with 2018. Because we are exchanging sides of the House, we’re going over there after the 2018 polls and they’re coming over here. Don’t look so down about it, it’s exciting being on this side of the House. Character building. Good for some of you.
Now to the issue of ‘sedition’ madam speaker.
Not content with disrespecting the office of the President, the speech prepared by the government of the day totally disrespected the independent judicial arm of the state by finding those charged with offences before the courts guilty as charged.
Made worse by the presence in the House of the Judges, as the Head of state read the speech. Imagine that madam speaker, the Judges sitting by your side up there and the Head of state finding those charged and before the courts guilty as charged.
I could go on and on here about ‘contempt of court’ and bringing the judiciary into disrepute but the Attorney is well versed in it, he has used it or the threat of it effectively to curb free speech in this country. Because it is ok to curb the free speech of everyone but himself.
The Attorney even tried to put me in prison in 2007 or 2008 I can’t remember, for this offence of contempt of court while I was Vice President of the Fiji law society but sanity eventually prevailed and they withdraw the charge against me.
But there you go madam speaker, it is ok for some to disrespect the judiciary but not ok for others. It’s embarrassing. Again, these matters and allegations of sedition have to be proved in a court of law not in this law making court and we will not (as I said in the last sitting) NOT discuss matters before the court. We will respect the courts’ independent deliberations.
And again I say madam speaker, more smoke screen – all with the jitters about 2018 as we in the opposition are looking forward to free and fair elections after which we will find ourselves on the other side of the House.
What is not smoke screen and that to which the Head of state referred is the matter of the national economy.
We would have expected the President to talk about the measures the government has or will put in place to ensure that public funds are better acquitted and accounted for like Head 50.
Or explain to the People why we needed a closed session of parliament to talk about their money. Shady, shady stuff madam speaker and the people who are voters are not fools. Nor are the investors with a few millions or hundred millions to spare.
Now this issue of the economy is a national security issue which I hope the military under s.131 is tendering independent, competent advice without fear or favor to the elected government.
Again I would have preferred that the military have no role in this as the elected government has been elected but that is the law now as given to us by the Attorney.
Moving on, allowing irresponsible economic management to continue without caution will drive us to one of the multilaterals like the IMF as a last resort which as the Minister has admitted, come with their austere laisez faire economic measures.
Now dealing with those is always a way of giving up our sovereignty to foreign interests. I hope that the elected government does not take us there with its ‘know it all’ and ‘non consultative’ approach to governance.
The international literature is replete with cases where the multilaterals take over national sovereignty to have their loans repaid by managing national assets in the form of natural resources and the like and this will be made easier in Fiji with the land bank mechanism, the powers of compulsory acquisition provisions in the constitution, the removal of entrenched provisions for native lands (90%) of all land and, the removal of qoliqoli interest and benefits by the surfing decree.
Those are the real issues of national security and good governance which confront us and which will turn the people and the voters in their wisdom to elect us to government in 2018.
Because the Opposition is all about peaceful elections, if the elected government wishes to lecture anyone on the rule of law, sedition and treason – all I say to them is “wrong number.” Talk to yourselves and to each other. You all need to constantly reassure yourselves and each other of the principles of democracy, don’t dial our number.
Moving on Madam speaker, please allow me to thank the incumbent Head of state for his public service to the nation when he was speaker of the People’s House. Not many people will disagree with me when I say that he was one of the best speakers of a democratic house of the people. Not just Fiji, but anywhere in the world. He was very well acquainted with the standing orders and he went out of his way to be fair to the underdogs, the lot with lesser numbers in the House. It ensured the meaningful progress of democracy in the House. He obviously didn’t like bullies and oppressive majorities, he copped political fire for that but he was greatly respected for it. Thank you Sir.
Finally, the Head is state talked about our national rugby team at the RWC. Madam speaker I’m sure every Fijian was happy and proud of how the team played on Saturday morning, our time. They certainly gave the roses a scare and ran them ragged. Let me join others all over the country in wishing the team all the best to do the same to the Wallabies for the full eighty minutes.
Thank you madam speaker.