Address by the President of the NFP, Hon Roko Tupou Draunidalo at the AGM and Convention today

The Party represented by the President – Hon Roko Tupou Draunidalo; Leader – Hon Prof Biman Prasad; and Party Rakiraki Branch President – Mr Semi Titoko, is traditionally welcomed to Ra.

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The Party Leader, Vice President, the Executives, MC and Members. It is lovely to see you all today they say one day is a long time in politics well it has been a year since we last had our AGM and very, very much has happened since that time.

The biggest of which has been the fury of tropical cyclone Winston which took 44 lives and upended the lives of thousands of Fijians in this very province of Ra, parts of Tailevu, Koro, Vanuabalavu and in Savusavu as well.
Adjacent areas, districts or provinces were also affected and it is estimated that about 44,000 homes were damaged and the lives of about 350,000 Fijians (or about half of the population) was significantly affected.

Six months after the landfall of TC Winston, the daily lives of very many Fijians remain significantly affected because the current government is without ideas to help our people including ideas that will bring us the monies required to help our people, to boost the local economy and to help Fijians in need.

That unhappy matrix falls on the back of figures that were already showing that 40% of Fiji struggles with poverty daily.

Ladies and Gentlemen this is a national shame and disgrace.

That, ladies and gentlemen, is clearly unacceptable and should be the main reason why we all work very hard together to replace the current government and to replace them with competence and excellence to serve the Fijian people, at the next polls.

On that note, the future is never steady or certain if we are not aware of our past. And thanks to the efforts of the current government which has tried to make us believe that our past started ten years ago, many of the younger generation who will constitute the majority of the electorate will have almost no attachment or memory to the past that some of us who are older, would remember. And this may be a reason for the current government’s failings. It always rubbishes the past as if they built everything in Fiji in the last ten years.

But back to acknowledging our past, this town in this province is where the leaders of this great party had some of their very important, foundation meetings to form the National Federation Party.

This province is also of the Tako Lavo family like Navosa which has been my home under the guardianship of my maternal grandfather, his wife from Beqa and their family and kin of Noikoro.

Another maternal relative that I wish to recall while I’m here in this province, is Ratu Sir Lala Sukuna and his father and grandfather also had strong links to this province. In fact, Ratu Sukuna’s grandfather is buried here in the province of Ra. I’m forced to mention this link because we normally don’t like to talk about it, to make the point that what we right thinking people of this country want is something that our forefathers also wanted for this country.

It was always a source of pride and fanfare for us younger relations of the great Statesman, who are totally bewildered by the deteriorating gap in race relations in this country – that the older Ratu Joni Madaiwiwi sent his son Ratu Sukuna to Wairuku Indian School which was established in 1898 by Pandit Badri Maharaj, who later served from 1917 to 1929 as the first Indo-Fijian member of Fiji’s Legislative Council, the forerunner to the present Parliament.

And a source of greater personal pride for us too to read in the records of history and in books like ‘The Three Legged Stool’ about how Ratu Sukuna worked very hard to protect all things indigenous with native land, fisheries and the VKB in a trust and protected system of governance, which is the separate Fijian administration or Matanitu Taukei, but also that he did so with a view to enabling the economic, social and political progress of the nation as a whole through partnership, give and take, with the Indo Fijian community of Fiji.

On the former, Ratu Sukuna worked hard to get the agreement of the chiefs of Fiji to allow their resources to be put under a trust system into the separate Fijian administration, so that the central government and the country as a whole may prosper.

That also allowed the Fijian community of Indian descent to do what they do so well, to thrive economically for their personal benefit but also for the benefit of the national as a whole.

‘The Three Legged Stool’ has pages filled with this wonderful history — and I recommend it as reading to all of us — of how Ratu Sukuna worked with the great founder of this party, the NFP, Mr. A D Patel, to negotiate the terms of governance, and the separate Fijian administration being integral to that leading up to independence.

The two leaders certainly had their disagreements and its contained in the book as well, you can see signs of it in some of their correspondence but they both saw the bigger picture and worked hard towards it.

It was on the back of their hard work and collaboration that the next generation of leaders, Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara and Mr. Siddiq Koya another former leader of this party, took our country to independence and we got our constitution in 1970.

At this point some of you may ask why I have gone over this rich history?
I have done so because the great vision that our forefathers had for a free, peaceful and prosperous Fiji has descended to something very different today and I want to take this opportunity to appeal directly to the Fijian community of Indian descent.

You constitute about 35% of the Fijian electorate and the last polls show that your community voted overwhelmingly for the current prime minister. I have heard from friends and colleagues that fear was one significant factor for this.

I wish to take this opportunity to ask you to reflect over and over again on the great civilisation and history that you came from, to Fiji. India is the land that produced Ghandiji and the very many Indians who stood with him to peacefully defy the British government. You brought the British Government to its knees.

Their great humanity and immense courage brought the British empire to a halt and withdrawal from the land which belongs to them, their forefathers and descendants and remains so today. That is because of their bravery, their humanity and their courage.

Your religious and historical scripts may have been a great part of that, two close friends have always encouraged me to read more of that (the translations of the Gita and indeed the rest of the Hindu epic – the Mahabharata apart from the Ramayana) but alas time has never been kind with me well that’s my excuse anyway.

But what little I know of those scripts they should give us all of the encouragement that we need. It discusses the duties of a warrior, chivalry, selfless action and of course, courage. No human being in their right mind can be unmoved by such scripts, whether they are summaries or translations.

Those great human qualities in those scripts kept you well on the boats to Fiji against all odds. Kept you well under the tyranny of the indenture system and beyond to make the great contributions that you have made to the Fijian society today.

And now some of you may ask why? Why am I appealing to these things here, today in the modern Fiji.

Ladies and gentlemen, I do so because I would like Fijians of Indian descent in this country to recall how the modern state of Fiji was forged by Ratu Sir Lala Sukuna, Mr. A D Patel, Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara and Mr. Siddiq Koya.

I would like you all to recall the vision that they had for Fiji and that which was contained in the 1970 constitution which properly safeguarded the separate Fijian administration for the Taukei that allowed economic, social and political development in this country peacefully for the betterment of all of us.

I would like you to recall that at that time, there was certainly disagreements, yes, but there was certainty that we were all one on the same boat, the same team and heading towards the same goals together as one nation. Helping one another, contributing toward the goals together: Taukei resources and your enterprise, we were not fragmented and shredded by selfish leaders.

On that note I wish to add this, the Taukei today is angry, disillusioned and confused. Many feel used and disappointed by various leaders from various communities and we would like nothing more than a helping hand from the other communities in Fiji to save and preserve what is ours under the separate Fijian administrative system.

The current government has hacked at our traditional communal system of solesolevaki, which has our chiefs at the head. This is a matter of identity for us and survival as a communal group.

Native land under the trust system (iTLTB) is threatened by encroachment of the so called ‘land bank’. There are real threats looming to customary fishing rights under the Fisheries Act via proposed legislation.

Our rights to earn an income, communally from water based tourist activities has been taken away by decree. And we now hear of proposed legislation regarding the VKB.

Ladies and gentlemen, these are real threats to the Taukei and without the political support of the other communities especially the largest we will lose even more and this will lead to more anger and antagonism which will not end well for any of us.

I therefore plead with the other communities to take your support away from the current government. Take it away from the current prime minister who is intent on destroying more Taukei heritage.

We have our share of Taukei political support in this party which may have increased since the last election and certainly will increase from here to the next one, but we urge you to please use your power at the next polls, to vote for the Hon Professor Biman Prasad, or the Hon Singh, the Vice President of the Party, or me or anyone but the current government which is doing things that will not take Fiji to where we want it to go. And we want that to happen so that Fiji can go back to working peacefully in communities without a gun in sight or a gun in mind.

I am sure that none of us want the confrontational, antagonistic, hostile system of governance which this government is expert at. It is divisive and deliberately so.

In my last speech to parliament I told the government that it was clear that they loved to use the race card for political gain.

Their political gain, but misery for many Fijians that have to live under their incompetent rule. On this note I am heartened by a recent poll which found that 54% of Fijians want Opposition parties input into the running of government.

So again, before I resume my seat, I urge you all, heed your history and the history of our forefathers. Heed the Gita, Mahabharata, Ramayan, Koran and the Bible to have the courage to put an end to this government of bullies and uncaring, selfish personalities at the next polls.

Vinakwa! God bless Fiji.