Category Archives: Speeches

NFP AGM 2019 – Speech by NFP Leader Hon. Prof. Biman Prasad

Saturday August 24th 2019

Lautoka Hotel

Thank you for being here today at the party’s AGM. We have opted for a quiet, low-key event rather than a full national convention. It is still only a few months since the last general election. We sense that, other than the diehard party members, many of whom are here, ordinary voters are a little tired of politics after last year’s election and other political events. But we are glad to see many loyal party executives and supporters here.

This AGM is the first since the 2018 election. After the intense activity of 2018, we have encouraged our party activists and supporters to take a break to reflect on the past and plan for the future. We believe the party ran a strong and principled election campaign. In it, we set out our plans for Fiji. We know that we were outspent, 10 to 1, by the Fiji First Party. We know they ran an unprincipled campaign, based on fear and threats to people’s security.

And we now know the result. The Government achieved a paperthin majority of 50.02%. They were saved by a flawed electoral system that uses the d’Hondt method of calculating proportional representation. Despite getting almost 7.4% of the votes in the election, NFP got only 6% of the seats in Parliament. If it was proportional representation NFP would have got 4 seats.

Then we had the fiasco of the election case in the Court of Disputed Returns. SODELPA and NFP jointly challenged the election result. We were treated to the spectacle of the elected Government of Fiji hiding from the people of Fiji for two days and two nights. There they were, camped behind locked doors with mattresses and takeaway food while the people stood outside. They came out only after the time had passed for them to be served with court papers.

We could not continue our court action because the Government has never issued written rules on how an election petition should be conducted. The court ruled against us on how we should present our evidence – although we have never had written reasons for the court’s decision.

But the enduring memory of the court case is how the Government of Fiji hid away, fearful of the very laws that they themselves had made. The term “Level 9” is now a special phrase in Fiji, meaning weak excuses and dishonesty. Perhaps, after a decade or so, this will be the Fiji First Party’s only real contribution to our country.

Our party is in good shape and good spirit. For the first time in the 13 years since the December 2006 military coup, Fiji’s longterm future is becoming clearer. It is a future in which the Fiji First Party will be a distant memory, soundly rejected after years of sowing fear and intimidation among the people. But it is a future in which NFP will play a big part. We are a party with deep roots in the past. We are strengthened by the challenges we face in the present. And this gives us the knowledge of the important role we will play in Fiji’s future.

We are a party that challenged colonial oppression and fought for Fiji’s independence. We have never joined military adventurers who threatened Fiji’s integrity. We have always fought for democracy and democratic institutions.

I want to first thank my Parliamentary colleagues for the great work they have done since the election. Our President Pio Tikoduadua, our newest and most popular MP, Lenora Qereqeretabua, have contributed courageously and positively to public debate, both inside the Parliament and outside of it. They work hard and speak up for people in need of their support. They have highlighted issues of national interest and the many grievances facing our people.

I want to thank all the people who work hard to support our MPs in Parliament and outside of it – Seni, Kamal, Dylan, Apenisa, and Sharila. Not forgetting Sharveen who was with us for 3 years. I want to thank our NFP Youth wing, who are always passionate, pro-active and brimming with ideas.

So this is a team that is strong, united, ready to serve our members and ready to fight for Fiji. And this fight continues now. A few days ago there was an article in the Washington Post which described another country as an “elections-only democracy”. And that would be an apt description for Fiji. The Government has talked for years about “true democracy”. But the phrase “true democracy” is now more often used by its critics as a joke.

The Government holds elections but it undermines and politicises every public institution that should support democracy – the public service, the statutory bodies, the Police, FICAC – all because they are afraid of the people. They fear losing control, because they know that one day, the oppressive laws they have created may be used against them.

After 13 years of Frank Bainimarama and his cronies, what is the state of Fiji? Let us look behind all the talk about so-called economic growth and look at how our people are faring in reality.

Government services are collapsing because the Government has no money. Wages are kept low while prices of basic goods rise. Public health and medical services are deteriorating. Trade unions are ignored, their leaders arrested and harassed. They are not even permitted to march in support of their demands.

Poverty drives social stress. We have some of the world’s highest rates of NCDs. Domestic and sexual violence is rife. Our media reports an epidemic of hard drug use. The Police have even lost control of Suva’s main street, Victoria Parade, to thuggery and violence.

There is nothing on the horizon to give us hope that things will improve. Business confidence is down and interest rates are rising. Investors are sick of bureaucracy and the bullying tactics of the Government’s tax collectors. And the Government says nothing and does nothing. The Economy Minister is always looking for someone else to blame. He says if the opposition talks about our economic crisis this will destroy the economy. It is not our words that are destroying the economy. It is his actions – 13 years of his actions.

But what can the Government do? As I told Parliament, last year the Government ran out of ideas. This year they have run out of money. Ministers and civil servants are just going through the motions and pretending everything is fine. Our Economy Minister, who used to run around the country talking about reforms and talking up his government, is quiet now. Even the Fiji Sun, the Government’s favourite newspaper, is running out of flattering material.

Fiji is heading towards social and economic crisis. But the Government either cannot see it or pretends that it cannot see it. Most leaders, in a time of national crisis, would try to bring people together, to consult, to share ideas and agree a way forward. But this government hides away from the people. They hide in their air-conditioned offices. They hide in their four-wheel drive limousines. They hide in the first-class cabins of aeroplanes.

NFP has asked for joint Parliamentary inquiries on the ailing sugar industry. We want an inquiry into our disorganised and demoralised education sector. We have asked for inquiries on health care issues and the current drugs epidemic. Let us all understand why we are doing this.

We are not asking for this just so that politicians can talk about it. We are not saying that Parliamentarians have the answers. But Parliamentarians have the ability to hold public inquiries and ask for the views of the people. We can consult the experts and encourage debate about the big problems we face as a nation. That is why we are asking for these inquiries.

But every time we move a motion to ask for these inquiries or select committees, the Government uses its Parliamentary majority to vote them down. The Government does not want to talk about these things. The Government wants to pretend that everything is fine.

The Prime Minister travels around the world talking about talanoa. But he will not practise it at home.

This is not leadership. This is weakness. The Government is afraid that the people will find out that others have better answers for Fiji’s problems. But a government that is working for the people should not be afraid of this. They should have the courage to admit that they do not have all the answers. But this is the basic thing about governance, politics and democracy that Frank Bainimarama and Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum do not understand. They talk about it, but they do not understand it.

Democracies are successful because they encourage people to work together. In democracies people are not afraid to share problems and ideas openly. They are not afraid of disagreement and dissent. They use a free and independent media to make their ideas public.

They use lobbying and public protests and marches to send out signals about what they want, and to pressure the government to follow good policies.

And these are the democratic mechanisms that are absent in Fiji. And this is the reason why we can honestly call Fiji what the Washington Post said – an elections-only democracy.

And what happens when the leader of the Government, our Prime Minister, is criticised and confronted? He lashes out. Yesterday, a video was released of what happened in Parliament two weeks ago. The video clearly shows how Voreqe Bainimarama used violence against the President of the NFP. It was also reported by Radio New Zealand. And look at the front page of today’s Fiji Times. Pictures tell a thousand words!

Now the people can decide. Was it assault? Or was it, as Frank Bainimarama claims, a “stern talking to”? Two weeks after this incident, despite having the video footage, despite having a formal complaint from our President, the Police are doing nothing and saying nothing.

In a so-called true democracy, everyone is equal.

Everyone is equal before the law and everyone is treated equally under the law. What do the Police have to say about this incident? Why, when everyone talks about what will happen next, why does everyone say that the Police will do nothing about it?

This is just one more example of why we have told the Government. You have lost the moral authority to govern. You do not set a good example of leadership and good behaviour. You have run out of ideas. You have spent all the money. You hide from the people.

You talk but do not act. You ignore the deep economic and social problems in this country that are staring you in the face. You refuse to consult others. You even excuse the violent actions of your own leader.

And we are saying to you – it is time to show some humility and leadership. Admit that these problems are too big for your two leaders to solve. Ask for help. Talk to the opposition. We are the alternative government. And we will respond. We will help you. Because it is the people and the country who are important.

Let us see where we can pool ideas or consult others. If people want to march to air their demands, let them do it. If people want to criticise you and point out your weaknesses, have the courage to let them do it. Create the atmosphere, create the environment where we can show the world that our political leaders are working together.

We need to give confidence to our investors, our workers, our young people who are looking for opportunities, our public servants, our doctors and nurses and teachers who want the power to serve their fellow citizens and do good.

And so we are telling the Government – show courage. Prove you are leaders, not mere politicians afraid for your jobs.

It is time for national dialogue and an open discussion about Fiji’s social and economic problems. Ask the opposition to talk with you about what we can do together. If you are genuine, if you are honest about wanting to solve Fiji’s problem, you will find us willing to help. This is no longer a time for politics. This is a time for leadership.

May God bless NFP.

May God bless Fiji.

NFP AGM 2019 – Speech by NFP President Hon. Pio Tikoduadua

Saturday 24th August 2019

AGM held at the Lautoka Hotel

The Party elders and stalwarts, fellow members of the Management Board and Youth Wing, party supporters and friends.

Today is a wonderful day and I am especially pleased to be in Lautoka for this years AGM.

We will hear updates of what the party has been up to from our last AGM until today and have some discussions also about national issues before us.

But today I am especially happy to state that I feel vindicated and that I no longer have to defend my honour against spurious and false LIES levelled against me when I reported a violation of my parliamentary privilege as an elected member of parliament in the august House on Friday, 9 August 2019, when I was assaulted physically, verbally and mentally by the Prime Minister, Mr Bainimarama.

As the President of your Party, I am accountable to the AGM to tell you what happened.

I did not LIE and I am told that yesterday a video appeared on social media showing this.

Everything in that video is as I stated in the live press conference that I gave to Fiji Times that same day, BEFORE I went to report an official complaint with the Police at Totogo.

My parliamentary colleague, Hon Lenora Qereqeretabua is also vindicated I am sure, as an eyewitness, along with our two youth staffers, Apenisa and Dylan and Hon Suliasi Matanitobua the Tui Namosi. We have nothing to gain from lying about this. It happened. We are still awaiting the authorities to do their part.

However that video does not show the second time the Prime Minister verbally assaulted me and assailed me with swears and undignified language not befitting his station as the Prime Minister of this land. That happened when I was on green carpet at the entrance of the parliamentary premises, as I was on my way back into the house to report what the Prime Minister just did.

I responded to him in passing, that he should look at himself and his actions as Prime Minister.

That video does not show FBC reporters hounding me for a response from the time I left the House until the Prime Minister assaulted me. The FBC reporters knew full well that any public comments made by elected members of parliament while parliament is sitting is a direct breach of the parliamentary standing orders. Any public comment or social media posting has to be done after parliament has adjourned its sitting.

Yet, when the Prime Minister was assaulting me those two FBC reporters just stood there. They may have their own video recording, but it certainly did not feature on their news that night!

That video does not show the chief legal advisor to Government’s knee-jerk reaction on a Facebook live press conference where he confirmed that the Prime Minister had an audience with the Hon Speaker that very same Friday night, while a pre-scheduled appointment that I had with the Speaker on Monday was suddenly cancelled as I was on my way to him.

These are all just telling symptoms of the state of our affairs. It is not a hopeful one if the Prime Minister of this country is unable to control his own temper and lash out not just with verbal and derogatory abuse, but is now using his hands.

Violence was just a theme of the Government side on the previous Thursday night debate. Yet, as Hon Lenora said that week, showing and telling are two completely different things for them.

I am not even sure if the safety of other opposition members is guaranteed anymore given that the Prime Minister had already verbally assaulted ON the parliamentary premises, Hon Mosese Bulitavu and Hon Ro Teimumu Kepa during the previous parliamentary session.

And certainly our personal workplace safety and risk as MPs, is not a cost that any parliament should lump on already burdened taxpayers to pay for.

This all falls at the feet of the Hon Prime Minister. We all stand condemned if we cannot as adults talk about issues and ideas, and debate them properly, as the rules provide.

I have no hard feelings towards the Prime Minister. In fact I have done so already, because carrying that kind of grudge around is taxing on my spirit and has no value.

But, this incident is bigger than me. It is about Fiji. It is about leadership. It is about ensuring that our young people know what is acceptable behaviour and what is not. It is about being accountable for one’s actions and deeds, and everyone who was there knows in their hearts, what is right and wrong. I will leave that to their conscience to deal with.

I sleep very well at night, but those who are constantly manipulating all our systems and processes, to keep everybody else suppressed and on their knees have a huge weight on their shoulders to deal with. That is their burden to deal with. And we all have to answer for our actions one day.

Ladies and Gentlemen and party members — it is too easy to fall into despair and despondence, and just give up. But that is not what leadership is about. I am very aware that among our own Young Feds group and even in my own house, I have young people watching me intently, learning and possible even modelling my example. OUR EXAMPLE as a political party.

Because real leadership is about working even harder despite all the odds stacked against you, and staying true to what is right and what is just.

Certainly those are the values that attracted people like me to the party, where we stand on the wide and tall shoulders of our foremost party leader AD Patel, and of course Siddiq Koya, Harish Sharma and Justice Jai Ram Reddy.

So if there are any final words I can leave you with today it is this. Keep working, keep our hearts clean, keep hope alive.

Let’s get to work. I thank you.

HON PROF. BIMAN PRASAD – 2019/2020 BUDGET REPLY

Debate on the 2019-2020 Budget
Tuesday June 18, 2019
By NFP Leader Honourable Professor Biman Prasad

Mr. Speaker Sir, after listening to the contributions from the government side, and also from the opposition side, I’ve actually decided to put aside my budget notes for two reasons;

One, I have to respond to some of the issues raised by the government side.

But, I want to congratulate the Opposition side in fact, the contributions from the opposition side on specific issues backed with data, backed with evidence has been exemplary and my work.  

Now, Honourable Speaker, I hope the interjections are also slow from the other side. But first Honourable Speaker, the Honourable Prime Minister yesterday grossly misrepresented my paper 2010 where I actually talked about the Global Financial Crisis and how government at that time needed to adopt an expansionary fiscal policy.

But Honourable Speaker, that does not mean that the government continues with an expansionary policy beyond economic instability and let alone, continuing it for nine years. But that’s history. That is exactly what I also said in 2014 and in fact, I would say to the Prime Minister – actually I’m happy that he reads my papers! If the government side reads my budget speeches over the last four years, they will actually find an alternative budget being proposed in those very carefully crafted responses about what the government should do and should not do.

And, if they had taken that advice 5 years ago, we would not be in a situation that we are in right now. In fact Honourable Speaker, the government since two thousand and—they’ve won the election in two thousand fourteen that was the best time for them to consolidate the finances but they carried on in their campaign mode until two thousand eighteen.  You know spending money with –like l blindfolds and we are now caught between the devil and the deep blue sea.

Second Honourable Speaker, last night the Honourable government whip, Honourable Alvick Maharaj—quite despicably should I say attacked the opposition for supposedly making racist comments.

Especially in relation to cane growers and camouflaging it as cane growers of all ethnicities—and in fact, he took a swipe at NFP when he ignored that the President of the National Federation Party actually said that he disagreed with the comments that might have been implied by Honourable Kuridrani—and he goes to attack (inaudible due to interjections)

Honourable Speaker: Order, Order, Ord…

Honourable Professor Biman Prasad: –and then, Honourable Maharaj then takes a swipe Honourable Bulanauca basically accusing him of distorting names and not calling the Prime Minister and Honourable Attorney General, “Honourable”.

Yet, he himself coined a shorter version of the name of the Leader of the Opposition and two other opposition M.Ps. It’s like a case of, “Pot calling the Kettle black”. I mean what Honourable Maharaj has –was uttering last night, Mr. Speaker is nothing new.

It’s a racial venom which was successfully used by the Fijifirst Party in the last election, in the last election!   You know if you look at the advertisements in the on.–(Inaudible…) racist advertisement, “a vote for Biman is a vote for Rabuka”—vote for SODELPA.

Honourable Professor Biman Prasad: –you know they even created, Honourable Speaker, they even created fake news! Saying that Rabuka, Honourable Rabuka will take away the Diwali Holiday.

I mean these are the kind of lies and racial venom that many of them—I know some of them were going to temples and especially Indo-Fijian audiences and saying; “Areh you know you’ll be finished if Rabuka comes in and Biman supports him!” This is the kind of racist comments that they were trying to spew and create fear! 

Honourable Speaker: Order!

Honourable Professor Biman Prasad: So, you know that the reality is, Honourable Speaker that the President was rightly made it very clear. That we do not support that kind of view on cane growers. But, Honourable Maharaj as many others on the other side you know get stuck to the script they are given. And continue attacking us unnecessarily. So in fact Honourable Maharaj should ask the Attorney General what they were doing in level nine.

Honourable Professor Biman Prasad: and I was kind of wondering Honourable speaker that whether he was—he got the low hanging fruits or he got the venomous fruit which he’s spewing now.

Honourable Professor Biman Prasad: anyway Honourable Speaker, let me get to the budget. But before that, let me say this again, you know I’ve sad this before; That this is a government—not every one of them, in fact there are many of them Honourable Speaker this side; they privately tell you how dismayed they are, how nobody is consulting them—how they are given speeches to read…

But, obviously you know we have created—you know this is a party which is suffering from a culture of sycophancy and servility. You know we don’t need advice from sycophants I think, you know? But, let me say this; you know this is a government which is suffering from cognitive dissonance. You know it’s a disease where you begin to believe everything that you do—even if the reality is staring at your face, you don’t believe it.

And when somebody shows you the reality, you get very angry, you attack them, you personalize them, you say you know, “this guy is not fit” – this is what they do. But, let me come back to the budget Honourable Speaker.

Honourable Professor Biman Prasad: We remembered the two thousand and eighteen budget as the one where government ran out of ideas. But we will remember definitely the two thousand nineteen, twenty budget as the one where government has run out of money.

Honourable Professor Biman Prasad: Listening to the budget speech, Honourable Speaker, I really felt sorry for the Honourable Economy Minister.

Honourable Professor Biman Prasad: He looked like a man who didn’t want to be in the house that day, and he looked like a man who didn’t want to talk about the budget. So he did talk about the opposition, he talked

about the National Bank of Fiji, he talked about school gardening competition, he talked about how children jump on milk cartons. But, he did not talk why the government has no money. Not once did he say to the people of Fiji what he should be saying on behalf of the government and on behalf of the Prime Minister, “Sorry!. I’m sorry that after years of spending your money to get your votes, there’s no money left.

Honourable Professor Biman Prasad: I’m sorry that in this financial year, my tax collections fell one billion dollars short. I’m sorry that because Fiji is now so far in debt I must now cut spending on education, health and basic services.

I’m sorry to the tourism industry! I’m sorry that even though they compose a large part of the whole economy, our taxes are damaging the economy—but I cannot afford to reduce the taxes. I’m sorry to the lowest paid workers that we promised that we will review the minimum wages and now we’re taking more time and more time.

Honourable Professor Biman Prasad: Honourable Speaker, the Honourable Minister blames the people, he blames the students who wanted to study away from their home towns. He accused parents for free riding on buses using the children’s student card.

He blamed the children cashing the parent’s welfare checks. Why is he blaming the people? Why is he blaming the people? Because he needs an excuse to cut the government’s spending. He says to the people. “It’s not my fault. It’s your fault!”

This is what this government is about. When things are good, it’s always about what they did. But, when things are bad, it is always about somebody else’s fault. I also heard the Prime Minister, I also heard some of the Ministers talk about how we’re doing this because there is a, “slow-down in the global economy” I don’t know Honourable Speaker where do they get that. 

Of course the IMF says there might be a slow-down but, let me just give you an example; this an Economist magazine—latest issue. It says, “The greatest job boom”. It says, “in 2018 the employment raised among people of working age was the highest ever in Britain, Canada, Germany, Australia and twenty-two other OECD countries.” You know, this is the kind of lies and misinformation that they want to spread to cover up for the mismanagement of the economy for the last ten or twelve years.

Honourable Professor Biman Prasad: it states; I’ll read you this, “Across the rich world, an extraordinary jobs boom is under way” this is May this year, “Across the rich world, an extraordinary jobs boom is under way”. But, anyway Honourable Speaker, I said in the last budget that the government was, “spending money like drunks in a nightclub” and I remember one person in the social media who criticized my statement and this is what he said Mr. Speaker—he said,

“You are being unfair to drunks. At least drunks spend their own money” –and he’s right! Because the (inaudible…) the people’s money to keep themselves in power. They have brought themselves into power by using the people’s money for their propaganda and using the people’s money to hand out freebies to them. Mr. Speaker, like every confidence trick, when you borrow and spend, and take photographs opening roads and bridges, and handing out SME grants –things look great for a while, but look where we are now.

This year, the money has run out! Let me give you an example. Let me give you –this is from their own Fiscal Supplement: One Billion dollars reduction in expenditure. Honourable Speaker, One billion dollars! This is not a small adjustment. But, last year this government projected that they will collect 4.2 billion dollars revenue. They actually collected 3.2 billion –this is an estimate. This year, they are projecting that they are going to collect 3.4 billion dollars revenue.

Yet, you’ve reduced expenditure by a billion dollars. In fact, last year the economy was growing because there was all this reckless spending going on in the economy. And now, they’re saying that we will collect more revenue from what they collected last year. They’re reducing the economy, they are contracting the economy, and they are hoping that they will collect instead of $3.2 billion  they’ll collect $3.4 billion dollars revenue.

That is why Honourable Speaker, this budget has so many holes. In fact, the Ministers on the other side. I mean I, feel sorry for them because they all talked about what they will going to do with the budget allocation if you go by what they collected with the growth in the economy last year, last financial year then what are they going to collect?

There is no way Honourable Speaker that they can collect 3.4 billion dollars revenue that is projected. So what, will be the effect? What will be the effect? The effect will be that the economy will contract further and further. Honourable Speaker, the –one of the funnier parts of the Honourable Minister’s speech was about the National Bank of Fiji. Yes! It was a disaster.

They sold the telecommunications network. Twenty three years after that we are in the same situation. We don’t have the telecommunications network but the debt level that this government has put upon itself; now they might be selling the electricity network. That is the reality. And what they have been doing is setting up the stage to actually sell FEA. I know they tried to sell FEA. There are number of people you know wanting to –they were on the list of people who were interested on buying FEA. None of them bought FEA. So now, the Minister is engaged in raising the tariff he’s already said that the tariff will be increased when the consultations are—

Honourable Professor Biman Prasad: You were quoted! You said that.

Honourable Professor Biman Prasad: Honourable Speaker. Let me –before I conclude Honourable Speaker, let me say something about the Fiji Revenue and Customs Service. If you go to its website Mr. Speaker, you will see that its vision is to be a world class revenue service. Instead, as the government runs out of money, it has become more like a world class Mafia organization.

Hundreds of businesses large and small are being harassed. If there’s one small mistake, FRCS demands a $50,000 fine. FRCS auditors are running around issuing ridiculous tax assessments.  They’re doing it all in a rush because they have to find money for the government. They are not listening to taxpayer’s explanations Mr. Speaker. Government bureaucracy is not the only threat to foreign investment, FRCS is a major problem. In most well-run economies the tax agency is a trusted regulator. People may not like paying taxes but they respect the agency in Fiji, the FRCS gets more and desperate to collect money. It has lost the respect of the business community, it has become one more disaster on Fiji’s investment horizon.

Honourable Speaker, it is time to stop pretending that this government has created a sustainable economy. This is not a successful economy, Mr. Speaker. This is not a strong economy. It is a mediocre economy fueled by debt and hopelessly distorted by regulation and worst to come—and even though the facts are staring at the government in the face, the government refuses to acknowledge it. It refuses to warn the people that hard times are ahead—it has no solutions. It is happy to cut spending now because it does not have to worry about an election.

Mr. Speaker, this government is loud and boastful when things are going well. But when things are beginning to go bad, it does not want to talk about it. That shows only this government’s lack of courage and its lack of care for the poorest in our society who in the coming year will be the hardest hit.

Mr. Speaker, no one rejoices in warning that tough economic times lie ahead. But the next two years, are going to be extremely difficult for our people. We are about to find out what happens when the government’s political spending party is over. When economic confidence is gone, the government has no solutions. And it does not have the courage to talk about the problems.

Honourable Speaker, this is truly a government that has lost the moral authority to lead us. And this is what the people are about to find. Honourable Speaker, confidence in an economy is very important, very important. Confidence in an economy important. What people didn’t do today or what people expect to happen in the future, determines what people do today. This government does not like the truth.

In fact, you will inspire confidence Honourable Speaker, by telling the truth about the economy. By telling honestly what the problems have been in the economy. If you keep on hiding, the people are not as stupid as the government might think. The business people out there understand what’s happening in the economy. The bank managers know what’s happening in the economy.

These are the people are listening to us here and they have a government which is continuously trying to paint a rosy picture when the reality on the ground is something very different. And that is not going to inspire confidence in our investors in our people Honourable Speaker and that is why I’m saying we need to be truthful.

In fact Honourable Prakash was right when he concluded, we need the truth about the economy. We need transparent, accountable processes through which we can hold the government accountable—and this is what the people want.

People are listening to the speeches from the government side and they’re out there looking the businesses. Looking at what FRCS does, looking at the regulations, looking at difficulty in getting a business license. And they’re saying; what? What is this government all about? That is the point I want to make Honourable Speaker. Thank you.

-END-

HON LENORA QEREQERETABUA – 2019/2020 BUDGET REPLY

Reply to the 2019-2020 Budget
Monday, June 17, 2019
By NFP MP Hon Lenora Qereqeretabua

Mr Speaker, I’d like to borrow and paraphrase the slogan of the taxpayer funded Fiji Broadcasting Commission or FBC TV, “the difference is clear”. Because CLEARLY this budget time around there is NO DIFFERENCE. The Fiji First Government, is fresh out of ideas, and has SEGA/NAHI sound and sensible solutions for the social, economic and political advancement of our nation. The only thing they are consistent on, is inconsistencies!

Unfortunately, Mr Speaker, the 2019-2020 Budget handed down on Friday 7th June 2019 by the Honourable Minister for Economy confirms this Government is losing ground on the necessary ideas that can bring forth real leadership and practical economic growth that Fiji sorely needs to achieve national unity, nation building and true nationhood.

Mr Speaker, I’d like to address some fundamental issues related to the Budget. It is to do with basic courtesy and just good manners. If I were to kerekere  the Hon Minister for Economy for $20 in order to buy washing powder like this BOOM product, you can expect that during my kerekere I would be VERY polite and humble, and that upon purchase of the washing powder, I owed it to him to show proof of purchase. Otherwise he would label me as a liar and a con artist, right?

What I have seen thus far is deeply disappointing. Many government institutions, statutory entities and private organisations that fall under the various Ministry’s are so quick to put in their budgetary submissions, talk or project themselves up when its budget time, but they do not reciprocate or honour the taxpayers or even the laws that mandate their accountability — and table their Annual Reports. This is as clear a signal as any, of unprofessional incompetence, and I fully intend to ensure this is corrected — that those… even those hiding in the Head 50 getting grants who are so quick to inhale public funds from many people earning as little as $2.68/hour — you must account for every cent in the highest court of the land. This House. The People’s House.

Mr Speaker, the National Federation Party subscribes to  principles that will correct economic imbalance so that economic growth benefits all instead of a Government’s legislative control of the economy. So what transpired in the period of the so-called unprecedented economic growth of 10 straight years, leading up to this Bainimarama Boom Budget or Boom, Boom, Boom! budget as stated by the PM himself? For all intents and purposes, this budget is a noose around the neck of all ordinary Fijians and will ensure shackled hardship for our people under the skyrocketing cost of living.

We were not the party  in control of the Treasury making unilateral decisions on how to spend taxpayer funds.

We were NOT the Party that had a whopping 14 seat majority in Parliament and rode roughshod in parliament for four years over the mandate of the people in the September 2014 elections.

We were NOT the Party that did not practice political decorum where elections are about a battle of  ideas in the lead-up to the 2018 general elections, choosing instead to spend millions of dollars in an advertising campaign that evoked disunity,overflowed with racial bigotry and fake news.

We were NOT the Party that indulged in a campaign of fear-mongering, freebies and handouts.

We were NOT the Party that had its 14 seat parliamentary majority whittled down to just 3 because 49.98% of voters defied the Honourable Economy Minister’s threat that not voting for Honourable Prime Minister Bainimarama would mean putting a dagger to the neck.

Mr Speaker, this Budget is the product of a two-men rule – a Budget that is desperately trying to claw in every source of legal revenue for government’s frivolous expenditure, while knowingly ignoring the fundamental issues facing all ordinary Fijians. The alarming hike in the cost of living has resulted in some meat outlets selling lamb flaps which was outlawed many years ago!

The miserable minimum wage of $2.68/hr;  the never-ending civil service reforms;
the gutting of a once vibrant tourism industry’s  by exorbitant taxes;
a crumbling health and medical care system;
the patchwork of huge craters on the road network that is further forcing motorists to frequent spare part shops and depleting their incomes;
a sugar industry that is failing right under the noses of this government, and the list goes on and on and on…

This is the ‘Boom for Whom?‘ Budget. Because there is but a small elite really benefitting from it. There is no Boom! Only a KABOOM. It is a budget aimed at strangulating our ordinary Fijians. It is an attempt to salvage the pride of two men, who in adherence to the Fiji First Constitution, have imposed their will upon all our people. But the time to be silent is over.

So how have we come to this KABOOM  Budget Mr Speaker? 

In his maiden speech on 14th October 2014, the Leader of NFP, Honourable Professor Biman Prasad said and I quote: –

“We have two obligations at the core of our role as MP’s. First, we have to make our democracy work; and second, we have to make our democracy work for our people”. 

“What do I mean by that?” “To make our democracy work; we need to ensure that our citizens and their organizations are able to freely comment, support and when needed criticize policies and programs being debated by this House. They need to know that our media will amplify their voices and ensure that their voices are directly heard by us. This way we will know how citizens feel about and experience government policies and programs. Our democracy will grow from this new openness”.

“Second, we need to make our democracy work for our people”. –

“When necessary we will criticize government’s policies. When we shall do so, it will not be for the sake of doing so, but because we in our considered view are able to provide credible alternatives”. – Unquote

Mr Speaker, Sir… the proposed budget brings to mind a few commonly used phrases – a champagne lifestyle on a beer budget  being one of them.  The NFP warned last year when Fiji First was traipsing around the country handing out freebies that NOTHING WAS FREE and that all of us would end up paying sooner rather than later.

More than a decade of excessive spending is bringing the chickens home to roost, resulting is this Fiscal Consolidation, which is just economic speak for the reduction of expenditure.

So I ask again, this Boom is for whom?

At the start of first term this year, the Hon PM said “And I’ve always believed that funding our children’s education is the single best investment a Government can make.   That is why I am proud that this year is a billion- dollar year for our education system, as our last national budget saw education become the first sector to ever receive an over one-billion dollar allocation.  (Fiji Sun 13th Jan, 2019)

BOOM! Not 6 months later and there is a budget cut of $200 Million to this “single best investment that a Government can make.”

Here are some stark realities teachers now face;

  • The possibility of Less Pay or suddenly turning 55. The Budget Estimates already suggest that trend in the personal emoluments allocations ACROSS ALL HEADS.
  • Larger Classes – this is an existing problem and will only get worse.  With budget cuts come larger classes. Research has shown that students learn better in smaller classes. When there is overcrowding there is a greater likelihood of disruptions. Further, it is much easier for students to fall through the cracks in larger schools and not get the extra help they need and deserve to succeed. 
  • Less to Spend on Materials – More and more of this is going to be either provided by the teachers and their students.
  • Less School-Wide Material and Technology Purchases – With less money, schools often cut their school-wide technology and material budgets.
  • Delays for New Textbooks – In its haste to jump on the IT bandwagon, the free textbooks are not FREE. Yes, schools now print out textbooks that students use in the classrooms, but very often they are either shared in the classroom and often cannot take them home to study from. Students preferring their own home copies of textbooks will need to fork out internet and printing costs themselves. Now with the limitations of free busfare only up until 4:30pm, home copies of textbooks may probably be necessary for all students..
  • Less Professional Development Opportunities – Teaching just like any profession, becomes stagnant without continual self-improvement. The field of education is changing and new theories and teaching methods can make all the difference in the world for new, struggling, and even experienced teachers. However, with budget cuts, these activities are typically some of the first to go.
  • Less Electives – Schools facing budget cuts typically begin by cutting their electives and either moving teachers to core subjects or eliminating their positions entirely. Students are given less choice and teachers are either moved around or stuck teaching subjects they are not ready to teach.
  • Possibility of a Forced Move or School Closures like what happened with Laucala Bay Secondary School

The honourable calling of teaching has been reduced to being one of the most stressful jobs in the country.

If they dispute that Mr Speaker I challenge them to issue a statement and give our teachers peace of mind.

Blaming children for the cancellation of the free milk scheme is juvenile but by now symptomatic of this govt that is out of options.  Why are children being blamed, when adults like the Hon Minister for Economy tabled that policy with much fanfare in the 2015 Budget that claimed to “TURN PROMISES INTO DEEDS” .Again the Estimates point out just how real this situation is where previous allocations of $3.1M from 2015 to 2018, have suddenly nose-dived to $400K for those in maritime regions.

Preventing children from using the Student E-Ticketing Bus Cards after 4.30pm is another knee-jerk reaction we expect from a govt that is out of options.  The justification made sounds as if the problem is so prevalent. Why did taxpayers only hear about these issues of parents using their children’s cards on budget night? Surely Vodafone as service provider for eTicketing would have been able to track the trends more wholistically? Why can’t this august House be privy to those reports and statistics so that we can be assured that such a major policy shift is warranted.. The eTicketing was a shoddy idea and is still limping from execution issues — and we don’t even know how much money is involved from past taxpayers injections and the benefit to government revenue. Vodafone must table a report in this house!

Blaming past governments and using Legacy problems is the old and worn out crutch some in the govt side continue to use to cover up the Fiji First Govt’s failings….. BUT what will their legacy be? 

Loans? Debt? With a 40 year repayment time…at the end of 40 years the architects and signatories of the debts post 2005 will be long gone, but the debt will still be there for the children and young adults of today and their families to pay.

If there are going to be pay cuts and job losses, my suggestion is that the very people who allowed this champagne lifestyle to carry on, whilst operating on beer money, should be the first ones to experience pay cuts and job losses.  Our economy is in the ICU because of the irresponsibility of the Bainimarama Govt.  Why should the most vulnerable children, women and men suffer because of the bad financial management of our money? Why should everyday families suffer while a few continue to benefit?

Mr. Speaker, let me just ask the house –

  • Who was the P.M when the 100 sands casino Blunder happened?
  • Who was the P.M when Waila City happened?
  • Who was the P.M when drugs entering Fiji are at an all-time high?
  • Who was the P.M that endorsed a mobile App that actually defies the laws of physics?
  • Who was the P.M when the Malolo saga unfolded?

For all the talk about Environment, you slash the Department of Environment’s budget!

How can we trust a govt that says one thing and does another?  The Malolo fiasco will not be allowed to be swept under the carpet and we will get to the truth.

How can we trust a govt that believes it knows everything?  Pride cometh before the fall.  The Hon Min for Economy said one word that made me sit up and take notice for once…the word was Humility.  This govt must practice what it preaches……..Humility; accept it stuffed up and that the ordinary families of Fiji, not theirs, are going to pay.

It is time that just like the Dutch band Vengaboys who delivered the late 1990’s hit Boom Boom Boom, this government goes into a hiatus.

And that is why I say an emphatic NO to the 2019-2020 Appropriation Bill.

-END-

WORLD MEDIA FREEDOM DAY SPEECH – HON. LENORA QEREQERETABUA

Address at World Press Freedom Day USP Lautoka Campus
FRIDAY 3RD MAY 2019

Media for Democracy: Journalism and Elections in Times of Disinformation is the theme for World Press Freedom Day 2019. 

Therefore, we surely are not and cannot be “Pressed for Time” in discussing such an important theme that is extremely relevant to media freedom or lack of it that we have endured – under  a military dictatorship for more than seven-and-a-half years from December 2006 to September 2014 – and as a parliamentary democracy guided by the principles of an imposed 2013 Constitution since 6thOctober 2014. 

Before I speak on the theme, please allow me to define what the state and extent of media freedom has been – both in policy and  practice.

The media industry in this country has been under siege since the military coup of December 2006. The period from 10thApril 2009, especially after the abrogation of the 1997 Constitution on that very same day, and until the  general elections on 17thSeptember 2014, have been turbulent and devastating for the journalists and the media industry. 

The work of the media industry, especially after the start of the coup culture in 1987, has been remarkable, balanced, informative and impartial, except for a brief period after the 1987 coups. 

However, the enforcement of media censorship under Public Emergency Regulations after April 2009 until January 2012 and the promulgation of the Media Industry Development Decree 2010, which became an Act along with other Decrees without being ratified on the floor of Parliament,  has seriously undermined media freedom. 

Media, and by this I mean traditional and mainstream media, throughout the world is generally regarded as the Fourth Estate – the last line of defence for democracy, human rights, dignity and justice.  The Fourth Estate refers to the watchdog role of the media, one that is important to a functioning democracy.

Article 19 of Universal Declaration of Human Rights states, “Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression. This right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through the media regardless of frontiers”.

This freedom and right is reposed in the people, which the State and politicians must respect at all times. I repeat – This freedom and right is reposed in the people, which the State and politicians must respect at all times.

Unfortunately, this has not been the case in our beloved nation. Many of us may have forgotten or may not know that the Fiji First Government, which after the coup of 5thDecember 2006 was disguised as a military regime, was responsible for the arrest and immediate deportation of three reputable media personalities who were publishers- one from the Fiji Sun, which at that time was a shining beacon of media freedom – and two from the Fiji Times. 

The military regime and the Fiji First governments have either banned or continued to ban from entering into Fiji, certain journalists  and a reputable academic couple who made the mistake of expressing freedom of speech and expression. 

While bans on a few New Zealand journalists was uplifted following the visit of the then New Zealand Prime Minister almost three years ago – one of the most respected  and acclaimed historians of the Pacific Professor Brij Lal and his good wife Padma – have been banned from entering the land of their birth since November 2009 and January 2010 respectively.

Their crime according to this government is they are a threat to national security!!! And that order to place them on the list of those prohibited from entering Fiji  has come from the Prime Minister’s Office – as confirmed by the Immigration Department to the couple. 

Freedom of expression and freedom of the media has been enshrined in every constitution of Fiji since Independence – the 1970, 1990, 1997 and 2013 Constitutions. But this freedom has been curtailed by limitations in the 2013 Constitution. 

Section 17 of the 2013 Constitution outlines Freedom of speech, expression and publication in four sub-section points. But at the same-time it outlines 13 limitations. 

Freedom of speech, expression, thought, opinion and publication does not protect the media from regulations that make provisions for the enforcement of media standards and providing for the regulation, registration and conduct of media organisations.  This is where the Media Industry Development Authority Decree of 2010, now an Act, comes in like a Sword of Damocles. 

Against this backdrop of the MIDA, we must not forget what the Ghai Commission draft constitution recommended on media freedom. This Commission was sanctioned by the regime in 2012 but tragically, the regime trashed the draft Constitution of the Commission  headed by its own nominated Chair Professor Yash Ghai in early January 2013.

There are no prizes for guessing correctly why the regime did an about turn ; the draft constitution’s provisions on media freedom had everything to do with it.  

On this day when freedom of the press is hailed throughout most of the free world, it is worth re-visiting those provisions. 

Section 27 of the Ghai draft constitution stated the fundamental freedoms and nominal limitations stipulated in the previous three constitutions of 1970,1990 and 1997, with no effect on limiting media freedom. 

Section 57 of that draft constitution specially related to  Regulation of public media. And it is vastly different from MIDA. It stated

  • Free and open discussion and dissemination of ideas is essential in a democratic society. 
  • Broadcast and other electronic media may be subject to licensing procedures only for the purpose of regulating the airwaves and other forms of signal distribution. 
  • Other media must not be subject to licensing. 
  •   Licensing procedures under clause (2) must be independent of control by government, political interests or commercial interests. 

  Further, All State-owned media— 

(a) are free to determine the editorial content of their broadcasts or other communications independent of political or government control; 

(b) must be impartial; and 

(c) must afford fair opportunity for the presentation of divergent views and dissenting opinions. 

An Act of Parliament must establish a body to set media standards and regulate and monitor compliance with those standards, which must–– 

  1. (a)  be independent of control by government, political interests or commercial interests; and 
    1. (b)  reflect the interests of all sections of the society. 

Furthermore, Sections 60 and 61 of the Ghai draft constitution required state owned media to provide equal access to candidates and political parties upon payment, including services not be denied upon payment of fee, and for parliament to enact laws to ensure equal access. 

Unfortunately, this wasn’t put into practice because as I said, the Ghai draft constitution in its formative stages was trashed by the regime. 

Those salient provisions would have prevented disinformation during elections as well as during other times, and made election campaign and coverage more ethically balanced and transparent. 

But the change of heart, followed by the trashing and literal and symbolic burning of copies of the Ghai draft constitution allowed for MIDA to untangle its deadly fangs of my way or the highway when it came to media freedom and spread of disinformation on social media- as well as mainstream media – before the 2014 and 2018 general elections. 

I will give just a few classic examples. During the 2014 election campaign, a radio talkback host of the national broadcaster FBC radio said the NFP Leader should clean pigeon droppings on our public hospital windows, walls and roof when the Leader outlined the state of public hospitals. That talkback show host, two weeks after this rhetoric became a Fiji First candidate scraped in as a MP under the highly controversial electoral system and became an Assistant Minister. 

The 2018 elections campaign was the worst in our recent memory. It was full of racial bigotry, falsehoods, lies and gutter-level politics – not to forget vote-buying tactics that were mentioned in diplomatic language in the Multinational Observer Group (MOG) Report. 

The Multinational Observer Group 2018 (the MOG) was a group of countries and international organisations invited by the Fiji Government to observe our General Election of last year. Australia, India and Indonesia were co-leading the MOG.

One daily newspaper was, is and will be forever beholden to the current government because it benefits in millions of dollars in taxpayers’ dollars in the form of exclusive government advertising. We have heaps and heaps of evidence of this newspaper deliberately failing to publish our news. Even when it does, it publishes a few paragraphs completely overshadowed by government propaganda. These are the times we live in. 

Therefore, its election coverage, especially that of the campaign, was not surprising to us, but it impacted the voters who were forever referring to the anti-stories being dished out. 

Then there was another state owned radio talkback show host who turned into  a mouthpiece instead of remaining an independent host. 

The conduct of the media, both in 2014 and 2018 elections, wasn’t lost on MOG. 

In 2014 MOG rightly noted that harsh penalties in the Media Industry Development Decree prevented most media outlets from effectively reporting on election issues. The contents of the report on Media Environment, Media Industry Development Decree and Media Industry Development Authority (MIDA) show the ineffectiveness of MIDA.

The MOG rightly recommended the need for regulation as well as an independent institution to prevent and adjudicate om media bias thus ensuring a level-playing field amongst election participants, as well as a review of penalties in the Media Decree.

I say that the fact that MOG recommended for an independent institution proves MIDA’s lack of neutrality because it is a body appointed by Government. A free, fair, credible and unfettered media industry in Fiji is rendered meaningless if MIDA continues to exist.

The MOG Report into the conduct of the 2014 election was tabled referred to the parliamentary standing committee on Justice Law and Human Rights in 2016. From July 2016 until the dissolution of parliament on 1stOctober 2018, the committee did not report back to parliament. And it hasn’t done so after the 2018 elections. In little over two months 3 years would have lapsed since the committee started looking into the 2014 MOG report. Why hasn’t it reported back to parliament? 

Again, no prizes for guessing the answer !

The MOG observing the 2018 elections also pointed out disinformation. MOG noted creation of fake profiles using logos of genuine mainstream media. These were the logos of Fiji One TV news and Fiji Village. One was to claim NFP was in a coalition with SODELA. The other was that the SODELPA Leader was going to scrap Diwali as a public holiday. And they sprouted a few days before the elections – almost on the eve of the media blackout when political parties were prohibited from campaigning. 

These were ugly examples of racial bigotry – true to the campaign of the ruling party that had bombarded radio and television with advertisements along similar lines. And so were its so-called Fun Days. 

Therefore, it eventually resulted in a racially polarized parliament. And this portrait is a result of disinformation, racial campaign, and lack of any attention being paid by the bodies created under the draconian MIDA decree to what was happening. 

And both Fiji Village and Fiji TV News did not vociferously refute that the two sites in question weren’t theirs. 

This is the great tragedy facing media freedom and the people of Fiji. Half-baked truths, lies, and misinformation will continue to prevail unless  the laws are put right.

The Media Industry Development Authority Decree has to be repealed or amended in accordance with the 2012 trashed Ghai Constitution. And self-restraint or self-censorship – a hangover from the days of total censorship after the imposition of the PER has to be overcome.

It is a tall order given who is in power. We always say in NFP that the most important thing this government in the form of a military regime didwas to control the media. 

And that control may have been relaxed in our so called parliamentary democracy, but that control’s effect is ongoing and reverberates each day.

Until this is  eradicated, our dream of a truly credible, free and fair media will remain just that – a dream.

And disinformation  or misinformation will continue. 

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.

PETITION BY CANE GROWERS SEEKING MINIMUM GUARANTEED PRICE

POINT OF ORDER  – PETITION BY CANE GROWERS SEEKING MINIMUM GUARANTEED PRICE

Madam Speaker I rise on a Point of Order seeking clarification on  why I was not allowed to move a petition that I submitted to your good self as required under Standing Order 37, on Tuesday 25th April.

I respectfully submit the fact that I was not allowed to move a motion for a petition to be referred to the relevant standing committee is violation of the Standing Order 37 of Parliament, as well as breach of Section 72 of the 2013 Constitution.

The provision on presentation of petitions is extremely clear. A petition must be in conformity to the Constitution and must not create ill-will and hostility.

The Petition that was submitted to you Madam Speaker is about cane growers seeking parliamentary intervention to help them achieve a minimum guaranteed price for a tonne of cane. The petition, signed by 404 registered cane growers throughout the Western Division cane belt from Rakiraki to Sigatoka, doesn’t violate this provision, nor any other provision of the Constitution and the Standing Orders.

Madam Speaker, the merits and de-merits of this or any petition can only be determined after it is moved in Parliament.

Standing Order 37(5) and 37(6) lays out the procedure of what happens when a petition is moved.

There is nothing that overrules it once the Speaker decides a petition is in order. It is the Speaker’s call because a petition is sent to the Speaker. I am surprised that you have not made any decision, based on your previous rulings of 8th July 2015 and again on 23 rd March 2017.

No aspect of it clashes with Bills No. 19 and 20. Bills 19 and 20 before the parliamentary standing committee on economic affairs do not address the issue of implementing a minimum guaranteed cane price. It is all about amending the Sugar Industry Act.

Neither has the issue been raised and voted upon in any motion, previous petition or question that was asked in the last six months.

In any case your rulings of 8 th July 2015 and 23 rd March 2017 make it extremely clear why petitions are important. On 23 rd March you re-iterated your ruling and I quote: –

“The right of citizens to petition their Parliament and the power of Parliament to deal with petition is an ancient right and was affirmed by the House of Commons in 1669. It is a fundamental right of the citizen, which is preserved in our Standing Orders. It is the only means by which individuals can directly place grievances before the Parliament on matters which the Government has jurisdiction”. – Unquote

Madam Speaker, Section 72(b) of the Constitution says Parliament must facilitate public participation in the legislative and other processes of Parliament and its committees. Section 72 of the Constitution relates to Petitions, public access and participation.

Denial of a petition, more so, if it complies with Standing Order 37 is a breach of the Constitution.

In any case, Government under Standing Order 37 has the right to reply to the petition and also vote either for and against it.

Essentially Madam Speaker, this Petition is in order and I once again respectfully submit that it should be moved in Parliament without delay, based on your previous rulings and in conformity to both Standing Order 37 and Section 72 of the 2013 Constitution.

Any delay in determining the future of the petition (when there is no need to since it conforms to every provision required for acceptance and moving of a petition), will deny the cane growers who signed the petition their right to be heard by Parliament and constitute a breach of Section 72 (b) of the Constitution.

It concerns their livelihood and future before the start of the crushing season.

I await your ruling Madam Speaker.

NFP response to Health Minister’s statement on medicine shortage

RESPONSE TO MINISTER AKBAR – Ministerial Statement

By Hon Parmod Chand (Tuesday April 25, 2017)

Madam Speaker, I thank the Minister for her statement. At the outset, let me say that we are thoroughly disappointed with her explanation. Like many other issues affecting our nation, this Government is paying lip service to the fundamental issue of providing basic health care to our citizens in our health centres and public hospitals.

Madam Speaker two months ago, we highlighted the shortage of chemicals used to process x-ray films were denying patients the right to get x-rayed and diagnosed.

This problem remains unresolved. The Minister has to be reminded what she said in Parliament when this issue was raised by Hon Prem Singh on 10th February 2017.

And what transpired in the last two months is relevant to what was said by the Minister regarding the issue of medicine. I will demonstrate how this will be another one of the same old story – they call it NATO Madam Speaker – No Action Talk Only.

The Honourable Minister had said only wet film processing, which is processing a film after an x-ray is done was not being conducted but dry film processing and digital imaging were being conducted.

She said wet film processing was being phased out but chemicals would be arriving at the end of the month (which is February).

February has come and gone. The situation hasn’t changed.

I want to ask the Minister: –

Does the Minister know what is happening in her Ministry?

For example, despite her assurance to this Parliament two months ago– the major hospitals don’t have chemicals to process X Ray films? Patients incur costs to come to hospitals only to be told they cannot get x-rayed.

Last week a patient from Nadi who has a fractured femur (thighbone) hired a taxi and came to Lautoka hospital on his designated day of review and x-ray. He was told x-ray could not be done and he had to pay $100 as taxi hire charges. Will the Ministry compensate him because it is not his fault that x-ray could not be done. The Hospital did not even have the decency and courtesy of informing him and the public through the media that x-ray service was out of order.

Again last week a woman who is a cancer patient was taken for review and x-ray at the CWM Hospital. She could not be x-rayed because there were no chemicals to process the film.

Is this the kind of treatment that our citizens deserve?

They don’t want handouts, they want access to fundamental and basic service, Madam Speaker.

The 2013 Constitution has been much talked about as the savior of our nation and providing common and equal citizenry through its Bill of Rights.

Section 38 (1) of the 2013 Constitution (Right to health) states, and I quote, “The State must take reasonable measures within its available resources to achieve the progressive realization of the right of every person to health and to the conditions and facilities necessary to good health care services…”

38(3) of the Constitution states “…if the State claims that it does not have the resources to implement the right, it is the responsibility of the State to show that resources are not available”.

Does the State have sufficient resources to provide access to health care for all? If it has then shortage and lack of medicine and medical supplies should not be an issue. We ask what has happened to allocation of a quarter million dollars in the last two budgets to hire consultants to streamline procurement procedures of medical supplies.

If private pharmacies can be sufficiently stocked with the list of medicines being listed as being in short and nil supply, why can’t the Fiji pharmaceutical service, which has millions of dollars at its disposal, or that is what is shown in the budget, be in a state of preparedness at all times?

And even when there is a shortage, why cannot it swiftly order medicine instead of the health ministry saying there is no estimated time of arrival when we have flights into our country daily and goods and services by the private sector are air freighted within a week?

Madam Speaker where there is a will there is a way. The Minister should know that cosmetic solutions and changes couldn’t be implemented to improve the fundamentals in the health ministry. Health is not about applying cosmetic and band-aid solutions.

It is about getting fundamental rights because health is wealth. Unfortunately the state of our public health has become blight on our nation.

Thank you Madam Speaker