END OF WEEK STATEMENT – GRAVE ENVIRONMENTAL DEGRADATION hON. LENORA QEREQERETABUA

15/02/2018

The need to strengthen the Department of Environments’ EIA Unit

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Mr Speaker Sir, I rise to give my end of week statement where I wish to highlight the dire need to strengthen the powers of the Environmental Impact Assessment Unit of the Dept of Environment, in light of recent incidents of grave environmental degradation in Fiji, some of which have only recently come to light.

Fiji has now ratified all of the major global human rights treaties, including last year’s ratification of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights. Environmental protection is essential to fulfilling many of the rights recognized in these agreements.

Mr Speaker, Sir, my following comments therefore should not be taken by the Minister responsible as an attack on his or government’s competency. Rather, because I offer feedback, observations and suggestions after having consulted with stakeholders from Environmental Law, from Civil Society and environmentally-minded members of the public, I hope the Hon Minister will take on board the points I highlight as I lobby for more resources for the EIA Unit, as we are all stakeholders in this plight.

The report by the UN Special Rapporteur for Human Rights and Environment, Dr David Boyd at the end of his visit to Fiji last December made a number of significant observations regarding the Environment Management Act and in particular the EIA process.

For the information of Honourable Members and the public, Sir, Dr Boyd is an Environmental Lawyer and an internationally renowned expert on human rights and the environment, who was appointed by the UN Human Rights Council last year.  I accompanied Dr Boyd and his colleague, Ms Soo-young Hwang on several site visits in Suva during their stay here.

In his report Sir, Dr Boyd said it was clear that the Ministry of Environment is seriously under-resourced. For example, according to the Department of Environment website, under the heading Challenges, the website says “One of the major challenges is the lack of financial and technical resources; currently there are only “5-6 staff who handle waste and pollution related matters Fiji-wide” as part of the Waste Management and Pollution Control Unit.

The report goes on to recognise Fiji as a regional leader in recognizing the right to a healthy environment, having ratified multilateral environmental agreements, as well as the human rights treaties I mentioned earlier.   BUT the report stressed that We must have a strong Ministry of Environment to fulfil those commitments.

An issue Dr Boyd said had been raised repeatedly with him were problems with Environmental Impact Assessments, with members of the public expressing to him frustration with their inability to gain easy, timely and affordable access to important information, the lack of adequate consultation, constraints on the public’s ability to participate in assessment processes, the poor quality of some EIA reports, and the lack of access to remedies. Examples cited include proposed mining projects and the raising of the Wainisavulevu weir in Naitasiri by EFL.

Sir, Dr Boyd had heard from landowners about extensive mineral exploration activities affecting their lands without consultation and before the completion of any environmental assessment.

Dr Boyd agreed with me and many, many others and called the fee of $4.85 per page for an EIA report excessive, suggesting that it be waived for individuals and groups seeking to protect the environment and human rights.  I think EIA reports should be public documents, available to the public free. This is basic transparency and good governance.

Sir, The Environment Management Act 2005 provides for the appointment of an Environmental Tribunal, but there is no publicly available information regarding its members, procedures, or decisions. Rules governing the tribunal were published in 2013, but the absence of other public information makes the process as clear as mud.

Dr Boyd made an excellent suggestion in encouraging Fiji to consider creating an online environmental registry that would make extensive information publicly available, including permit applications and decisions, pollution data, and enforcement actions taken. Such a registry would enhance the public’s ability to participate meaningfully in environmental decision-making in Fiji.

Mr Speaker, Sir.  The following are comments gathered from my consultations with environmental law experts and conservationists working in and around Fiji and based on a number of cases reported to them by the community;

They all agree that the DoE does not have enough expertise, capacity or resources to adequately implement EMA and the EIA.  

Also highlighted, Sir, was an apparent lack of proper and meaningful consultation.  Two cases from Lautoka are prime examples; Field 40, Lautoka where a cement factory is placed right on the edge of the large community, with only a road separating the community from the cement factory.   Here families have been complaining about health, noise and many other issues associated with having such a factory placed in your backyard.   In Vakabuli paipai River between Lautoka and Ba representatives of a community complained about gravel extraction affecting all aspects of their livelihood.  Sir the extent of extraction has left the river and its banks with nothing but mud.  The human cost is also high, generations of families have lived in the area and have lost livelihoods.  In these communities, residents complain about the lack of consultation, lack of information and lack of knowledge about developments that occur in their backyards.

If I may dwell briefly on Terms of Reference, Sir.  In some instances the TORs , which guide the content required of the EIA have tended to be generic, rather than specific to the proposed development. Case in point – building a jetty at Maui Bay had same TOR as Magma Mines for mining in the Sigatoka river.

The TOR must be developed to reflect not only the specific requirements of the law, but also to ensure that it is relevant to the type of development, so that risks that are specific to certain developments are properly assessed. 

This requires persons with relevant expertise and or knowledge about the type of development and able to provide relevant input to the TOR. 

The observation is that DOE staff don’t seem to be able to critically review EIA reports – often times the TORs are not fulfilled though the EIA was approved, and the reports are largely desktop surveys rather than new data. If we don’t have suitably qualified people in Fiji; can we not ask our friends Australia and in particular NZ to second us personnel with experience in their much more robust environmental regulation space?

My consultations found issues with the way in which EIA Consultants are hired, Sir. 

The roster of Department of Environment (DoE) approved EIA Consultants continues to include some that have undertaken, and been allowed to undertake, their EIA consultancies with disregard to their TORs, contrary to the EIA procedures.

[Example if required – We have experienced where an unethical “consultant” failed to reveal to folks in an informal settlement that a development would result in their homes in the settlement being removed and then asked them to sign a document that they have no objection to the development].

Sir, the DoE must, in accordance with the Environment Management Act, be equipped, and be allowed, to fully manage the whole EIA process which appears not to be the case at present. The extent and manner in which the critical “public consultations” are to be conducted is ill-defined. The DoE fails to accompany and monitor the manner in which a consultant conducts an EIA in particular the extent and integrity of the public consultations. Currently the DoE frequently appears limited in its ability to monitor environmental issues; to take proactive measures to mitigate against environmental degradation; and also to respond when members of the environmentally concerned public draw its attention to cases of environment degradation and seek its intervention

Public Consultations are frequently not properly advertised, held during working hours, not minuted, and not attended by the relevant town council nor by senior DoE personnel suggesting that they do not take the development and the EIA process seriously. At times it appears as though the public is only included in a “box ticking” exercise in a pretence of a “public consultation” process when in reality the decision has already been made that the development will proceed irrespective of the concerns of the potentially effected community*. There still remains the ludicrous notion that only those living within a 1 kilometre radius of the proposed development may be subject to its environmental impact.

*[In the case of the Tengy Cement factory an EIA consultant held a charade of a public consultation after the construction of the factory was near completion].

Currently, Mr Speaker Sir, it is the developer that pays the EIA consultant which obviously risks a potential, or actual, conflict of interest. It is not in the commercial interest of an unethical EIA consultant to reveal to the public what they may know to be the full extent of the potential negative impact of a development. It is proposed therefore that the developer should instead pay the DoE who then pays the consultant who is then directly answerable to the DoE in terms of the manner in which he/she complies with the TORs and conducts the EIA.

In addition, the EIA study must be reviewed after it is completed.  This is mandatory under section 30 of EMA.  The review must be conducted by an independent consultant or by a review committee appointed by the EIA Administrator or the approving authority.   After the review the report should be available for public inspection. There is little to no information about the review of any of these reports however the review process is a very important part of the EIA process. 

Sir, the first case we are aware of that was prosecuted under EMA is indicative of the lack of awareness and knowledge of EMA by both the Prosecutor and the Courts. In the DPP vs China Railway First Group (Fiji) Limited CR 788/2017 the China Railway Company was charged with one count of Undertaking an Unauthorized Development contrary to section 43(1) of EMA. A penalty of $10,000 (from a possible or maximum fine of $750,000) fine was given to the Company for the development of an asphalt plant that was 90% completed without a proper EIA.  The sentencing remarks by the Magistrate Court indicated a lack of understanding of the EIA process and EMA as a whole given that there were no remedial actions ordered and the magistrate accepted the lack of evidence of environmental impact as a mitigating factor.

I beg the Hon Minister to find out if the DOE has been requiring environmental bonds from projects, including those that may be at high risk of damaging the environment (i.e. dredging, mining). If the answer is no, it means the law is not being used to its full capacity.

To quote Dr Boyd again, Sir, Fiji faces major challenges related to the implementation and enforcement of the commitments made in its environmental laws, regulations and decrees.

EIA unit of the dept of the environment needs teeth, sharp ones.

As I wind up, Sir, and in case I have not yet convinced the House; here is a short story of my own;

  1.  Last year, some friends of mine in Nadroga needed my help to file a complaint to the Dept of Environment about some dredging equipment which had come lose during a storm and had been thrown onto the reef just outside the mouth of the Sigatoka River.  These friends had called the Dept, which had informed them that they had to fill out the complaints form.  Which is NOT available on their website!  So in order for these environmentally-minded friends in Nadroga to file a complaint to the Dept, I had to go to the Dept office on MacGregor Road for a hard copy of the form, scan it and email to Sigatoka, for them to download, print, fill out, scan and email back to the Dept!  This was a small inconvenience for me, but would be virtually impossible for many in rural and maritime areas, where much of the environmental degradation occurs out of sight and out of mind as it were.
  2. I asked a question in the comment section of the Dept’s website on April 17, 2018.  Yesterday, February 14th, 2019, some 10 months later, my comment was, and I quote from the website,  “still awaiting moderation”! 
  3. My comment on the website was to request that the complaint form be made available on the website.

I hope Sir that the EIA Unit of the Dept of the Environment gets the urgent support and resources that it so desperately needs to carry out the work it is supposed to do under the Environmental Management Act of 2005.  And I hope Sir that the Unit is allowed to do this work independently, within the bounds of the law and without any meddling.

Mr Speaker, Sir, I end by registering my appreciation to the Parliament of Fiji, which I dare say, took note of my sentiments in my December Maiden Speech and earlier social media comments in regards the number of single-use plastic bottles used in this chamber.  It was pleasing to find this note on my desk on Monday; it is a step in the right direction. 

Change is indeed coming.

Thank you, Mr Speaker, Sir

IMPORTANCE OF HINDI CONFERENCE TO FIJI

Monday 4th February 2019

The National Federation Party believes Fiji’s hosting of the first ever regional international Hindi conference next month provides a platform to local participants to reinforce the importance of the Hindi language and not conversational Hindi as prescribed in the 2013 Constitution.

NFP Leader Professor Biman Prasad says the Party welcomes Fiji’s hosting of this international conference and its inauguration by India’s Minister for External Affairs Sushma Swaraj.

“And local Hindi scholars, religious and cultural organisations who participate in the event should raise concerns on how the 2013 Constitution would undermine Hindi language”.

“Section 31(3) of the Constitution prescribes the compulsory teaching of conversation and contemporary i-taukei and Fiji Hindi languages in all primary schools”.

“Fiji Hindi is not a language. Fiji Hindi is a dialect. Similarly, conversational i-taukei is not the official language of our indigenous community”.

“A few years ago religious organisations made an attempt with the then Education Minister to formalise the teaching of formal Hindi language in all primary schools but this never eventuated”.

“During last year’s election campaign, the Attorney General who was also the Education Minister said the Constitutional provision did not prevent the teaching of formal Hindi in primary schools but this too disappeared into thin air”.

“Therefore the 2013 Constitution quite erroneously prescribes both dialects as languages to the detriment of the rich traditions, culture and unique languages of the two major communities”.

“This will in the long term result in loss of both formal Hindi and i-taukei as the official languages. This must be prevented at any cost because of its catastrophic consequences on religion, tradition and cultural values”.

“It must be noted that Hindi scholars in Fiji were renowned for being extremely proficient in Hindi language – not conversational Hindi. They all spoke, taught and preached Hindi language. This uniqueness found in Fiji, and now in our regional neighbours Australia and New Zealand due to migration from Fiji and India, is a pride of the Indian diaspora”.

“All scriptures and religious discourses are in Hindi language. Tradition, culture and customs were preserved and basis of consolidation of Indians after the end of Indenture or Girmit because of the Hindi language”.

“The 2013 Constitution should not be allowed to destroy this rich history”.

The conference to be held from March 15-17, is being organised by the Government of India in partnership with the Fiji government and close cooperation with the University of the South Pacific.

Authorised by:

Prof. Biman Prasad

Leader of the National Federation Party

Code of Conduct Bill 2018 – NFP Submission to the Standing Committee on Justice, Law and Human Rights

Thursday 10th January 2019

Submission to the Standing Committee on Justice, Law and Human Rights – Code of Conduct Bill 2018 (33 of 2018)

Thank you very much Honourable Chairman for allowing the National Federation Party to make submissions on this very important piece of proposed legislation.

We regret that, as usual, we have been given a short time to make submissions – and even then, the time for our appearance before this Committee has been moved forward by a day. This means that we have less time to consult our members and advisers. If consultation is to be meaningful, the Committee has to review its process to allow sufficient time for clear thought to be given to submissions.

NFP agrees that a Code of Conduct is needed for officers such as the Head of State, Prime Minister, Cabinet Ministers, Assistant Ministers, Speaker of Parliament, Members of Parliament and heads of organisations as listed in Schedule 6 of the Bill. We will come later to the need for more inclusions. We believe in the principles of transparency and accountability, and it is our belief that a proper legislative framework is key to achieving these.

However, we have strong reservations about the Bill in its current form. In short:

  • the rules governing the Commission mean it will be anything but accountable or transparent. Everything it does will be shrouded in secrecy
  • the possibility that a complainant can be punished for filing a “malicious complaint” means that people will be discouraged, not encouraged, to lodge complaints

What this means is that the Code of Conduct Act (as it will become) will be an exercise in window-dressing. It will look good on paper – but in practice it will be a toothless tiger against the people it should control, while being a threat to the people who complain.

Some of our concerns are set out below: –

  1. Appointing authority

The definition of “appointing authority” is vague. It is not clear, for example, who is the “appointing authority” for MPs. Who is the “appointing authority for Ministers? Is it the Prime Minister, or is it the President?

Submission:   

The person who is the “appointing authority” for the purposes of each Schedule should be stated in the Schedule.

  1. Anonymous Complainants[Section 10 (3)]

Owing to Fiji’s complex political climate, the majority of people are afraid to lodge complaints against people in positions of authority for fear of victimization and prejudice. Even in the course of the election campaign we came across several people who witnessed breaches of the Electoral Act but were too afraid to come forward “on the record” to give evidence about them.

It is true that, if an anonymous complaint is received, it is sometimes hard to investigate if the complainant will not identify himself or herself to give the relevant evidence. But that is not always so. Sometimes the truth of a complaint can be established through other sources.

Section 10(3) operates as an absolute bar against anonymous complaints. That is unnecessary. The Commission should not be restricted from investigating a complaint merely because it is anonymous. If an anonymous complaint cannot be investigated for lack of evidence it can be dismissed. But it should not be dismissed just because it is anonymous.

Submission:

We submit that s.10(3) should be deleted so that the Commission has the power to investigate anonymous complaints if it wishes to do so.

  1. Grounds on which the Commission will not investigate a complaint[Section 12 (1, 2)]

This section discourages transparency. It does not encourage it.

Clause 12(1)(b) allows the Commission to dismiss “malicious” or “politically motivated” complaints. If a complaint is “malicious” that means it is not made in good faith (see s.12(1)(a) so there is no need to for reference to a “malicious” complaint.

The suggestion that a complaint should be dismissed because it is “politically motivated” is unusual. There is no need for this.  This means, for example, that if there is a clear complaint that a Minister has been, say, acting inappropriately with a lobbyist, even if the evidence is clear and the matter easily capable of investigation, it can be dismissed because, say, an Opposition Member of Parliament or a person who is a member of an opposition political party made the complaint. Worse, after making the complaint, that person can be prosecuted!

The same is true about complaints which are allegedly made for the purposes of “discrediting” or “causing reputational damage” to the subject of the complaint. There seems to be a disconnect with clause 5 of the Bill that requires the commission to conduct its “investigations in private”.  If this is the case, the only way that a complaint to the commission will cause “reputational damage”, is if there was public disclosure.

The motivation for the complaint is irrelevant. The substance of the complaint is what is important.

Next, (s.12(1)(c)) the Commission will not investigate a complaint which has been disclosed to any other person or entity apart from the Commission. This means, for example, where a complaint has first been aired in the media, the Commission will then say “I cannot investigate it”.

This section also means that even if an allegation is raised in Parliament – the people’s house – the Commission can say “I cannot investigate it.”

This is the opposite of transparency.  Institutions like the media and Parliament should play a critical role in monitoring the accountability and transparency of public officials. If a complainant chooses to go to the media to highlight a complaint, the Commission should not be barred from investigating it.

Finally, the suggestion that the Commission cannot investigate because an investigation would be “inappropriate or inexpedient” leaves wide open the circumstances in which the Commission can ignore complaints.

  1. Section 13

The Government continues to be obsessed with “political motivation”. We have seen from its many public responses to criticism the accusation that critics are “politically motivated”.

The Government changed the rules to prevent an Opposition MP being the chair of the Public Accounts Committee of Parliament because it accused the then chair (our leader, Prof Biman Prasad) of “political motivation”.

Now this obsession is finding its way into laws about transparency and accountability.

Now a person can actually be prosecuted because the Commission forms the view that a person’s complaint is “politically motivated” or designed to discredit or defame the subject of a complaint.  There is no need for this because, according to the Commission’s own rules, nothing will become public anyway. So if a complaint is made, no-one else will hear about it. How can a person be “discredited or defamed” except to the members of the Commission?

So this section will achieve the exact opposite of transparency. It will make people fearful of making complaints.

Part 5

The whistleblower protections in Section 13 Part 5 are meaningless. They should, for example, protect civil servants who witness and wish to report on unlawful actions of Ministers.  In theory that civil servant is protected from dismissal or demotion.

In practice, however, all that has to happen is for the Commission to find that a civil servant’s complaint is “malicious” or “politically motivated” and the civil servant loses all protections under s.24.  Then the civil servant can be prosecuted under s.13!

The tone and content of these provisions are a painful example of how legislation has been framed in this country for the last 12 years, with the sole objective of discouraging genuine public dissent within the legal framework, as well as acting as a Sword of Damocles and a deterrent for raising genuine grievances for fear of victimization.

Submission:

The above provisions need to be comprehensively reviewed, having regard to the need for genuine transparency and accountability.  The Government needs to go “back to the drawing board” and re-think the purpose and effect of these provisions.

  1. Disclosure of the outcome of investigations

If the Commission is to be truly transparent and accountable, it must disclose the outcome of its investigations. It is fair that any such disclosure or reporting should balance the rights of an individual against the public’s right to know about matters under investigation.  There should not be an absolute bar on disclosure.  The Commission should have the right to report on the outcome of investigations having regard to the above factors.   See for example, the rules for disclosure of investigation outcomes in Australia:

  1. Extension of Code of Conduct[Schedule 6]

Schedule 6 omits very important taxpayer funded organisations such as the Chairs and Chief Executive Officers of Fiji Sugar Corporation and Fiji Broadcasting Commission. These are either fully owned Government Commercial Companies or continue to be funded by taxpayers. For example, FSC, to all intents and purposes is now fully controlled by Government. FSC owes over $170 million to Government that was guaranteed by Government. Under FSC’s 2018-2022 Strategic Plan (not yet made public) FSC is seeking the conversion of loans into shares – in other words, writing off the debt.

Similarly, Fiji Broadcasting Commission is given $11.3 million annually as a so-called “Public Service Broadcast” grant. So, whatever these entities may be called, they are in reality no different from publicly-funded statutory authorities.

Submission

To review schedule 6 to include Commercial Statutory Authorities and Government Commercial Companies who receive significant funding from Government. In essence, an extension of the Code of Conduct Bill to include people who are charged with managing large sums of taxpayer money to fund their organisations.

  1. Lobbyists[Schedule 1 (9)]

The provisions in relation to “lobbyists” seem to be an afterthought. First of all, there is no definition of what a “lobbyist” is.  This could be an NGO representative seeking law changes, or a business seeking incentives for a particular industry.  Lobbyists are therefore not necessarily a bad thing. But the provision is meaningless until the law defines what a “lobbyist” is.

Submission  

The Bill must define the term “lobbyist” to give this provision any meaning.

References to Code of Conduct for Lobbyists in other jurisdictions:

  • Australian Government, Department of the Office of the Prime Minister—Lobbying Code of Conduct (2013) in which the Major Learning was that a Registry for Lobbyists was established containing their names, contacts and the company/entity that they represent.
  • In the State of Alabama Title 36 Section 21 Part 1 in which they provide a proper definition of the word “Lobbyist”.
  • New Zealand study on the dangers of unregulated lobbyists (Tyler, 2015).
  1. Declarations to be made public

We strongly recommend that the declarations made by the Executive and Members of Parliament are registered with the Secretary General and made public.

In essence, this would limit what this Bill would deem as “frivolous” or “politically motivated” complaints, as having access to information such as this, complainants are able to fairly adjudicated the authenticity and correctness of a claim before bringing it before the Commission.

Conclusion – a toothless tiger

The end result of the Code of Conduct is that the Government will promote the Commission as an example of so-called transparency and accountability. However in reality the Commission will be a toothless tiger – and will be seen as such.  This will only encourage greater cynicism about transparency and accountability, which is dangerous in a country such as Fiji where democracy, good governance, accountability and transparency are not well-established concepts.

The Commission has few powers against those it is supposed to watch.  Complaints can be easily dismissed. Worse, complainants can be prosecuted or victimised.

A Code of Conduct law, and an Accountability and Transparency Commission, should set the standard for good governance. The people should be confident that there are laws and institutions that promote good governance. This law will promote the exact opposite sentiment. No-one will report anything to the Commission for fear of being victimised.

It will mean that complaints about public officials will continue to find their way to what is left of the independent media or to unregulated social media where important information on corruption and abuse of power are mixed with half-baked rumours and untruths. So, in short – no change.

With that, we thank you Honourable Members for your time and we hope that our concerns are taken into consideration and are reflected in the Committee’s Report.

Vinaka.

Presented by:

Hon. Pio Tikoduadua – NFP President

Seni Nabou – NFP Vice President

Kamal Iyer – NFP Administrator

Apenisa Vatuniveivuke – NFP Youth

Dylan Kava – NFP Youth

 

Electoral Petition Withdrawal

December 21st 2018

Joint Press release by NFP and SODELPA:

Nearly half of Fiji’s voters supported our parties in the 2018 election. This statement is issued to explain to them why we withdrew our election petition this week, after the ruling of the Court of Disputed Returns on our evidence.

The Court would not allow us to call 6 of our proposed 8 witnesses. Without that evidence, most of our case could not be proved. We would then be going into court to lose, risking a substantial order for costs.

What the Petition was about

Our petition claimed breaches of the Electoral Act by some Fiji First Party members. This included specific instances of campaigning in breach of the Electoral Act. We will now pursue these matters with the Fiji Independent Commission Against Corruption (FICAC).

We also wanted the Court to rule on the legality of the so-called “small business grants” scheme. The Fiji First government gave away more than $4.4 million to more than 4,000 people in the three weeks before the election.

Our petition also wanted to clarify the legal right of the Supervisor of Elections to re-count (or partially re-count) the contents of 27 ballot boxes, and the process he followed to verify postal ballots.

Court rules

The Electoral Act permits the Chief Justice to make rules for how the Court of Disputed Returns will operate. Two general elections have now taken place without any rules.

Where there are no rules, the High Court Rules must be followed. But those rules are not clear for electoral petitions. This is what led to yesterday’s ruling.

The 2013 Constitution says that an electoral petition must be decided in 21 days. So it was important to settle the procedure quickly. On the day we filed the Petition, we sought directions from the Court. As we know, the process was famously delayed by the 48-hour Fiji First Party “strategic workshop” when all Fiji First Party MPs avoided service of our petition.

Evidence

When they finally came to Court, the Fiji First Party argued that an electoral petition must be supported by affidavits (sworn statements). Our lawyers pointed out to the Court that this is not a requirement of the Electoral Act.

The Court ruled that only certain witnesses were allowed to give oral evidence. Based on our legal advice, we respectfully disagree with that ruling and the reasons for it. Unfortunately, the law gives us no right of appeal.

Effect of the ruling

The ruling means that there will be no clarity on the important legal issues that we raised. We urge the Chief Justice to now make proper rules for the Court of Disputed Returns. The legal process for challenging election results should be transparent and clear. Elections belong to the people. All electoral processes – including court challenges – should be clear.

Because we are commenting on legal issues and on legal advice, this will be our last official statement on the case.

The memory of “Level 9”

Fiji’s people will always remember this electoral petition, not for what was in it but for how the Fiji First Party responded to it. This may be the first time in history that a whole government would not come out of a room for two days to face a bailiff.

Authorised by:

Sitiveni L. Rabuka                         Prof. Biman Prasad

Leader of SODELPA                     Leader of NFP

Fiji more polarised than ever before

December 5, 2018: On the Occasion of the 12th year anniversary of the 2006 Military Coup

The National Federation Party says the country is more polarised than ever before 12 years after the 4thmilitary coup because of compartmentalisation of the two major ethnic groups due to racial bigotry used by the ruling Fiji First party during general elections campaign.

NFP Leader Professor Biman Prasad says the myth from Government that the 2013 Constitution promotes common and equal citizenry has been destroyed as clearly seen from the results of the recent general elections.

“We recovered from the past coups. 10 years after the first coup in May 1987, the much acclaimed 1997 Constitution was passed by the House of Representatives, Senate and the Great Council of Chiefs”.

“Six years after the May 2000 coup a genuinely multiracial Cabinet based on power-sharing was appointed but overthrown on 5thDecember 2006 by the then military commander who is now Prime Minister”.

“Commander Bainimarama and his interim military Cabinet promised to return Fiji to normality and parliamentary democracy no later than 2009 but never did. Instead, it disregarded the rule of law by trashing a Fiji Court of Appeal ruling declaring the coup illegal and for elections to be held by August 2009”.

“They re-appointed themselves, imposed Public Emergency Regulations and violated all norms associated with a democracy. They abrogated the 1997 Constitution. Their decision to formulate a new Constitution through a participatory process turned out to be a cosmetic exercise when in December 2012 they burned a draft constitution formulated by the Ghai Commission”.

“Instead they imposed the 2013 Constitution with a view to entrenching their rule”.

“12 years later, their actions, both under the military regime and the Fiji First government, have resulted in compartmentalisation of the two major ethnic groups, resulting in a polarised nation”.

“This is the painful reality facing Fiji. The only way to restore harmony and peaceful co-existence is for all leaders to work together and for government to embrace bipartisanship in Parliament”.

 Authorised by: Professor Biman Prasad, Leader of the National Federation Party

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

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

NOVEMBER 30, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thank you Madam Speaker and May God bless Fiji.

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

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

Thursday 29 November 2018

Madam Speaker

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This is what the plaque says, Madam Speaker:

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

Our Millennial Mayor, Madam Speaker!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thank you and May God bless Fiji.

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

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

Thursday 29 November 2018

Thank you, Madam Speaker.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I enter this house at a time;

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

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

Why I joined

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

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

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

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

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

Civics and Citizenship

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

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

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

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

Media

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

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

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

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

Indigenous Concerns.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

On the subject of Human Rights;

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

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

Environment

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

On Equality

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

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

Leadership

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thank you

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

No one lives forever.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

November 21, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

Authorised by Pio Tikoduadua

President of the National Federation Party

Work together to resolve Fiji’s problems

November 21, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Authorised by:

Professor Biman Prasad

NFP Leader