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.