The PM's Address to Chartered Accountants
Sheraton Fiji Fri. 17th Aug., 2012 DENARAU
The President of the CPA Australia-Fiji;
Ladies and Gentlemen.
Bula Vinaka and a very good morning to you.
I am pleased to be with you here this morning at your 15th Annual Congress, the theme of which is ‘Putting Strategy Into Action’.
Ladies and Gentlemen, my Government, over the past few years, has been doing just that: putting a strategy into action.
It is on this basis that I would like to speak to you today about the recent political, constitutional and electoral reforms underway in Fiji.
I wish to share this with you, not to bore you, but to encourage you all as accountants, business people, and professionals to participate in these important reforms.
I would also like to share this with you, because accountants, business people and professionals have tended in the past to shy away from such nation building processes.
Or, to be frank, they have put forward their agendas through the mouths of others, and have not come forward themselves. Indeed it is obvious that some accountants, and I should not forget some lawyers, engineers and other professionals actually are the movers and shakers, but, behind the scenes. They are what I call the “silent elites.”
Each and every Fijian has something of value to contribute to the Commission, through her or his unique experience and individual knowledge. They must no longer, you must no longer, remain silent.
It is only through the participation of all in a public forum that the Constitution can truly be said to be OF the people. Each submission is one brushstroke in what will eventually be the completed painting.
The business community has a particularly important role to play in this process. Your unique insight is essential to ensure that we achieve the best results possible. You must be a part of the process, and your views must inform the finished product.
We need to break away from the patterns of the past, when professionals were content to attend forums such as this, and leave the reform processes to others—to the political parties and the other groups that have traditionally held power in Fiji- what I call the “vocal elites.”
In fact, the National Council for Building a Better Fiji, during its deliberations, highlighted as a major problem the decline in the caliber of political players, especially after 2000. Parliamentarians, Back-benchers and Ministers must be drawn from all sectors of society, and most certainly including the business-world: the professionals who understand many of the complex issues facing our nation today, who have led large or advised organizations in which a mistake can have devastating consequences for employees and investors, and who have seen first-hand the effect Government policies in practice can have on economic growth, equality, the rule of law, corruption, and the ability to create opportunities for all Fijians. The fact is that professionals bring to the table skill sets that a Government would need.
The NCBBF also recommended, therefore, that the size of Parliament be reduced to create efficiency, pay better remuneration, resource Parliament well to attract more serious and focused individuals to join the Government’s process to ensure that Fiji and Fijians benefit from diligent, smart, non-corrupt, capable and caring members of Parliament.
I know that there was a joke around the grog bowl that if you could not get a job anywhere else, then become a member of Parliament. This is probably not far away from the truth in most cases.
Well, Ladies and Gentlemen, the processes currently underway do not involve a salary. Salaries are a matter of policy and law, not the Constitution. But they undoubtedly need the involvement of all Fijians, including members of the professional community.
It is important to note that before you have a strategy, before you put that strategy into action, you must have a vision. After all, a strategy must be guided by certain core principles. Without the core principles, ethics and morals, your actions would go astray.
For my Government, the vision has been and still is to create a modern nation-state. A modern nation-state that is economically-strong, has true democracy, where there is substantive justice and where all citizens are truly equal before the law. The principles that guide our roadmap, and as set out in the Constitutional Process Decree, are as follows:
A secular State;
a common national identity;
the removal of systemic corruption;
an independent Judiciary;
elimination of discrimination;
good and transparent governance;
one person, one vote, one value;
the elimination of ethnic voting;
and a voting age of 18.
These principles are unassailably democratic. And they form the basis of law and government in the world’s most respected countries. A constitution based on these principles will place Fiji squarely in the mainstream of modern democratic states.
Ladies and Gentlemen, we are putting our strategy into action.
Through the electronic voter registration, all Fijians 18 years and older are registering—by the hundreds of thousands—to vote in the upcoming Elections.
Through the constitutional consultations, all Fijians are participating in making their own history, freely contributing to the constitutional process being conducted by an independent Commission.
This Commission has been established under law to act as a neutral body that will hear the views of all Fijians, without bias or preference shown to certain segments or individuals in society. They have been tasked not just to hear those who speak the loudest, but also to hear those who have not spoken before--to hear those who have been marginalized in the past.
As the Chief Justice stated at the swearing-in ceremony of the commissioners, after he reminded them that they held quasi-judicial positions that, and I quote, “You will be required to demonstrate a willingness to listen and to elicit the views even of the inarticulate or voiceless, or that should be rather, especially of the inarticulate or voiceless.” End of quote.
The voiceless are not just those who have not been given the opportunity to speak before, but also those who choose not to speak. This may include some of you here in this room.
While this is a platform for all Fijians, including political groups and NGOs, we must ensure careful attention is paid to those who have not participated in any such process before--to encourage those, as I encourage you here today, who have historically been unheard, either by circumstance or by choice.
This independent Commission will travel the length and breadth of the country, to our largest cities and most remote islands and mountain villages. It will gather the submissions not only of the most powerful groups but also of the humblest citizens and draft a Constitution. The President will receive the draft Constitution and pass it to the Constituent Assembly, which will consist of a broad cross-section of society and will be a truly representative body.
The Constituent Assembly will then review the draft Constitution. The members will have an open and public discussion of its contents and make whatever amendments it deems appropriate and necessary before returning their version of the Constitution to the President. The President in turn will submit the draft Constitution to a Judicial panel that will review the document to ensure that it adheres to the non-negotiable principles that I have just discussed. If it does, then the President will assent to it.
If it does not, it will be returned to the Constituent Assembly for further review and compliance.
Ladies and Gentlemen, throughout this process, we must not hold to a narrow vision for Fiji. We cannot persist in thinking that there is more that divides us than unites us. We must approach the process with a full and complete understanding of the past and the conviction that we have a shared future. A future that must be founded on actions that are based on an unassailable strategy and a vision.
During this entire process, and going forward, we must uphold high standards. We must maintain our integrity. And we must work, each of us, to continue to develop, to continue to learn, to continue to evolve, and to demand a better and a new Fiji for ourselves and for our children.
This is our strategy for the future of our nation. The time for action is now.
I would like to thank the CPA for inviting me to be here today, and I wish you well in your deliberations.
Thank you. Vinaka Vakalevu.