The PM on the New Constituton
Attorney General, CPA Officials, Distinguished Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen
Bula Vinaka and a good morning.
We gather here today at an important juncture of our history – the unveiling yesterday of the new Constitution that will take us to the election next year
It’s the job of accountants, of course, to take stock of the financial positions of individuals and companies. So I can think of nowhere better than to take stock of the position of our nation at this point and outline where I think we go from here.
It’s a great pleasure to be here in Nadi among you for this conference, which has become an important venue, over the years, to share ideas and improve the quality of the national debate.
By now, most of you will be aware of the major points of the Constitution, that will pave the way for the first genuine democracy in Fiji next year of equal votes of equal value.
I’m very proud of this document. It embodies everything that I envisaged when I set out six and a half years ago to put Fiji on a different path, to put an end to the lost years, the wasted years.
We shared a vision that instead of being mired in communal politics and division, instead of corruption and self interest, instead of unsound economic policies, we would fulfill the dreams of our people at independence that Fiji be an economic powerhouse at the crossroads of the Pacific - a thriving, united beacon for our neighbours and the rest of the world – Fiji, the way the World should be.
Yes, that was the dream in 1970 but along the way, we lost our way. Well now, we’re back on course.
It has been a difficult process and I wish we could have been spared some of the pain. I wish more people – especially some of our neighbours – could have had a better understanding of what we were trying to achieve.
But I’m convinced that for all the challenges, history will eventually judge us favourably. Because our revolution – and that’s what it is - has finally laid the foundations for a fairer, more equal society and the development of a modern, progressive state.
By any measure, I believe the 2013 Constitution meets the standards of any of the world’s great democracies, which incidentally, we intend to become.
Instead of a discriminatory electoral system, we finally have equal votes of equal value – a true level playing field for every Fijian.
Instead of the rights of the elite being entrenched, the rights of every Fijian are entrenched.
Instead of entrenching division, we are a building and strengthening the ability of all of our people – whoever they are – to finally work together as One Nation. One People putting Fiji first.
The Constitution also provides for strong and independent institutions, not a system in which only personalities matter.
I’m especially proud of a provision in this Constitution that may not be at the top of the list for some but may prove, in the long term, to be the most important of all…
And that is the requirement that every primary school child in Fiji be given instruction in how to speak i’Taukei and
Imagine a new Fiji in which every citizen has a working knowledge of the two main vernaculars, moving freely in and out of each other’s languages, trading stories and jokes.
My Government was determined to break the barrier of schools that were ethnically based and named . Now we go one step further in our vision to create One Fiji by breaking down the barrier of communication.
So this Constitution is more than just a document to get us to the election next year. It is the manifesto of a genuine revolution that we had to have. And I firmly believe that future generations will look back and say “ 2013 was the turning point, when the principle of equality embraced by all the world’s great democracies, was finally embraced in Fiji”.
Like most revolutions, not everyone will agree. But it is a noble cause and we should not apologise for it.
We had to end the long but in the end, rapid decline of our nation, the entrenched corruption, the weakening of our independent institutions, the neglect of our infrastructure, the absence of sound financial and economic management, the entrenching of communal divisions and the overall loss of faith in Fiji that saw a large proportion of our people leave for greener pastures.
We had to destroy the notion that some people were more equal than others. We had to destroy the notion that those born to privilege had special status over the rest simply by right of birth. We had to restore hope for every Fijian – irrespective of their socio-economic background – that better days lie ahead. And that everyone has a place in our national life.
We were determined to create a level playing field for every Fijian and we have. We are determined to create the first genuine democracy in our history and we will. And the document that we released yesterday will take us there.
I’m pleased to report, even after 24 hours, that the response to the final version of the Constitution has been positive. In fact, people have said to me that any country would be proud of it. Because it embodies all of the major principles embraced by any advanced democracy – equality, liberty, an independent judiciary, a Bill of Rights. Plus accountability and transparency provisions that Fiji has never had and will guarantee the better standard of governance that we all know Fiji needs and deserves.
It hasn’t been an easy process. We’d all hoped that the Ghai Commission would give us a blueprint that was workable, achievable and affordable. Instead, we were presented with a document that entrenched privilege and provided us with layers of governance, bureaucracy and red tape that we didn’t need.
So we unashamedly set about formulating a Draft Constitution that incorporated the best of the Ghai Draft and which we then took to the people in a series of consultations around the country, inviting them to give us their views on what the final version should contain.
We received 1093 written submissions and countless verbal suggestions, as my ministers and I toured the country speaking to ordinary Fijians and hearing about their concerns.
They told us they wanted certain changes. They especially said they wanted the final version to contain specific provisions that guarantee and strengthen the protection of I’Taukei, Rotuman and Banaban land. And to also strengthen the rights of those many Fijians who lease land from others.
They asked and we listened. Those provisions are now entrenched in the final version of the Constitution. We have provided ordinary people with the security they requested. And the liars and the scaremongers who exploited their fears for their own base political purposes have been exposed.
Where do we go from here? Well, of course, to the election next year. I’m always bemused to read and hear that it will never happen. That Bainimarama will never give up power. That it’s all a cruel trick. As each month progresses, we are answering these critics not with words but with deeds. Each block is gradually being put into place to fulfill the promises that we made and we will honour. You have my guarantee of that.
We do not make any decisions for short-term political gain. We make decisions for the long term benefit of every Fijian.
Before September 30th, 2014, I will subject myself to the nation’s will under the provisions of the document we unveiled yesterday. I will form a political party and my party will submit itself to the collective will of the 540 thousand or so Fijians who have already registered for the elections.
We will fight a battle of ideas with our opponents, who were offered a briefing on the Constitution yesterday and didn’t show up. That contest will be free and fair. And we will stand on our record and on the many reforms we still plan for Fiji.
When will I launch the new party? When I’m ready. Because right now, I am concentrating not on my own political fortunes but on the fortunes of the Fijian people, just as my government has for the past six and a half years.
We aren’t just promising better basic services to ordinary people like previous governments, we are delivering them. Better access to education, health, housing, transport, electricity, water, telecommunications, government services, legal aid. Better roads, better sporting facilities. That is my priority and the priority I have set my Ministers every waking hour of every day.
I appeal to the business community to match the Government’s commitment to higher standards of propriety and accountability. For the first time, our new Constitution establishes an Accountability and Transparency Commission that will cover all public office holders.
They’ll also be subjected to a new Code of Conduct and we will be ruthless in enforcing it. We want that same transparency and accountability in the private sector. That means an end to the shady deal, the nod and a wink, the “you scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours” mentality that has long been a feature of too much of Fijian commercial life.
Ladies and Gentlemen, we must stop these practices.
We also have a vision of Fiji punching above its weight in the region and the World. Our leadership of the Melanesian Spearhead Group, of the Pacific Small Island Developing States, of the G77 – the biggest voting bloc at the UN – of the world’s peak body for sugar.
Our large contribution to UN peacekeeping - keeping watch over vulnerable men, women and children for more than three decades in troubled parts of the world. Our ambition to be the economic hub of the Pacific – to lead our neighbours into a common market. All this isn’t for ego or to make us feel good. It’s because we are determined for Fiji to fulfill its promise – to fulfill its destiny.
Ladies and Gentlemen, we are no longer in decline. We matter. And together, we can make a difference in our region and the world. We are prepared to serve, not only the world through our peacekeeping efforts but our smaller and more vulnerable neighbours. We can be proud that even as we address our own problems, we are still capable of sending our retired teachers, nurses and other professionals to boost standards of education and health in those countries. Because Fijians deliver. Fijians care.
At home, our many reforms over the past few years are starting to produce results. In recent days, we’ve all been buoyed by the news of a more buoyant economy. Projected economic growth will be one of the highest we’ve experienced. And whatever the real figure proves to be, there’s no doubting that there is a new mood in the country, a new wave of optimism about our economic prospects because of the policies of my Government. The tax cuts and investment incentives have helped. But people start spending and investing when they have confidence. And confidence in Fiji – which was once in short order – has not only rebounded but reached new heights.
We do not intend to rest on our reforms. We must continue them. There is still too much corruption, too much tax evasion, too much waste. Business still labours under far too much red tape. Some of our trade unionists still haven’t grasped the reality of 21st century labour relations. We must all work together to increase productivity, reduce inefficiency and provide the investment climate in which real jobs are created and sustained. And sustainable improvements in working terms and conditions are achieved.
And so, ladies and Gentlemen, I ask everyone in this room to commit themselves anew to Government, the private sector and employees working hand in hand to improve our economic performance and the lives of all Fijians.
I commend the final version of the 2013 Constitution to you and encourage you all to familiarize yourselves with its provisions. When the accountants among you do your sums, I’m sure you’ll find that it adds up to a sound blueprint for a new Fiji, a better Fiji - And for the first time in Fijian history - a credible and genuine framework for the achievement of true democracy.
I wish you well in your deliberations.
Vinaka vakalevu. Thank you
Some other, mostly predictable, views:
Chaudhry's FLP rejects the new constitution
Australia welcomes the new constitutionShaista Shameem still wants the constituent assembly
CCF questions process
Transparency International Fiji welcomes constitution
Baba says they may not contest
Transparency International Fiji welcomes constitution
Baba says they may not contest
Australian 2009 Appeals judge doubts validity
Brij Lal says it's a mixed bag