Her Inaugural Speech at the SODELPA Meeting
"I send my greetings to the people of Fiji and to the many supporters of SODELPA here and throughout the country. The people of Rewa Province send the delegates their best wishes and want you to know that they are with us. Let me express on behalf of SODELPA, a message of goodwill to our colleagues from the Fiji Labour Party and the National Federation Party. We have often been on opposite sides. But I am pleased to tell you that the crisis in our country has brought us together through the political movement, the United Front for a Democratic Fiji. The United Front is based on a shared determination to defeat the forces of those who stole the last elected government. The values and principles that bind the United Front are those of democracy, truth, rights, the rule of law and accountability to the people.
"We will go to the elections as individual parties with our own manifestos, but co-operating where possible, especially in getting a high turnout of voters. My friends, there comes a moment in the life of a nation when its people are called to make great decisions to protect and save their homeland. +++That moment has arrived for Fiji. We are called now to save our country. We must rededicate Fiji to God, and, with His support, take its destiny into our hands. We should look at this as our sacred duty. I did not at first actively seek the positions of leader and president of the Social Democratic Liberal Party as I was very much involved with my traditional obligations to my province and people. But I heard deep in my heart the cry of our islands. I listened; I prayed long and hard and the answers came. And, now, here I am. I am ready. I am so very honoured to be elected unanimously to lead SODELPA and sincerely thank other candidates who withdrew in my favour.
I announce today that I have offered myself for selection as a general election candidate. I give myself to this party and I give myself to the people. My courage will not falter as we move along the hazardous path back to freedom, legitimate constitutional rule and representative democracy. I will be there for you, to speak out for a Fiji free of fear and oppression; a Fiji of respect and compassion, social justice, the rule of law and economic progress that creates the jobs we desperately need. Those who took over the state and its government by force of arms are still seen as a threat. They will be reluctant to give up their power. We must show them that we have power as well. It is the sovereign power of the people; this is the highest authority and it will prevail. All of us, walking side by side, will put right the wrongs of the last seven years. We must go forward to a glorious future of limitless potential, abundant opportunity and enduring prosperity.
United in this mighty mission, we can finally become all we can be and take our place again with pride among the democratic family of nations. On Wednesday we witnessed the resignation from the Republic of Fiji Military Forces of Commodore Voreqe Bainimarama. We welcome that. We look forward to taking him on in a free and fair election and subjecting him to a resounding defeat. His successor, Brigadier-General MoseseTikoitoga, has pledged that the military will be independent, above politics, and respect the will of the people. We will hold him to that. I invite Brigadier-General TIkoitoga to immediately make a solemn declaration that under his command there will be no more beatings, no more threats and no more unwelcome trips to the barracks. He needs to do this in light of continuing public fears and concerns. We should remind ourselves that despite the change at the RFMF, Fiji is still a dictatorship. Decisions are made by the few, there is no consultation with political parties, information is withheld, and oppressive, anti-democratic laws remain in place. Military officers occupy many crucial positions in government. We urge Commodore Bainimarama in his role as interim prime minister to do the right thing by the country and the people. He should move now to address these problems and create the right environment for the elections.
On this day I declare to you before the nation that SODELPA will always recognize the supreme presence and power of Almighty God. He is the source of divine blessing not only for us as individuals and members of communities, but also for Fiji as a nation. The elected leaders in Parliament who promulgated the constitutions of 1970 and 1997 all recognized this fundamental and eternal truth. And they made sure this was acknowledged in the preamble to these constitutions. Contrast this wisdom of our nation’s former leaders, all democratically elected by the people, to the arrogance of Commodore Bainimarama and his unelected oligarchy. They see no place for God in their 2013 Constitution. They made this decision without the permission of the people and then declared that it had our approval. How dare they? By what right did they say we had agreed? The Bainimarama-Sayed-Khaiyum constitution tells us that we have religious liberty and that we can practice our faiths privately and publicly. But, ladies and gentlemen, we are seeing serious contradictions in this hastily assembled document. A senior official in the Ministry of Education has given written advice following questions raised by Suva Grammar School, a government school. This official, from the ethics and disciplinary unit, states that Christian prayers at Suva Grammar are unconstitutional. If this advice is accepted, prayers would not be allowed. Neither would any form of religious teaching. That would also mean no prayers or religious instructions at other government schools like RKS, QVS, ACS and Natabua. But the advice from the senior official goes further and declares that all schools must adhere to this constitutional provision. Where is the liberty here? This constitution is casting a shadow over the soul of Fiji. I ask Commodore Bainimarama to tell us why the Fiji Military Forces are not subject to the same religious restrictions? Why is the Police Force also exempt? Why are both these institutions allowed to pray together when that liberty is denied to others? This is gross discrimination on such a profoundly sensitive matter. Let me, therefore, give this undertaking. if you give SODELPA victory in the general elections, our very first action will be to take steps to restore God to His rightful place in our country’s supreme law. The oligarchy in power was afraid to allow the people of Fiji the freedom, through a referendum, to have the final say on the general acceptability of their Bainimarama and Saiyed-Khaiyum draft constitution.
So today we have a constitution that lacks democratic legitimacy. It is a unilateral promulgation that is further compromised in terms of morality and justice in its provisions deliberately intended to protect the self-interest of the ruling elite. We will ask the Supreme Court for an advisory opinion on the status in law of the 1997 Constitution. Through the collective power of the people’s vote we expect a clear demonstration that citizens of Fiji overwhelmingly agree with the judgment by Fiji’s Court of Appeal in April 2009. This declared that Commodore Bainimarama’s acts in forcibly removing the elected SDL-led multi-party Government in December 2006 and unilateral assumption of power as Prime Minister were unconstitutional and unlawful. And here, let us recall the incisive and memorable comments by Justice Gates in the High Court when giving his judgment in the Chandrika Prasad case in November 2000 and in the Jokapeci Koroi case in August 2001. Justice Gates said that the 1997 Constitution was immutable and indestructible and can only be changed or revoked by the same procedural way through which it was promulgated---and that is by the elected representatives of the people in Parliament. With your unwavering support and those of our political partners, a SODELPA-led Government will restore very important expressions of historical facts contained in the democratically promulgated 1970 and 1997 constitutions. These were deliberately excluded by Commodore Bainimarama and his Attorney-General from their 2013 Constitution.
They referred to those momentous events in our country’s history that have significantly contributed to what we are today as a vibrant multi-cultural and multi-religious society, enriched by diversity. SODELPA will ensure that the special place and contribution of our different constituent communities are duly acknowledged and recognized in our supreme law. We will recognize the settlement of our islands by the indigenous Fijian and Rotuman communities and their subsequent acceptance and adoption of Christianity as the spiritual foundation of their way of life. Along with this are their customs and traditions passed on through successive generations from time immemorial. The session in 1874 and in 1879 by the Fijian Chiefs and the Rotuman communities of their islands to Her Majesty Queen Victoria of Great Britain were voluntary acts of unreserved trust in her benevolent protection of the people and their land and other natural resources. Also honored in our history is the arrival of other communities to settle and to make Fiji their home. They brought with them their religions, their customs and traditions. Through their labour and sacrifice and their enterprise and entrepreneurship they have contributed outstandingly to Fiji’s status as the most economically advanced country in the Pacific islands region.
Against this historical background SODELPA commits itself to building a prosperous and unified nation, based on democratic values, the rule of law, fundamental human rights and social justice to ensure equal opportunities for all. Specifically, the following foundational principles will be SODELPA’s constant guide: ·The freedom, equality and dignity of all individuals as fellow citizens, ·The freedom, equality and dignity of all religions and religious denominations; ·The equality and dignity of all communities, their freedom to promote their languages and customary practices, and the protection through appropriate legislation of their cultural heritage and intellectual property; ·The right and freedom of the mass media to keep those who exercise the government, legislative and judicial power of the state fully accountable to the ordinary people; ·Recognition and support for the important roles played by non-governmental organizations and special interest groups in raising and promoting community concerns and causes; ·The right and freedom of employers, their workers and unions to organize themselves in pursuance of their collective interests; ·
The recognition of women as pivotal to building an equitable and prosperous nation. They are already at the core of our Party’s decision-making process in the National Executive Council and the Management Board. SODELPA will ensure their increasing participation in Parliament. ·
The recognition of our young people as our country’s most important resource and giving them the best in education and other opportunities, enabling them as individuals to realize their full potential through their own ability, hard work and discipline. SODELPA has a Youth Council that will help chart the way ahead for our young people and the country. As our future leaders we will be encouraging them to join us as volunteers and involve themselves actively in the work of the Party.
Our central goals in promoting sustained growth in all parts of the economy are to accelerate employment creation, continually improve the health and general well-being of our population, reduce income inequalities, eradicate homelessness and poverty, and ensure that government services and the benefits of development are spread evenly in all areas of Fiji.
Let me now tell you of our priority action plan for our first one hundred days in office if you, our members and supporters, give us the majority in the elections. To demonstrate our commitment to serving everyone and all communities in Fiji, SODELPA will resume the multi-party Cabinet which our predecessor, the SDL party, had started with the Fiji Labour Party in 2006 following the general elections in May that year. SODELPA will issue invitations to like-minded parties to join in a voluntary coalition government for national healing, reconciliation and unity. We shall go into the elections as individual parties but SODELPA owes it to the people, as the party that aims to win the majority of seats in the elections, to bring our nation together. Cabinet can operate most effectively if it enjoys the confidence of all communities in our multi-cultural society. So this afternoon I again send messages of goodwill from SODELPA to the leaders of the Fiji Labour Party and the National Federation Party and our friends from the People’s Democratic Party. I am addressing you as prospective post-election coalition partners.
Our first legislative action will be to revoke all current restrictive decrees on fundamental freedoms and political and civic rights. We shall also instantly remove all the restrictions which Commodore Bainimarama and the Military had imposed on the Methodist Church. We will ensure a judiciary that is truly independent and which is able to function without unwarranted limitations on its jurisdiction. Only then can ordinary citizens be assured of effective justice for all in the protection of their fundamental rights and freedoms. As I have already stated we shall be seeking advice from the Supreme Court on the status in law of the 1997 Constitution. We shall also undertake a comprehensive review of the legality of the Fiji National Provident Fund’s unilateral reductions of pension entitlements and ensure that pension contractual agreements are honored. We will engender more transparency and accountability for members on how their funds are used. Recognizing the importance of giving as many of our students fair and equal opportunity for higher level tertiary education, the SODELPA-led multi-party government twill reinstate the FAB scholarship scheme and the multi-ethnic scholarship programme for eligible students from low income families. With the support of multi-party Cabinet partners, we shall reinstate the Bose Levu Vakaturaga as the apex consultative body of the indigenous Fijian and Rotuman communities. We shall also enact legislation to protect the cultural heritage and intellectual property of our indigenous communities given the collective communal nature of the ownership of these rights.
Not content with overthrowing the elected government and parliament under the 1997 Constitution, Commodore Bainimarama took over the chairmanship of the ILTB and created a land bank in the Department of Lands. In its operation it has effectively taken powers away from the ITLB, undermining the Board’s exercise of its statutory responsibility to protect the best interests of indigenous land owner sand natural resource owners. The SODELPA-led government will abolish the Land Use Decree which effectively alienates native lands from the ILTB. We will revoke the Mahogany Decree which has effectively marginalized the mahogany landowners. Authority and decisions on mahogany plantations are with a Mahogany Council controlled by Bainimarama and Khaiyum. We will ensure that the chair of the i-Taukei Land Trust Board is chosen by the landowners in a consultative process with our government.
We will strengthen the role of the Board and review the present system of distribution of lease money which has disempowered our Turagani Mataqali, Turagani Yavusa and Turagai Taukei and is effectively destroying the communal foundation of indigenous Fijian society. As another top priority, SODELPA and the multi-party government we envisage will hold immediate consultations both within Cabinet and with the ITLB and the Bose Levu Vakaturaga, on a comprehensive long term solution to agricultural leases under ALTA. This is critically important to the landowners and the tenant farmers, and the sugar industry as a whole. SODELPA is committed to an immediate and just resolution of this long-standing issue for the mutual benefit of all.
A SODELPA-led multi-party government will seek traditional reconciliation meetings with the Military under its new leadership. The Military has a tradition of service, especially in community development, support for disaster relief and rehabilitation programmes, and taking part in international peacekeeping. However, as a state agency, it must remain neutral in political matters. I must emphasize this because of its involvement in politics. So again, speaking on your behalf, I welcome the pledge from Brigadier-General Tikoitoga that the military will become non-political. Its first duty is to remain loyal to the President and to the elected government of the day in upholding and defending Fiji’s democratically endorsed constitution. A reconciliation process will be started for those directly involved and implicated in the unlawful removal of the elected government and state officials in the 2006 coup and in subsequent illegal activities and unwarranted acts of terrorism.This process will be available to those prepared, as a genuine act of contrition, to admit wrong-doing and guilt to their innocent victims. To all criminal acts of the recalcitrant and for those who were involved in acts of gross violation of human rights, the law and justice will take its normal course. No one is above the law.
Let me briefly explain the kind of leadership you and our nation can expect from me as the party leader of SODELPA. I shall bring to this role whatever wisdom and experience I have gained in my own traditional position and in my earlier service in Cabinet. As leader, it is not my role to dictate or to direct. On the contrary, my role is to listen, to be patient, to encourage free discussions. I must ensure that no one is excluded and everyone is heard so that a decision is reached. This procedure of consultation and consensus is how decisions are normally made in Cabinet and in traditional gatherings like the Bose Levu Vakaturaga. Compare this to the dictatorial decision-making we are seeing in the current unelected government. Our government and multi-party cabinet will also uphold our collective responsibility and accountability to parliament and to the people. We will never do what Commodore Bainimarama and his unelected government are currently unashamedly doing.
Nepotism and cronyism in top public service appointments are unprecedented. Only a few people know the salaries and other perks paid to individual ministers. They are not talking. There is no independently audited account of government revenue and expenditure and no independently verified account of government borrowings and contingency undertakings like loan guarantees. Again only a handful of people in the regime’s inner circle have the details of the true state of government’s solvency.
My message to you, our party members and supporters and, indeed, to all registered voters throughout Fiji, is clear. If you wish to rid Fiji of dictatorial rule which has been based on imposition, threats, intimidation and fear, make your vote count by voting for SODELPA and its prospective partners in government.
Ladies and gentlemen, there is much more to come from SODELPA. All will be revealed at the right time. My final comments are reserved for the SODELPA Youth Council Delegates. They are led by a fearless activist, Pita Waqavonovono, who is well known nationally. Pita and your team: We are proud of you; carry our banner high for the young people of this country; tell them the truth, bring them into the fold and encourage them to take a full role in civic affairs and politics. You are SODELPA’s Young Patriots, dedicated to advancing a new form of national spirit founded on a patriotic love of country and the ideals and values of the Fiji we will build together.
I share a bond with Pita. Both of us have been taken to the barracks. At some point he may wish to tell you about his experience. In mid 2009, 16 policemen took me from my home in the dead of night. I was first placed in a cell at the Central Police Station and later moved to another cell. This one was at the Queen Elizabeth Barracks. My transgression was to offer, on behalf of Rewa, to host that year’s Methodist Conference. This was supposedly against the law. But I refused to withdraw the invitation to the Church.That was why I ended up in a cell. A youngish soldier came to interrogate me. I could tell he was not very experienced. I asked him what he was doing, and what kind of legacy he wanted to leave to Fiji and his children? He did not answer, but hung his head. I then said to him, “Young man, I am going to pray for you.” His answer was, “Don’t pray for me. Pray for Fiji.” Ladies and gentlemen, Pita and your team, we should all continue to pray for our country. We should pray for that confused soldier, that he may be freed from his shame and receive enlightenment. We should pray that the young of today transform the legacy we give to these islands into something wonderful. God be with us! On to victory! Thank you for listening."
Source: Fiji Today's Open Forum Blog