A campaign that was both enjoyable and very difficult given the short time that was given to us to prepare ourselves for the campaign. My immediate family who also were there with me and my village is from Sila, I come from Sila village, Madam Speaker. It is small village in the district of Cuvu in Nadroga. Immediately when I was appointed I was given the role to wear my campaign which I did willingly and they linked me to all my people Malolo, Nadroga Navosa from Namatakula to Korotogo from Mataqete to Yako and to the islands of Yatu alolo. If they can indulge me a bit “Vinaka vakalevu dina na veitokoni a mai rawa e ke na veidigitaki a dola kina ni kua na Palimedi” Particularly to people who were part of me from the other generations and it was a journey that was joyful a journey that was meaningful and journey that strengthened me and made me realise that the calling here is one that I have looked forward to for about some time following my services in other parts of this country. I was initially the librarian out of high school, then I became a banker, I then became a hotelier, then I became a CEO to Fiji Visitors Bureau which was my last posting and I also serve as Chairman of the Fiji Rugby Union. In all these years, the preparation was there and I was always hoping that one day, I would sit in this august House – sitting here at a stage of in my life where I can contribute to the development of our country and I believe it is here today and I am very grateful to my Party for giving me that opportunity to be a Member of Parliament and serve the people of Fiji.
Madam Speaker, my village Sila, is very tiny but it is famous in Nadroga in that, it was the site of the arrival of Christianity in Nadroga/Navosa and indeed, the Western Division. The story is a very interesting one and I would love to encourage honourable Members to come around there, and I will show you the commemoration where we commemorate his arrival and tell you the whole story about it.
Madam Speaker, suffice to say that one of my elders was sent by the Ka Levu at that time (1848) to go to Bau and bring back Ratu Cakobau’s religion. He had heard about it and he wanted it - the Ka Levu, our paramount chief. My elder went first to Burebasaga and he was told in Burebasaga that Christianity had moved to Viwa in Bau. When he went to Viwa, he was too late – everyone had been trained for the mission had left and there was no one left, except he found out one. His name was Penijamini from Dawasamu but he was a leper.
Leprosy had advanced to a very serious stage but he was trained in the work and he was filled with the Holy Spirit. My elder said; “I’ll take him”. On the way back by boat in those days, leprosy could not relate to water, he died at Namatakula. Prior to dying, he told my elder; “remove my clothes. Take these clothes, the power of God is in these clothes. Take it to the Ka Levu”. He buried Penijamini of Dawasamu in Namatakula and took the clothes to the Ka Levu which had the power of God. Today, the people of Sila are known as the people who brought the Christian clothes. O ira era kauta mai na i sulu ni lotu. That is all we are, that is our heritage. Madam Speaker, I am very proud of it.
That leads me to my concern with today’s Constitution where it says that religion is personal. My heritage is different, my religion is Christianity and it has a public profile to it. I believe that in September, the Archbishop said it himself that when you have faith, you want everyone to know about it – you express it. You cannot keep it to yourself. This particular clause in the Constitution could be interpreted as that. First, your religion is personal and it could mean “keep it to yourself”. I know it may mean something else but to the vast majority, it could mean just that. I would ask that we relook at these aspects of our Constitution because a significant part of the population in this country are Christians and we need to put Christianity back into the Constitution in the way it was.
Madam Speaker, you can relate to this; in a Fijian village or setting, there is the mataqali, the yavusa and there is the tokatoka so everything we do is focussed on our Christianity, on our Christian belief. If you create a sense of confusion with this, turmoil will result. The very structure that we enjoy of goodwill, love and all those
will disappear gradually over time. I would urge this House, and I know it is hard to change some aspects of the Constitution but this is one that we cannot afford not to relook at.
I am a Christian person, I help create the image of Fiji in our marketing, and one of the images of Fiji is our Christian belief. We all saw last night, after prevailing over Samoa in the Gold Coast, Australia, Osea Kolinisau brought his team together and prayed. The whole world watched that and that is the image of Fiji. That is the image that we should keep, and I am afraid that if we continue and leave the Constitution as it is withoutmaking it more responsive to Christianity, I think we will lose out a lot, Madam Speaker. I would urge this august House to do this.
We, as Christians, also know that our fundamentals are based in God, and if we do not, I can only quote what Isaiah said in Chapter 29 Verse 13, and I quote: “The wise will lose their wisdom, the intelligent will lose their intelligence”. It can happen in this House, Madam Speaker, we all know and we can relate to that. I would wish that we relook at that as a people. We look at the part of the Constitution on civic rights for this country. We are not talking about five per cent of the people, we are talking about more than 60 per cent of our people who adhere to the teachings of Christianity.
Madam Speaker, the Titanic with the small change in its direction would have avoided disaster. At this juncture of our journey in this new dawn, I ask this House to realign ourselves, realise this truth and make these amendments at this point in our journey forward. That to me, Madam Speaker, is very much part of my Christian heritage and I would love this House to consider it very seriously.
Madam Speaker, we move on to tourism. I spent seven years in tourism. Over the last couple of days, my colleague from tourism who spoke earlier, talked about $2.8 billion in tourism earnings. When I ran tourism marketing in the FVB, I was the CEO for a number of years, we knew that billions were available but I began to ask a question; “Billions for whom?”
I really thought of ways to make that billion dollars spread across the community and one thing, Madam Speaker, I would like this House to take on immediately is a service charge for all our hotel workers. Service charge is shared by all the workers in the hotel paid for by the guests or visitors. Everything that is consumed in the hotel takes on a charge which is then shared equally amongst our people. This is practiced in Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand and in many destinations of tourism, Madam Speaker. So I would like to urge this House; “Please, think about our hoteliers, think about our staff”. They are well looked after, they are almost door to door, with transportation, meals are provided, good uniforms with footwear, very passionate with arrangements but the pay is still very low. Let us apply ourselves in a bipartisan way and make service charges part of our tourism industry to benefit our hotel workers.
Madam Speaker, I am also one who believes in the localisation of positions. There is too many expatriates in this country.
HON. OPPOSITION MEMBERS.- Hear! Hear!
HON. V.R. GAVOKA.- Tourism as it is now can rely on our own people. I ran the Fiji Visitors Bureau (FVB) for five years, I had locals looking after Los Angeles, Sydney, Auckland and looking after our office in Fiji. Today, Madam Speaker, none of those locals are still there, except one. What happened to them? They were delivering the billion dollars that we wanted. I would like to see more of our people to get back into tourism in a meaningful way. I am part of a generation who should have been a general manager earlier in my life but it did not happen until late because I was not given the exposure. We need to trust our people. We are not giving them the opportunity to run things and they have done it. I would like this Government and this House to continue to encourage our people to advance in their career, not only in tourism but in other fields.
Madam Speaker, as we sit here today, Fiji Airways can be run fruitfully by locals. CEO, pilots, engineers, support staff, marketing, you name it – Fiji Airways today can be run profitably by locals.
HON. OPPOSITION MEMBERS.- Hear, hear!
HON. V.R. GAVOKA.- We should make the effort to make our people be more responsible, given the exposure to run things.
I was concerned when it was said to some people; “If you cannot do it, I’ll find someone else to do it for you”. That is wrong, Madam Speaker, I would say; “If you cannot do it, I will train you to do it.” I will bring in expatriates as a stop-gap measure but not expatriates to come and take over everything that is ours. Madam Speaker, that is my passion – tourism, my people, I would like them to be part of this in a big way.
When you talk about sharing the billions, there is also the natural resources of our people. Let me touch on a few - Tavarua is one of the most beautiful reefs anywhere in the world hence there is also the natural resources of our people.
Let me touch on a few - Tavarua is one of the most beautiful reefs anywhere in the world, I believe it is in the top 10. I was driving through Los Angeles once and I saw this huge billboard, this beautiful image of a beach and waves – that was Tavarua and the most beautiful name on the sign was “Fiji”. I said, “that is where I come from. That is the attraction, that is what brings people to this country.
Mostly the owners of the reef must earn royalties, they used to. The people of Nabila and Momi used to make royalties out of Tavarua Reef, today it has been stopped. The billion dollars home - I keep asking this question,
Namaqumaqua used to make $45,000 a year for the use of their reefs, it has stopped. Madam, $45,000 in a village can go a long way in upgrading the standard of the village.
People of Beqa, I do not wish to be outside of the momentum that is here today but Madam Speaker, I keep asking the question, a billion dollars home. I want a billion dollars to be shared equally amongst the people, the opportunities are here to have that done in a way that we could all be proud of.
I will touch a bit on land as I come from the sugar cane belts. When I was campaigning, we talked about land, and I told them, “I was very fortunate that at a very young age, I saw land being given to the farmers under ALTA, and I consider myself fortunate to be still alive to see land returned to the owners.” Given in good faith and returned in good faith – that is the way it should be. Land must be given in good faith, and returned in good faith on the understanding that we will together agree and make sure that come a time landowners will be able to use the land for themselves. The land bank, Madam Speaker - I wish we could go back to the days of the past where we could deliberate, sit down and talk about these things and come up with things like ALTA.
On minerals, the West also has a lot of minerals. I would like to see more developments in the West. Vatukoula Emperor Gold Mines, in particular, was started in 1936, I believe, it is now the third or fourth generation of miners in Vatukoula. They can do it. Our people there are now good miners, they can mine for us. I think it has changed hands too many times, and it is not good for Fiji that we are not mining our gold to export overseas.
Madam Speaker, that is all I have today, more will be said over the next five years, but again, thank you very much for the opportunity to be speaking today and congratulations on your appointment to the high office.