Fiji Government's Statement
Friday, 9th October, 2015 our nation will commemorate Fiji’s 45 years of Independence. As Fijians, we can all honor the significant progress we have made, and reflect upon the challenges our nation has overcome. It is a day to make a recommitment to the principles of our beloved country, anchored by the platform of equality for all Fijians.
The theme for the Fiji Day Programme 2015 is: “Togetherness in Harmony for a Prosperous Fiji,” which signifies the ultimate objective of national development to achieve prosperity for all Fijians.
We call on every Fijian to celebrate Fiji Day in a meaningful way, and to join in the programmes in Suva, Labasa, Lautoka and Levuka and other local communities.
In respect of the principle of caring for our fellow Fijians, this year’s Fiji Day programme includes the Government initiative, “Taking the Spirit of Fiji Day,” to the children with special needs, homes and orphanages.
Forty-five years ago the government and people of Fiji took the momentous step of accepting sovereign responsibility for managing their own affairs.
Fiji was the home of an ancient civilization but when we severed colonial links with Britain on October 10th 1970, we were transformed into a newly independent country. So we were young again! And as we celebrate the 45th anniversary of independence we are still in our youth as a nation!
On that historic day in 1970, Fiji’s people experienced mixed emotions. There was a degree of sadness at the departure of Britain.
It had never conquered Fiji. It became the colonizer by the invitation of paramount chiefs of these islands. The British brought us a system of government based on law, efficient administration and ethical standards, including a sense of fair play.
Christianity had come earlier with the missionaries. The light of Jesus Christ defeated the cruel paganism practised by the native Fijians. They were changed for all time. All this was for the good.
But there was inevitability about the end of colonialism. It’s time had ended. It was not relevant for the late 20th century. I can still feel the sense of hope and promise, the excitement that surrounded the birth of independent Fiji.
We were stepping out on our own. Now we could show what we could do as masters of our own destiny. There was no limit to Fiji’s potential. In fact, we did become, and were recognized as, a symbol of hope for the world
Let it be said that Fiji is a great Island state. We have a wonderfully diverse and talented population. We are a land of good humour with famously hospitable people. The beauty of Fiji’s 300 islands is a priceless asset. Our economy is the most developed in the region with huge potential for expansion.
And yet we have struggled to raise living standards and keep pace with the growth of other, less well-endowed countries.
There is still too much poverty and unemployment; infrastructure is lacking; agriculture languishes; violent crime is widespread, health and other services have deteriorated; the government carries heavy debts that future generations will have to pay.
Only a few weeks ago armed soldiers were sent into the countryside to ‘crush’ any dissent and search for hidden weapons. This followed allegations of seditious activities in Ra and Nadroga, which resulted in many arrests.
Fiji is no longer regarded as a symbol of hope.
So what went wrong? We can lay much of the blame for this failure at the door of those who have conducted at least four take-overs of government by force of arms in the last 28 years. These coups were a curse on the nation.
They have produced political, economic and social chaos and created a massive financial cost. We have lived with fear and threats; tragedy, death and destruction. For eight years from the army insurrection of 2006 we were under the heel of a military dictatorship. This was the worst time in Fiji’s modern history.
When we finally went to elections in September last year, we were ready to embrace democracy and parliamentary rule again. For we knew that this system of government – by the people, for the people – was still the best hope for providing Fiji with the keys to success. This belief was strengthened by the years of oppression.
I am sorry to say, on this annual celebration of nationhood, that the democracy imposed on us by the Fiji First Government is a sham.
What we now have is dictatorship in the guise of democracy. Two men – the Prime Minister and the Minister of Finance and Attorney General – control the levers of power. What they say goes. The most influential voice is that of the Minister of Finance. He runs the government and the Cabinet while the Prime minister increasingly spends his time on expensive overseas trips.
The Opposition, which I lead, has firsthand experience of a Parliamentary machine dedicated to minimizing dissent and limiting accountability. It has been evident since the elections that the Fiji First Government, just like its predecessor, does not like the idea of being questioned or held answerable for its actions.
It is still secretive. It has one of the world’s worst records for budget openness.
In its latest assault on democracy, the Fiji First Government has decided to cut back by more than 50% per cent on the number of parliamentary sittings next year.
There is no justification for this. Parliament is – in the words of the Prime Minister – the peoples’ house. It belongs to them, yet they were not consulted on the Fiji First Government’s decision to curtail parliamentary debate time. The Minister of Finance did not hesitate to shut the doors of parliament recently. It went into secret session. The people were not permitted to hear what was said. There is much more I could say about the democratic failings of our parliament, but that will have to wait for another occasion.
I realize that some people might object to my raising these points in a Fiji Day message. After all this is a celebration. That does not mean the truth should be glossed over or sugar coated. The Opposition stands for truth. We owe it to the people to speak out on this important national occasion.
I will finish this contribution with some comments about the environment. This is appropriate for Fiji Day because our environment is integral to Fiji’s identity and very existence. Our home is a beautiful place, a blessing from its Creator. Yet we observe how it is being degraded and despoiled through our own actions.
Consider the litter and trash that is dumped all over the country. A newspaper correspondent recently argued that this is such a blight that Fiji might end up as one of the dirtiest countries in the world. That viewpoint should be taken seriously.
Every day buses pump out noxious black smoke into the atmosphere. There is little effort to stop this by the bus operators or the government. Suva Harbour is seriously polluted. I ask what action has been taken to clean it up. There was no comment from the government not too long ago when two oil spills further contaminated the harbour area.
The country is awash with a sea of plastic bags which block drains, contribute to flooding, hurt marine creatures and are yet another national eyesore. What is being done to halt this?
I propose a major national audit of every facet of Fiji’s environment, including the effects of climate change. It is only by doing this that we can take comprehensive steps to conserve our natural surroundings and habitats.
Adopting an environment and climate change policy is not just about grandstanding internationally and spouting lengthy speeches. It is about acting decisively at home to ensure that Fiji retains its unique and irreplaceable natural treasures.
I wish everyone a happy Fiji Day.
May democracy and freedom flourish for the benefit of every citizen and for generations to come?
Ro Teimumu Kepa
Leader of the Opposition
October 7th 2015