"It is ironic that the very party that desecrated and stole the design and parts of the coat of arms of our existing flag, and politicized its use, demonstrating no respect, no honour or regard for our present national symbol, should want all of the protection they have not given our current flag to be given to the Bainimarama-Khaiyum flag. In any democracy, if you suppress the voice of the people long enough and you curtail their rights to express themselves, their frustrations will ultimately be manifested." - Mick Beddoes
June 5th 2015
At 10am, October 10th 1970, I witnessed from the roof top of the Grand Pacific Hotel, the pomp and ceremony that marked our Independence Day Celebration and Parade at Albert Park.
I was 19 years old and the Hotel’s Public Relations Officer, depending on whether you were born or a teenager like I was in 1970, it will be difficult for you to ‘grasp’ the significance of the moment.
I watched the Prince of Wales hand our nation’s founding father and first Prime Minister, Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara, the Instruments of our Independence, 96 years to the, day, that our Chiefs willingly ceded Fiji to Queen Victoria.
As the Public Relations officer of the GPH, my task that day was to raise the Hotel’s new ‘banner blue’ to the top of our flag pole at exactly the same time as the main flag raising ceremony at Albert Park.
Many of those who witnessed that Parade and Ceremony had family members taking part. This helped to deeply etch the occasion in our memories even though it occurred 45 years ago.
It was a moment of mixed emotions. Many felt regret and even sorrow about the British departure. They felt a special loyalty to Queen Elizabeth who had become the ultimate paramount chief of Fiji.
But the dominant sentiment was one of joy, buoyed by dreams of a glorious future as a united independent nation.
These dreams were captured in our new flag, fluttering proudly over the park and at many other locations throughout the country. This was our emblem, the mark and the image of our nationhood.
Such was the IMPACT ON THE NATION as a whole of that great occasion and Ratu Sir Kamasese delivered on that promise with 17 years or peace, progress and prosperity and I was fortunate to be one of the many young political activists that learnt from the founding father of modern Fiji.
Fiji had escaped the cruel struggles and bloodshed that so often marred the journey to independence of other colonies.
We had our differences politically, but there was a willingness on both sides to proceed to nationhood on the basis of consensus and compromise in the greater interests of Fiji.
The unique bonds forged by the chiefs and people with Queen Victoria continued through the reigns of her successors right up to Queen Elizabeth.
Now those cherished links, the links that helped define our history are to be rejected by an act of dictatorship, supported by the leadership of the Fiji First Party and government.
I am here today to protest this latest imposition on our islands because our people have not given their permission for changing Fiji’s flag. Their voice was ignored when Prime Minister Bainimarama and Attorney General Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum decided we should have a new symbol.
The Explanatory notes in the Bills on the Coat of Arms and the New Flag speak of symbols of our colonial past. This is misleading, self-serving and selective.
Other than the Union Jack and the Lion, the depictions of sugar cane, coconut tree, bananas and the dove are all true symbols of our country and not our Colonial past. I surely do not need to tell you that the coconut tree, aside from its agricultural significance at that time, now symbolizes our ‘World Dominance’ in Rugby Seven’s
They stood as the symbols of our new beginning as an Independent and sovereign nation from that 10th day of October 1970 and they remain relevant today. This is a fact.
Contrary to the claim in the Background notes of the National Flag Bill that our colonial past was marred by injustice and oppression, the reality is that British rule was benign.
There is no doubt that some injustices occurred, especially towards our iTaukei and Indo-Fijian communities.
But the real oppression of our people started with the military coup of 1987. It was reinforced by the insurrection of 2000, the Bainimarama coup of 2006, and the abrogation of our 1997 constitution in April 2009 and the eight long fear-filled years of the Bainimarama-Khaiyum dictatorship.
These are the undisputed facts.
The Explanatory Notes to Bill 4 state and I quote:
‘A new national flag that will reflect our present state as a nation and will include truly Fijian symbols of identity that we can all honour and defend’ unquote
· What symbols would we use to reflect our truly Fijian Identify when the government of the day refuses to ratify UNDRIP, the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People, and retains 17 Decrees that suppress only one community - our Indigenous people.
· Where is the honour when we remove the pinnacle of our Indigenous people’s society, The Great Council of Chiefs, while allowing all other communities in Fiji the right to retain their respective cultural structures?
Let us put pretence aside and consider honestly our present state as a nation:
The sad and alarming fact is that we are presently in an almost failed six months transition from dictatorship to democracy.
I ask the promoters of these Bills what symbols would best reflect this?
· A picture of a person with their mouth taped shut, to symbolize the fear to speak out?
· Perhaps a photo of a Minister with a full complement of bodyguards to protect him or her from the people they are supposed to represent?
· Or perhaps a copy of the Government propaganda sheet, the Fiji Sun? To symbolize how far we have fallen in terms of ‘fair and balanced reporting’
If we dare to go back further, to the eight long hard years of dictatorship, what symbols would best represent the state of the nation for this period?
· Will they be symbols of abuse?
· Or perhaps symbols of nepotism, oppression and threats all wrapped up in copies of unjust decrees?
Bill No 5 has 20 sections. Fifty five percent 55% of its provisions relate to offences citizens will face.
These range from fines of $20,000 to $500,000 or 10 years imprisonment or both. These are extreme provisions and there are others that I shall be mentioning in a moment. I ask the Government committee members to consider this:
Our existing noble banner blue, in the words of the Prime Minister, is widely loved and admired. There is no extreme legislation governing its use and providing severe sentences for transgressions.
There’s been no need for this because citizens respect and admire this symbol of our nationhood.
Why then has the Attorney-General introduced such draconian legislation for the Bainimarama flag? Is this because the two of them expected opposition to it and this must be dealt with severely and in a manner to which we have become accustomed?
Does this approach reflect the principles of the modern nation state that the Prime Minister and Mr Sayed-Khaiyum speak of so much?
This Bill No 5 even seeks to legislate patriotism, and seeks to force people to “respect the flag”. It is intrusive to the extent that its provisions cover the private homes of every citizen by legislating the new flag should be in a place of prominence.
You can’t legislate “respect”. You have to earn it! Neither can you legislate patriotism. But patriotism about what? An imposed flag and Coat of Arms?
Section 7 of the Bill goes further and says if you speak, write or by any other means ‘demean’, disrespect or insult the ‘State’, the Government, or any member of the Government or the general public, you commit an offence?
This is extraordinary stuff Mr Chairman for those in Government who are boasting about our new democracy for a modern nation state. What has criticism of the Government, Minister or another individual got to do with committing an offence against the flag?
Similarly in the Coat of Arms Bill No 5, the majority of the provisions relate to ‘punishment’ and fines ranging from $20,000 to $500,000 plus 10 years or both.
Bill No 5 continues on this course of legal extremism that flies in the face of our long held principle that a person is presumed innocent until proven guilty.
In Section 11 it is stated that ‘In the prosecution of an offence under this act, the onus of proof shall be on the defendant to prove his or her innocence’
This is inconsistent with the rights of the Accused person as stated in Sec 14 (2) of the constitution which says and I quote ‘Each person charged with an offence has the right –
(a) To be presumed innocent until proven guilty according to law;
So because I have objected strongly against the proposed new flag and its legislation, anyone can claim I contravened Sec 11, and if it’s all made up and I can’t prove I did not, I get fined $20,000 plus get sent to jail for 10 years.
Nothing in these two Bills projects confidence from the authors that they feel the processes involved are democratic or just.
The heavy handed and threatening provisions in both Bills reveal a fearful and insecure administration that is obviously petrified of the people’s rejection of what they intend to do. So their answer, it appears, is to put in place ‘over the top’ measures that will hopefully suppress any thoughts of protest or rejection.
The threatening tone, intrusive nature and oppressive language of Bills 4 & 5 are, I am sad to say, a true reflection of our state as a nation today. Threatening comments by a senior Police officer on television last night, only adds to the sense of oppression I have referred to.
The fact that the notices issued by Parliament for these meeting attempts to limit the contributions of citizens to just three key aspects of the Bill is of deep concern.
This is inconsistent with our rights under Sec 17 of The Bill of Rights to Freedom of speech, expression and publication; so there is clearly a constitutional issue here.
The fact that the hearings are being held here in Parliament, ignoring totally the rights of the majority of our people who live outside Suva and are therefore deprived of access to this hearing, is anti-democratic.
The fact is this Committee is obliged under the Standing Orders to ensure full access and time for citizens to make representations but this does not appear to have been done yet, which is also another grave concern.
Section 15 of Bill No 4 outlines the conditions under which the ‘new flag’ can be changed. Interestingly it calls for a 75% vote of all members of Parliament as well as 75% of all registered voters in a referendum before it can be changed.
I challenge the Government to demonstrate their confidence of the people’s support for their actions and make these provisions retrospective and apply it to our current flag as well.
It is ironic that the very party that desecrated and stole the design and parts of the coat of arms of our existing flag, and politicized its use, demonstrating no respect, no honour or regard for our present national symbol, should want all of the protection they have not given our current flag to be given to the Bainimarama-Khaiyum flag.
In any democracy, if you suppress the voice of the people long enough and you curtail their rights to express themselves, their frustrations will ultimately be manifested.
In a news item the other day Hon Chair, you were quoted as saying the petition on a referendum for our flag assigned to this committee by Parliament in February, has been referred back to Parliament because the committee does not have the jurisdiction to deliberate on it.
Mr Chairman, there is a mystery here. The people need to know who made that decision. Where did the advice come from? Which part of the Standing Orders allows such a decision to be made?
Approximately two thousand citizens 2,000 signed that petition. That’s 43% more people than the supposed total number of design entries. This is excluding the 7,000 other citizens who submitted their preference for a continuation of the present banner blue?
Their representations were excluded without any proper explanation. Have any of you taken a look at some of the names of the signatories who are all patriotic citizens of Fiji?
Given that there has not been a referendum on whether or not the people want to change their flag and in light of this committee’s decision to refer the petition signed by 2,000 citizens back to Parliament, the Government cannot make any claim that the motivation to change our flag comes from the people of Fiji. It does NOT
What we can conclude absolutely is that 9,000 citizens through the Petition and the flag competition have officially registered their opposition to changing our current flag.
We can also look at it another way: 10,400 citizens in total have expressed their opinions about changing our flag through the only official means available to them, the petition to Parliament, and the Flag Competition.
Of this number 87% or 9,000, want the current flag retained. In any opinion poll, the maximum respondents are usually between 1,000 to 2,000 people.
In this case 10,400 responded and of this 9000 did not want our flag changed.
So who really wants the flag changed? As the numbers show 87% say NO! As politicians, who no doubt want to be re-elected are you listening to the people or don’t they count now that you are in power?
Mr Chairman, you try to justify your government’s rejection of a referendum by stating that such a poll was not held in 1970 when we adopted our much-loved and admired noble banner blue.
With respect Hon Chair, you’ve got it wrong. A referendum was not necessary in 1970. We simply had to change our flag to reflect our status as an independent nation.
The choice of that flag 45 years ago was obviously a popular one as there has not been any desire by the people or successive democratic governments to change it up till now.
Allow me to make these final points:
A flag is supposed to be an emblem of togetherness. But this entire business of the forced flag change has accomplished exactly the opposite. It is dividing the nation. To that extent it is already a disaster.
It is very clear that the Prime Minister and Mr Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum have miscalculated.
They were still thinking like dictators when THEY decided that we should have a new flag. They had forgotten that we are now supposed to be a democracy where the will of the people MUST prevail.
They have forgotten, or simply thrown aside, the basic principle that the decision to change a flag is one for the people to take.
"Bill No 5 has 20 sections. Fifty five percent 55% of its provisions relate to offences citizens will face. These range from fines of $20,000 to $500,000 or 10 years imprisonment or both. These are extreme provisions and there are others that I shall be mentioning in a moment. I ask the Government committee members to consider this: Our existing noble banner blue, in the words of the Prime Minister, is widely loved and admired. There is no extreme legislation governing its use and providing severe sentences for transgressions. There’s been no need for this because citizens respect and admire this symbol of our nationhood. Why then has the Attorney-General introduced such draconian legislation for the Bainimarama flag? Is this because the two of them expected opposition to it and this must be dealt with severely and in a manner to which we have become accustomed?"- Beddoes
Fijileaks: What Khaiyum (and SODEPA should be demanding) is changing the chairman, the blood-thirsty 'Mr Mortein' - Ashneel Sudhakar - who is chairing the Standing Committee on Justice, Law and Human Rights, and Debate on Fiji flag!
SODELPA OPPOSITION ALL SET FOR THEIR NEXT
10 CONSTITUENCY MEETINGS IN NADROGA - NAVOSA
The SODELPA opposition MP’s are gearing up for their next lot of Constituency visits, scheduled for Tuesday June 9th and Wednesday June 10th in Nadroga-Navosa.
Opposition Principal Administrative Officer Mick Beddoes said arrangements were in place, and members have been split into 5 groups and the meetings will be held at the following venues:
TUES JUNE 9TH: 6pm till 9pm
Namatakula Hon Ratu Sela Nanovo/Hon Nawaikula/Hon Salote Radrodro
Votua Hon Jiosefa Dulakiverata/Hon Mika Leawere/Hon Aseri Radrodro
Sigatoka Village Hon Ratu Isoa Tikoca/Hon Anare Vadei/
Nasama Hon Ratu Suliano Matanitobua/Hon Mosese Bulitavu
Cuvu Village Hon Viliame Gavoka/Hon Semesa Karavaki/Hon Ro Kiniviliame Kiliraki
WED JUNE 10th 5pm to 9pm
Voua Hon Ratu Sela Nanovo/Hon Nawaikula/Hon Salote Radrodro
Tagaqe Hon Jiosefa Dulakiverata/Hon Mika Leawere/Hon Aseri Radrodro
Sila Hon Ratu Isoa Tikoca/Hon Anare Vadei
Malevu Hon Ratu Suliano Matanitobua/Hon Mosese Bulitavu
Nayawa Hon Viliame Gavoka/Hon Semesa Karavaki/Hon Ro Kiniviliame Kiliraki
Beddoes said that Opposition Leader Ro Teimumu Kepa and Hon Ratu Naiqama Lalabalavu have not been assign any specific meeting venue as both will be making appearances at all of the 10 meetings during the two nights of meetings.
Beddoes said planning for the July Constituency meetings covering Ra, Tavua, Vatukola, Ba, Lautoka and Nadi were already underway. Beddoes said the team would move to cover Vanua Levu in August.