Ni sa Bula my fellow citizens
As we welcome in the New Year, let us pause for a moment to reflect on the year that was and examine the journey so far on our way back to parliamentary democracy.
Are we still on course or have we lost our way? The answer to this is vital for every one of us – for every man, woman and child – because it will determine our way of life. That, in turn, reflects on our national happiness and our destiny as a nation.
Some people say that if we want to achieve success in the future, we should stay focused on what is to come and not look back. By the same token, if we ignore the errors of the past and leave them unresolved, as we tend to do, then we are bound to repeat the same mistakes in the future.
Achieving any level of attainment in our bid to return to democratic governance depends on correctly establishing the fundamentals because they form the building blocks for our nation.
Regrettably for Fiji, the fundamentals were ‘imposed’ and designed only to keep power in the hands of the military-backed regime. The interests of the people were secondary.
Consider the following:
· The 2013 Constitution now in place has still not been ratified by the people;
· Decrees remain in force that are undemocratic and inconsistent even with the imposed Constitution.
· The imposition of Sec 131 (2) of the Constitution gives to the military total responsibility for the welfare of our people. It is the military that is responsible for the coups that have caused so much damage and instability.
These facts demonstrate that our path to Parliamentary democracy is severely flawed. Unless these problems are dealt with, the prospect of achieving real democracy – government of the people, by the people - is impossible. What passes for democracy now is actually the dictatorship of two men, the Prime Minister and the Attorney General.
Other serious flaws are the constraints on freedom of expression and access to information. These limitations completely undermine key elements of the democratic way of life.
Much of what happens or what is said in national affairs is hidden from the people. This is because one newspaper declines to print certain comments or publishes versions that are severely ‘filtered’ by its solicitors. This is to avoid possible legal action with the threat of jail time for its editor. The other paper has chosen to become the Government’s ‘propaganda’ arm in return for handsome payments from taxpayers’ funds. It concentrates on portraying the government in a positive light, whatever the facts. It prints false stories about the SODELPA party; in fact about anyone who dares to speak up against wrong- doing or challenges the Government. All the while the so-called watchdog, the Media Industry Development Authority, remains silent.
There is also the direct interference by the Attorney General in almost every facet of governance in the country. Just look at some parts of the AG’s record:
· Interfering with a Parliamentary Standing Committee on the Shirley Park controversy;
· Interfering with the commercial sporting contracts of Fiji TV and Mai TV;
· Making direct contact with the Chairman of the Defence and Security Standing Committee on a recent case of allegations of ‘torture’ of citizens and ordering him to ‘stop’ committee proceedings when he has no right to do so;
These actions and more show a clear breach of the fundamentals of the ‘separation of powers’, a cornerstone of Parliamentary Democracy.
I raise these matters so you become aware of some of the deliberate ‘obstacles’ being placed in our path to democracy.
But the government should remember that when all is said and done, it will be the people who ultimately decide what they want. Although the majority of our people remain intimidated and fear persecution if they speak out, we can take heart from the few who continue to protest wrong-doing and bad behaviour. They are paying the price for us all. Hopefully the example they set will encourage others to step up and be counted.
Dr Martin Luther King Jr once said:-
‘When evil men plot, good men must plan. When evil men burn and bomb, good men must build and bind. When evil men shout ugly words of hatred, good men must commit themselves to the glories of love’
‘In the process of gaining our rightful place, we must not be guilty of wrongful deeds. Let us not seek to satisfy our thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred. We must forever conduct our struggle on the high plane of dignity and discipline. We must not allow our creative protest to degenerate into physical violence. Again and again, we must rise to the majestic heights of meeting physical force with soul force.”
As we enter 2016 I plead with you all to make a New Year resolution to engage with us as we push for change and for truth and justice. Let us come together so that the just, fair, transparent and accountable governance we seek and the freedoms to which we are entitled can, once again, become the reality for Fiji.
Have a Happy and Prosperous New Year and God Bless you all.
Ro Teimumu Kepa
Leader of the Opposition