See, in particular, Ro Teimumu’s comments about the roads as well as the flag issue.
PM: Bula Vinaka and a very good morning to you all,
It’s always a pleasure for me to launch any facility that provides the Fijian people with more opportunity for sport and recreation. So I’m delighted to be here in Raiwai – in the heart of one of the most vibrant communities in Fiji – to formally open your new multi-purpose court.
Whether you play volleyball, basketball or netball - my own family’s favourite sport - you now have a modern facility worthy of your community. And I know that good use will be made of it by the people of Raiwai. Plus, of course, those Fijians who come to play here from the surrounding communities - Raiwaqa, Flagstaff, Samabula, Vatuwaqa, Nabua and the Greater Suva/ Nasinu corridor.
Whether it is the world class ANZ National Stadium or something more modest like this, the Fiji First Government is committed to providing Fijians with the best sporting facilities we can afford. I ask you all to think of where we were ten years ago in terms of facilities and where we are now. And it is simply undeniable that no matter what sport you play, we are almost always playing under better conditions than a decade ago.
Ro Teimumu: It is always a good thing when we are in a position to provide our people with a new or improved facility be it for sports, church, community or any other amenity.
We should all celebrate this improved or new facility, but the PM needs to learn that in celebrating something like this he should rid himself of the habit of denigrating the efforts of those who before his day had the foresight and sincerity to take the lead in establishing something for the people.
No one expects that a 10 year-old building or facility will be on a par with what can be constructed today. Therefore it is nonsense to make comparisons or boast about how much better a facility is today than the one put there 10 years ago.
PM: And I repeat the pledge I make everywhere here today: As our economy expands on the back of my Government’s achievements, we intend to provide the Fijian people with a great deal more. And especially in those parts of the country where the need is greatest or where Fijians live in more isolated circumstances.
I want as many Fijians playing sport as possible using the best facilities possible. Because this goes way beyond mere enjoyment – though we obviously play because we enjoy a certain sport, often passionately so. An increasing number of young Fijians are using their sporting prowess to carve out lucrative professional careers for themselves. And, of course, sport is a wonderful way to keep our nation healthy and reduce the incidence of non-communicable diseases like diabetes and heart disease. Sport also binds us together as a nation in a way that few other things do. It lifts our spirits, fills us with national pride and is an extremely potent force for unity.
Ro Teimumu: I agree entirely with these sentiments of the PM.
PM: I can tell you that I have just had one of my proudest weeks ever as we hosted around 350 international guests in Suva from all over the world for the Joint Parliamentary Assembly of the European Union and the 79 member countries of the ACP - the African, Caribbean and Pacific States. They included nearly 40 members of the European Parliament plus the representatives of more than a billion ordinary men and women scattered across the globe. And all of them left deeply impressed by their Fijian experience and especially the achievements of our new democracy – the One Nation we have forged and the way in which Fiji is now powering ahead.
Ro Teimumu: It says a lot when the Prime Minister refers to one of his proudest weeks, the week Fiji hosted the 350 ACP-EU Parliamentary delegate’s conferences in Suva, but excluded the Fiji Opposition members of Parliament in the process.
I say this because he had the opportunity to put into practice for our international visitors his much talked about new ‘united and inclusive’ democratic Fiji. But instead he chose to retreat back to his isolation chamber, and re-engage his exclusion policies and ban the Opposition from participating in the Assembly. It is unfortunate the ACP-EU delegates allowed themselves to be manipulated to be part of this anti-democratic action.
Sealing himself off from the Opposition is not the kind of action one would expect from the leader of a recently victorious, confident, and secure government. It is more a style of governance associated with an apprehensive and insecure administration, uncertain and perhaps even doubtful, about the validity of their recent election victory and frightened of the Opposition and what it might say.
We do acknowledge that they sent us invitations to attend the various cocktail parties after the conference proper concluded. This was perhaps done to use the Opposition as photo props to show a semblance of bipartisan involvement in the ACP-EU Parliamentary Assembly even though they knew there was none.
If I were Prime Minister this would never have happened.
PM: I was immensely gratified when Louis Michele - the former European Commissioner for Development and co-President of the EU-ACP Assembly - publicly stated that he had been wrong and the EU had been wrong to doubt me and to doubt Fiji over our promise to build a genuine democracy, with equality and opportunity for all. It took a big man to say something that some of our nearer neighbours still can’t bring themselves to say. He said it was a question of intellectual honesty that led him to acknowledge he was wrong. And I just wish there was a bit more intellectual honesty from others. Because the evidence is there for everyone to see that Fiji is an infinitely better place because of my Government’s reforms.
Ro Teimumu: As I have previously stated Mr Louis Michele remarks were ill-considered and unfortunate. They showed how badly ill-informed he is about the realities in Fiji today. I have expressed these sentiment directly to the EU Fiji reps.
To suggest we have a genuine democracy and that he was wrong about Prime Minister Bainimarama’s intentions to bring about democracy, and that it was intellectual honesty that made him confess to being wrong, does more to expose his poor and inaccurate grasp about what is actually happening here in Fiji, than it illustrates his skills as a diplomat. The PM’s gratitude for what Mr Michele said speak of his constant need for praise and approval.
PM: Think about it: An economy powering ahead – growing at a rate of more than four per cent a year and creating the prosperity and jobs that are raising the living standards of our people. Every child finally able to go to school because of our education revolution and many more Fijians able to go on to higher studies because of our scholarships and student loans. Free health care, free medicine and free water for families on low incomes. And all those benefits like better roads that didn’t exist before but are happening now because Fiji First knows how to govern properly and is doing so in the interests of every Fijian, no matter who they are or where they come from in Fiji.
Ro Teimumu: One of the ‘signature’ styles of QORVIS, the PM’s expensive American pr company, is to simply ignore the facts. They prefer exaggerated talk and misrepresentations that people will start to believe if they are repeated enough. These tactics are on prominent display in the PM’s speech. Let me now offer the facts and let the truth take its rightful place.
· The economy is powering ahead? Really?
The economic growth Bainimarama speaks of is largely driven by capital infrastructure works; in other words it is growth funded mainly by us, the taxpayers. The economy is not powering ahead on its own and by many accounts the present situation is not sustainable.
· Creating prosperity and jobs
o If they are creating prosperity, who then is actually prospering? How does the PM explain the 57% increase, or 17,000 new unemployed citizens being added to the unemployed register, taking it from 30,000 to 47,000 this year? The only solution to this unemployment crisis offered by the Minister for Labour is for the jobless to plant tapioca. Yes, that’s the answer to unemployment according to the Bainimarama Government. Of course the published figures are only the tip of the iceberg.
o This claim of improving prosperity and living standards is at odds with the increasing levels of poverty, and unemployment in the urban and rural areas. Even in the hotel and accommodation industry, job growth is virtually stagnant. There is little progress in agriculture. The sugar industry is in a dire plight thanks to mismanagement by this government so it is unlikely in its present form to be producing many new jobs.
· Raising the living standards of our people. Really?
What living standards is he talking of? Prices have continued to rise well above any increases in wages. In 2014 a SODELPA survey comparing prices for food items between 2006 and 2014 June, showed an increase of 96.7% for 10 basic items. The individual increases ranged from 16% to 227%. The prices have continued to rise since then with no measurable corresponding rise in wages; so just how have standards of living improved?
Another indicator of something going wrong is the rising levels of suicide and attempted suicides and increases in violent crime.
· His Education Revolution means every child can go to school. Really?
There has been no education revolution, just chaos. Education was widely available to our children for many years before the Bainimarama Coup. Free tuition was introduced long before the Bainimarama government; all they have done is add to the number of forms it is extended to. That would have been done at any rate.
· More Fijians, he says, go to higher studies because of scholarships and student loans
His so-called scholarship revolution has created a generation of indebted students who now owe between $25,000 to $40,000 even before they are able to get a job. They also have to repay this debt at 20% of their income [when they can find one] plus 2% interest.
On the other hand, 600 of the smartest children in Fiji get a fully funded scholarship. Now I have no issue with rewarding our smart children with opportunities to excel. But what about our obligation to our other children? Are we not obliged to take care of all of them equally? So how does this treatment of our smartest children compared to those who may not be as good in the scholarly sense, sit with Sec 1 (a) of the constitution on common and equal citizenry? What is equal about giving 600 kids free scholarships worth millions while saddling others with individual debts of $25,000 plus? And what of the children’s right to equality and freedom from discrimination. Sec 3 (a) says a person must not be discriminated against directly or indirectly, on the grounds of his or her:
(a) Actual or supposed personal characteristics or circumstances, including race, culture, ethnic or social origin. Colour, place of origin, sex, gender sexual orientation, gender identity and expression, birth, primary language, economic or social or health status, disability, age, religion, conscience, marital status, or pregnancy;
As with most of this Government’s policies, they are developed with an ‘inward thinking selective’ group approach, around a base design. This is usually about how best they can operate with minimum stakeholder consultation. This is why they will continue to run aground, because the initial basis of most of their policies is fundamentally flawed as it ‘excludes’.
· Free health care, free medicine.
Fiji’s heath system is at breaking point; ask the public and any of the doctors and they will tell you. The working conditions are deplorable. Our base salary for doctors is one of the worst in the region. While there has been some increase over the past two years; it still fails to bring our medical staff salaries up to par.
There is an urgent need to address matters such as salaries and allowances, housing, on call allowances, scholarships and insurance cover
There is a study that shows a majority of doctors migrate after qualifying through Fiji’s School of Medicine. Why? We need to take a long hard look at the recommendations to see what changes we need to make to ensure we pay our medical professionals their just salary and put in place measures that will encourage them to stay.
We currently have doctors who work 20 plus hour shifts and they collect just $12.50 for being called out regardless of the hours they work? This means at times they earn less than .80 cents an hour? This is outrageous.
Happy and well paid and accommodated medical staff will mean an improvement in our delivery of medical services to our people and level of retention of our doctors.
If our neighbours can see their value and pay them a just and appropriate wage, why can’t we do that before we lose them.
· Free water for low income families
The free water and free milk while a smart political ‘gimmick’ that has captured the minds of our people in need, the sobering reality is that when you work it out, it’s clear the people have been fooled..
Here’s how: The government supplies free milk to 20,000 students and pays CJ Patel $3 million per annum for the supply of that milk. So that’s $150.00 per student per annum or $2.88 a week. Not bad for C J Patel.
The free water involves 91,000 litres of water per annum which is the UN standard. This is for families earning less than $30,000 per annum. According to the Fiji Water Authority they absorb $13.80 per annum for each qualifying family or $0.26 cents per week per family or 5 cents per family member based on a family of 5.
So the freebies cost Government about $2.93 per person per week. But the Government collects from the same families approximately $172 per person in Vat and customs duties. In terms of a return on investment, that’s a 5,770% return for the Government for their freebies. Seems they are not so free after all.
· Better roads that did not exist before but happening now because Fiji First knows how to govern.
There has been almost $2 billion in capital and infrastructure injection into the economy between 2013 and 2015. That is why we have growth; it’s not from increased foreign Investment, but from taxpayer funded capital and infrastructure growth which is simply not sustainable.
Of this $2 billion the Roads Authority of Fiji accounts for 76% or $1.3 billion, Fiji Water Authority 17% or $309 million and Transport and Infrastructure 7% or $129.064 million.
According to the details contained in a response to a question from Hon Aseri Radrodro on May 12th, only 16 sub-contractors are engaged and collectively they received $72.2 million which is just 5.5% of the $1.3 billion. So who got the $1.2 billion and what did they do for it?
The only ‘new things’ listed in the list of successful local contractors is $16 million to Fletchers for new bridges and $7.4 million to Pacific Marine & Civic solutions for the new Denarau bridge. Most of the works undertaken are NOT NEW, just repairing and rehabilitating existing roads put there by previous governments. In fact other than the new replacement bridges the only ‘better road that have not existed before’ according to the information we have been given is the $1.1 million Raravula Farm road, there is also $8.1 for Irish crossings [does not state if new or repaired] and $1.2 million for new footpaths. It would appear from the information we have been given by government is that the only new thing the Bainimarama Government has built is the Raravula Farm road and new foot paths, and they were forced to act on roads because they had neglected Fiji’s roading system to the point of collapse over the 8 years they were in charge.
There are unexplained cases of repairs on roads being repeated up to four times because of poor workmanship. Who is paying for these over rides? Two cases in point: the Nausori to Airport road, has been sealed, broken up and resealed again with still more repairs to be done. The same thing occurred on the Nadi back road and Queens road from the Sabeto junction. Who pays for the extra costs.
There are many ‘rags to riches’ stories about contractors. I certainly do not deny any hardworking, honest citizen his or her success in business as a result of their efforts and investment, and success in securing a government contract. It’s quite another thing when that success is based purely on ‘who you know’ or ‘inside contacts and support’.
As taxpayers foot the bill, they have a right to know who is benefitting from their money. A summary of the list of local contractors and their contract and values and names of Directors is attached. We will ask about who has received the $1.2 billion with a similar breakdown.
PM: There was something else I was especially proud of during the week – the compliments I got from our overseas visitors about the strength of our i’taukei culture and way of life. In our ceremonies of welcome vakaturaga for our visitors, we asked the people of Naitasiri to take charge of the arrangements, just as we have asked i’Taukei from other parts of Fiji to welcome other visitors.
The people of Ra performed the traditional welcoming ceremonies for the Chinese President and the people of Ba welcomed the Indian Prime Minister. Of course, the people of Naitasiri did us proud. And I want to warmly thank those who performed the ceremony and the whole province for lifting the spirits of everyone present.
I cannot tell you how proud it makes me to have someone from Africa or the Caribbean come up and say to me: “ Prime Minister, I was moved by the power of that ceremony” Or “it is wonderful to see the indigenous culture so strong in your national life”. And this is what many people said, not just to me but to those who performed these ceremonies and the conference organisers.
Why do our traditional ceremonies carry such power, for people from other parts of the world? It is, of course, because of the bearing and the dignity of our people and the commanding nature of what they are saying. Outsiders can feel the spiritual power of what is happening even if they don’t understand the language.
These ceremonies transcend language. They uplift everyone who sees them because they come from the heart. They are genuine. They are authentic. And they represent the best of the i’Taukei – our respect for tradition, our respect for each other and our visitors.
All this was on display to our international visitors in Suva this week. And they are heading home with an indelible image in their minds. That our traditions live on. They are at the centre of national life in Fiji. And their way of life can never be extinguished.
Remember, many of these visitors are indigenous people themselves. In some of their countries, traditions are dying out or are threatened. So, of course, they are deeply impressed that in Fiji, our iTaukei traditions and way of life are not only intact but thriving. And because we feel secure – we have our land as well as our customs, which can never be taken away – we can also be inclusive and stand shoulder to shoulder with our fellow Fijians as One Nation.
Ro Teimumu: This is perhaps the saddest part of Prime Minister Bainimarama’s speech. Because he is obviously elated by the compliments made by the visitors about the power and emotion of the cultural ceremonies performed by the Naitasiri people. It is as though he has just discovered this.
He was struck by the fact that our international visitors were emotionally moved by the ceremonies of welcome so much so he now expresses sentiments of pride and respect for the values and importance of our culture, heritage, customs and tradition.
This is the same Prime Minister whose respect for the Chiefs, the Vanua, the culture and traditions of the indigenous community was shown in his advice to the Members of the Great Council of Chiefs, which is at the pinnacle of our society, to go and drink home brew under a mango tree? That was the insult he uttered. He seems to be unaware that the chiefs and the vanua are one.
I wonder, when accepting all of the praise and accolades for the ceremonies, did Prime Minister Bainimarama apply some intellectual honesty he says we lack? Was he honest with those expressing these sentiments and admitted to them that:-
· He showed no respect for and poured scorn on and ridiculed our Chiefs and told them to all go and drink home brew under mango tree.
· He accused me and other Chiefs of bringing our titles into Parliament and that no one was interested in them
· He decreed the removal of the Great Council of Chiefs because they would not support his coup.
· His Government still has 17 decrees that effectively dismantles the ITaukei traditional and cultural structures, while leaving all other community structures in tact.
· He has decrees in place that do not allow indigenous Fijians to seek redress through the courts. Most of these decrees apply to other citizens as well.
· His Government refuses to ratify the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People.
· His Government’s 2013 first draft constitution did not have one single mention of, or provision for, the security of iTaukei Land. Only after a backlash from people did he include the provisions he now boasts about and that are still totally inadequate and lacking and do not have the same level of protection as the 1997 constitution he claims to have abrogated.
Did he admit to at least one of these in an effort to demonstrate by example his own intellectual honesty? I doubt it.
His sudden appreciation for our culture and traditions is not spurred by some internal realization of its importance; he is driven by the accolades they brought to him personally, so much so that he will even accept credit for compliments made about the one community he and his government are doing everything they can to weaken. This last point is a self-evident truth.
PM: Our political opponents in SODELPA keep spreading the lie that the i’Taukei way of life is threatened. They ignore the evidence and continually reach into their bag of tricks to pull out the only one they still have. Trying to make ordinary men and women feel anxious and destabilise the vanua for their own political ends.
This is what has been happening at their recent constituency meetings. Instead of laying out positive alternative policies to move Fiji forward, they try to instil fear when there is nothing to fear. They try to create insecurity when there is no reason for any i’Taukei to feel insecure. About anything.
I repeat: There is no threat to our land. It is protected for all time in our Supreme Law – our Constitution. There is no threat to the Fijian language. We translated our Constitution into i’Taukei so everyone can read it for themselves. And we continue to keep the i’Taukei language alive through such things as translating our new Green Growth policy. So that non-English speaking I’Taukei can fully understand our plan to protect our beautiful country for all time by using its resources in a sustainable manner. And so our grandchildren can have enough in the forests and enough in the seas to live like we do.
Ro Teimumu: Beware people; whenever the Prime Minister issues a warning or starts to blame others for creating fear and working to destabilize things for political ends, he is probably laying the ground work in his mind for his own plans by creating a so-called crisis to help himself and his aims. He did this in 2006. Created an artificial crisis to justify his intervention.
Some facts he conveniently omitted from his reassurance to the iTaukei is that there still exists 17 decrees that cannot be challenged that has taken away powers of the landowners. His Government has refused to ratify UNDRIP to ensure that the iTaukei benefit from this International treaty and that their group rights are properly acknowledge and protected. Would he like to explain why he has banned the use of the indigenous Fijian language in Parliament if he is so appreciative of the indigenous culture? Think about that: the iTaukei are not allowed to speak in their mother tongue in Parliament.
No Government in Fiji since Independence has removed more protection for indigenous rights than the Bainimarama Government. That is a statement of absolute fact. It is the truth and there is no escaping it.
PM: As I keep saying, the traditions and way of life of the i’Taukei are thriving. Our culture is a living culture and has never been stronger. It is not and should not be caught in some time warp. It is developing over time in a very positive way. And we want i’Taukei from all over Fiji to feel that their respective practices and culture is a treasured part of the nation in the same way as we celebrated the traditions of the people of Naitasiri, Ba and Ra. Many itaukei from other parts of Fiji themselves had not witnessed these respective traditions from different parts of Fiji,
So our traditions and way of life are not only protected by our supreme law. They will always burn brightly in the hearts and minds of every Fijian. It is who we are. It gives us a sense of place. A sense of belonging. And the other cultural communities in Fiji recognise that essential truth and have no desire to dispossess the i’Taukei. On the contrary, they celebrate our traditions. And are also proud when those traditions are on display to the world, as they have been again this week.
My fellow Fijians, Ask yourselves a simple question: Why does SODELPA keep trying to make you fearful when there is more reason to be more content now than at any other time in our history – more I’Taukei with jobs, more i’Taukei children at school, more at university and technical colleges, more and improved sporting facilities, our nation united and happy? Let me tell you the answer: It’s because they have nothing else to offer you.
Ro Teimumu: More iTaukei with jobs, more iTaukei children at school, more iTaukei at universities and technical colleges, our nation united and happy? Really?
I thought we were all Fijians now, no distinction between communities, so please Prime Minister publish the proof of what you have stated about the iTaukei and let the people see for themselves that benefit you speak of.
I know you will not be able to because the Toppers Scholarships alone shows less than a dozen students who got a Toppers scholarship. Let’s see what the actual figure is, just print the list of successful students since the program started and we will all know how much the iTaukei students benefitted from this. And while you are at it, print the list of students who have Student Loans since these started and let’s see how well the iTaukei students are doing here. Printing this information will either prove you right or wrong.
Contrary to Prime Minister Bainimarama’s claim that we have nothing to offer, let me assure him we do, we just have not been on a ‘campaign trail’ as he has since winning the elections last year. He needs to relax and not get so jumpy about the Opposition. When we speak, he jumps.
We have been trying to do our bit to help build our new democracy. This means participating, trying to communicate with the government members, and working together in committees. It means taking risks, making compromises and doing what we need to do to help unite our people.
But given that he has categorically stated that we have nothing to offer the people of Fiji, allow me to spell out just some of the things a SODELPA led Government under my Prime Ministership would offer, some of which are already contained in our manifesto. S o in no particular order we would:
o Create ‘real’ separation of powers and ensure more than arms length independence’ between the Executive, the Legislature and Judiciary.
o Make the Parliament work as it should, with unrestricted media access, encourage a bipartisan approach towards national issues, and ensure the Standing Committees do the job they are designed to do and solicit the people’s input before presenting reports to the House.
o We will double the number of Parliamentary sittings and encourage debate on all matters before the house, so that we do have a transparent and accountable system of governance.
o Develop a series of referendums to let the people have their say on important issues such as the flag, the constitution and other issues of national importance.
o We would abolish or amend all decrees that affect the Itaukei Community, their rights and their land. The same would apply to all decrees that reduce the legal rights of every citizen.
o We will ratify UNDRIP;
o We will remove the need for anyone to apply for a permit to meet, publicly or privately to celebrate or to protest.
o We would remove the Media Industry Development Authority (MIDA) and all of its severe regulations. We would encourage the opening up of the Media industry so that it is free to become the probing investigative watchdog it is supposed to be. We want the facts of our national affairs to be put before our people and let them make their own decisions.
o We will remove the Essential National Industries Decree and stop playing stupid games with the ILO. We will reintroduce the tripartite forum and union representation for workers.
o We will introduce a minimum rate of pay that is sensible and gives every worker a fair income and standard of living.
All this and more we will do in our first 100 days.
PM: When they were in power, we all had less except them. Many of our children couldn’t go to school. There was division, envy and hatred. Because these people didn’t govern for everyone. They governed for themselves. They took the spoils and left you to fend for yourselves. They came and promised you the world to buy your support, drank your tea, ate your purini and then left you in the same state you were in and our nation in the same mess.
Ro Teimumu: Not sure where Bainimarama gets his ‘division, envy and hatred from, because the only ‘tension and crisis’ at the time was the one Bainimarama created himself to justify his coup. As far as we the people were concerned, we had just concluded a General elections, the people had their say, a new Parliamentary was underway, our new multiparty cabinet was in place and there was a level of optimism until Bainimarama started his threats.
When he says they governed for themselves they took the spoils and left you to fend for themselves, I wonder if he has for just once sat down, attempted to apply some compassion and tried to comprehend just how many lives, families and businesses he destroyed by his actions. Thousands of citizens lost their jobs, were forced into reduced pay, businesses collapsed and families lost their homes and were destroyed because they could not cope with the downturn the coup created. His level of compassion was to put in a decree that does not allow anyone who suffered as a result of his actions to seek redress in the courts or make any claims against the state or his Government.
He promised a clean-up, he said no military personnel would benefit, the 1997 constitution was in place, he it was not even an issue then and he operated his government under it for more than 2 years until the Court of Appeal ruled his government illegal. His own People’s Charter for Change placed the 1997 constitution as central to their objectives. That is of course until the Court of Appeal ruling against which he has never challenged. And since then all his actions have been developed based on keeping himself in power and has had nothing to do with the people.
So to use his own words – he came and promised you the world to buy your support, drank your tea, ate your purini and then left you in the same a worse state then you were in and our nation in the same worse mess.
And let us look at the Bainimarama Government’s most recent example of greed and again using his own words ‘They governed for themselves. They took the spoils and left you to fend for yourselves’
When we were in power the salary of our Prime Minister was $103,851. His and all Members of Parliament’s salaries and allowances were decided by an Emoluments Committee that operated independently of Government and Parliament.
Fast forward to October 2014, just 3 days before the first sitting of Parliament on Friday October 3rd 2014 Frank Bainimarama issued the Parliamentary Remuneration Decree No 29 of 2014 and set his own salary at $375,000 and his Super Minister Khaiyum’s salary at $235,000, 3 other Ministers at $200,000 Other Ministers at $185,000 and the Speaker at $150,000 with the Opposition Leader at $120,000.
So he and his Ministers have their feet well and truly in the national trough, ‘taking the spoils and letting you fend for yourself’
There has been no Emoluments Committee established to deal independently with Parliamentary pay. So let’s compare the nonsense from the PM with the facts.
PM: Under the Fiji First Government, all that is now behind us. And in the new Fiji and on the back of our growing economy, we are forging forward, determined to leave no Fijian behind. This week, the European Union recognised our promise, our vision to turn Fiji into a modern nation state. It gave us $65-million over a period of six years to step up our effort to improve the lives of Fijians in rural areas and to improve our overall standard of governance.
And, even more importantly, Europe has promised to support Fiji and the other Pacific nations at the World Climate Summit in Paris in November. To get the world to finally reduce the pollution that is warming up the planet, melting the icecaps and producing the rising seas that truly threaten our way of life. We are going to lead that charge. And it is yet another sign that Fiji has never stood taller in the world or more proud than it does under my Government.
Ro Teimumu: Just go back to 2006 and over the first five years of his government, did climate change feature? No of course not. But it’s now a popular ‘image’ builder courtesy of QORVIS, his expensive pr company. So now the PM is “going green” to propel himself forward internationally. That is all that is behind this new found interest. Nothing else.
However he needs to face up to the fact that his prior record of environmental protection and conservation is shocking. We will now be watching him very carefully to ensure the damage done to the environment during his watch is repaired and that his government’s future policies are environmentally sound.
PM: A great country deserves a great flag. They’re the words of the American flag expert, Ted Kaye, who has been helping us design a new one and I couldn’t put it better myself.
As you all know, we have a range of designs that people are now being asked to comment on. And I know that the public reaction to the 23 designs that have been put out hasn’t been entirely positive. We also know that many Fijians do not object to the flag to being changed but want a design they like.
We also know that a lot of Fijians are now, only after the designs have been put out are getting engaged and suggesting new ideas. In our vakamalua attitude to most things, it sometimes takes us Fijians a while to get involved but now that is happening. And that is good. I welcome this debate about the designs, the criticism of designs as well as the positive responses that have come in.
In the meantime, I urge every Fijian of every age and background to give your opinion on the current designs, suggest new designs and join our crusade to find a national symbol we can all identify with - a design that speaks to the experience of being a Fijian now and in the future, not the experience of our colonial past. A great flag for a great country.
Ro Teimumu: No sign of intellectual honesty here. Just more misrepresentation. If he were able to be completely candid about this, he would realise that the Opposition from day one have been pressing for the involvement of the people in this whole business of our national flag.
The decision to change the flag was made by him, no one else – except probably with the help of the attorney general. There were no consultations and the people had no say in the decision. It was just dumped on us. There was no ‘vakamalua attitude’ but once the 23 mediocre designs were released, the people reacted and their reaction was definitely not ‘vakamalua’ but ‘vakatotolo’.
He says that many people don’t mind the flag being changed? How has he determined this? There’s been no official poll? And unofficial polls generally show an overwhelming 95% do not want the current flag changed.
PM: I can assure you that as a Government, we don’t intend to cut corners and we certainly intend to listen to the new suggestions. As we have said before none of the current designs are locked in stone. And if necessary, we will review the current process to get the right result.
Ro Teimumu: This style of comment is commonly known as ‘damage control’. The pr company, QORVIS, will no doubt be familiar with this. It comes into play when you know you have made a bad mistake and have to try to salvage something from the wreckage. So the PM now is very much in damage control mode to try and salvage the mess created by the attorney general, who has control of the flag issue.
PM: I can assure you that as a Government, we don’t intend to cut corners:
Ro Teimumu: But you have already cut corners. You proceeded with your Flag Committee and ignored 2,000 citizens who filed a petition in Parliament asking for a referendum. Then you fast tracked your Flag Committee’s work, while getting your Parliamentary Standing Committee members to ‘stall’ their consideration of the flag controversy. Then you ignored 7,000 dissenting citizens who registered in time and in compliance with the flag competition.
You only considered the initial 520 entrants, which blew out mysteriously to 2,000 entrants by the time the finalist were released? How did the entrants go from 520 to 2,000? How did 1,480 additional entries get into the competition after the deadline?
Then you got your Parliamentary Committee Chair to return the petition of the people back to Parliament because the committee supposedly had no jurisdiction to hear it. Who decided this? When was it decided?
All of this points to a process of ‘shady’ moves and multiple corner cutting which means the process is not credible.
PM: We certainly intend to listen to the new suggestions:
Ro Teimumu: If you only want to listen to new suggestions and ignore the overwhelming call to retain the current flag, then you have learnt and heard nothing. You are making a big mistake.
PM: As we have said before none of the current designs are locked in stone…
Ro Teimumu: Why say this now, after all the controversy and backlash has started? We already have a much-loved flag for our great country you said so yourself when introducing your plans to change the fla
PM: And if necessary, we will review the current process to get the right result. ..
Ro Teimumu: What is the right result Prime Minister? Is it getting a new flag no matter what so that you can get your way? Or is it about listening to the will of our people? The process is simple, refer the question of a new flag to them. They should make the decision, not you. That’s how it works in a democracy. If they vote in favour of a new symbol, than let’s have one. But if they say no, then our banner blue stays. If there is no provision for such a referendum, I will gladly second a motion by you to establish one, so long as it is a fair and reasonable and lets the people decide.
PM: In closing, I want to thank everyone involved in the process of creating this Multi-Purpose Court - which was funded by the Government at a cost of just over half a million dollars – i wish to thank the Suva City Council and the contractor Raghwan Constructions. And above all I want to thank the people of Raiwai for their community spirit and their contribution to our nation as a whole.
This is your facility. Use it well. To the local Eagles Volleyball Club: You have been given the task of being its custodian. Protect and maintain it well. And I now have the great pleasure to declare the Raiwai Multi-Purpose Court open.
Ro Teimumu: Except for this last paragraph, the entire text of the Prime Minister’s Speech on the occasion of the new Multi Purpose courts for the people of Raiwai was about everything else except the purpose for which he was the Chief Guest. It is filled with anger, self praise and boastful commentary about what he claims to have done for the people of Fiji.
The fact that he feels the need to continually sing his own praises is a reflection on his own personality.
But having said this, and despite my other criticisms, I also see an opportunity for change for the better. All it takes is the political will to accomplish this.
Today at one of our Catholic Schools the verse of Mark 11: 25 was read out to students. ‘And when you stand and pray, forgive anything you may have against anyone, so that your Father in heaven will forgive the wrongs you have done’.
If you want to grow spiritually, you have no choice but to forgive others, to wipe the slate clean, to start new relationships with those you have offended or have offended you.
Prime Minister you and I have a choice. We can continue to deal with national issues in the adversarial way of the past nine years. Or we can decide to put political conflict to one side and take up the mantle of unity, co-operation, and reconciliation to build a strong and vibrant democracy for the long-term interests of our people.
If we seek change, and I believe we must, then our goals must change. Our priorities must be revised and our focus adjusted so that we have a common mission of national unity that embraces the concerns of all.
But with this must come trust, respect, accountability, and transparency? We must co-operate and combine our talents, not just for some of us but for all. Every community – and we are a nation of communities - must be heard and respected in the search for unified nationhood.
We can make a good start with the flag. Stop the process now. Organise a referendum to be part of a procedure that is clear, fair, and transparent and, above all, sensitive to the views of our people. Perhaps we can ask the people for a Yes or No answer to the question, do you want to change your flag, and make it part of the 2018 election ballot. It would be cost effective and it will give you the answer directly from the people. But however you do it, you must engage the people and ask them first. Failure to do this will leave us more divided than ever.
I am ready to engage Prime Minister. Are you?
Ro Teimumu Kepa
Leader of the Opposition