LEADER OF THE SOCIAL DEMOCRATIC LIBERAL PARTY (SODELPA),
AT SODELPA ANNUAL GENERAL MEETING,
SUVA, JUNE 27TH, 2014
Ni tiko saka na Turaga Bale na Vunivalu na Tui Kaba na Vanua o Kubuna na kenai sasavu. Ni tiko saka na Turaga Bale na Tui Cakau, Na Ai Sokula, Na Vanua Vakaturaga na Tovata, Na kenai sasavu, kina noqu Vanua o Burebasaga, Na kenai sasavu.
SODELPA delegates, friends and colleagues.
I am very honoured and pleased to be part of this annual meeting at this critical moment for our party and for Fiji. I am grateful for the opportunity to address you.
As we step up the planning and execution of our election campaign a number of issues have emerged. These include the shocking spread of poverty and unemployment, the decline of government services and infrastructure and the crippling cost of living.
When our manifesto comes out soon, the country will learn in some detail what we are offering the poor and needy to ease their burdens, to improve services and provide people with work.
THIS REGIME HAS said recently THAT government had been working hard to ensure everyone is given the opportunity to live life to the fullest.
This is the statement of a member of the wealthy elite, living in his own privileged world and divorced from everyday realities.
How can citizens live life to the fullest when they cannot find jobs? Their frustrations are intensified as they see few prospects of employment under the Bainimarama-Khaiyum dictatorship.
And what about the anguish of that Navua mother and her husband who lost their baby recently because the ailing health services failed them? What has that tragedy done to their prospects for living life to the fullest? They will carry their sorrow always.
What progress can they expect in medical and maternity care from a government that has presided over an eight-year drop in standards? The answer is that they can expect little change; it will be just more of the same.
How can low income families live life to the fullest when they are struggling to feed themselves because many FOOD ITEMS are virtually beyond their reach?
Each day is about survival, Mr Khaiyum - surviving the conditions your regime has created.
I can disclose today that research by one of our NOMINEES, Mick Beddoes, shows that the consumer price squeeze is far worse than earlier calculations of a 60 per cent increase in the cost of food lines since 2006.
Mr Beddoes and his helpers surveyed 32 items, comparing the prices now with those of 2006.
They found the average increase was 86 per cent.
The lowest individual increase was 16.2 per cent, the highest 227 per cent.
They selected 10 items as a likely weekly household shopping list and made a 2006 comparison to determine the increased cost burden on families of today.
The list included one no.11 chicken, 10kg flour, rice, soya bean oil, powdered milk, washing detergent, breakfast crackers, whole peeled tomatoes, BBQ chops and soap.
Listen carefully to what they discovered. It shows in very stark terms why the people are complaining about the cost of living under THIS REGIME.
In 2006 the total cost of the 10 items would have been $38.60 a week.
Now a family pays $75.92 for THESE SAME ITEMS – an increase of 96.68 per cent.
I have asked that copies of the survey be distributed among delegates for wider circulation in the community.
I wonder how many of these increases are caused by the boosting of import duties and tariffs as a means of raising finance for a cash hungry government?
The regime must take full responsibility for its failure to achieve expansion in the economy.
THE REGIME has had nearly eight years to repair the economic damage created by its military coup – and it is still falling well short.
It must take full responsibility for the wage stagnation that has worsened the plight of the poor and further devalued what little money they have in their pockets.
We say to those who are suffering:
Hold on; we are ALMOST THERE. We cannot produce miracles but we can promise special measures to bring you some immediate relief.
We will give you proven policies for change, so that once again you CAN have hope; once again you can look with confidence to a better future.
I wish to now comment further on the issue that is close to the heart of every indigenous Fijian; it is already a burning topic in homes and villages.
Bear with me please as I go into some detail on this.
It affects every member of the indigenous community and it has a wider significance for the country.
I speak of customary land and the threat to its ownership by THIS REGIME and those who do their bidding.
Indeed the threat has hardened into a reality.
A move to control this precious commodity is already well advanced.
For the indigenous Fijians, it is bound up with our identity and our culture. It is an anchor in a sea of change.
I have chosen my words carefully in what follows because I do not wish to be seen as provocative.
You will agree that the provocation comes from those who have pushed on us unwanted change in a constitution with no democratic legitimacy.
It has come also from other legal measures that are almost beyond belief in their extremity.
We are a responsible party; we are patient and peaceful and will always act with restraint.
But the regime must know it is impossible for us not to speak out in view of the circumstances we now face.
To remain silent would be a betrayal of our people. It would be a betrayal of our God-given heritage and of the generations yet to come.
Ladies and gentlemen and friends, our weapon in this crisis is the truth and the truth will prevail.
Previous constitutions WITH THEIR ENTRENCHED LEGISLATION AND GROUP RIGHTS gave strong protection to Fijian land ownership. All the political parties, all our communities, recognized how important this was.
But now Voreqe Bainimarama and Aiyaz Sayed- Khaiyum have chosen to weaken this fundamental element of the indigenous birthright. The evidence is there in the constitution they handed down and, most blatantly, in their Land Use Decree.
We have consistently protested the regime’s policies on indigenous land and have given the reasons for this.
The only response we get is to be called liars. That’s their policy - to accuse us of lying. That’s the best they can do. It works like this – if you don’t like what your opponent says but can’t give an informed reply, just dismiss it as a lie.
This is a crude and pathetic way of avoiding the issue.
Bainimarama keeps repeating that the protection for Fijian land is stronger than it has ever been. HE TELLS US THAT LAND IS SAFE.
THE LAND IS NOT SAFE. THE REGIME goes on to cite a referendum requirement in their constitution as proof of this.
In the circumstances, this makes no sense ... no sense at all.
I will explain why shortly.
I now intend to issue a number of challenges directly to Voreqe Bainimarama and Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum.
Let me start with their constitution. In the first draft there was no reference at all to native land. It was left out completely. This caused disbelief and uncertainty among landowners.
It was only when SODELPA supporters AS THE GENERAL SECRETARY HAD ALLUDED TO THIS MORNING began to make their concerns known that Bainimarama-Khaiyum decided they had better make a change.
You can be pretty certain that without SODELPA’s intervention, and comments from others, they would have enacted their supreme law without any specific mention of native land.
I challenge them to tell the nation and the indigenous people why it was left out of their first draft?
What were they thinking when they did this? Tell us, we would like to know.
special entrenched provisions in earlier constitutions gave secure safeguards for Fijian land ownership, and ownership by the Banaban community of Rabi and the indigenous people of Rotuma.
The 1997 constitution protection covered the Fijian Affairs Act, Fijian Development Fund Act, Native Lands Act, Native Lands Trust Act, Rotuma Act, Rotuma Lands Act, Banaban Lands Act, Banaban Settlement Act, and the Agricultural Landlord and Tenant Act. They could only be altered after three readings of a Bill for change in the House of Representatives and the Senate. Motions for the second and third readings had to be carried in each chamber.
As an additional safeguard nine of the 14 members of the Senate appointed by the Great Council of Chiefs had to be supportive of change on the third reading.
Alterations to the Agricultural Landlord and Tenant Act also required three readings with the votes of two thirds of the members in each House. Votes of nine of the 14 GCC senators were also needed.
The people’s draft constitution of the Yash Ghai Commission, that was scrapped by the regime, also listed entrenched laws – iTaukei Lands Act cap 113, iTaukei Land Trust Act cap 134, Rotuma Lands Act cap 138, Banaban Lands Act cap 124, and Agricultural Landlord and Tenant Act cap 270.
All these carefully thought-out and thorough safeguards were thrown out, without the permission of the INDIGENOUS Fijians.
The regime also claimed to have abrogated the 1997 constitution which contained these protections.
It has scrapped the Senate and got rid of the GCC; so they are now out of the way THUS MAKING IT EASIER TO ENACT DECREES TO FUTHER THEIR AMBITIONS.
I challenge Voreqe Bainimarama and Aiyaz-Khaiyum to tell us why they did away with these strong defences of our land? They have NEVER given us a proper explanation.
Perhaps they will again accuse SODELPA of lying when we keep reminding the indigenous people of what they did to those entrenched provisions.
So what action did they take to replace what they had removed?
Fijian land was put into a long list of rights in the Bill of Rights of their constitution.
But of course there is a catch. There nearly always is.
Clause (5) (c) of section 6 of that Bill of Rights means rights can be limited if this is necessary. In plain language that means the indigenous rights to land can be undermined by an act of parliament AGREED TO BY A SIMPLE MAJORITY.
To underscore what we are saying, I refer here to an expert analysis by the Citizens Constitutional Forum that concludes that the Bainimarama-Khaiyum Bill of Rights offers no real protection to Fijian landowners.
I challenge Voreqe Bainimarama and Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum to explain their limitation clause.
Spell... it... out... please.
I ask them “will you once more resort to your empty policy of accusing me and SODELPA of telling lies?”
Voreqe Bainimarama’s famous retort that Fijian land is well protected by his constitution’s requirement for any changes to be subjected to a referendum does not stand up to scrutiny.
It is upside-down logic, making no sense in the circumstances to which I refer.
Remember that it has been said that the Bainimarama-Khaiyum charter may be the most difficult constitution in the world to amend.
The amendments we seek are for Fijian land to be comprehensively protected as it was in the 1970, 1990 and 1997 constitutions.
Under their constitution it would be very, very hard to achieve this because they have made it very hard to alter. that’s because they don’t want to change any part of it.
That is now the problem as we take up the struggle to secure our land rights.
don’t be fooled by Voreqe Bainimarama’s statements about a referendum.
It is nonsense.
Another issue comes into play.
In a referendum, all registered voters would have their say on questions relating to Fijian land ownership. How can this be? How legal would that be? How right would that be? There would surely be no precedent anywhere in the world for it.
There is a further big flaw.
Fijian land does not belong to individuals. It is owned by groups of people. This was recognized in the 1997 constitution which had a full chapter dedicated to group rights. Much of this concentrated on Fijian land and the protective provisions for it.
But there is no mention at all in the regime’s constitution of indigenous group ownership of land. This integral aspect of indigenous culture has simply been erased.
On whose authority was this done? The chiefs as a body did not agree; the people did not agree.
We will be forgiven for seeing this as another direct assault on our indigenous ways and traditions.
I said that a move to control our land had already begun. The prime vehicle for this is the Land Use Decree – which is like a super law - and its Land Bank.
They severely violate landowner rights.
Some owners have already decided to place their land in the Land Bank, which competes with the Native Land Trust Board.
Once they have made that decision their owners’ rights are virtually lost to them.
The super decree gives sweeping powers to the prime minister to make decisions on land to be utilized under it.
Understand that the power conferred on the prime minister is very dictatorial. The decree overrides all other laws, including the Native Land Trust Act and ALTA.
It is the first time that so much power over native land has been given to an individual.
We are constantly told by Bainimarama-Khaiyum that everyone in Fiji is equal. This is not true. The Land Use Decree imposes a state of inequality on indigenous landowners.
It cannot be challenged in court which means the owners could not judicially question the validity or legality of a lease or any lease conditions or take any grievances to court.
This discrimination against the landowners is itself a serious breach of landowner rights. It is also in breach of Section 26 of the regime’s constitution which states that every person is equal before the law and has the right to equal protection, treatment and benefit of the law.
In our view, the Decree makes the indigenous people second class citizens by denying them certain legal rights.
Freehold landowners are not treated in this way.
This discrimination must stop!
It is not evident to us how the consent procedures for depositing Fijian land in the Land Bank actually work. But it appears that only 60 per cent support of the owners is required.
What is clear is that powers are effectively taken away from the Native Land Trust Board. This undermines the board’s statutory responsibility to protect the best interests of indigenous landowners and resource owners.
The Prime Minister, not the owners, decides how land shall be used.
He can also make regulations under the Decree - with no apparent provision for the landowners to have a say in this. Leases can be issued by the Prime Minister for up to 99 years.
We will find out how many 99 year leases, and other leases, have been issued; to whom they have been issued and under what conditions.
we ask, How would land be returned to the landowners after 99 years, if by then it includes a massive list of assets constructed on it?
How would the landowners find the huge amounts of money to purchase such assets?
We see a very real risk that land would revert to lease in perpetuity as a consequence of the likely inability of the traditional owners to purchase assets on it.
Voreqe Bainimarama has also taken over the chairmanship of the NLTB.
This fits his strategy of gaining maximum control of native land. He wants this because he enjoys that kind of power.
All the very troubling and unprecedented circumstances I have outlined are also in contravention of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples 2007 and ILO Convention 169.
Fiji has not signed the UNDRIP and the Bainimarama regime has been silent on why it has not done so. What is clear, is his regime does not intend to sign the UNDRIP as they are hell bent on undermining indigenous Fijian identity and aspirations as clearly spelt out in Khaiyum’s thesis. This so-called academic paper is the foundation for all the policies for the elimination of indigenous Fijian identity. We will expose this truth to all indigenous people of this country and for them to be aware of the systemic and comprehensive policies of this regime to disenfranchise them.
I declare to you now that SODELPA will not rest until the wrongs I have described have been righted and indigenous people once more have full protection for their customary ownership of land.
In Government, we will abolish the Land use Decree and the Land Bank.
In association with other parties we will explore legal means for establishing a constitution that reflects the popular will.
The mandate of the people is supreme. They possess the sovereign power of the nation.
We will strengthen and reorganise the NLTB to ensure its management and its organization is fully equipped to meet the needs of the owners and of the nation.
The Fijians have long acknowledged that they have a responsibility to make land available for the development of Fiji.
Additionally we will ensure that the chair of the NLTB is chosen by landowners in consultation with the government. We will review the present system of distribution of lease money which has disempowered our Turaga ni Mataqali, Turaga ni Yavusa and Turaga I Taukei and is effectively destroying the communal foundation of indigenous society.
My friends, last week we were told by Voreqe Bainimarama about the virtues of “green growth”.
He assured us that this environmentally sound model of development is best for Fiji and the region.
We don’t disagree.
Our manifesto contains a number of proposals for ensuring a clean environment, responding to climate change and embracing principles of sustainability.
We say that the environmental record of Voreqe Bainimarama’s regime is very bad, despite his advocacy of “green growth”.
He has rarely made public comments on environmental problems that concern different communities.
Consider for a moment the dispute at Draunibota Bay in Lami where a proposed heavy industrial scheme threatens mangroves and other marine resources.
I have met with the local vanua Navakavu, and the i qoliqoli owners, who oppose the industrial rezoning.
I share their concerns and those of all the residents.
The vanua complain about the lack of open consultations on what is proposed. Their voice is not being heard. This is not consistent with policies of “green growth” and good, accountable governance.
Our party calls on voreqe bainimarama to use his unfettered authority to halt the industrial zoning plan and work with the people to ensure their wishes are met.
If he does not come out publicly in support of the vanua, and the other residents, then he can hardly claim to be a champion of the environment.
I assume that by now he is following up on a report by one of his permanent secretaries about soil erosion caused by intense logging and other unsustainable practices. Again, this is not consistent with the commitment by his regime to conservation and responsible development.
He should break his silence as well on the major damage caused to mangroves during his watch. What exactly is his policy? Why was the destruction allowed to happen? SODELPA and the country would like to know.
SODELPA will enact policies to convert designated mangrove areas into marine reserves and sanctuary. This is critical for my province of Rewa which has seen a steady decline in mangroves. Mangroves are critical for marine life and for sustainability of marine ecosystem and an effective barrier to the effects of climate change. It is also a source of food for hundreds of people.
Members of SODELPA and friends, WE have been traveling widely to prepare for our election campaign.
Last week WE VISITED the northern division.
Frankly I was shocked at the state of affairs in Vanua Levu. We intend to soon tell the nation what we saw, what we experienced, and what we intend to do about it.
The bottom line is that the regime’s Look North Policy is a farce and a failure.
But for today I wish to pay tribute to the people we met.
They are the salt of our earth…kind, friendly and hard working.
Our supporters in Vanua Levu are filled with zeal for our cause.
One memory stays with me; it haunts me and inspires me.
At WAILEVU IN LABASA WE spent time with the local Indo Fijian community. They were very welcoming, very gracious.
I could sense their expectation that I and SODELPA could do something to help them improve their lives, to make conditions better.
I reminded myself that this campaign is not just about winning. It is about what happens after that – the formation of a government that will help our citizens.
It is about being worthy of the faith people have in us to restore, reconstruct and rehabilitate Fiji.
It struck me that we are all victims of the coups that have weakened and broken this land.
The Indo-Fijians felt the brunt of earlier upheavals – the fear, the stress, the insecurity, and sometimes, the brutality.
This time the indigenous people have been at the receiving end.
We too have experienced our own coup nightmare. This has given me a fuller appreciation of the ordeals suffered by the Indo-Fijians.
I know others feel the same.
HOWEVER, I FEEL THAT COUPS ALSO BRING BLESSINGS AS In a way there is a now a new bond between us. It is a bond of our common humanity forged in the uncertainty, the turmoil and repression of military force and illegal dictatorship.
Now is the time for us all to hold hands, and look after each other.
We have to put a stop to the unlawful takeover of elected governments.
We must teach our children about the rule of law and the importance of building understanding and trust between us.
At the beginning of these remarks, I highlighted some of the key issues emerging in the election.
But there is one that surpasses them all.
We have to remove the dictatorship of Voreqe Bainimarama and Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum. It is a product of the kind of force which has done so much damage to Fiji.
For us to cure the ills of unemployment, poverty, the high cost of living, poor services and Fijian fears over their land, Bainimarama-Khaiyum must be voted out.
If they get back into government, we can expect the same kind of dictatorial thinking and intolerance which has marked and marred the last eight years.
They will be bent on exercising maximum control over us through the powers given to them in their constitution and their laws.
THIS IS A REMINDER TO US ALL ESPECIALLY THE NOMINEES. yOU ARE THERE TO SERVE THE PEOPLE AS SERVANT LEADERS. TRUST IN AND RELY ON THE LORD ALWAYS.
So rally and unite now for our freedom;
rally and unite for truth and justice,
and for work and food on the table!
Let us march forward to victory and unity!
TOGETHER WE CAN, TOGETHER WE WIN!
Let us choose democracy over dictatorship!
Thank you for listening and May God bless us all!