Madam Speaker, I rise to speak in this august Chamber for the first time and it is a great privilege and honour to be able to do so. I owe that privilege to the people of this great nation, who have entrusted in me their trust to be their voice in this august Parliament. I wish to assure them of my undivided loyalty, to living up to their trust, that I will represent their interests and needs first, before my own.
I aspire to live up to the expectations of our people and make meaningful contributions in this Parliament. I also aspire to maintain, if not improve the high standards set by my predecessors, all who have walked along the corridors of Parliament since Fiji gained Independence are leaders of great vision!
Madam Speaker, at this juncture, it would be remiss of me to go on any further without first congratulating you on your ascension as Fiji’s first female Speaker of Parliament. In fact, you are the first female to hold such a position in the South Pacific. I join those who have already spoken before me, and the many others who will after me, to tell you that this is indeed a great day for all women in this part of the region. It signifies the recognition that women can equally be leaders in our society and that there can no longer be any excuse to tolerate inequality of gender. On that note Madam, well done and all the best for the next four years.
I wish at this point, to pay tribute to a number of people. Firstly, my campaign team in Macuata. I was blessed to share a common vision with a team of great men and women who like me, believed in a greater calling for Fiji; a nation that recognises Fiji is at a crossroad; a calling to determine the direction to travel to ensure we each a desirable destination for our young nation. First to my campaign team, party agents, financial members, supporters, family and friends, thank you for the common purpose and endless days and nights spent together under the hot sun and in the still of the night. For days, speaking our thoughts and aspirations for the interests of our people and the many others, and with the blessing of God decided that I was believable enough to be their representative in this august Parliament.
My special thanks to the vanua of Caumatalevu; the vanua of Cakaunitabua; the vanua of Lalagavesi and the Turaga Bale Na Tui Cakau, for his outstanding leadership that has held Vanua Levu together.
Madam Speaker, I am also grateful to my colleagues and mentors at the Vitivou Forum. who have since 2012 recognised my talents and have encouraged and guided me along my journey. To all of you, my warmest vinaka vakalevu.
You do not get to this place without stalwart support from many quarters, but there is one source of support more important than any other - your family. My wife, Rasala, who has been a bedrock of my life for nearly ten years. I thank God for her life and the inspiration she has provided to me at all times. I also acknowledge our children, whom I look at daily and remind myself as to why I must fight; to ensure that they have a better future and one where they will have an equal opportunity at the starting line; a future that is void of racial intolerance and minute political bickering; a future in which indigenous Fijian aspirations are acknowledged, nurtured and supported; a future in which the business skills and the prowess of Fijians of other ethnicities now a part of our great nation are learned, and passed on to all our communities for the benefit of a shared learning and adoption.
Madam Speaker, in 1951, a baby girl was born. She was the fourth and the youngest child of Ratu Tevita Ranuinui and Anasimeci Ramunua of Wasavulu, Labasa. The baby girl was born into a family of provincial administrators, with her father being the Turaga Buli Labasa at the time, and she grew up with the strict disciplines of the Colonial era. She was much loved and taught the disciplines of life, of being a good Christian. She was taught to be a lady and a good mother. The baby girl was Elina Ranuinui. Elina later became a school teacher, a good seamstress, she was the best cook in my mind, and a well acknowledged Sunday school teacher. She was an unparalleled role model and motivator. She was my mother and she passed away just four months ago.
Madam Speaker, I acknowledge and pay tribute to her today. She is the reason why I am here. Her privileged and chiefly upbringing never influenced her to be anything less, other than a humble, practical woman, who ensured that her only child in her later years was taught all she herself was taught. For that, I will forever be indebted and humbled. It was her that brought me onto this path. Even whilst dressing me as a young boy for Sunday school in my best white, she would tell me that one day, I will be a political leader.
Since those early days, I have been fascinated by politics. Tragic but true, I have dreamt of standing in this very place and pleading the interests of our people many times. At 32 years of age, I am here and I look forward to your guidance and that of the honourable Members to be a representative, deserving of our people.
Madam Speaker, there comes a time in the history of nations when their people must become fully reconciled to their past, if they are to go forward with confidence to embrace their future. Our nation, Fiji has reached such a time. That is why Parliament is assembled here today, to deal with a new democratic process of taking Fiji forward.
Fijians are a passionate and practical lot. For us, symbolism is important but unless the great symbolism of reconciliation is accompanied by an even greater substance, it is little more than a clanging gong. It is not sentiments that makes history but our actions.
I humbly stand here today, firstly to offer an apology to the honourable Prime Minister and to the Interim Government for my own role in Fiji’s political history. I had and still have strong political aspirations, especially for the things that an iTaukei and a freedom fighter like me holds so dear. Though my political dreams were clear, like any human, I am also vulnerable to error of judgement and I know that I cannot undo some things I have already done. However, I can atone for some of it by seeking forgiveness and moving forward.
It is my hope therefore, to be acknowledged as equally useful as all other honourable Members without stain or prejudice, based on the principle of interpretation as stipulated in Section 3 (1) of the Constitution of the Republic of Fiji, which promotes the spirit of human dignity, equality and freedom.
I am here, Madam Speaker to appeal to this Parliament to reach out to each other and heal our past wounds. Learn from it and help build a better future for all our children.
I fondly remember today that there are times when in our human frail bodies, we feel there is no other reason to go on. The human spirit offers you restitution in the form of the briefest of smiles. I take an example here of one of the darkest periods in my life. As I languished in my prison cell, and when it seemed like my conviction was pushed to the limits, I would see a glimmer of humanity in one of the guards. Perhaps just for a second, but it was enough to reassure me and keep me going.
It is this human affection, whether intended or not, that I ask that we exercise without boundaries in this august Parliament. If Fiji is to progress and for us to be long remembered as the 50 Members of Parliament who really united Fiji, we must break all barriers and embrace each other’s differences. After all, we are here in Fiji to stay. Just as the quote goes, “A man’s goodness is a flame that can be hidden but never extinguished.” I plead to each one of us to reach across the racial, cultural and religious barriers and make this work. I am inspired to say; “Yes we can and yes, we will.”
Madam Speaker, I appeal to our honourable Prime Minister, in particular this afternoon, to help us all move forward. I appeal, on behalf of all political prisoners, to reconcile our differences, embrace our shared humanity and moments of vulnerabilities and to forgive each other. Saint Paul, said “conscience I say, why is mine judge by another.”
I have no doubt in my mind that many who have now lived behind bars for a large part of their lives have discovered the Kingdom of God and have renewed their spiritual minds. They seek an opportunity to move on with their lives, end a life of an outlaw and reunite with their families.
Madam Speaker, I plead with the honourable Prime Minister today, to end the pain and sorrow silently suffered by families, individuals, communities by creating a policy for national reconciliation. It does not have to be immediate, but the work towards the reality can start now.
The words of the late Nelson Mandela is so true when he stated that, “A man who takes away another man’s freedom is a prisoner of hatred. He is locked behind the bars of prejudice and narrow-mindedness. I am not truly free, if I am taking away someone else’s freedom, just as surely as I am not free when my freedom is taken away from me. The oppressed and the oppressor alike are robbed of their humanity.”
Madam Speaker, freedom is indivisible, the chains on any Fijian were the chains on all of them. The chains on all Fijians were the chains on one.
Madam Speaker, I now wish to draw our attention to the economic and social development of our nation. Our challenge for the future is to embrace a new partnership between indigenous and non-Indigenous Fijians. The core of this partnership, for the future, is the closing of the gap between races on economic achievement, business success, educational achievement and employment opportunities.
It is no coincidence that we have broken down social barriers, at the same time we have economic ones. For example, in the last 40 years, the role of women in the workplace has grown enormously, as signified by your appointment Madam Speaker. Likewise, the leading of the battalion march at Friday’s Fiji Day military parade by a number of women. Fiji has also become much more ethnically diverse.
We have a vibrant multi-cultural, multi-religious community and significant population from India, China, Korea, Australia, New Zealand, the Pacific, amongst other nations. When it comes to economic issues, my instinct is for open markets, free competition and as little State interference as possible. And when it comes to social issues, I start with the same preference. I am a believer in the rights of the individual and I am suspicious of the State seeking to exercise control over personal choices. Of course, it is not always easy to brand an issue as social or as economic, and it is hard to get good social outcomes unless you have the money to spend on them.
This brings me to address His Excellency the President’s statements in opening this session of Parliament. In His Address, His Excellency outlined the many plans Government intends to implement for our people, come 2015.
We have a vibrant multicultural, multi religious community and significant populations from India, China, Korea, Australia, New Zealand, the Pacific, amongst many other nations.
When it comes to economic issues, my instinct is for open markets, free competition and as little state interference as possible. When it comes to social issues, I start with the same preference. I am a believer in the rights of the individual and I am suspicious of the state seeking to exercise control over personal choices. Of course, it is not always easy to brand an issue as social or as economic and it is hard to get good social outcomes unless you have money to spend on them.
This brings me to address His Excellency the President’s Address in opening this session of Parliament. In his address, His Excellency outlined the many plans Government intends to implement for our people come 2015. I applaud the plans that will see $10 million, for example, directed at assisting indigenous Fijians improve their land. May I add, Madam Speaker, that this was a common manifesto item with SODELPA and the other political parties had offerings on land matters as well.
This is an area we all recognise that needs our concerted support and cooperation. However, without restrain Madam Speaker, I ask that as policy makers, we devise ways to ensure that the funding truly benefits the people it is intended for. The shape and form in which this assistance will reach our people, I hope will be properly thought out. The way forward is land innovation and productivity.
In my own personal experience, administering the land leases of our people in the Tikina of Labasa has been a challenge, especially with the recognised fact that indigenous Fijians are often asset rich but cash strapped thus the capital needed to allow us to develop subdivisions, or to implement commercial farming has almost always been non-existent. The funding provided thus by government often just reaches the implementation phase of infrastructural requirements. These have so often required developers to become a necessary part of the development and further, under the current iTaukei Land Trust Board Act, this acerbates the challenge. The developer owns the lease because of his capital and the land owner is confined to just receiving lease money twice a year. A framework must be adopted to enable financial literacy training, skilled training and embody the right style of leadership to steadily move towards indigenous enterprise contribution through industry outputs to be reflected in GDP proportionate to the composition of their indigenous population.
I am compelled to at this stage, to ask that Government considers reviewing policies on business ownerships as well in towns and cities, The lucrative businesses are at present mostly in the hands of Fijians that are not indigenous. Can we please remove the clique that exists in our urban economic spin areas and truly encourage indigenous Fijian participation in business.
I also hold fears that business tycoons from beyond our shores will make huge investments in Fiji and in the process are allowed to control key aspects of commercial operations in this country which hopefully will not extend to some other form of political control. As a business man it is frustrating to be victims of elite tycoon politics, and it would be a sad day for this country if international investors take some commercial and political control of this country.
His Excellency has outlined the intent of Government to provide the basic needs of water and electricity to the most needy members of our society free of charge and with reduced cost. Government also wants to support the education of our children, our most important assets for our future. Free tuition beginning from kindergarten is similar to the aspiration of the SODELPA party and it recognises the importance of laying a solid foundation for the formative years of our children’s education.
Short of criticising all this giveaway’s for our people that many claimed were vote buying tactics, I will choose to believe that the Government has genuine intent to level the playing field for all communities in Fiji so I will restrain my comments at this stage to a conservative caution on national spending and affordability.
I am motivated to help Fiji a fairer, stronger, more prosperous, more secure, more inclusive nation. To be a voice for rational policy making which recognises some basic realities to remove the mentality of slavery caused by colonisations indirect rule system that affects 3rd world countries.
Madam Speaker, I would like to mention some specific policy areas in which I will be closely monitoring. Relevant to my interest, I will highlight issues that affect our public enterprises, trade and commerce. I intend to promote liberalisation of trade by influencing the Government of the day to give power back to the people.
Madam Speaker, the Government’s expenditure is well above our national revenue, I suspect that Government has no choice but to negotiate the sale of some of its assets. We only sell assets when they are not making any profit. My focus will be for the threshold to be met whereby public enterprises, trade and commerce provide the harmony for the Government to have the ability to repay debt and cut taxes in one end and on the other allow wealth generated from private sector revenues to pay for social services.
My second area of focus is commercialising innovation: moving smart ideas from the laboratory to the marketplace. This means closer ties between research institutions and industry. It means choosing key areas of research where we can build real scale and leverage into a national competitive advantage.
My third area of focus is making Government more efficient and productive. That includes more uses of contestability and contracting out in choosing the providers of services. It means better use of information technology. In the private sector, there is a huge focus on giving customers a simple one click approach to completing a transaction. Where is the one-click mentality in Government?
Let us get serious about evidence based policy, using randomised trials to test whether specific programmes actually work. Let us look at using the price signal more extensively to best allocate scarce resources. I think we need less intrusive regulation which uses the power of incentive to secure outcomes.
Madam Speaker, the prayer of this august House seeks blessings of God on the nation. God’s formula is simple “…where there is unity, God commands his blessing…”
With those words, I wish this august House well in its deliberations. May God bless our people and may God bless the Republic of the Fiji Islands."
"Madam Speaker, I am also grateful to my colleagues and mentors at the Vitivou Forum. who have since 2012 recognised my talents and have encouraged and guided me along my journey. To all of you, my warmest vinaka vakalevu."
1.1 The starting point for this submission is the 1874 Deed of Cession. Prior to the Deed being signed, the territories, lands and waters of Fiji were under the sole authority of the High Chiefs of Fiji. The Deed of Cession transferred governance from the High Chiefs to the British Crown. This transfer of authority was not without certain conditions, one of which was that the rights and interests of the High Chiefs of Fiji were guaranteed under Article 7 of the Deed of Cession.
1.2 Article 7 states, in part, that:
On behalf of Her Majesty, His Excellency Sir Hercules George Robert Robinson promises (1) that the rights and interests of the said Tui Viti and other high chiefs the ceding parties hereto shall be recognized so far as is and shall be consistent with British Sovereignty and Colonial form of government.
1.3 Since Cession, the Chiefs of Fiji have had extensive formal recognition – traditional Fijian ownership and governance has been recognized and protected. More recently, the Great Council of Chiefs (“the GCC”) has been the vehicle by which the rights of the Chiefs have been given national expression. This is the first time, since Cession, that the Paramount Chiefs and leaders of the Fijian community, are facing a real likelihood of the eradication of their traditional administration, representation and governance systems, something that was guaranteed by the Queen of England under the Deed of Cession, and subsequently reflected in successive Constitutions. Such actions would be a breach of the promises contained in the Deed of Cession.
1.4 The Vitivou Forum is the initiative of the three Paramount Confederacy Chiefs. The Fijian administration divides the territory of Fiji into three distinct confederacies, as depicted in the map attached as Annex A. In turn, under each confederacy are 14 provinces, each with their own Provincial Council. Below the Provincial Councils are the District Councils, 189 in total and below these are 1,169 Village Councils.
1.5 The GCC, which exercises powers and responsibilities set out in the 1997 Constitution and the Fijian Affairs Act, is made up of representatives from the Provincial Councils, along with six members appointed by the Minister for Fijian Affairs and a number of ex-officio members.
1.6 Shortly after the 2006 coup, in April 2007, the GCC was suspended while carrying out their roles and responsibilities under the 1997 Constitution. Despite this suspension, the three Paramount Confederacy Chiefs have continued to liaise with each other in an effort to return Fiji to Parliamentary democracy. Numerous efforts, on the part of the Chiefs, including by the late Chairperson of the GCC, were made to engage with the Prime Minister. One meeting was held between the Prime Minister and one of the Paramount Confederacy Chiefs, the Tui Cakau, on the 20th December 2010. Further meetings had been agreed upon but were later abandoned via a public announcement of the Prime Minister. In March 2012, the Great Council of Chiefs was abolished.
1.7 As a result of this suspension of the operation of and the eventual abolition of the Great Council of Chiefs, the Paramount Confederacy Chiefs initiated the establishment of the Vitivou Forum Inc. Ltd. so that the chiefly structure could, on an interim basis, continue to have a national voice until the re-establishment of the GCC or some similar public entity.
1.8 The Vitivou Forum is registered as an incorporated zero capital company. Its objectives are as follows:
a) To bridge the gap of understanding between communities and promote respect for diversity of ethnicity and culture in Fiji through education and the harmonization of traditional and modern values and structures;
b) To ensure the interests of all ethnicities in Fiji are given due consideration;
c) To conduct policy research in economic, social, environmental and cultural matters and work with stakeholders to achieve the requisite outcomes;
d) To advocate and advance understanding in relation to governance models of practices which are based on traditional and customary governance and are accountable, transparent and democratic;
e) To provide for its members an opportunity to pursue spiritual, cultural, social, economic, educational goals and outcomes;
f) To build strategic partnerships with public and private actors at the national, regional and international levels;
g) To cooperate with other networks and organizations within and beyond the region which have similar objectives.