Posts tagged Constitution

STATEMENT FROM THE PRIME MINISTER IN RESPONSE TO THE CATHOLIC ARCHBISHOP

The reported comments by the Catholic Archbishop of Suva that the Constitution deprives Fijians of the right to practice religious beliefs in the public sphere are incorrect.

Nowhere in the 2013 Constitution is there any limitation on expressing religious belief publicly, individually or in a group.

In fact, the Bill of Rights expressly guarantees a Fijian’s right to freedom of religion, conscience and belief and right to freedom of expression.

Section 22(2) clearly states “Every person has the right, either individually or in community with others, in private or in public, to manifest and practice their religion or belief in worship, observance, practice or teaching.” This section could not be any clearer in its protection of the right to practice religion and to talk about and discuss religion in the public sphere.

The Constitution also protects the right of all Fijians to freedom of expression in all aspects of community life, including in the practice of religion. This right is only limited to prevent the spread of hate speech or incitement to violence.

What’s more, the fact that the Archbishop is able to freely discuss the role of religion in public life, as he did in the media today, contradicts the very premise of his argument.

It is also deeply troubling that the Archbishop has demonstrated such a fundamental lack of understanding of the Constitution’s provision for a Secular State. The Archbishop ought to be aware that the principle that underlines any Secular State is that the State cannot favour any specific denomination, belief or religion. A Secular State means that religion is a matter for people to decide for themselves, not for the State to decide for them.

Section 4 of the Constitution establishes the Secular State. It protects the religious liberty of all Fijians in the State, and provides that religion and the State are separate.

In this context, the statement that religious beliefs are personal means that they are not for the state to dictate. It means that the State cannot subscribe to a religious belief, force a religious belief on others, or regard a particular religion as the official religion of the State. Section 4, including the statement that religious beliefs are personal, is similar to the Ghai Draft.

It is very disappointing that someone of the Archbishop’s stature does not appear to have read those provisions of the Constitution in their totality. We fear he is relying on the advise of some who may be deliberately misleading him.

Such comments clearly have the potential to inflame public opinion.  The Archbishop and other religious leaders have a special responsibility not to spread misinformation, and they must uphold that responsibility.

The Assent of the 2013 Fijian Constitution

Fijian Prime Minister Bainimarama’s Speech at the Presidential Assent to the Constitution

Bula vinaka and a very good afternoon to you all.

The term historic is sometimes used a little too freely but not today.

Because this is truly a historic occasion in the life of our nation and will be regarded as such, long after we have all passed into history ourselves.

His Excellency, our President has spoken eloquently about why today is so important.

For the first time, Fiji meets the standards of the world’s great democracies and will join their ranks.

We now have a Constitution that meets the test of a genuine democracy, that upholds the legal and moral basis of a common and equal citizenry without losing individuality or culture.

It’s taken us 43 years and three Constitutions to get here.

But now, finally, it’s happened. And it’s cause for immense celebrations.

This afternoon, I seek your indulgence to reflect on the true meaning of this occasion.

Today marks the completion of the revolution the RFMF and I embarked on six and a half years ago.

That revolution was to put our nation back on track after years of turmoil. To fulfill our vision, at Independence, of a just, vibrant, and multicultural economic powerhouse in the Pacific.

I was a youth of sixteen on that brilliant sunny day – October the 10th 1970 – and clearly recall the surge of pride and optimism that went through everyone when our flag was raised after 96 years of British rule.

We were Fiji, the Way the World should be.  For the first few years, the future looked bright as we led the way to independence for a string of other countries in our region, who looked to us as a beacon – a source of inspiration and a role model.

But unfortunately, there were unscrupulous elements at work.

Elites used their positions – whether in political parties, religious organisations, trade unions, traditional society or business -  to advance their personal interests and entrench their privileges.

So much so that the notion of a just society, of an accountable government, of one nation, was being eroded from within.

Similarly, the justification for the removal of governments in 1987 and 2000 was wrong. It was a concoction by a selfish few, resisting change, who preyed on the misguided and the ignorant. It was the biggest of lies.

Tens of thousands of Fijians suffered and many simply gave up on the country and left. It remains the most shameful episode in our nation’s history and must never be repeated.

The real shame was not just in the countless personal stories of dislocation, discrimination and increased poverty, but the wasted years of development for all Fijians.

It also created a culture of every person for themselves, of loyalty to self rather than the nation-state of Fiji.

History records that I played a significant role in 2000 as commander of the RFMF, bringing the siege of the Parliament to an end, and charging an interim government with the task of rebuilding the nation.

But it too was captive to the same forces of division. And by December 2006, events were spiraling out of control: the integrity of our institutions was at risk, corruption had become endemic, and we were in danger of becoming a failed state.

We had to reset the clock, create “Year Zero.” With men and women of goodwill, we had to rebuild Fiji and put it on a different path, a path of equality and inclusiveness.

We had to end the culture of self-entitlement, corruption and hypocrisy that had taken root to the detriment of ordinary people.

Your Excellency, my fellow Fijians,

Many modern, stable democracies have gone through their own turbulent periods. Some have gone through decades of instability and bloodshed, while others have had a single defining moment. These events changed the course of history. They turned their countries from bastions of elitism and oppression into nations of freedom, equality and true democracy.

The United States has its Bunker Hill and Civil War; France has the storming of the Bastille and the French revolution; Australia, the Eureka Stockade; Britain a bloody history to establish constitutional monarchy.

We Fijians too have had our period of turbulence – our catharsis. Today, however, marks our new beginning. Today, we launch the blueprint for our genuine democracy.

The 2013 Fijian Constitution enshrines principles that are at the heart of all the great liberal democracies – an independent judiciary, a secular state and a wide range of civil, political and socio-economic rights.

Our three previous Constitutions – in 1970, 1990 and 1997 – failed the basic test of genuine democracy. They enshrined the notion that the votes of some people in Fiji were worth more than others, that some people deserved more rights than others. That in order to possess a right, you had to take it away from others.

These constitutions highlighted differences rather than commonalities. Every time we went to vote, we had to stand in separate lines. How could we expect our nation to be united? How could we expect political parties to appeal to all Fijians when the very structures of these constitutions, the very structures of governance, differentiated us?

As a nation, we had lost our way. And I remain convinced that only the most radical intervention was capable of ever turning us around. With the revolution and the new Fijian constitution, our national compass has been reset.

As I said the other day, it has stretched some of our international relationships to the limit. Instead of being willing to listen and understand, some of our oldest friends turned their backs on us.

They sought to damage us with travel bans, erode our attempts to attract the best people to government jobs and boards, jeopardise our ability to borrow money for our development and even tried to torpedo our contributions to UN peacekeeping.

I have to say that this campaign to sabotage our national interests filled me at times with disappointment and dismay. Because these countries chose to support a form of democracy, governance and justice in Fiji that they would never have accepted themselves.

Had they helped us, rather than hindered us, this day might have come sooner. The election might have come sooner.

Surely they realise that this constitution is as democratic and inclusive, or even more so, than anything they have themselves.

To the few voices of skepticism and criticism, I say: read the constitution. You will find that it meets the standards of the most liberal of democracies and international norms and conventions.

Every month that passes we are building the foundations of our new parliamentary democracy. Close to 540,000 Fijians have registered to vote for the 2014 election and four political parties have registered thus far.

As I’ve already pledged, I will subject myself to the will of the Fijian people at the polls before the end of September 2014. It is they who will pass judgment on me and my political party, under this new constitution.

We are now a more just and a more caring nation. Our reforms have strengthened our independent institutions and created new ones to increase accountability and transparency, and to remove systemic corruption.

Our voice in the world has never been stronger. We serve the international community not only through our UN peacekeeping but with our volunteer retirees who are raising standards of education and health in our smaller neighbours.

Your Excellency, my fellow Fijians,

The same optimism that I felt as a 16 year old at Independence I feel again at almost 60. We have a blueprint for a new future, one in which every young person in Fiji today can also share. We need to tap their optimism and idealism to take our country forward.  We need to provide a better future for their children and grandchildren.

On this wonderful day – a day to remember and celebrate – we Fijians can once again be truly proud of ourselves and our beloved country.

God bless Fiji.

Vinaka vakalevu. Thank you.

 

 

Exciting Time for Telecentre Opening

The opening of telecentres around the country comes at a crucial and exciting time in Fiji’s history especially in the lead up to parliamentary elections next year, says Prime Minister Voreqe Bainimarama.

Speaking at the opening of the Lomaivuna High School telecentre, PM Bainimarama said the internet gives the community a new way of staying updated about happenings in Fiji

“It empowers you to make your own decisions, and not rely on second-hand information,” PM Bainimarama said.

“And soon, Fiji will have a new constitution, which will guarantee and protect every person’s right to including housing and sanitation, reasonable access to transportation, adequate food, clean water, a just minimum wage, social security schemes, and education.”

He also highlighted that the new constitution will include the right to economic participation, which means Government must do everything in its power to help people achieve a decent living for themselves and their families, no matter what their occupation.

“These rights cannot be tampered with or weakened in any way. Because Fijians know that different governments have delivered very different results, especially for ordinary people,” PM Bainimarama said.

“This is no longer the case under my Government nor should it be the case in the future.”

PM Bainimarama said government’s most important task was delivering service to people especially providing better access to electricity, clean water, affordable housing, education and transport.

Fijian Prime Minister Opens the Government Community Telecentre in Lomaivuna

Remarks by the PM Bainimarama at his meeting with H.E. Mr Li Keqiang – Premier of PRC

Excellency, Mr. Li Keqiang, Premier of the People’s of the Republic of China

Ni Sa BulaVinaka! Nihao! and Warm Greetings Your Excellency!

It is indeed my privilege to convey my sincere appreciation and gratitude for the invitation extended to visit this great land of the People’s Republic of China. The courtesies that we have been accorded thus far had been splendid and greatly appreciated.

As I had conveyed to His Excellency President Xi Jinping this morning, I am delighted and humbled to learn that I am the First Pacific Island Leader to be granted this honour to set foot on your great country in the recent accessions to the helms of leadership of this great nation. Allow me to personally congratulate Your Excellency on behalf of my Government and the people of the Republic of Fiji to your new leadership role.

I am confident that with your astounding leadership, the People’s Republic of China will rise to greater heights and further strengthen the relationship between our two countries and our peoples.

I also would like to acknowledge the political mutual trust between our two countries which is further manifested in our respect for each other’s sovereignty, territorial integrity and non-interference in internal affairs.

Excellency, I wish to reaffirm that China is indeed an integral component of Fiji’s “Look North Policy”. My visit today is to show Fiji’s commitment in reaffirming our Look North Policy to now FOCUSING and ENGAGING with PRC.

Moreover, I wish to reiterate our continued support for the “One China Policy” and recognise the People’s Republic of China as the sole legal government and Sovereign State of China, with Taiwan Province, an inalienable part of its territory.

Excellency, my Government looks forward to China’s continued support for Fiji’s open and transparent process towards democratic elections in 2014. I would like to reassure you that Fiji is committed to the realisation of its vision of “A Better Fiji for All” through the implementation of Fiji’s Roadmap.

As I speak, my Government is well on its way to completing the required consultations that will see the formulation of a new Constitution which will harness the voices and heartfelt desires of our people. The Constitution will be the culmination of my Government’s reform agenda and consequently pave the way to improved socio-economic development for Fiji.

Excellency, please allow me to thank your Government for its unyielding support and contribution towards Fiji’s socio-economic development. In the recent past, China has played a pivotal role in the completion of major development projects for Fiji, and these include amongst others, the assistance provided to our cane farmers, the fencing of the Presidential residence, the Navuso and Naqali bridges providing better transport access into our rural farming communities and the multi-purpose fishing vessel which further uplifts the fisheries sector and services of our maritime communities.

Excellency, I would like to mention your Government’s generous contribution of the heavy machinery and equipment that are now used by our Military engineers for rural development works. In addition, the donation of the 20 luxury left-hand drive vehicles was timely as it eased operations, leading to the successful hosting of the recent “Group of 77 High Level Panel of Eminent Personalities of the South.”

Your Excellency, my Government also looks forward to your continued commitment towards the completion of current projects, namely, the new Navua Hospital, the Somosomo Mini Hydro Power Station, the Vanua Levu Rice Industry Development Project, and the six (6) Rural Sports complexes. I note that a few of these are at the initial stages and I look forward to the undertaking of the necessary work to progress these further. I urge Your Excellency to hasten the process relating to the sports complexes as we have already identified three (3) sites namely Rakiraki, Vunidawa and Seaqaqa in the two (2) main islands of Fiji.

Furthermore, I would like to briefly discuss two projects of interest. The first is the Fiji Public Rental Housing Project for low cost housing which was contracted to the China Railway Company Number 1 at a cost of FJ$9 million but now halted due to cost over runs to the tune of FJ$20 million. In order for the project to be completed, my Government anticipates the usual support by your Government and may I urge Your Excellency for your kind consideration to settle the balance or convert the total amount into a grant.  This would ensure the completion of the project and guarantee access to affordable housing for Fijians in the lower-income bracket.

Second is the Legalega mushroom project. May I inform Your Excellency that this project was brought to Fiji by H.E President Jinping when he was Vice President. The project is worth FJ$14 million and is earmarked for the western part of Viti Levu, the main island of Fiji. I acknowledge the feasibility study that was undertaken by your Government and we anticipate a positive feedback on this.

Excellency, China is a friend to Fiji and the Pacific, and has been instrumental in facilitating the solidarity of the region. For Fiji, China’s support has been significantly evident in the Melanesian Spearhead Group (MSG) for which I am Chair. With your significant level of support, the peculiarities and the special case for Pacific Islands and small island states are continually advocated in international fora.

To that effect, Fiji in recognition of the challenges being faced by the Region, has been strong in engaging with its Pacific Island neighbours. As a successor to the “Engaging With the Pacific Meeting” (EWTP) in 2012, Pacific Island Leaders agreed to the establishment of the Pacific Islands Development (PIDF). The PIDF will bring together the private sector, governmental institutions and civil society leaders to secure concrete commitments and mobilise action through a green economy.

Excellency, my Government is keen to see China as a strategic development partner in support of this bold initiative that will see the autonomy of the Pacific Island region in mapping its own development pathway. Your Government’s support in the establishment of the PIDF Secretariat will be truly appreciated in this regard.

Excellency, my Government is hopeful that other areas of cooperation will also be enhanced and these include but are not limited to climate change, tourism, cultural engagements, technological transfer, capacity development and renewable energy initiatives.

Excellency, in the commercial sector, an enabling environment has been provided to encourage Chinese businessmen to invest in Fiji.  This has seen a positive growth over the years and has considerably contributed to the Fijian economy. While this has been a welcoming prospect, my Government and the people of Fiji would like to see that all relevant laws and policies are complied with by current and potential investors.

I now take this opportunity to convey to you the well wishes of my Government and my people, for success and good health in your esteemed Premiership and also for China’s continued prosperity.

VinakaVakalevu and Xiexie

PM Bainimarama Congratulations Republic of Marshall Islands

PRIME Minister Voreqe Bainimarama has extended Fiji’s well wishes to the Government and People of the Marshall Islands as they commemorate a milestone in the nation’s political history.

Prime Minister Bainimarama congratulated our Pacific island neighbours as they celebrate today the 34th anniversary marking the signing of the nation’s constitution.

In a note to Marshall Island’s President, Mr Christopher Loeak, Prime Minister Bainimarama said Fiji hoped for the continued progress and prosperity between the two countries.

Commodore Bainimarama reassured the people of the Republic of Marshall Islands that friendly relations between the two countries will continue to prosper and strengthen in the coming years.

Fiji PM Bainimarama Raises Awareness on the Draft constitution to Fijians in PNG

Fijian Prime Minister Voreqe Bainimarama’s Speech at the Opening of Korovisilou Staff Quarters

Bula Vinaka and a very good morning to you all.

It’s wonderful to be in Korovisilou to open the new staff quarters for the local nursing station.

My fellow Fijians, I believe that service delivery is my Government’s most important task – to not just promise better access to health services, electricity, clean water, and roads, but to provide it.

My Government is not like previous governments who were all too eager to make promises to win support, but then who failed to follow through. Our promises represent more than empty words. They represent a firm commitment to deliver.

And with every step, we need to move further and further from the dishonest politics, the corruption and the divisions of our past.

Guided by a new Constitution, we need to continue to move towards a brighter future.

On that note, I am pleased to see that intelligent, thoughtful and vigorous discussion has already begun to take place on the draft Constitution announced last week.

In the next few days, we will also be publishing explanatory notes on each section, laying out what they mean, in order to make it more understandable for ordinary Fijians.

People who believe in good governance, equality under the law, an independent Judiciary, individual liberty, guarantees against state power, and political, civil and socio-economic rights will find much to admire in the draft Constitution.

This is a Constitution for a new Fiji, a Fiji in which the rights of everyone are protected irrespective of the economic status, religion, age or gender.

You might notice, for example, that many of the provisions of the Ghai draft that dealt with women separately have been removed – including that which required a certain number of women to be on a political party’s list of candidates. As a nation we need to encourage more women to get involved in the upcoming elections. But the Constitution should promote equality in all forms, not encourage division of any sort.

You might also note that the draft constitution has not included so-called entrenched provisions. This is because no law should be above parliament, because parliament represents the voice of the people. But this does not mean that property or land ownership will not be protected.

In fact, my Government has given more protection to iTaukei land  ownership than ever before. These new laws that we have introduced are practical, effective, fair amongst members and further guarantees the absolute protection of the rights of the iTaukei not to have their land alienated from them. All of these laws have been introduced without the so called entrenched provisions of the past.

Please do not be misled by certain politicians and NGOs that are trying to sow the seeds of fear and mistrust. This is the sort of old politics that we must not allow to creep back into our national dialogue.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

One of the things I am most happy about is the inclusion of socio-economic rights in the draft constitution for the first time in Fiji’s history. Rights to housing and sanitation, reasonable access to transportation, education, adequate food, clean water, a just minimum wage, social security schemes, health and sanitation. And there are specific rights for children and the disabled.

As we saw in many of the submissions to the Constitutional Commission, these are the issues that matter most in the day-to-day lives of ordinary people. For Fijians, nothing is more important than having these rights protected in the new constitution. For my Government, nothing is more important than making sure these rights are upheld and these needs are provided for.

That is why – after opening a brand new health centre in Bua and an extension to an existing health centre in Rabi two weeks ago – I am so pleased to be here to open the new staff quarters for the Korovisilou Nursing Station.

The Korovisilou Nursing Station was last upgraded in 1965 to cater for the increase in population after the new highway was built through this area.  Since then, this station has made crucial health services available locally.

But 1965 was a long time ago, and the needs of the 3 nurses who work here and the community members who are treated here have changed.

There were no staff quarters to house the nurses. This was not only an inconvenience for them, but it was also a real problem during emergencies when there was no one here and urgent care was required.

So Government has invested more than $325,000 to build a new duplex to provide adequate housing for these nurses who play such an important role in Korovisilou.

And, Ladies and Gentlemen, this is just the beginning. Our plan is to continue to upgrade the Health Centre to meet the needs of the growing population here.

With these words, I would like to thank all those involved in this project, and especially the nurses who serve this community.

I now have great pleasure in declaring the new Korovisilou staff quarters open.

Vinaka vakalevu.

Fijian Prime Minister Voreqe Bainimarama Opens Staff Quarters in Korovisilou