Posts tagged Fiji Constitution

PM Bainimarama – Speech at Opening of the 2013 Certified Practicing Accountants (CPA) Congress

Bula Vinaka and a good morning.

We gather here today at an important juncture of our history – the unveiling yesterday of the new Constitution that will take us to the election next year.

It’s the job of accountants, of course, to take stock of the financial positions of individuals and companies. So I can think of nowhere better than to take stock of the position of our nation at this point and outline where I think we go from here.

It’s a great pleasure to be here in Nadi among you for this conference, which has become an important venue, over the years, to share ideas and improve the quality of the national debate.

By now, most of you will be aware of the major points of the Constitution, that will pave the way for the first genuine democracy in Fiji next year of equal votes of equal value.

I’m very proud of this document. It embodies everything that I envisaged when I set out six and a half years ago to put Fiji on a different path, to put an end to the lost years, the wasted years.

We shared a vision that instead of being mired in communal politics and division, instead of corruption and self interest, instead of unsound economic policies, we would fulfill the dreams of our people at independence that Fiji be an economic powerhouse at the crossroads of the Pacific – a thriving, united beacon for our neighbours and the rest of the world – Fiji, the way the World should be.

Yes, that was the dream in 1970 but along the way, we lost our way. Well now, we’re back on course.

It has been a difficult process and I wish we could have been spared some of the pain. I wish more people – especially some of our neighbours – could have had a better understanding of what we were trying to achieve.

But I’m convinced that for all the challenges, history will eventually judge us favourably. Because our revolution – and that’s what it is – has finally laid the foundations for a fairer, more equal society and the development of a modern, progressive state.

By any measure, I believe the 2013 Constitution meets the standards of any of the world’s great democracies, which incidentally, we intend to become.

Instead of a discriminatory electoral system, we finally have equal votes of equal value – a true level playing field for every Fijian.

Instead of the rights of the elite being entrenched, the rights of every Fijian are entrenched.

Instead of entrenching division, we are a building and strengthening the ability of all of our people – whoever they are – to finally work together as One Nation. One People putting Fiji first.

The Constitution also provides for strong and independent institutions, not a system in which only personalities matter.

I’m especially proud of a provision in this Constitution that may not be at the top of the list for some but may prove, in the long term, to be the most important of all…

And that is the requirement that every primary school child in Fiji be given instruction in how to speak i’Taukei and
Fiji Hindi.

Imagine a new Fiji in which every citizen has a working knowledge of the two main vernaculars, moving freely in and out of each other’s languages, trading stories and jokes.

My Government was determined to break the barrier of schools that were ethnically based and named . Now we go one step further in our vision to create One Fiji by breaking down the barrier of communication.

So this Constitution is more than just a document to get us to the election next year. It is the manifesto of a genuine revolution that we had to have. And I firmly believe that future generations will look back and say “ 2013 was the turning point, when the principle of equality embraced by all the world’s great democracies, was finally embraced in Fiji”.

Like most revolutions, not everyone will agree. But it is a noble cause and we should not apologise for it.

We had to end the long but in the end, rapid decline of our nation, the entrenched corruption, the weakening of our independent institutions, the neglect of our infrastructure, the absence of sound financial and economic management, the entrenching of communal divisions and the overall loss of faith in Fiji that saw a large proportion of our people leave for greener pastures.

We had to destroy the notion that some people were more equal than others. We had to destroy the notion that those born to privilege had special status over the rest simply by right of birth. We had to restore hope for every Fijian – irrespective of their socio-economic background – that better days lie ahead. And that everyone has a place in our national life.

We were determined to create a level playing field for every Fijian and we have. We are determined to create the first genuine democracy in our history and we will. And the document that we released yesterday will take us there.

I’m pleased to report, even after 24 hours, that the response to the final version of the Constitution has been positive. In fact, people have said to me that any country would be proud of it. Because it embodies all of the major principles embraced by any advanced democracy – equality, liberty, an independent judiciary, a Bill of Rights. Plus accountability and transparency provisions that Fiji has never had and will guarantee the better standard of governance that we all know Fiji needs and deserves.

It hasn’t been an easy process. We’d all hoped that the Ghai Commission would give us a blueprint that was workable, achievable and affordable. Instead, we were presented with a document that entrenched privilege and provided us with layers of governance, bureaucracy and red tape that we didn’t need.

So we unashamedly set about formulating a Draft Constitution that incorporated the best of the Ghai Draft and which we then took to the people in a series of consultations around the country, inviting them to give us their views on what the final version should contain.

We received 1093 written submissions and countless verbal suggestions, as my ministers and I toured the country speaking to ordinary Fijians and hearing about their concerns.

They told us they wanted certain changes. They especially said they wanted the final version to contain specific provisions that guarantee and strengthen the protection of I’Taukei, Rotuman and Banaban land. And to also strengthen the rights of those many Fijians who lease land from others.

They asked and we listened. Those provisions are now entrenched in the final version of the Constitution. We have provided ordinary people with the security they requested. And the liars and the scaremongers who exploited their fears for their own base political purposes have been exposed.

Where do we go from here? Well, of course, to the election next year. I’m always bemused to read and hear that it will never happen. That Bainimarama will never give up power. That it’s all a cruel trick. As each month progresses, we are answering these critics not with words but with deeds. Each block is gradually being put into place to fulfill the promises that we made and we will honour. You have my guarantee of that.

We do not make any decisions for short-term political gain. We make decisions for the long term benefit of every Fijian.

Before September 30th, 2014, I will subject myself to the nation’s will under the provisions of the document we unveiled yesterday. I will form a political party and my party will submit itself to the collective will of the 540 thousand or so Fijians who have already registered for the elections.

We will fight a battle of ideas with our opponents, who were offered a briefing on the Constitution yesterday and didn’t show up. That contest will be free and fair. And we will stand on our record and on the many reforms we still plan for Fiji.

When will I launch the new party? When I’m ready. Because right now, I am concentrating not on my own political fortunes but on the fortunes of the Fijian people, just as my government has for the past six and a half years.

We aren’t just promising better basic services to ordinary people like previous governments, we are delivering them. Better access to education, health, housing, transport, electricity, water, telecommunications, government services, legal aid. Better roads, better sporting facilities. That is my priority and the priority I have set my Ministers every waking hour of every day.

I appeal to the business community to match the Government’s commitment to higher standards of propriety and accountability. For the first time, our new Constitution establishes an Accountability and Transparency Commission that will cover all public office holders.

They’ll also be subjected to a new Code of Conduct and we will be ruthless in enforcing it. We want that same transparency and accountability in the private sector. That means an end to the shady deal, the nod and a wink, the “you scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours” mentality that has long been a feature of too much of Fijian commercial life.

Ladies and Gentlemen, we must stop these practices.

We also have a vision of Fiji punching above its weight in the region and the World. Our leadership of the Melanesian Spearhead Group, of the Pacific Small Island Developing States, of the G77 – the biggest voting bloc at the UN – of the world’s peak body for sugar.

Our large contribution to UN peacekeeping – keeping watch over vulnerable men, women and children for more than three decades in troubled parts of the world. Our ambition to be the economic hub of the Pacific – to lead our neighbours into a common market. All this isn’t for ego or to make us feel good. It’s because we are determined for Fiji to fulfill its promise – to fulfill its destiny.

Ladies and Gentlemen, we are no longer in decline. We matter. And together, we can make a difference in our region and the world. We are prepared to serve, not only the world through our peacekeeping efforts but our smaller and more vulnerable neighbours. We can be proud that even as we address our own problems, we are still capable of sending our retired teachers, nurses and other professionals to boost standards of education and health in those countries. Because Fijians deliver. Fijians care.

At home, our many reforms over the past few years are starting to produce results. In recent days, we’ve all been buoyed by the news of a more buoyant economy. Projected economic growth will be one of the highest we’ve experienced. And whatever the real figure proves to be, there’s no doubting that there is a new mood in the country, a new wave of optimism about our economic prospects because of the policies of my Government. The tax cuts and investment incentives have helped. But people start spending and investing when they have confidence. And confidence in Fiji – which was once in short order – has not only rebounded but reached new heights.

We do not intend to rest on our reforms. We must continue them. There is still too much corruption, too much tax evasion, too much waste. Business still labours under far too much red tape. Some of our trade unionists still haven’t grasped the reality of 21st century labour relations. We must all work together to increase productivity, reduce inefficiency and provide the investment climate in which real jobs are created and sustained. And sustainable improvements in working terms and conditions are achieved.

And so, ladies and Gentlemen, I ask everyone in this room to commit themselves anew to Government, the private sector and employees working hand in hand to improve our economic performance and the lives of all Fijians.

I commend the final version of the 2013 Constitution to you and encourage you all to familiarize yourselves with its provisions. When the accountants among you do your sums, I’m sure you’ll find that it adds up to a sound blueprint for a new Fiji, a better Fiji – And for the first time in Fijian history – a credible and genuine framework for the achievement of true democracy.

I wish you well in your deliberations.

Vinaka vakalevu. Thank you

Fiji PM Bainimarama – Radio Transcript of Interview with Radio Tarana Journalist

RADIO TRANSCRIPT OF INTERVIEW BETWEEN FIJI PRIME MINISTER & RADIO TARANA JOURNALIST SANJESH NARAIN

Fri 26th July, 2013

1. Recently you have attended a number of International meets, do you get any feedback from leaders attending the meet and what do they say, are they happy with the way Fiji is progressing?

Yes, Sanjesh, I’ve just come back from a South-South meeting in Hong Kong, before that I was in the Solomons, in Russia, China, New Caledonia, PNG and I can tell you that on every single one of those visits, the feedback was very encouraging. I always explain where we are going, the election in September 2014, the more than half a million people who have registered, the Constitution that we’re finalising, the reforms we are making to create an equal and fairer society. Next year, Fiji is going to get the first genuine democracy in the country’s history of one person, one vote, one value and no legal enforcement of ethnic voting.

I find that most people I meet are impressed by that. So we will keep telling our story and it’s a good story to tell. We are building a new democracy, a better democracy, a country where everyone has the same chance to get on, and eventually that will sink in.

2. On your official trip to Russia, the Russian Foreign Minister has called on the International community to let Fiji choose it’s own path, was the Russian president supportive of the path Fiji has chosen?

I met both the Russian Prime Minister and his Foreign Minister and yes, they’ve been very supportive. You have to appreciate that the international community has been having trouble getting countries to send UN peacekeepers to the Golan Heights. Some of these countries have pulled out, Fiji has gone in. And that’s appreciated by the Russians and everyone else.

It’s no secret that they’re a big player in the Middle East and they’ve offered to help us. That’s great. Because we’ve gone in there to do a job that a lot of other people don’t want and that is to keep the peace. As I’ve said to my troops, this is a noble cause. There’s nothing more honourable than keeping ordinary people safe in a troubled place. We’ve been doing it for the past three decades and we’re going to keep doing it because it’s our contribution to the world.

Fiji punches above its weight and we’re proud of that. The Russians and everyone else can see it and, of course, they’re supportive. The Russian Foreign Minister came to Fiji last year and he can see what we’re trying to do, that we ARE taking a new path. So, of course we should be allowed to choose that path. It’s a better path.

3. While speaking at the Solomon Islands Independence day celebrations you said Fiji also faced many challenges such as corruption, discrimination etc are you satisfied with what you and your Govt. have achieved so far in terms of getting rid of corruption and bringing about Unity in the country?

Look, I’m not going to pretend we’ve got corruption beaten. You have to keep beating it, keep rooting it out. I’m a bit concerned actually that we’re seeing corruption rearing its head again. We’re getting stories of payoffs and bribes and nepotism – people giving business or jobs to their relatives. And believe me, we’re onto it. I’ve got zero tolerance for corruption because it eats away at the fabric of the nation. The important thing is that for the first time in the history of Fiji, we set up formal structures to deal with corruption. We’ve got FICAC – the Fiji Independent Commission Against Corruption – and anybody can lodge a complaint with FICAC and we encourage them to do so. So this fight never ends, just as it never ends in New Zealand or Australia. It’s a fight against human nature.

With unity and discrimination, it’s a different story Sanjesh; we have ended formal discrimination in Fiji, the laws that discriminated against certain people because of race or because they are women. That’s gone. But that doesn’t always mean that attitudes have changed. And I think that wiping out discrimination might take a generation of two because it means changing people’s attitudes.

We’re doing it in the schools. We’ve abolished race-based schools. And I tell you, there’s nothing more pleasing for me than to go to these schools and see kids of all races playing happily together. That’s the new Fiji. And that’s what is also building unity. One Nation, one Fiji. Our people working together as one. It’s happening more and more and it’s wonderful to see.

4. Are you concerned with the conditions put forward by Australia and NZ before giving assistance for 2014 elections, do you think assistance should be apolitical?

Look, I’m not interested in conditions, in being told how to run our elections. They will be free, they will be fair, but we will decide how they will be run. In fact, we’ve set our own conditions. If you want to help us run a successful election, that assistance must be apolitical. In other words, not biased in favour of anyone, me included.

We’ve actually had a team here that includes someone from the New Zealand Electoral Office, the Commonwealth and the European Union working with the Minister Responsible for Elections to assess our needs. And we’re about to place ads in Fiji and overseas for a Supervisor of Elections. The Elections Commission will be completely independent. In fact, I’m happy to see a distinguished expert from overseas come in. It might help convince the doubters that we’re serious. Whoever wins this is going to win this fair and square. And this has always been my attitude.

5. The Needs assessment team has started assessing what the country needs to conduct successful 2014 elections, despite all this some leaders are still saying there is doubt elections will happen, Chaudhry said in an interview that Govt. might not conduct elections until 2020 and NZ first party leader Winston Peters while launching Late Michael Greens book said he doesn’t think elections will be free and fair, what is your take on this?

Sanjesh, my take on this is that it doesn’t matter what these critics say. It’s the same old bleat from the same tired old faces. I repeat. We are going to deliver a free and fair election in Fiji by September 2014. It will be the first genuinely democratic election in the country’s history. We have cut out the cancer of discrimination that has always held us back. We are building a new Fiji, a better Fiji, for everyone. I’ve promised that and I will deliver.

6. You’re still refusing to accept an Australian High Commissioner. What’s your relationship with Australia right now.

Sanjesh, let’s just get this straight. We have no problem with the Australian people. We love them. Always have, always will. They come here in their hundreds of thousands and we’ve got tens of thousands of Fijians in Australia. But we’ve got a big problem with the Australian Government because they don’t treat us with consideration and respect. And I can assure you it’s the same with all the Melanesian countries. On the surface, things might seem fine but we think – quite honestly – that Australia always puts its interests first and tries to tell us ALL what to do.

With Fiji, they’re still trying to damage our interests because we didn’t do what they ordered – to have an immediate election after 2006 that would have solved nothing. We wanted a real democracy, not the racially-weighted sham we had before. And we wanted to reform a system that was basically sending the country backwards and tackle the corruption that was destroying us. Far from being understanding and supportive, Australia chose to punish us.

They’ve tried to damage us at the United Nations, to get our peacekeepers sacked, they stopped us getting loans from the Asian Development Bank and the World Bank. Sorry, these are not the acts of a friend. So we went out into the world and got new friends and if the Aussies politicians don’t like it, too bad.

I’m not going to accept an Australian High Commissioner in Fiji until the Australian Government stops trying to damage us. Now obviously, there will come a time when the relationship is properly restored and I guess that will be when we have the election next year. Great. But I can tell you that if I win the election, we can rebuild the relationship but it won’t be the same relationship. It won’t be Fiji kowtowing to Canberra. We want a genuine partnership with genuine friends – governments that treat us as equals and with respect. We might be small but our vote at the UN has the same weight as Australia’s and anyone else who isn’t one of the five permanent members of the Security Council.

So I’m always hoping for a good relationship with Australia but I really think that will only come when there’s a change in the mindset of Australia’s politicians. When they realise that the days of treating us like inferiors are over. And I think the asylum seeker crisis is a good example of Canberra’s overbearing attitude.

7. What do you think about Australia’s deal with PNG to take the asylum seekers arriving by boat and resettle them in PNG?

Not much, I can tell you. Think about it. This is an Aussie problem that shouldn’t have a Melanesian solution. The Labor Government in Australia abolished John Howard’s tough line against arrivals that kept the people smugglers out of business. Blind Freddy could see what was going to happen.

45,000 asylum seekers have made it to Australia because Labor opened the floodgates. For me, the worst part about it has been watching hundreds of people die at sea because the people smugglers put them on boats that were unseaworthy. They are evil but the Australian Labor Government created the market in the first place. Now, it’s a political problem for Labor because they’re about to go to an election. What do they do? They say, “oh let’s dump these people in Melanesia. Doesn’t matter that these people don’t know anything about Melanesia. Let’s just send them there to save our political skins”.

I’m not going to criticise my Melanesian brothers in Papua New Guinea for doing this deal. That’s up to them. But as someone who has chaired the Melanesian Spearhead Group, I think a lot of Melanesians are pretty uncomfortable about what’s happened. And they’re more uncomfortable when they realise that Canberra seems to be also trying to do a deal with Solomon Islands and Vanuatu to take more of these people.

Now my understanding is that when these people arrive in PNG, those that are found to be genuine refugees are going to be allowed to stay. Excuse me, how many of them are there going to be? Why isn’t Australia resettling these people. Why are you dumping them in other countries?

Look, we’re desperately sorry for them. It’s a terrible human tragedy. But it’s Australia’s problem, not ours. Labor and Kevin Rudd in particular created the problem in the first place and now they go around dumping their problem on everyone else to get themselves voted back in. I’m not impressed and neither are a lot of other people in the region.

8. Is there any date set for the announcement of the new Constitution?

Sanjesh, the document is ready and we’re getting it translated into iTaukei and Fiji Hindi. That’s happening as we speak. Then we’ll get it printed and we’re aiming to have the Constitution come into affect by the end of August.

9. The Pacific Islands Development Forum meet will take place in Fiji, is this organisation getting good support from the Pacific nations?

Yes, very much so. We’ve got 23 Pacific countries coming to Nadi between the 5th and 7th of August, as well as 10 other countries with observer status. So fantastic support and we’re very much looking forward to it. As you know, this is a new initiative by Fiji to bolster relationships between the island countries and allow us to try to work out our problems without external interference.

Fiji’s problem with the Pacific Forum is that it’s dominated by Australia and New Zealand and they largely set the agenda. They’ve got a couple of Polynesian countries in their back pockets and managed to get Fiji suspended. Fine. We’re not interested in coming back. We want a new regional structure without the Aussies and Kiwis that more reflects the concerns of Pacific Island nations. So this new body allows us to try to find solutions to our own problems, not solutions prescribed by our larger neighbours. And we’re convinced it will be a success.

Prime Minister Bainimarama Urges Public Input to Constitutuion

Prime Minister Commodore Voreqe Bainimarama has reiterated the need for the public to read and understand the draft Constitution and provide feedback.

During his recent trip to the western division where he opened a few critical infrastructure projects, the head of government urged the public to ensure that they provide relevant and constructive feedback to ensure that their views are taken into consideration in moving the country forward.

“I would like to remind you that our path to parliamentary democracy is before us. It is marked by a new Constitution and it will take us to elections next year,” he said.

“We will always have to work to perfect our system. But we know where it begins. It begins here, with a Constitution.”

“I urge you all to comment on the draft constitution. Remember, you are now our Constituent Assembly,” Prime Minister Bainimarama said.

The Prime Minister said the new Constitution will for the first time in Fiji’s history, guarantee socio-economic rights for every Fijian.

“These include rights to housing and sanitation, reasonable access to transportation, education, adequate food, clean water, a just minimum wage, social security schemes, health services and sanitation. And they also include specific rights for children and the disabled. Day-to-day issues such as these were the focus of many submissions made by ordinary Fijians to the Ghai Commission. That is why they are included in the draft,” the Head of Government said.

“This is your Constitution. It ensures that power lies with Parliament, which is elected and accountable to you the people. There is even a provision that allows for a referendum. None of Fiji’s previous constitutions has ever given so much direct power to the will of the people.”

“It creates a Human Rights and Anti-Discrimination Commission and an Accountability and Transparency Commission. None of Fiji’s previous constitutions has ever created such bodies to keep public officials, civil servants and parliamentarians accountable and create transparency.”

The Prime Minister said these provisions together with others will enable the constitution to stand the test of time and will make it an enduring foundation for a new Fiji.

 

Fijian Prime Minister Voreqe Bainimarama Addresses the Nation on Draft Constitution