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PM: Girmitya Celebration Now Call By NFP Political Stunt To Try To Save Reputations

PM: Girmitya Celebration Now Call By NFP Political Stunt To Try To Save Reputations
Prime Minister Voreqe Bainimarama outside Parliament yesterday. Photo: RONALD KUMAR.
April 30
10:51 2016

The following is Prime Minister Voreqe Bainimarama’s response to  the National Federation Party’s call in Parliament yesterday for special Girimitya celebrations.

I thank the honourable leader of the NFP for his statement. Many of us are aware of the wonderful contribution to Fiji of both the indentured labourers who were brought from British India to work virtually as slaves and their many thousands of descendants over the years.

Blood, sweat and tears

The Girimitya’s are rightly celebrated for their role in building our nation. And especially the blood, sweat and tears they expended working in the harshest conditions.

They cleared bushland they grew crops, they built roads. They were whipped and cursed and robbed of their dignity, by their overseers and this oppressive system.

Many, of course, at the end of the indentured system became sugarcane farmers as they had worked as sugar cane labourers on farms owned by expatriate planters.

I’ve had the great pleasure as Prime Minister to take part in events that commemorate the arrival of the Girimitya’s and I know the significance of such events.

The courage and resilience of the Girimitya’s has come to be a source of inspiration, not only for their descendants, but for many other Fijians. And we must not forget their contribution and we must mainstream the Girmit history in our school curriculum.

 

One day to celebrate Girmityas not enough

So Madam Speaker, setting aside only one day to commemorate the arrival of the Girimitya’s or the end of the Girmit is not enough. Indeed, if that is all you do, it is an insult.

Madam Speaker, we already celebrate the anniversary of the arrival of the first Girimitya’s on the Leonidas on 14 May 1879. Ironically, of course, Madam Speaker, the coup of 1987 executed by Rabuka also took place exactly on the 14th of May in this very House.

It was then that Dr Bavadra’s cabinet was removed from office and the many descendants of the Girimitya’s left our shores to seek refuge mainly in Australia, New Zealand and North America because of the racial prejudices, bigotry and violence that were the hallmarks of the 1987 coup. And we saw that happen again in 2000.

Some in this House, Madam Speaker, are more familiar with these events than others. Some in the House also suffered from these assaults on our fellow citizens.

Of course, Madam Speaker, some still today in this House make latent threats from time to time. Ironically, these veiled threats also come from one of the members of NFP.

Madam Speaker, there is also the question of setting spending priorities at the present time in the wake of Cyclone Winston. First, schools and homes and then all the other damaged public buildings and infrastructure that need immediate and focused attention.

 

NFP proposal comes amid Winston recovery priorities

I’m actually surprised that the Honourable Leader of the NFP has flagged this proposal at this particular time given the priorities that he knows lie before us.

He should– as supposedly shadow Minister for Finance — know that our immediate concern must be to cater to the desperate need of a great many ordinary Fijians which include Fijians of all backgrounds.

And dedicating any spending at all to what he proposes simply cannot be on the Government’s agenda and, indeed, would be seen as highly irresponsible at the present time.

So, Madam Speaker, without casting any slight on the Girimitya’s and their descendants, I wonder why this proposal is being introduced on the last day of the first sitting week of Parliament since Cyclone Winston.

I’ve been sitting here asking myself, why now? Why does the NFP suddenly want the Government to agree to a special public commemoration of an historical event at this particular time?

And why is he not asking for the commemoration to mark the contribution of the other set of enslaved workers, the blackbirded Solomon islanders and others? And then a thought dawned on me that suddenly made sense.

 

NFP not following founder’s vision

Madam Speaker, the three NFP MPs have been sitting here all week giving aid and comfort to the most outrageous suggestions and behaviour from their opposition partners in SODELPA. They sit idly by as the rabble opposite reduce this chamber to the lowest common denominator with their interjections, taunts and threats. They sit idly by as SODELPA when advancing propositions like the restoration of the GCC lace their arguments with threats to peace and harmony and to undermine the hard won democratic advancement of every Fijian.

Madam Speaker I say in all seriousness that the founders of this once great party –like AD Patel and Siddiq Koya– would be appalled to witness how the honourable Leader of the NFP and his colleagues have squandered their political inheritance.

They have forged an alliance with people who have questioned and opposed their very right to be considered Fijians.

Who believe in indigenous supremacy and restoring the political and institutional power of the chiefs.

Who have betrayed the interests of those who once saw the NFP as a great hope for Fiji’s advancement and put their trust in it.

Imagine what some of these great figures of our history who are no longer with us would think to see the honourable Draunidalo get to her feet on to support SODELPA’s attempt to revive the GCC. Imagine their shock and bewilderment.

And all over Fiji this week, people watching these proceedings have seen a once great party enable the most appalling behaviour from their opposition partners.

And supporting policy positions that they know are not in their interests or the interests of any other Fijian. It is only in the personal advancement of their political careers.

The NFP used to be a party of reform, the generator of ideas for our nation. It used to be a moral compass for a great many Fijians. It used to stand for principle.

 

NFP now sits with coup supporters

Madam Speaker, how can those who inherited this mantle of greatness find common political cause with those who don’t regard them as equals? Who fought the concept of a common and equal citizenry, that was once at the core of the NFP’s philosophy? Who fought the concept of a common name for all Fijians and especially the honourable Draunidalo, who still doesn’t think non-iTaukei deserve the name?

How can they sit with supporters of the 1987 and 2000 coups, those who preached indigenous supremacy? How can they stand to be on the same side politically with those who drove tens of thousands of our best and brightest people from Fiji?

Whose ideas at the time set Fijian against Fijian, triggered attacks on innocent people and led to the looting and burning of our capital?

Madam Speaker, the NFP alliance with SODELPA not only makes no sense politically. It is an insult to the NFP’s traditional support base. And as sure as this Parliament rises today after another memorable session, they will be punished at the next election. For their appeasement, their weakness and lack of vision and resolve.

Madam Speaker, the current NFP members are only good at giving the nod to the SODELPA rabble. But even they know when things have gone too far. So to save their reputations at the end of a scorching week for the Opposition, they’ve put their heads together and come up with a plan. And it goes like this:

“Oh, let’s take everyone’s mind off a bad week for us with a diversion. Let’s make a last ditch effort to box the Government into a corner and make ourselves look good by calling for an official commemoration of the Girimitya’s this year. We may win back some people we lost this week. That’ll work, won’t it? Bainimarama will have to say yes because he won’t be able to say no”.

 

PM’s answer is NO

Madam Speaker, the answer is no. And it is no because this is an empty gesture, a political stunt. And it is no because at a time of unprecedented need in the country, the descendants of the Girimitya’s who have also suffered from the cyclone, understand that we must put those needs first.

Rebuilding Fiji. Rebuilding our future is a more pressing priority. And that’s the difference between the NFP/SODELPA gaggle opposite and FijiFirst.

Madam Speaker, as history has shown us, when people suffer as a group because of their ethnicity, the greatest gift you can give to them is to restore their dignity, give them a rightful place in society and treat them as equals.

 

Girmitya’s contribution to Fiji is a living monument

Madam Speaker, we know the best way to celebrate the Girimitya’s and their contribution to Fiji. It is a living monument in the here and now, not some historical commemoration.

It is the Constitution that guarantees them genuine equality for the first time after successive constitutions that were stacked against them.

It is the guarantee of equal votes of equal value that was a core demand of the NFP leadership in the 1950s and 60s but took a FijiFirst Government to finally deliver. And it is bestowing the name Fijian on every citizen and giving the descendants of the Girimitya and every other citizen a common identity for the first time.

Madam Speaker, that is our tribute to the Girimitya’s and their sacrifice.

To treat them and their descendants with respect and not have the spectre of violence hanging over their heads.

And we must continue to remove the discrimination against them in our everyday lives.

These are not gimmicks but a living testament to the dreams they had of a better life for their descendants.

Dreams that they did not live to see but are finally being fulfilled by their descendants in the new Fiji.

Thank you Madam Speaker.

Feedback:  jyotip@fijisun.com.fj

 

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