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Constitution Empowers All Fijians To Grow

Constitution  Empowers All  Fijians To Grow
Former Education Minister, Mahendra Reddy
September 14
11:03 2017

MP Mahendra Reddy made a valid point on the Constitution in Parliament yesterday.

The former Education Minister said after the introduction of the Constitution in 2013, the Bainimarama Government took it to the people to allow them to read it and understand it.

The following year, the people had the choice whether to accept it or reject it in the 2014 General Election.

The election outcome was emphatic. While many focused on the FijiFirst’s landslide victory, the poll result was in fact an overwhelming endorsement of the Constitution. The election doubled as a sort of national referendum.

The high voter turnout reflected the spirit and the attitude of people. They were excited with the return to democracy on the basis of a new Constitution.

If people have changed their mind on the Constitution and the FijiFirst Government, they will make that known at the ballot box next year.

So it’s unnecessary to have a separate referendum or take it back to the people in another form. It will be a waste of time and money.

The General Election is the best forum to gauge the people’s views. If they don’t like Government policies which are based on the Constitution then they will show that at the ballot box.

The talk of an uneven playing field by some Opposition politicians has no substance.

It implies that the 2014 election was rigged to favour FijiFirst and it will happen again in the 2018 election. But no evidence has been produced to substantiate claims of irregularities and vote rigging.

OBSERVER GROUP

Even the independent international monitors, the Multinational Observer Group, had concluded that the 2014 election was fair and credible. The MOG made a list of recommendations to improve future elections in terms of making the poll more people-friendly. Some have been adopted or modified by the Electoral Commission within the ambits of the law. Obviously, the ones they have not touched are outside their legal authority.

It appears from the statements by Opposition MPs in Parliament this week their attacks against the Government seem to be based on a strategy. Constitution, electoral reforms, some FijiFirst policies are top of their agenda. The NFP appears to be the only Opposition party that is drip-feeding us with some features of their manifesto. This Saturday, it is expected to disclose more on top of a major announcement, NFP leader Biman Prasad indicated in Parliament yesterday. For SODELPA, if we are to take MP Viliame Gavoka seriously, the restoration of the Great Council of Chiefs will remain in the party manifesto.

In the absence of a comprehensive manifesto, Opposition parties are using the Constitution as a convenient side show to give them time to compile their manifesto.

If the Constitution is what the politicians say it is, then why did they agree to contest the 2014 General Election?

Why are they in Parliament, participating in the democratic process?

It seems obvious that while they may have some reservations on some aspects of the Constitution, they generally agree with the rest.

What really disturbed them was the way the Constitution was adopted, claiming that it was forced on people who were not consulted.

That argument was shot down when the people voted overwhelmingly for FijiFirst. It was also a vote for the Constitution. Some of the provisions the Opposition did not like include:

The Republic of Fiji Military Forces being in charge of national security

The decrees that were adopted by the Constitution

Constitutional Offices Commission

Some aspects of the electoral law like the one constituency

SODELPA which had objected originally to equal citizenry, common identity and the secular state seem to have gone quiet on these issues.

COMMON NAME

Even Opposition leader Ro Teimumu Kepa has accepted Fijian as a common name. She has even gone further in a practical sense. She gave her blessings to a move to accept descendants of the Girmitiyas as “luvedra na Ratu” (children of the chief) of Noco in Rewa. Girmitiyas were the indentured Indian labourers on the boat Syria which ran aground on Nasiliai Reef on May 11, 1884.

But there are others in the SODELPA camp, like MP Viliame Gavoka, who seem resolute in their push for preferential treatment for iTaukei.

He says “it’s not ethnicity but equality.”

Mr Gavoka adds: “The pervasive poverty of the iTaukei looms large in Fiji, and I’ve often characterisedw it as the elephant in the room. Come 2030, the iTaukei is forecasted to make up 68 per cent of the population, and with the way we are neglected, we will arrive into 2030 still largely poor, and this is not good for Fiji.

“I hark back to the wise words of Hon. Lee Kuan Yew, PM of Singapore back in 1988 when Fiji was going through the process of changing the Constitution. He said and I paraphrase ‘changing the Constitution will not help Fiji, just empower the iTaukei economically…”

He claimed former Prime Minister Laisenia Qarase was trying to do it when he was overthrown.

It is common knowledge that the FijiFirst has deliberately set out to change the position of the iTaukei as being asset-rich but cash poor. Initiatives introduced by the Government are aimed at helping all Fijians, including iTaukei become active participants. The Government even set aside $10 million to help cash-strapped iTaukei landowners develop their land. This is in addition to infrastructure development like roads, bridges and jetties to stimulate economic growth in the rural and maritime areas. Many iTaukei are benefitting from the small business grant schemes for ordinary Fijians. The lease money they get from their land is now shared equally among the mataqali members instead of the bulk going to the chiefs.

Again it is based on the equality provision of the Constitution. It is this provision that is opening up new opportunities for ordinary iTaukei. Like Mr Reddy said the Constitution contains many rights that empower Fijians, including economic rights.

Edited by Mohammed Ali

Feedback:  nemani.delaibatiki@fijisun.com.fj

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