Attorney-General Tells MPs: Read The Constitution

Madame speaker, the Honorable Prime Minister, the honorable leader of opposition and honorable members. I stand up with some trepidation to speak this morning. Trepidation because it is one of
17 Oct 2014 09:43
Attorney-General Tells MPs: Read The Constitution

Madame speaker, the Honorable Prime Minister, the honorable leader of opposition and honorable members.

I stand up with some trepidation to speak this morning. Trepidation because it is one of those rare occasions in the last 8 years  that I have actually written a speech for myself and will read it and I am not used to doing so. But then again madam speaker these events of the past couple of weeks have been momentous to say the least and calls for such aberrations.

Madam Speaker please let me congratulate you on your appointment, an appointment that has established a number of firsts. I wish you all the best in your independent role not just as the arbiter in this house but as someone we look up to, to implement the Constitution and the standing orders and to keep the Members of this House in check.

Madam Speaker, before I speak on His Excellency’s speech in particular vis a vis the portfolios I have been assigned by our Honorable Prime Minister, I wish to thank His Excellency for his address to this Parliament. I also wish to put on record Madam Speaker that I apologized to His Excellency last week on behalf of some of the Members of this Parliament who did not return the bow to him.  I felt it necessary to do so because Madam Speaker any inappropriate behavior by anyone of us towards in particular a visitor to this House, moreso the Head of State of our country, is the collective responsibility of us all, even though it maybe only from the other side of the House.

Madame Speaker I also wish to acknowledge the dignity and decorum with which his excellency has carried himself as the head of state of Fiji for the past 5 years or so. He has served his country with grace and fortitude at a time when many abandoned their country not necessarily physically but in their commitment as Fijians.

His Excellency in his speech highlighted the need for this Honorable House to work together for the betterment of our country. This was also echoed by our honorable Prime Minister.

Working together madam speaker requires all members to speak the truth, know the law, display good manners and respect, not personalize matters, be principled, not to fear monger, nor make threats of supposed impending violence and they need to know the facts before engaging in any conversation.

Unfortunately Madam Speaker  listening to the contributions from the other side I think in many respects we have some way to achieve that level of commitment and/or sophistication.

While those members may not be ready Madam Speaker we on this side of the House intend to guide them to do so. We will do so because Madam Speaker, we all collectively have a responsibility to the Fijian electorate. We cannot as His Excellency has said let them down.

Madam speaker it therefore becomes our responsibility to point out where the contradictions, paradoxes, oxymorons and hypocrisies lie. After all without an understanding of these, without identifying them, without a knowledge of them, the naïve or the ignorant or those distorting the facts won’t know how to rectify some of these problems and move forward to serve the Fijian people. In short madam speaker, we need to recognize and fix up intellectual dishonesty. Conversely lets have intellectual honesty.

Madam Speaker, everyone in this house and indeed all Fijians must be reminded that Fiji has passed the crossroads….moving from mediocrity to greatness because of the sincerity and focus of one man….the Prime Minister, Josaia Voreqe Bainimarama or Frank Bainimarama known by many.  Having worked for and with him for nearly 8 years I am constantly amazed at his tenacity and energy. Never before have i met a man who has so much genuine love and care for all Fijians.

For some leaders, madam speaker, the easier route is to give in to those who have the loudest voices.  Indeed it is the true leader who will hear the voice of the marginalized or the disenfranchised. A true leader is someone who may not have suffered injustices him or her self but is able to sympathize and assist those who have. A true leader is one who has the tenacity to stick to the ideals and the end goal even if the road to it may have been rocky or indeed even distracting. A true leader is not one who compromises the fundamentals of a vision simply for political expediency or survival. These are the qualities of Prime Minister Bainimarama.

Indeed Madam Speaker I have in fact been blessed to work for and with such a human being who is not only a compassionate man but deeply spiritual. Madam Speaker  I have great admiration for individuals who are deeply spiritual without feeling the need to tell the rest of the world about it or feeling the need to  shove it down other people’s throats. I have great admiration for such a quality because it shows a deep sense of self confidence, security and faith. This you will see such people ready to smile or always with a smile, they are not grumpy. Demagoguery and dogma, Madam Speaker is the domain of those who are ultimately insecure or use religion to further an ulterior agenda.

While I am not into autobiographies, I wish to acknowledge the influence of my parents. My mother with her unique unwavering emotional support. My father who I call Ba was the one who introduced the world to me. “Fiji and the World” on FBC, for those of you old enough to remember, was a time when in our house the volume went full bore and we had to maintain utter silence. He introduced me to apartheid, the Middle East and Gough Whitlam. His healthy sense of scepticism of established norms, even  religious doctrine, was most valuable. The slap I received when I picked up a term from school as one does without knowing that it was a derogative term for an ethnic group and being told “I am not going to have racism in my house” has held me in good stead. This is not bad for a man who had limited formal education because he had to leave school so his 10 younger siblings could have a better life.

My maternal grandparents from Matamata or commonly known as the area in front of Yavulou had an enormous influence on me. My nani or grandmother, the matriarch with her reknown generosity and charm. Who believed in treating everyone equally and feeding them no matter who they were or what time of day it was.  My nana, or grandfather commonly known in Nadroga as Bavu, whose ethnic categorization some questioned but whose innate spirituality was beyond reproach. He had a wicked sense of humour and ability to poke fun at others in a witty manner, somewhat similar to the Prime Minister’s. I vividly remember the many evenings that he would hang out outside the extended family home with the elders from Yavulou cracking jokes in hard core Nadro dialect. These people and others, including the Marist Brothers, and these events left an indelible mark on my makeup and the values that I hold dear.

Madam speaker I also wish to acknowledge the love and support and strength of my wife Ella. Madam speaker, while I may not be the youngest in this house, I think I have the youngest family. This ideally requires more contact time at home. Thankfully Ella has not just held the house together in

my  periods of absence from our boys, Ibrahim and Idris, but also has been a valuable member of the FijiFirst team. Because of her innate modesty and lack of pretension, she underestimates her own political nous.

Madam speaker this side of the house is the newest government from the youngest  political party in the South Pacific.

There were literally thousands who bandied around the party that was formed just a few months before the election. We could not have set up those offices and implemented our strategy without the support of our volunteers. Madam speaker, what was really refreshing was that most of our core team was below the age of 30. We are most grateful for the energy, time and loyalty which they gave to FijiFirst. The demographics of our volunteers were reflective of the youngsters of our country. These are our future. These are the future leaders. These are the ones, as both his Excellency and the Honorable prime minister mentioned, we must give primacy to. I also wish to thank the core group who helped implement the strategy because of their resourcefulness. The overwhelming victory by FijiFirst under the leadership of our Prime Minister which has translated into 32 seats is your doing.

Of course madam speaker if the 4000 odd voters who had not mistaken 297 to be 279 then our numbers would have been greater and NFP in all likelihood could have been absent from this honourable chamber. Languishing again at the polls. But thanks to this mistake and to the electoral system implemented under this constitution, NFP despite winning far less votes than they did in the previous years when they did not win a single seat, are with us today.

Of course if they had their founder leaders with us today like AD Patel, Siddiq Koya, James Madhavan and Chirag Ali Shah, these esteemed gentlemen most certainly would not have been sitting in that side of the house. They had the guts and the will  to recognize and stand up to those who weren’t driven by a national agenda but an agenda driven by ethnic considerations and self centered motivations. They also did not make excuses for such people.

As Attorney General, madam speaker, I have requested that copies of Constitution which we had specially printed for judges and visiting dignitaries be distributed to all members of this chamber. We have done so because I note that there still appears to be a lot of misunderstanding, deliberate or otherwise. I implore the other side: please read it. If you have any queries, please ask us. We need to do this otherwise we won’t be an effective parliament because, Madam Speaker, this is the supreme law of the land. This is the constitution that every single member of this house has sworn to uphold. It is not a transitional document. It is not in the  document that a Fijian’s right to practice religion is relegated only to the private sphere. Please read section 22. Please read sections 27, 28 and 29 on the unprecedented protection of iTaukei land from permanent alienation, which, madam speaker, actually happened during the period of the so-called entrenched provisions. Entrenchment did not stop the former ministers of land in the SVT and SDL governments respectively, one of them who is here with us today, from facilitating the permanent alienation of iTaukei land. I raise this, madam speaker, because we need facts and the law if we are to function properly and give credence to the agenda of government set out by His Excellency. Similarly, it is wrong to say that it is only this constitution that allows for the compulsory acquisition of land including iTaukei land for a public purpose. Or that iTaukei land will be dealt with without the consent of the members of the landowning unit, under the constitution or other subsidiary laws. Please read and compare these provisions to the previous ones and you will see fact from fiction. I am sure the honorable Minister  for Lands will address these issues in detail. Please also read the new accountability and transparency provisions which have never been in place in any other constitution, contrary to what has been said by the other side of the house.

Madam speaker, much has been said about the rule of law or the lack of it. Many talk about the rule of law without knowing exactly what it entails. Put very simply, it means that the law applies to everybody. And when people are brought before the law, it is applied equally to all. This principle must carry on at all times. For, Madam speaker, because even when there are political changes taking place, the daily routine of life goes on. In other words, contracts need to be enforced, debtors need to be pursued, people still steal, pedophiles still try to prey on the vulnerable, some continue to perpetrate domestic violence, taxi drivers get robbed, some lawyers may still rob their clients , women and children get abused, some try and create disorder in our society, some may abuse office, some continue to take or give bribes. And the list goes on.

Madam speaker, as the Honorable Prime Minister has stated in his response to His Excellency’s speech, the judiciary must continue to function and I wish to also recognize and thank the honourable chief justice for his fortitude. Under his leadership, madam speaker, the judiciary today is far more open and transparent and does not have the judge or forum shopping practiced even by lawyers and law firms that suddenly became the guardians of the rule of law post December 2006.

Madam speaker, while the budget will be delivered on 21 November and we will have more to say then on the economy and the state of the government finances, I wish to assure this house that contrary to the political twist given in the analysis of the state of the economy, the Fijian economy has a growth rate of surpassing 4 percent. The projected growth rate for next year is also very positive. One only needs to look around to see the magnitude of the development, both public and private, that is taking place around in Fiji. We will ensure that all the ministers and back benchers on this side of the House under the leadership of our prime minister will work diligently to capitalize on that growth for the benefit of all Fijians. We ask the honorable leader of opposition to work with us on this national initiative.

In relation to the Ministry of Finance, I also wish to inform the house that following discussions with the auditor general’s office last night, I have been informed that the reports going back to 2007 will be printed and ready for submission to this house tomorrow morning.  To capitalize on the economic  growth and to keep up the momentum, we must carry out a major reform of the public service. We are already in discussions with some of our bilateral and multilateral partners. We require  assistance to make the Fijian civil service relevant to the 21st century and to capitalise on our growing integration with the global economy. The civil service must be specialised and there must be specific career paths in different spheres of expertise. The past and current trend of uniformity undermines our ability to attract the best and the brightest. The fundamental basis of appointments must be on merit.

If the best professionals are appointed to the right positions then the public will benefit and the tax payers will get a premium return on their investment. We anticipate an international review of the civil service in the new year and implementation soon thereafter. Like the job evaluation exercise by PWC that took place before the permanent secretaries salaries were adjusted, these  reforms will be based on a professional report.

State owned enterprises continue to do remarkably well. Unlike prior to 2006, state owned enterprises have caught up with the independent audit assessments. Some are realizing their true potential. Fiji Hard wood Corporation, despite owning the largest planted mahogany forest in the world, mind bogglingly did not make profits until 2007. AFL is going through a 100 million dollar investment to make sure it keeps Fiji in play as a prime destination but the funding is not being provided by government,  nor are any borrowings guaranteed by Governmnet – AFL is doing it on its own. Fiji Pine has already paid unprecedented bonus payments twice in one year – in other words in its nearly 40 year existence this is the first time  such a thing has happened. We will capitalise on this. We will look at opportunities with the private sector wherever appropriate and wherever we get the best return for the Fijian people. These achievements, madam speaker, have taken place because we have the right attitude, are removing systemic corruption and  appointing people on merit. State owned enterprises, madam speaker, were headed  in some instances in the past by people directly from the civil service or those who had no sense or appreciation of the commercial and financial realities of everyday enterprise. People are now appointed on merit. These people know how to read balance sheets.

They know what is gearing and they know about the bottom line. Our history is replete with ethnic, religious, provincial, and corrupt considerations for appointments to state owned enterprises. At the end of the day, the pine landowners who received the bonuses did not care about the ethnicity or religion or provincial allegiance of the executive chair. They were concerned that they as shareholders, as stakeholders and the company got what it deserved.

Madam speaker, to localize or to appoint people on any other consideration  than merit does nobody any favours. It does not make sense for shareholders and it does not make economic, commercial and financial sense.

Madam speaker, let me briefly mention that it was the Bainimarama government that removed the exclusivity in the telecommunications industry. For the record neither is there any exclusivity in covering the proceedings of this house.

The liberalization of the telecommunications sector will continue to propel our itc sector to new heights. Testing for digital television will commence before the end of this year, with full implementation by the end of next year. ITC is one of the most critical areas of empowerment, madam speaker.

However, we have to be extremely careful that the digital divide is bridged equally otherwise it will lead to even a bigger divide.  We today have more connectivity with internet than ever before and for your information, we have now more sim cards in operation in Fiji today than the actual numbers of the Fijian population. We will capitalize on this momentum as set out in our manifesto.

Madam Speaker, all these measures are designed to produce the modern nation state that we have been working towards since 2006. I thank His Excellency for the vision he laid for this Parliament. We must all work together for the common good and for our beloved Fiji.

Vinaka vakalevu. Thank you.

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