Uk-Fiji Parliamentarians Workshop Vital To All

Democracy is precious. But democracy is also fragile and there is no one-size-fits all solution. At the heart of the Pacific Islands, Fiji is a key partner of the UK,
11 Nov 2016 13:17
Uk-Fiji Parliamentarians Workshop Vital To All
Third seated from left: United Kingdom Members of Parliament Ian Murray, Craig Whittaker, head of the UK Delegation Baroness Ann Taylor, Speaker of Parliament Dr Jiko Luveni, UK High Commissioner to Fiji Melanie Hopkins, UK MP Lisa Cameron with the other UK delegation, Government and Opposition MPs and Parliament Secretariat officials in Suva. Photo: Parliament News

Democracy is precious. But democracy is also fragile and there is no one-size-fits all solution.

At the heart of the Pacific Islands, Fiji is a key partner of the UK, and we have been strongly supportive of the re-emergence of parliamentary democracy on the island.

As Fiji continues on its democratic path, it is vital that there is a strong role for Parliament.

Parliamentarians are, first and foremost the representatives of citizens, but in reality they are so much more than that. They make and amend laws, and they also scrutinise the work of government.

We have seen in recent weeks the lively debates in the UK Parliament following the Brexit referendum, showing the leading role that a Parliament plays on the democratic stage.

The mission of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association UK (CPA UK) is to strengthen parliamentary democracy, and we are currently working on a number of key projects, whether it be supporting the Sierra Leone Health Committee deal with Ebola recovery, or working with parliamentarians across the Commonwealth to tackle cybercrime.

We are also this week launching a major two-year project to equip parliamentarians with the skills and knowledge to develop legislation to end the heinous crime that is modern slavery.

Therefore, on behalf of CPA UK, I am delighted to be leading a delegation of UK parliamentarians to this beautiful and strategic island for a workshop to strengthen the role of committees.

Although they may not be at the forefront of voters’ concerns, committees are in many ways the nuts and bolts of Parliamentary democracy.

They give parliamentarians the opportunity to put proposed legislation under the microscope, ensuring laws are fair and effective. It also allows for the issues of the day to be examined in detail.

As Fiji’s democracy continues to strengthen, it is important that MPs are able to provide clear scrutiny, ensuring that decisions taken by country’s nascent Government are open, transparent and accountable.

This workshop is a key opportunity to discuss the real fundamentals of scrutiny by committees, whether it be the importance of writing effective reports and tough questioning of witnesses, or the need for cross-party collaboration and open engagement with the media, NGOs and, of course, the public.

A sign of the importance of this week’s programme is the fact that it is being co-funded by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office’s Magna Carta Fund for Human Rights and Democracy, the dedicated strategic fund supporting the British government’s global human rights and democracy work.

It is of course important to stress that parliamentary activities such as these are a two-way street.

In the 21st century, parliamentarians across the Commonwealth face similar challenges, whether they be tackling global concerns such as climate change or international terrorism, or ensuring strong and healthy democracies, particularly by boosting political engagement and interest of young people.

UK-Fiji relations are an important component of the UK’s foreign policy, and this parliamentary workshop is just one of a number of initiatives in place to develop links between our two countries.

For example there has been a Fijian parliamentary delegation to Westminster, the Scottish Parliament and the Welsh Assembly, and a staff secondment to strengthen areas of research and ICT in Fiji’s Parliament.

Meanwhile the UK has been working closely with Fiji in a number of other areas in recent years.

The country’s ratification in March this year of the UN’s Convention Against Torture was an extremely important step.

The UK College of Policing have been providing training to senior officials of the Fiji Police Force and Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions in areas such as video recording of Police interviews, working closely with UN agencies.

The UK has also been funding training for Fiji and Solomon Islands journalists on Parliamentary reporting, with good practice shared by former BBC Parliamentary reporters.

There has also been UK support for a regional workshop in Fiji on managing defence in the wider security context, with participants from across the South Pacific receiving training from experts in the UK’s defence academy.

The UK has also supported a women’s organisation to ensure young women’s voices are heard in the democratisation process.

It is therefore a pleasure to see Fiji re-join the global community that is The Commonwealth – including the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association – and we look forward to Fiji being a supportive voice within the Pacific Islands as we approach the 2018 Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) in London.

As fellow members of the Commonwealth, the UK would like to see Fiji’s relationship with the Commonwealth strengthened.

The Commonwealth gives its members a platform for small Island states to exchange good practice on key issues relating to democracy and good governance.

Finally, I am delighted to welcome the appointment of Melanie Hopkins as the new British High Commissioner to Fiji, a move which I’m sure will see yet another boost to relations between the UK and Fiji, as well as our other friends in the South Pacific.



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