Maiden speech by Opposition MP, Adi Litia Qionibaravi

Opposition MP Adi Litia Qionibaravi delivering her maiden speech in Parliament this morning. Picture: SUPPLIED/FIJIAN GOVERNMENT FACEBOOK

Madam Speaker
Honorable Prime Minister
Members of Cabinet
The Leader of Opposition
Fellow Parliamentarians
Ladies & Gentlemen
And to all those listening or viewing the Parliament session

Madam Speaker I rise to respond to His Excellency, the President of the Republic of the Fiji Islands address, in opening the first session of this August House on Monday November 26th 2018.

CONGRATULATIONS TO THE SPEAKER AND HER DEPUTY
Madam Speaker, may I join other Members of Parliament in congratulating you on your re-election as Speaker of this August House, and of the Deputy Speaker, Hon. Veena Bhatnagar on Monday 26th November 2018.

On a personal note, Madam Speaker, we women members of the House who came after you at Adi Cakobau School are also especially proud of your achievements, ACS has continued to nurture and train young Fijian Leaders who have excelled in positions of leadership in our beloved Fiji, whether it be at the echelon of government, private sector, or serving as Radini Vanua, Radini Talatala or businesswomen or as Chief Executives of their
homes, rearing the next generation and managing their families finances and wellbeing; we are proud to continue the trend set by our pioneers who entered the gates of Adi Cakobau School on 1st October, 1948.

It is indeed encouraging to see that our Speaker and Deputy Speaker are both women, and I warmly congratulate you both on being elected to these positions of leadership. I look forward to see you perform your duties with honor, without fear, favor or ill-will, and to be a credit to your families, and to the women and all the people of Fiji.

With your indulgence Madam Speaker, may I also congratulate all the Honorable Members on their election to this August House.

CONGRATULATIONS TO WOMEN MPS
I also offer warm congratulations to all the women members of this Honorable House, a historic number of us have now joined the benches of this, the Highest Court of the Land, entrusted with the legislative and law making authority of our beloved nation.

APPRECIATION TO THE CHIEFS AND PEOPLE OF NA VUALIKU KEI TAILEVU
I seek your further indulgence Madam Speaker to thank sincerely, vinaka, vinaka vakalevu sara to the Chiefs and people of Tailevu, and voters in other parts of Fiji, for their trust in me, to represent them in this August House.

Madam Speaker, I “stand on the shoulders of giants,”

My later Father encouraged me to take up Accounting despite my personal wish to pursue a career in science, his instruction that I begin my service at the Tailevu Provincial Office where I put into practice the values I was taught at home, to serve people diligently without fear or favour.

Of his nine children, I was encouraged to pursue a career in the Fijian Administration, to ensure the protection of the Vanua – the Chiefs, their resources, and the people.

My father’s elder brother, my Ratu Levu, was one of the first sons of Verata, to receive secondary education Madam Speaker.

The Vanua of Verata, her sons and daughters were late comers to the field of education such that my father encouraged the chiefs and people of Verata, that Verata’s only remaining battle, is to educate our children to contribute not only to nation building but more importantly, to improve the quality of the lives of our people.

I was educated at schools where my Ratu Levu taught, at Namalata District School in Tailevu North and Lawaki District School from where I passed my Intermediate Examination and pursued my secondary school at Adi Cakobau School.

Both my father and Ratu Levu and my late uncles in the chiefly houses of Verata had inspired me to serve the people of our Vanua, the Province of Tailevu, and the Vanua o Viti.

I also pay tribute to my elder brothers and sisters who paved the way and from whom I learnt that leadership, is a position of service to the people.

Madam Speaker I wish to thank the Chiefs and the people of the Vanua o Tailevu North, Na Vualiku kei Tailevu who had endorsed my candidacy and the opportunity to serve in this august House.
1. Vanua o Namalata – “Waimarolevulevu na Turaga na
Ratu”
2. Vanua o Tai Na “Turaga na Roko Tui Tai”
3. Vanua o Vugalei “Vunisalevu na Turaga na Tui Vugalei”
4. Vanua o Taivugalei “Burerua, na Turaga na Vunivalu”
5. Vanua o Sawakasa “Nadereivalu na Turaga na Ratu”
6. Vanua o Namena “Nawainovo na Ratu na Tui Wainovo”
7. Vanua o Dawasamu “Dawasamu na Turaga na Ratu”
8. Vanua o Naloto “Naloto, na Turaga na Tui Naloto”
9. Vanua o Wailotua “Wailevu, na Turaga na Tui wailevu”
10. Nasautoka “Turaga Sau na Vunivalu”
11. Vanua o Nayavu “Bau na Roko Tui Bau”
12. Vanua o Nailega “Naduadua na Turaga na Vunivalu”
13. Last but not the least Na Vanua ‘o Verata “Naisanokonoko na Turaga Bale O Koya Na Ratu”.

Madam I also add on the names of loyal campaign members
● Ratu Rasari Kovutanavanua, President of SODELPA
Tailevu North Constituency,
● Maciu Seniucidromo, Qase ni Vale, Naiviloa,
● Osea Vutikalulu, Naveicovatu of Naloto Wainibuka,
● Ratu Inoke Rokotuinamata of Namulomulo, Tailevu,
● Jese Raicebe of Sote, Tailevu,
● Peni of Naivicula, vasu i Burerua, Tailevu and
● last but not the lease, Viliame Rasea, Qase ni Vale of Gonesau Clan, Navunimono.

They were my warriors, they worked hard given that there were 8 sons and 1 daughter of Tailevu courting the vote of the 12,000 Tailevu North People.

RESTRICTION ON LANGUAGE TO BE USED IN PARLIAMENT

“Madam Speaker it is a great injustice that as native Fijians, we cannot speak in our mother tongue in this August House. Neither can the member of any ethnic community speak their mother tongue, and we are all required to speak in English. It is unprecedented, and totalitarian, and I doubt that this rule exists in any other Parliament the world over. Hindi and Fijian or Vosa Vakaviti are recognised as official languages in our Constitutions,
yet despite the much talked about economic growth, the increased GDP, this Parliament cannot afford translators, as previous Parliaments did?

It is my view Madam Speaker, that the social re-engineering experiment that started in Year Zero (2006) according to the learned Attorney General, will not work despite all the decrees promulgated to enforce it, entrenched in a Constitution Decree promulgated without the participation of the people of Fiji.”

Be that as it may Madam Speaker, SODELPA stands for the rule of law, and will continue to abide by the Rule of Law. We will continue to stand up for the rights of all the people of Fiji, against such draconian and unjust laws.

TRIBUTE TO THE FORMER LEADERS
I wish at this point Madam Speaker with your indulgence, to pay tribute and recognise the contributions, the sacrifices and leadership of our former leaders. As an official of the Matanitu iTaukei, or Fijian Administration, I served under all Prime Ministers, from the late Turaga na Tui Nayau, Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara, Dr. Bavadra, Major General Rabuka, Mr. Chaudhry, to the deposed Prime Minister Laisenia Qarase. My first Minister was the
late Ratu William Toganivalu, a great Chief and Leader of Tailevu and I am forever indebted to him, and later Ministers, including, the
Turaga Bale na Vunivalu, Ratu Sir George Cakobau, Ratu Deve Toganivalu, Ratu Meli Vesikula, Ratu Josua Toganivalu, Ratu Timoci Vesikula, Mr. Qarase and Ratu Naiqama Lalabalavu, na Turaga Bale na Tui Cakau. They had all reinforced the principles of servant leadership, and that the wellbeing of the iTaukei, is the wellbeing of the people of Fiji.

Our former Leaders would be horrified to learn of the changes that have been made without consultation and which affect ALL the people of Fiji. Many laws have been imposed over the last twelve years without consultation, including the 2013 Constitution.

Measures were imposed that limited the rights of all religious bodies from 2009-13. It is a basic principle of democracy, to hear the voice of the people, on changes that affect their daily lives.

Madam Speaker, Indigenous Fijians, have a specific right to be consulted, and to give their free, prior, informed consent to changes that affect their institutions, their resources, and their lands, as a distinct indigenous group, their rights under the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) and the ILO treaty, the Convention No. 169 on the Rights of Indigenous & Tribal Peoples.

My colleagues have given detailed contribution on the many laws and decrees imposed since 2006, that marginalise indigenous institutions, and our right to manage our land and resources.

I wish to focus today Madam Speaker, on just one, the Land Use Decree.

Specifically, section 15, which breaches the right of indigenous land-owning groups to challenge decisions made under that Decree.

Section 15 states Madam Speaker:

“15. – (1) No court, tribunal, commission or any other adjudicating body shall have the jurisdiction to accept, hear, determine or in any other way entertain any proceeding, claim, challenge or dispute by any person or body which seeks or purports to challenge or question – (a) the validity, legality or propriety of this Decree; (b) any decision of any Minister or any State official or body, made under this Decree; (c) the terms and condition of lease issued by the Director of Land under this Decree; or (d) the validity of the cancellation of any leases, licenses or other instruments.

I submit Madam Speaker, that this is a breach of the so-called equality claimed by FijiFirst, where only indigenous Fijians are limited from challenging in court decisions by the government on their land.

ACCOUNTABILITY AND TRANSPARENCY IN THE PRESIDENT’S SPEECH

Turning now to His Excellency the President’s speech, I will respond to the assertion of transparency and accountability in the 2018 elections, Madam Speaker.

As General Secretary of the Social Democratic Party, I was in a position to experience directly, the obstacles and draconian restrictions in the Electoral Decree 2014.

Madam Speaker, the Leader of Opposition and SODELPA Party Leader, former Prime Minister Major-General (Retired) Sitiveni Rabuka and the SODELPA Members of Parliament are here in this Parliament to represent not only those who voted for us, but also the interest of all the people of Fiji.

We are here without prejudice to our legal right to redress regarding the 2018 General Elections (do not mention specifics of our legal petition, just say
FFP will find out when the Petition is filed).

Madam Speaker only about 72% of registered voters had casted their vote in these elections, compared to 84% in 2014. That is about 172,258 (27.3% of registered voters did not vote in the recent elections, compared to about 91,000 (16%) who did not vote in 2014.

Todate Madam Speaker, the Fiji Elections Office has not explained why so many voters were wrongly allocated, and how many of these voters tried to vote, but were denied.

In pre-poll or early voting which began 7 days before election day on November 9, 2018, there is a lower voter turnout rate of about 63%.

With only about 44,000 voters casting their vote while about 25,000 did not vote, or were not able to vote.

That is, over one-third of PrePoll Voters did not vote! Elaborate on details only if they ask [see end section for the details]

Those denied the right to vote Madam Speaker, the Final Voter Roll was only given to political parties on November 7, 2018, two days after prepoll started on November 5th 2018.

From the Roll, we see that hundreds were wrongly registered.

For example, voters in Moala, Nadi were not allowed to vote because they were registered in Moala, Lau.

Similar stories from voters in Narewa Navosa, on the roll in Narewa, Nadi.

Voters from Lami town, registered to vote in Lamiti, Gau.

Someone with knowledge about Fiji would not make such a basic mistake!

These are the most basic mistakes, that should not happen and I would say criminally negligent.

This was not the voter’s fault – they correctly registered to vote as is their right.

Yet the Elections Office put them to stations with similar names to where they lived, because as we know, many places in Fiji have the same name. So
this was not the voters fault.

Madam Speaker, there are many other anomalies in the election results, and the numbers released by the Elections Office, that do not make sense.

SODELPA’S SUCCESS
SODELPA increased its share of the vote, and increased its seats to 21 in 2018 from 15 seats in 2014 despite the bias and unfairness of the Electoral Decree, the unfair processes, despite the difficult environment in which political parties other than FFP operate, despite the restrictions and despite the discouragement of political participation, over the last 12 years where politics and politicians became a “dirty word”.

Despite the difficult legal and political environment, SODELPA gained six seats and for this Madam Speaker, we can only thank our Almighty Father & our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, because a human and ordinary assessment of our scant financial resources, and the restrictions we operate under, would say logically, that what SODELPA has attained in these elections, is IMPOSSIBLE.

For that Madam Speaker, I beg your indulgence to sincerely thank the thousands of volunteers who came forward as polling agents, as party workers, as members of campaign teams, because they believed in SODELPA’s collective vision, and our promise of servant leadership, of “Leadership That Listens.”

You overcame fear, overcame oppressive laws, the oppressive political environment and threats. You came forward with the courage of your convictions to ‘walk the talk’ and to serve the people and our future generations.

To you all, I say vinaka vakalevu, May God Bless You All.

The journey is not over, Keep the Faith, and let us soldier on!

Madam Speaker, I turn now to our role as Opposition.

At the outset Madam Speaker, I acknowledge that the role of this August House as a whole includes the scrutiny and oversight of the actions of the Executive arm of the State, the Government.

As a member of the Loyal Opposition of the Republic of Fiji, I undertake to:
● contribute to the scrutiny of, and suggestion for improvements
to legislation and budget proposals;
● the examination of expenditure and public accounts;
● to seek information on and clarification of government policy;
● to appraise government administration;
● to articulate the grievances of our population; and
● to examine delegated legislation.

This is also the role of government backbenchers, in the interest of the people of Fiji, in order that Parliament, is not merely a rubber-stamp for Government actions.

Secondly Madam Speaker , our role as members of the Loyal Opposition, is not only one of criticism but, at times, to offer 13 agreement, assistance or improvements to the actions and policies of the Government in the interests of the people and the nation.

On this note, Governments must not question the loyalty of those who express dissent, or question government policies and Bills.

We remain citizens of the same State and servants of the same laws and Constitution.

As has been said Madam Speaker, “Dissent is the most loyal form of patriotism.”

Freedom of speech in our beloved Fiji is limited under various Decrees promulgated since 2006.

What we have seen Madam Speaker in the 2018 elections, after twelve years, is that the people have expressed by their vote, that they cannot continue to labor or live under repressive laws.

The election result shows a big swing away from the ruling FijiFirst Party which gained only a 50.02% majority.

That means about 49.08% of the population voted for parties in opposition to the FijiFirst Party.

Madam Speaker, democracy is the battle of ideas, political parties give the people a choice, and that choice expressed at the polls, decides the Government.

But even after elections, the people must continue to be heard. May I emphasise, that even after elections, the Government must continue to listen to the voice of the people.

When dealing with the affairs of governance of the nation, if there is injustice or wastage of resources, the people of Fiji, who pay the taxes of elected officials and public servants, have every right to an opinion and to express that opinion.

Just because 50.02% of voters are said to have voted for the FFP, Madam Speaker, they have not given up their right to be heard and to express their views, especially to laws and policies that negatively affect them, for the whole four year term of government.

OMISSION OF 2006 COUP D’ETAT
Madam Speaker, I wish to express my misgivings about His Excellency the President’s omission of the 2006 coup d’etat, which the Fiji Court of Appeal in 2009 declared unlawful and unconstitutional, leading to the abrogation of the 1997 Constitution.

It is common knowledge and a matter of public record the names of those citizens who were killed in State custody unlawfully after the 2006 coup d’etat: Nimilote Verebasaga, Sakiusa Rabaka, Josefa Baleiloa, Iowane Benedito, Tevita Malasebe and Viliame Soko .

The passage of time does not blunt the injustice. The imposition of immunity in the imposed 2013 Constitution leaves the cry of their families unanswered.

These deaths in custody Madam Speaker, and the continued, documented incidents of torture and the recent death of Josua Laulauvaki in custody, contribute to the atmosphere of fear in Fiji.

We cannot build a new democracy without addressing the injustices of the past.

That is why SODELPA proposed a Truth and Reconciliation Commission, to address the injustices of the past, so that we can all move forward together, in unity.

Decrees like the Media Decree, Public Order Decrees limit freedom of expression and media freedom.

It is SODELPA policy to repeal these Decrees, and proposed legislation like the Parliamentary Privileges Bill No.28 of 2017, which will be presented to
Parliament with other pending decrees as mentioned by His Excellency.

SODELPA will continue to oppose these oppressive legislation, as they have no place in a modern democracy.

Madam Speaker, our media continue to operate in an atmosphere of fear of draconian jail and financial penalties, limiting the freedom to receive information, of our citizens.

It is a sad situation that continues the oppression of the last 12 years.

It is unfortunate Madam Speaker, that it is the FijiFirst Party during the election campaign demonised SODELPA and its leadership.

It is the Hon. Prime Minister and his own Deputy who during their campaign vilified indigenous Fijians and claimed that SODELPA is telling lies, yet cannot point to one single incident or evidence of these “lies. ”

The politics of division did not work and only 50.02% of voters apparently believed them.

In terms of the economy Madam Speaker, the much talked about “prosperity” and “high economic growth rate” boasted about, has not trickled down to benefit our people, but only benefit a select few.

We have many handouts, but these do not empower our people to come out of poverty but instead keeps them in a vicious cycle of dependence where they graduate from one form of welfare, to another through their whole lives. So their families remain in the vicious cycle of intergenerational poverty.

Handouts that are not targeted contribute to the high consumption of consumer goods and unhealthy food that increases our Non Communicable Disease rates.

RESPOND TO HONORABLE WHIP OF – ALVICK MAHARAJ
Madam Speaker I now wish to respond to the Honorable Whip of the FF Party, comments on our Party Leader, Major General Rabuka, yesterday
Madam Speaker, the diatribe by the Hon. Government Whip against the Hon. Leader of the Opposition and our Party SODELPA cannot and should not go unchallenged.

The issue Madam Speaker is that some have a myopic view of our history and unable to rise above petty personal political interest.

Many are quick to talk about 1987 but fail to acknowledge that the Opposition Leader, Hon. Rabuka returned executive power to the the President for the installation of a civilian government, six months after the events of 14th May 1987.

He did not hold on to power and pay himself and his interim cabinet secret salaries.

It is pertinent Madam Speaker to remind our people that the decision of the Fiji Court of Appeal (ABU 007 of 2009) continues pending implementation.

The Opposition Leader led the rescue of the NBF whose loss we have recovered.

I also wish to point out the loss after the 2006 coup, of $200m from NZ aid for the resettlement of informal settlements and 350m euros for the Alternative Livelihood Program.

The 2013 Constitution was imposed on the nation Madam Speaker.

In contrast, the 1997 Constitution was truly the “will of the people” and described as one of the three best constitutions in the world.

Let us gather the courage to face the reality and learn to adopt the bipartisan approach to heal, unite and reconcile and rebuild Fiji .

Madam Speaker, I have not been impressed with the manner of exchanges between the members of the two SIDES OF THE HOUSE since we were inducted on Monday.

Do we have to continue that way? The people of Fiji are watching us closely. The big question for me is “How can we change the status quo? We all owe it to the people of Fiji to work together for their benefit.

Madam Speaker, I agree wholeheartedly with His Excellency’s expressed hope for unity among our diverse community.

That is also SODELPA’s collective vision, which is “ to build a secure, peaceful, prosperous and stable nation through inclusive leadership and governance that will foster improved livelihoods, sustainable economic and social development, protection of our environment, and reduced vulnerability to the adverse impacts of climate change ”.

While we sit on opposite sides of the house, the Chamber is oval, and you Madam Speaker are at the center, joining the two sides together.

I undertake that we the Loyal Opposition will remain loyal to the people of Fiji, even those who did not vote for us, given the sacred constitutional duty we have to review and to make suggestions for improvement to laws and policies of the Government, and it is my hope that the Government will accept that it does not have a monopoly on wisdom, ideas and what is best for our people.

It is my hope that we can work together for the betterment of all our peoples, by cooperating across the aisle, in committees, as that is the essence of democracy.

Let us do this for the benefit of all the people of Fiji please.

Vinaka vakalevu, shukriya, dhanyabaad [Darn – Yah – Bud]
MAY GOD BLESS FIJI

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