Maiden speech for NFP MP Lenora Qereqeretabua

Opposition MP Lenora Salusalu Qereqeretabua delivering her maiden speech in Parliament this morning. Picture: SUPPLIED/FIJIAN PARLIAMENT FACEBOOK

Thank you, Madam Speaker.

I return all honour, glory and praise to my Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, who has sustained me, lifted my head, given me strength and provision during this journey.

It is an honour and privilege to stand in this house to deliver my maiden speech knowing my beloved parents and husband are sitting in the public gallery.

I congratulate you on your reappointment and wish you good health, Madam Speaker.  I also offer my congratulations to my former broadcasting colleague Hon Veena Bhatnagar, on her election to the position of Deputy Speaker.

I congratulate the Honourable members of the house especially the ladies on both sides for your election to represent our people here.

The voters definitely want to see a change.  I believe that behind having 10 women voted in is the hope that we will transform this house into a place where we will see more inclusiveness and bipartisanship.

I acknowledge the brave and often outspoken contributions of former NFP MP’s Mr Pramod Chand of Labasa and Mr Prem Singh of Nadi.

Madam Speaker, I enter this house at a time when we face serious challenges as a nation;

Where the cost of living is high and the minimum wage is low,

Where the classroom is one of the most stressful places to work,

Where certain sections of the media are either muzzled or have completely lost our trust,

Where the elections campaigning has left many polarised and bitter.

I enter this house at a time;

Where the divide between the haves and the have nots continues to widen,

Where the threat of victimisation is a reality, preventing many individuals, communities and companies from actively and openly supporting political parties opposed to the Fiji First party,

Where returning home and contributing actively in their country is not an option for many intellectuals, academics and professionals because they dared to have views and opinions that differ from government’s.

I enter this house at a time where we lecture the world on climate change but refuse to do the simplest things to reduce carbon emissions, right here at home, in fact right here in this house.

Why I joined

At this time last year, I decided that it was high time I contributed to my country from within these walls.  This was after Govt announced that it was going to spend $35, 000 to welcome home a government delegation to the CoP 23 meetings in Bonn.  A delegation that had gone to work, earning salaries and allowances.  I could not believe that this was happening less than 2 years after TC Winston, the most intense tropical cyclone in the southern hemisphere on record as well as the strongest to make landfall in the southern hemisphere, devastated much of the country and tragically claimed 44 lives in the Western, Eastern, Central and Northern Divisions.  I could not believe that Govt was prepared to spend $35, 000 on a celebration whilst huge parts of these same divisions still lay in ruin and many children faced the reality of beginning the new school year – January 2018 – still under tents.

I took to social media asking those who agreed with me to share my Facebook status using the hashtag Cancel the Party, and to write to the newspapers pleading with govt to have a change of heart and to instead channel the $35, 000 to more deserving projects including the rehabilitation of TC Winston victims, and ensuring hospitals had basic necessities.

The result of my letter being printed in the paper and the outcry on social media was quick;

  1. There was a flurry of media statements which at first defiantly claimed that my opinion was my own and that the celebrations would continue conveniently using the excuse that Traditional Protocols were important. Yes, these are the same Traditional Protocols that were shamefully set aside just last month for the Traditional welcome for the royals.
  2. The blame was passed onto “well-meaning but naïve civil servants”,
  3. The party was cancelled, and
  4. Finally a toned down and (I hope) cheaper welcome event was decided upon.

But I had made my point and people took notice.  If this could happen with one issue, imagine the possibilities!  So I joined the fray!

Civics and citizenship

After sitting the FJC exam at Shri Vivekananda  High School, now Swami Vivekananda College in Nadi, I went to Canberra to complete high school. One of the units I took was Legal Studies.  This is a course that I believe we should seriously look to introducing to year 9 students, if we want to raise Civic minded citizens.

Civics and citizenship education builds students’ knowledge and understanding of the ways in which citizens can actively participate in their country’s diverse society. Students learn about the civic institutions and the processes through which decisions are made for the common good of the community and they also develop the skills and understandings that relate to the organisation of a harmonious democratic society.

These are the skills that will allow students to effectively participate in society and become responsible, informed and active citizens.

The challenge in Fiji right now is NOT that people are uneducated.  The challenge is that many are educated just enough to believe what they’ve been told.  But not educated enough to question. And here is where tyranny can reign unchecked.

Media

The media provides a vital role in discerning fact from fiction and reporting thereof from a neutral, unbiased perspective.

We assume expertise as well as a professional attitude on the part of the journalists, the providers of our news. This assumption implies something that is of even MORE value than expertise and professionalism: that is TRUST.

In Fiji, our media is either muzzled or has lost our trust.

Misinformation matters because media outlets have great power. They shape the way we understand the world and, ultimately, drive our behaviour. It is no exaggeration to say that their activity can have life-and-death implications.

Indigenous Concerns

As a member of the indigenous people of this country, I am very conscious of the fact that are only 500, 000 of us on this planet, out of the 7.7billion.  Our language is unique to us, as are our indigenous traditions.  It is only natural that when there are so few of you, the urge to preserve what can be lost is keenly felt.

It is not racist therefore to want to preserve my language and my traditions. It is not racist to want to ensure that the native traditional lands and fisheries of the first people of Fiji are protected.

The Hon Kuridrani was told to say quote and unquote when he mentioned the traditional titles of the chiefs and chiefly households, he wanted to pay tribute to yesterday, because the Standing Orders prohibit members from speaking their mother tongue. This must change.

This is the people’s house. How is it that we, the people, cannot use our own languages here? These are the languages we learned at birth. These are the languages in which we express our most intimate feelings. Why should this House only be a place for people who can speak good English? How can we talk about preserving our unique languages – our many Fijian dialects, our special Fiji Hindi – if we cannot speak those languages here?

The parliament of New Zealand made Te reo Maori an official language in 1985. MPs in New Zealand can address the house in Te reo with the use of an interpreter. We can have translators in our courts. Why can we not have them in this House?

Eventually we could move to simultaneous translation with trained translators. This is what happens elsewhere. This is the 21st century. We have technology that can record what we say and how we vote. So it is not hard to have simultaneous translation. Good, high quality translators would not just be useful in Parliament. They would have skills we could use in many other settings where dialogue and consultation are required.

This is not about practicalities. This is about being willing to do it. And we should do it. It is about our unity, our dignity as Fijians of all races, and our pride in our country and its culture.

On the subject of Human Rights;

I wish to remind the Hon Members of the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence, an international campaign to challenge violence against women and girls. The campaign runs every year from 25 November, the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, to 10 December, Human Rights Day.

Now that Fiji has been elected to the United Nations Human Rights Council, I hope that the government will take a long hard look at the Amnesty International Report on Fiji, pointing out the need for government to establish an independent and effective mechanism to investigate and address the systematic use of violence by the security forces and police and to make such reports public.

Environment

I have heard in several speeches this week how the Fiji First govt has led the way in Climate Change actions.

Since March 2012 residents and members of the public have been lobbying Government for the protection and NON-Industrialization of Draunibota Bay, in Lami; home to one of the few large remaining stands of mangroves in the Suva area.

An EIA submission by the proposed developers showed major errors. Proper procedures were not followed.

In October 2012 The Bay of Islands Preservation Group was formed. What we do is we raise awareness to Save Draunibota Bay from industry and the destruction of over 36 acres of Mangroves for proposed industrial development. So far, we have been successful.

In 2015 The Hon. Prime Minister stood on the shore of Draunibota Bay and released 7000 young mud- crabs. He gave a speech, and this is what he said:

“Nothing is more important to every Fijian than the preservation of our environment, and especially those living things on which we all depend for food and for making a living. So I’m especially delighted to be here today to celebrate a wonderful event – the release of several thousand baby mud crabs into the wild to help repopulate the mangroves in Draunibota Bay.”

But, in that very same month – April 2015 – the land in Draunitoba Bay was rezoned to allow commercial building, heavy industry and car parking.

In May 2015 we appealed against the Rezoning to the Environment Minister, with a petition signed by 560 people.

Then another developer bought the site, fenced it and cleared it of mangroves.

Two years after we lodged out appeal, in May 2017 the then Minister for Environment, Hon Praveen Bala, disallowed our appeal.

Now approval has been given to build a Paint Factory on the rezoned land.  A paint factory, right next to mangroves.

Madam Speaker, did you know that if you want a copy of an Environmental Impact Assessment report you must pay $4.85 per page!

Some EIA reports have hundreds of pages!  But you cannot get a soft copy emailed to you. Nor can you go and photocopy the report yourself.  So, being able to challenge changes to our environment is a costly exercise. And yet, the people who are most affected by development are often the poorest people. What will the Government do to improve this?

The saga surrounding the destruction of the cloud forest at Wainisavulevu Weir by EFL is another example of how carelessly we view sustainable development, where inadequate public consultations are the norm, where there is a disconnect between the overseas preaching and local action, where there are even attempts to hide the truth.

Let’s come closer to home, or should I say, work.

How many single use PET bottles does this house go through each day, each week?  I reckon during one working day, more than 100 single use plastic bottles? For this chamber alone? Multiply that by 5 days and you have a lot of plastic bottles.

I would like to invite this house to please consider phasing out single use plastic water bottles.  Our parliamentary offices have filtered water dispensers, which are a blessing. Why can’t all of us honourable members consider bringing our  own reusable water bottles from home and filling them up at the dispensers? Or, God forbid, why can we not just drink plain tap water like most of the people who voted us in here?

As one of our sayings from Kadavu goes, “Mai ya so?”  I use a reusable water bottle with a filter that I change every two months or so depending on tap water quality.

Secondly – we sure go through a lot of paper in this House.  Since we MP’s are being supplied smart phones and laptops, I hope we can use less paper in our communications.

Thirdly is the air-polluting habit of government four-wheel drive vehicles. Waiting for their Honourable passengers, no matter the duration of their meetings or meals, with both engine and air-conditioning running.  May I urge honourable members to consider asking their drivers to cease this practice for the sake of cleaner air, our health and environment.

There is a young lady, called AnnMary Raduva who has already made a name for herself as an environmental activist.  AnnMary, with the help of her family has started a campaign called “Say No to Balloon Releasing”.  AnnMary has written a letter to The Hon PM, in the hope that the Government, along with stakeholders, classify releasing balloons into the air as littering.

Ann Mary started her campaign after watching a balloon release recently to celebrate the launch of Walesi, and after watching a YouTube video with her 11-year-old sister which showed turtles and sea birds dying from swallowing plastics and bits and pieces of balloons.

Ann Mary is 14 years old and is a Year 9 student of Adi Cakobau School; she deserves credit and assistance to not only see her project succeed, but to promote her as an activist.

On Equality

On Equality, I ask the Hon Minister for Education to please look urgently at levelling the playing field, in regards, Education resourcing in the maritime zones and rural areas, so children in Kadavu for example can compete more strongly with their peers in urban centres.  This would be a huge step towards true equality.

Hon Koroilavesau  on Tuesday said his information was that transportation and shipping had never been better because of the franchise shipping system.  I don’t know how many times the Hon Minister travels as an everyday citizen, because while that is true in terms of regularity for us islanders, I invite him to travel like I do, like my parents often do and like most of us islanders do – in vessels that are dangerously over-crowded, where passengers outnumber life-jackets, if you can find them and where there are no safety announcements.  I invite all Hon ministers to attempt maritime travel like the majority of this country travels.

Leadership

To quote Leadership guru, John C Maxwell, “Everything rises and falls on leadership.”

I believe that is the same when it comes to a country; when the leadership is fair, when the leadership is compassionate, when the leadership leads with love first and foremost, you see that reflected in its citizens.”

Having watched the interjections, aping and other behaviour on show in this house over the last four years, I cannot help but be reminded of a school-yard bully and the obligatory gaggle of buddies, always jostling for an approving pat on their backs.

Just about everyone I speak to hopes that we will be better behaved over the next four years.  That should be easy to do IF we keep in mind always who put us here and why, and who pays our salaries.

In my first few days in Parliament, I see, hear and feel the ‘might’ of the Govt Side, and hear of how they are the only ones who have and are capable of the many great things quoted endlessly. The Hon PM said in his speech on Monday, “I am here to listen to you and take your concerns seriously.  And I am here to build a better future for all Fijians, wherever they may be in the country.”

Well, we on this side of the floor represent 49.6% of the Fijians the Hon PM was talking about.  So please take the concerns of that 49.6% of Fijians seriously when we highlight them in this House.

Any Government must remain transparent and answerable to the public at all times, and a good Opposition should put the spotlight on serious issues and have them resolved quickly.

Thank you

To each of you who believed in me enough to entrust me with your vote, thank you. I will do my utmost to be worthy of the honour and privilege of representing you in parliament.

I thank the leadership of the National Federation Party, Professor Biman Prasad, Mr Pio Tikoduadua, Vice Presidents, Executives and Selection Committee members for deeming me worthy to represent my party, the NFP.

To fellow NFP candidates; we fought a good, clean, issues-based fight without resorting to personal attacks and vitriol.  We all should hold our heads high.

I have nothing but gratitude for the NFP Staff and Youth; your energy, positivity, good vibes and tonnes of knowledge continue to be invaluable.

I am grateful to all NFP supporters, blue collar, white collar, no collar, in the factories, offices and on the streets, who campaigned for me, with or without my knowledge, at home and abroad; you are the machinery that drives this push to be that positive change Fiji so desperately needs.

Thank you – To my close family from Dravuni, Buliya and Navoka who were the people I relied on the most to get my message out.  My two Tavales, Tamai Oveti at Lomaivuna and Tamai Sala at Navoka, and my brothers Semi Sarasau in Buliya, Jolame Koroivuya in Dravuni and Sailosi Vunidakua in Sakoca .  I also thank my Bulou Tauvu Titilia from the chiefly village of Tavualevu for her energy and passion.

To the amazing team of young people who were my polling agents, I am so grateful.

Thank you – Mum and Dad, Poasa, Ana-Lisa, Zac and Em,  I could not have gone on this journey without your support from Day 1.  .

There are those who kept me in their prayers, from within my church family and from without: thank you for your prayer support.

There are many I will not thank publicly because they risked their jobs and income to support me, a sad reality in today’s Fiji, but I am so grateful to you all.

I pledge to be worthy of your trust in me.  I pledge to be the change you and I want to see in parliament and in Fiji.  I will need all the help I can get and promise to listen so I can be a good servant.

No one lives forever.

We, our children and their children will reap what we sow.  Pride comes before the fall.

Jeremiah 9; 23 – 24; “Thus says the Lord:

“Let not the wise man glory in his wisdom, Let not the mighty man glory in his might,

Nor let the rich man glory in his riches; But let him who glories, glory in this,

That he understands and knows Me, That I am the Lord, exercising lovingkindness, [a]judgment, and righteousness in the earth.

For in these I delight,” says the Lord.”

Vinaka saka vakalevu, Bahut dhanyavad, Fai’aksia, Xie Xie, Shukria.

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