Extract: Look into the eyes of any child in Fiji today and ask yourself – am i doing enough to ensure that this child will grow up in a Fiji that is stable, secure and prosperous? A Fiji that has no more coups to deter investment? A Fiji that devotes its national budget to better schools, hospitals and other public services and utilities over military spending? I am proud to say ladies and gentlemen that if the National Federation Party were to ask itself those questions – it can hold its head up high and say that it has done very much to ensuring a stable, secure and prosperous Fiji by consistently opposing all military coups in this country.
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The immediate past President Mr Raman Singh, our chief guest na Gone Turaga na Roko Tui Bau and ALL of our invited guests, members, supporters and officials of the National Federation Party.
I am honoured to give this inaugural speech as president of the party.
Honoured to follow in the steps of past party members who carried the leadership batons – Messrs A D Patel, S M Koya, Irene Jai Narayan, Balwant Singh Rakka, Dorsami Naidu, Attar Singh and Raman Singh.
I take this opportunity to express my gratitude to you all for having confidence in my suitability for this role, I hope to live up to the great expectations of the party.
Before I go any further, I want to take this opportunity to thank and commend my predecessor and his leadership team for holding this fort together in very trying circumstances.
In spite of the various decrees aimed at diminishing our freedom of speech and association – your leadership has brought this party back to re-registration and on even keel – fighting fit – ready for the upcoming elections. Thank you very much Mr. Raman Singh and your leadership team in the branches and at headquarters. You all know who you are and i can see that you are all here.
In this inaugural speech I wish to share with you my reasons for being a member of this great political party.
Opposition to all military coups
Ladies and gentlemen, we have all lived under and experienced life under a military government, on and off since 1987.
We all know that these unelected and dictatorial governments – answerable to no one but their armouries – restrict our basic freedoms – of speech, association and religion; they discourage local and foreign investment; and they weaken and destroy important institutions of state.
The combination of those factors is the reason why Fiji is restrained from reaching its social and economic potential.
The coup culture holds us back from progress and development. It keeps us in the third world in spite of all of our resources.
And it holds us back from better schools and hospitals. It holds us back from more employment creation and better wages. It holds us back from leaving a stable, secure and prosperous Fiji to our future generations.
Look into the eyes of any child in Fiji today and ask yourself – am i doing enough to ensure that this child will grow up in a Fiji that is stable, secure and prosperous? A Fiji that has no more coups to deter investment? A Fiji that devotes its national budget to better schools, hospitals and other public services and utilities over military spending? I am proud to say ladies and gentlemen that if the National Federation Party were to ask itself those questions – it can hold its head up high and say that it has done very much to ensuring a stable, secure and prosperous Fiji by consistently opposing all military coups in this country.
The National Federation is a party of respect for human rights and equality for all citizens of Fiji. The party was in fact born out of the struggle for dignity and justice of all the ordinary people of Fiji. This is reflected in the party constitution since inception.
The party’s commitment to individual rights and equality can be seen in its submissions to various forums and its work in ensuring that these rights are enshrined in both the 1970 and 1997 Constitutions of Fiji.
Indigenous rights (Group rights)
Ladies and Gentlemen, the indigenous people of this land – we own our natural resources communally and we do very many things communally.
I am proud to say that this party has a very good record of appreciating this and working to ensure that these group rights are protected and that any reforms would be matters for self determination by we, the indigenous community.
This philosophy is clearly set out in the 1997 Constitution which the National
Federation Party worked hard to shepherd through the Great Council of Chiefs and Parliament. Chapter 13, sections 185 and 186 of the 1997 Constitution enshrine and entrench indigenous rights. Just as importantly, the entrenchment provisions of section 185 ensures self determination by the indigenous community in that all legislation dealing with our natural resources and other communal matters can only be amended with the ultimate consent of our elected representatives in the House of Representatives and Senate and traditional chiefs through the GCC nominees in the Senate.
As an indigenous person,I commend the NFP and its leaders and parliamentarians for those provisions in the 1997 Constitution.
But even before that process and before the coups of 1987, this party had broad representation in parliament of members of both houses of Parliament from the indigenous community. They include Messrs, Apisai Tora, Isikeli Nadalo, Atunaisa Maitoga, Ratu Glaniville Lalabalavu, Ratu Mosese Tuisawau, Ro Asela Logavatu, Timoci Naco, Sakeo Tuiwainikai, Ratu Jullian Toganivalu, Koresi Matatolu, Ratu Osea Gavidi, Ratu Napolioni Dawai II, Ratu Soso Katonivere, Filimone Nalatu and Temo Sukanaivalu.
Those names ladies and gentlemen assure appropriate respect for and primacy of indigenous rights – one that would be jealously guarded and defended when required.
Promotion of youth and women
As both, a woman and a youngish one – i have a lot to commend the NFP. The party has had many women members and group leaders. And the party has always sought more members and participation from these two groups.
We are hopeful of attracting very many from this sector to contest the upcoming elections under the NFP banner. As I said at another party meeting, this is the party that had Irene Jai Narayan as party president in the 70s then Adi Kuini Vuikaba as a coalition leader in 1990-1 – that is some time before women’s rights took a more central place in the discourse of this conservative and male-friendly country.
But as a party, we cannot rest on those laurels and the appointment of another woman party president – we can and we should do more. We led the way back in the 70s and we should lead the way again now to push for more independent women of substance in our ranks as candidates, office bearers and leaders.
Further, we should actively court and engage the young who need to get better connected to the political history of Fiji so as to prepare themselves better for the rebuilding task that lies ahead.
It is the youth who will take all of our hopes and dreams into the future and so we must involve them now in very substantive ways. As my own mother did with me – baptism by fire never did harm anyone.
Bridge between the educated and the community
Another attraction to this party has been how it is a bridge between the professional sector and the wider community.
One or two persons may make snide remarks about this party being a party of ‘elites’ due to the membership and support of very many professionals – but I truly cannot understand why the membership of professionals would be a bad thing. Between you and me – i would rather an Economics Professor like Biman Prasad telling us about the national economy and related policies than a soldier. If we went to the hospital, I’m sure we would all prefer to consult the doctor and not a bone crusher.
Further, many high achieving professionals who have led this party had very humble beginnings and so their own personal stories of beating the odds to rise to national leadership should give our citizens hope for a better future.
I have it on very good authority that our former leader, Mr. Siddiq Moidin Koya (the son of a cane farmer) left school at class 6 at Ba Mission School. He never enrolled at a secondary school but he worked hard as a law clerk and cut cane himself to save enough funds to see him through law studies overseas and the rest as they say is history.
If that story does not motivate you, nothing will.
I wish to round up my inaugural speech by saying that the maturity of this party and its leaders, members and supporters was very attractive to me.
At fifty, the NFP shows its class – a fine history of service through dialogue and partnership with other political parties (ALTO, ALTA, 1970 Constitution, FNPF, Housing Authority, 1997 Constitution) and selflessness (both the party and its members). I like that style very much. Dialogue and understanding are sure ways to win allies and in a polarised state like ours – those qualities are rare jewels.
And so in conclusion, I say thank you once again for your confidence and endorsement and, I take this opportunity to ask each and every one of you party members and supporters to take these great messages (including your own personal experiences) about our party out to the electorate.
Let’s tell Fiji more about who and what we are and why Fiji needs very many NFP parliamentarians!
Thank you very much ladies and gentlemen.