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Madraiwiwi: The Challenges In Building A New Fiji


The Challenges In Building A New Fiji

Annual Pacific Co-operation Foundation Address by

Ratu Joni Madraiwiwi, former Vice-President of Fiji

13th & 15th May 2008, Wellington & Auckland

(Remarks delivered under the auspices of the Pacific Co-operation Foundation)

Where does one begin? If we accept that four coups in the last twenty years have blighted our progress as a nation, what is the alternative? There is as yet no common vision to which we can all commit. Nor is there an identity that we all share and affirm together. Beyond a collection of polyglot communities with an uneven sense of being citizens of Fiji, there is still a lack of shared values and unity. The fissures in our midst are a historical legacy. However the time for blame, whether it is our long departed colonial masters or ourselves, has gone. We are responsible for perpetuating these divisions ourselves. How are we to create a new society with a renewed sense of purpose and commitment from the old?

Let us begin with developing a vision. A vision that articulates the nature of the society we feel represents the best of us and for which we are striving. Our identity as citizens of Fiji is the practical reflection of this vision. In creating this vision, the people's voices must be heard. I mean the

ordinary men and women of our country. Mine is just another elitist perspective. We need to listen to people and find out what is it they conceive our vision to be. The respective medium of radio and television between them would effectively reach the entire country so the concept of a vision could be easily explained. People's opinions could be obtained by various means: whether by way of a tribunal soliciting opinions, a series of fora held across the nation to hear what people had to say or working through established structures such as provincial and advisory councils. From these submissions, we could then distil what would best reflect a consensus. This vision would then be a guide and a reference point to which all of us could commit as well as share with each other.

Together with this initiative, there must be a conscious effort by our new leaders (whoever they are) to adopt a 'no victors, no vanquished' policy. This was adopted by General Gowon in Nigeria in 1966 after the Biafran civil war. There is a worrying sentiment among some Fijians of penalising the IndoFijian community for its perceived support of the present regime when the country returns to democratic rule. There is no place for these kinds of feelings. Just as there was no cause for the triumphalism among Fijians that emerged post May 1987 and post May 2000. Both kinds of emotions are counterproductive and destructive. Because they simply

prolong division and dissension. Leadership will place a heavy responsibility on those who assume power. They must initiate a process of reconciliation and engagement. This is unfinished business as the one which the previous SDL Government embarked upon was not inclusive enough. It left many wounded and fostering feelings in the IndoFijian and other communities. So careful thought and wide consultation among civil society and the faith communities will be required to ensure that what is envisaged is workable and broadly acceptable. We have examples of the Truth Commission in South Africa and similar Commissions in South American States such as Chile to consider.

It would be foolish of me to deny the existence of ethnic feelings in our society. They exist in all our communities, but are more obvious among Fijians and IndoFijians because they are the larger groups. Social integration has been slow for obvious reasons: people are more comfortable with their own. However there are a series of initiatives that could be undertaken to re-establish a sense of fairness and reinforce social cohesion. These include ensuring the merit principle is closely adhered to in the public service, with allowances for ethnic balance where necessary. This must apply to statutory corporations as well. Care must be taken to ensure the awarding of scholarships to all students is open and transparent. Where affirmative measures remain in place, they must be

monitored, open to public scrutiny, and have measurable guidelines as well as time lines. In addition, appointments to statutory boards and corporations must be carefully screened by the relevant authorities. Too often they have taken on an ethnic slant as well assuming an element of cronyism. The military must become more reflective of the general population in its composition. And I echo calls made by Mr. Chaudhry and Ratu Epeli Ganilau on previous occasions that consideration be given to the Vice Presidency being held by non Fijians. The collective purpose of these actions is to re-establish confidence in there being a level playing field.

Much of the issue of vision and identity relates to the ambivalence of Fijians about those concepts. In challenging Fijian institutions such as the Bose Levu Vakaturaga, the Methodist Church and the Soqosoqo Duavata Ni Lewenivanua Party, the Commander has also provided opportunities for reflection and soul searching. What real difference do the Bose Levu Vakaturaga (BLV) and the Fijian Administration (of which the BLV sits at the apex) make in the lives of ordinary Fijians? Does the latter serve any purpose in view of the fact that the Government has responsibility for infrastructure and economic development? What place has the traditional system in the scheme of things? The Fijians themselves need to be heard on those issues. Their leaders have a responsibility to listen and

discern what it is they want. In what form do they wish their indigenousness (and all that attaches to it) survive. My preoccupation has not been with the form and the hierarchy. It is with the values of kinship, reciprocity and mutual respect that provide a bridge to the other communities. These are qualities that can be harnessed to enhance the vision we seek.

The stated aim of the Interim regime to remove the present electoral system is welcome. Because there is little argument that it has reinforced ethnic patterns of voting. But the process has survived this long because all political parties were supportive of it. The concerns of some Fijians who resist any change because it would remove their ethnically entitled seats is understandable. But it is mistaken. The preponderance of Fijians in the population, coupled with IndoFijian emigration, will ensure Fijian numerical superiority in the next elections however boundaries are drawn. We no longer need those ethnically based seats from the Fijian point of view because their fears of being swamped no longer apply. However, the IndoFijian community may now be reconsidering the issue because under the present arrangement, they are guaranteed a certain number of seats. The concern now is the protection of minorities. Whether they are IndoFijian or from other communities, they must be guaranteed a voice in Parliament. The only system that assures that outcome is proportional

representation. That is what we need to be thinking about. It does not prevent ethnic voting but it does more accurately reflect the will of the electorate and the support for political parties. There is also space for parties that attempt to capture the middle ground.

Those who favour the charter process that has been initiated by the National Council for Building A Better Fiji, are fond of saying elections will not solve any of our underlying problems. That is not their purpose. Elections create the basis for legitimacy. It is a mandate from the electorate. They begin the process of re-establishing democratic governance. That is why it is critical for there to be political engagement. It matters not whether it is through the informal process sponsored by the Commonwealth Secretariat (Comsec) or the more formal joint UN/Comsec initiative proposed by the Interim Government. It one takes the Interim regime at its word, the Constitution is intact. It cannot be amended by referendum or presidential promulgation. Therefore the next elections will have to be held under the present electoral system. All the more reason to encourage political engagement, dialogue and agreement. Subsequently, the elections could then be held with the new Parliament then amending the Constitution in accordance with what had been agreed.

In spite of the divisions that have been exacerbated by the December coup, it is absolutely critical that the next government is one of national unity. The Constitution envisages a multiparty government but that could be altered to allow for more flexibility. The imperative for such a government is self-evident. At a time when our country has been fractured as never before, it requires a government with which the entire nation can identify. It is a tragedy in hindsight that we lacked the courage and the statesmanship to do so after the upheavals of May 2000. We need national solutions to our problems and we need a government that has a broad mandate to consolidate and deal with the issues decisively. These are readily identified. Re-establishing mutual trust and confidence between the government and the people as well as between communities will be a continuing preoccupation. Restoration of the economy and our relationships with both Australia and New Zealand are critical. Economic growth has averaged 2 per cent for the last decade which is inadequate to cater for employment opportunities, infrastructure, health and social services as well as alarming levels of poverty and related social ills. Definitive solutions still evade the landlord tenant relationship in relation to native leases. All these issues require the requisite political will and commitment to be dealt in an integrated manner.

There is a legitimate concern about the absence of an opposition were

there to be a government of national unity. It is important to remember that this new government will have heavy responsibilities to meet and high expectations to live up to. Not only will it have to restore trust and confidence in the institutions of state as well as in the community, it will also have to build the economy and deal with rising levels of poverty and degradation. We have become accustomed to thinking in terms of an opposition in the Westminster form of government. Under our Constitution, there is provision for sector committees on various aspects of government. Given the appropriate understanding and agreement among the political parties, these committees have the potential to function as a check on the executive. What is required is a redrafting of the Standing Orders of the House and Senate to reflect these changed circumstances. There is an element of good faith as well that the major political parties will not use their numbers to sabotage these arrangements.

The immediate concern is the role of the military. They have been at the centre of the four coups we have had. Their pronouncements since the 5 December 2006 do not suggest any dilution of their assertions they are the guarantors of stability and order. To deny them any participation in national affairs for the foreseeable future would be unrealistic. But clear protocols need to be developed between the government and the military. Regular consultations need to take place as well. Discussions will

also need to take place about its size as well. A considerable portion of the budget is allocated to the military. The starting point must be the question of immunity. It is an issue which divides those who opposed the coup of 5 December, 2006. But it is a matter of realpolitik. Without it the military will not engage let alone negotiate. But perhaps the nature of the immunity can be discussed. Because there are certain military officers who must be held accountable for some of the serious human rights abuses. I accept the argument that this approach may encourage future coups. It is a risk we must be prepared to take. The room for manoeuvre is slight and this potential threat will have to be addressed over the long term. It will lie in the strengthening of democratic institutions and civil society as well as the inculcation of democratic values in the community. Part of those developments must necessarily include greater engagement with the military in understanding its proper role in a liberal democracy.

There is also the challenge to build a democratic culture. It needs to be inculcated in the hearts and minds of the people. Part of the problem is that the chattering classes themselves are ambivalent about the concept as can be seen in the coup of December, 2006. Too often, principle has been sacrificed for political gain. As long as this continues, the military will be nurtured in its misconceptions. The creation of a democratic culture is a gradual process. It will require the concerted efforts of all sections of our

society. Introducing more horizontal structures and accessible forms of authority whether in the traditional sphere or the religious organisations which play an influential part in our lives would reinforce these tendencies. What it also takes is the empowerment of people within their own communities. To allow them to develop the capacities to be assertive and questioning of authority. This would be achieved by encouraging them to participate in decision-making and in the discussions surrounding them. Civil society has played and is playing a significant role in this empowerment. Many of them have given voice to those who otherwise would not be heard. While there has been a split between those who had supported the coup for reasons of social justice and others who recognize the indivisibility of rights (political, economic and social), there is no denying the increased prominence to social issues given their advocacy.

In fashioning not so much as a new Fiji as a better one than we already have, an attempt has been made to put this in the context of the significant factors at play. The challenges do not lie in the actual economic, social and political problems that we face although they are in themselves considerable. Those will always be there in one form or another. The challenges arise out of the barriers we have erected, and perpetuated for one reason or another. They have created these distances between us as members of the various communities that comprise Fiji. Time and again they have been manipulated for advantage by one side or another. In the latest twist, the spectre of ethnonationalism was used to justify the coup. We can dismantle these barriers because I still believe in our country and its people. In spite of our vicissitudes, there has been minimal violence. There continue to be reservoirs of goodwill in spite of all that has happened. They will be required to put in place a vision and identity that belongs to all of us, together with the actual practice of the democratic principles we all affirm, so that we break this cycle of instability that has been our albatross for the past two decades.


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