Ratu Tevita Mara at Rally for Democracy in Fiji, in Sydney
Speech by Ratu Tevita Mara at the Rally for Democracy in Fiji
Sydney, Australia, 16 July 2011
Fellow Fiji Citizens
Friends of the Movement for Democracy in Fiji
Supporters of Freedom, Liberty and the Rule of Law
Ni sa bula, Namaste, Noa’ia and Greetings to you all!
I am delighted that so many of you have taken the time to attend this rally in support of returning Democracy to Fiji.
I would also like to thank you very much for your support of a noble cause...the fundamental rights and freedoms of every citizen of Fiji.
There is nothing so precious in life, and in countries, as personal freedom, personal rights, personal liberty, and equality of justice before the law and the rule of law.
A journalist once wrote: “Surrounded by a turquoise sea, lush emerald hills and the tropical trade winds that blow across the island nation induced the people of Fiji to say that the serenity of the country matches its beautiful scenery”.
It is with great regret and sadness in my heart that I have to tell you that serenity no longer exists in Fiji.
The serenity was shattered by the Military coup led by FMF Commander Voreqe Bainimarama in December 2006, when the elected SDL Government was removed at gunpoint. It has been torn apart for the past five years by a ruthless regime headed by the same Bainimarama.
And with the convergence of positions by members of the international community on the situation in Fiji, the truth will no longer be a secret.
Many of you have heard accounts of the brutal acts of repression in Fiji through your family and friends, but not the whole truth.
The truth has been locked away and hidden from the public because the Fiji news media is muzzled and all news is censored on a daily basis.
I, as a Military Officer then, obeying orders, participated in that December 2006 coup.
I have come to regret it.
I am no longer in the Fiji Military andI no longer live in Fiji, for fear of my life.
My mission, and as a part of my penance, is to now:
• enlighten the Governments and people of the world
of the truth of what is taking place in Fiji and
• to seek your support to restore democracy and the rule of law back to Fiji.
The Roman Governor of Palestine, centuries ago, Pontius Pilate, once asked: What is truth?
I will now provide an answer to Pilate’s question, some 2,000 years later, but the truth as it applies to Fiji.
TRUTH ABOUT THE RULE OF LAW
The Rule of Law is the foundation of every country. It guarantees freedoms, liberty, rights, equality before the law and economic and social justice.
It is the Rule of Law that guarantees your freedoms, rights and economic and social justice here in Australia.
Under the Rule of Law, the Constitution is the supreme law of the land. It guarantees and protects the fundamental rights and freedoms of the individual.
Australia has a Constitution. If your rights as a citizen or permanent resident are infringed, you can take the matter to court.
Fiji does not have a constitution.
The ousted SDL Party Leader challenged the legality of the December 2006 military coup and the military regime that subsequently assumed power.
The Fiji Court of Appeal, with a panel of eminent Judges, ruled in 2009 that the military coup was illegal, the military regime was illegal and all acts by it are illegal. That decision still stands.
Yes the Fiji Court of Appeal ruling still stands, hence my use of the term illegal regime. The Regime is not a Government as it was not elected by the people of Fiji.
The Leader of the illegal regime, and his co-conspirator the illegal Attorney-General Aiyaz Khaiyum, replied to the ruling of the Fiji Court of Appeal with contempt and disdain. And in 2009, they abrogated (or abolished) the 1997 Fiji Constitution.
So the truth is that Fiji no longer has a Constitution like here in Australia.
Bainimarama and Khaiyum conspired to implement their own personal brand of law in Fiji, whereas here in Australia, laws are passed by a Parliament elected by the people.
Khaiyum dreams up laws, which will strengthen the hold and power of the illegal regime over the people of Fiji. He influences Bainimarama to approve of them. Those illegal laws subsequently become the law of the land through Decrees published in the Fiji Gazette.
The truth is that the Fundamental Rights and Freedoms of the citizens of Fiji, your families and friends who still live there, guaranteed and protected under the Constitution, have been taken away from them. The Constitution is no more and the people’s rights are no more.
A fundamental right of every citizen is the right of free speech, the right to dissent.
The truth is that their rights no longer exists. Citizens who speak out against the ruling regime’s excesses and abuse of office are arrested by the Military, not by the Police, and taken to Military Headquarters, where they are beaten, kicked and tortured. And not only men, but women as well. And not only Fijians but Indians and General Voters as well. Two persons died from the beatings. There were no official post mortems, there were no Coroner Inquests. The Police never investigated the incidents. The Commissioner of Police is a Senior Military Officer. Only last week, the Head of the Fiji Trade Union Congress, Mr Felix Anthony, said in New Zealand, that he was beaten by Military personnel.
The truth is that the fundamental right of freedom of association is what the illegal regime says it is. For example, last week a meeting of the Fiji Women’s Rights Movement was stopped, shut down and the Executive Director taken in for questioning.
The truth is that the freedom of the press no longer exists in Fiji as it does here in Australia. The role of the news media is to keep citizens up-to-date with what is going on in the country and holds the Government and Public Officials to transparency and accountability.
In Fiji, the illegal regime published a Media Decree under which Television, Radio and the Newspapers are muzzled. And what is more, all news must be censored before being broadcast or published by the Permanent Secretary of Information. As a result, citizens in Fiji have little idea of what is taking place and the Governments and people of other countries are also in the dark.
The truth is that the fundamental rights and freedoms of citizens are further raped by another illegal Decree, the Public Emergency Regulations. The PER, as it is called, gives the illegal regime the right to do anything it wants to do.
So people’s Freedom of movement suffers. Their Freedom of assembly suffers. And even their freedom to have an opinion and to express them has also been removed.
Also under the PER, a person can be picked up without due process, without a warrant, and not by the Police, but by the Military and held without bail for seven days.
The truth is that Fiji has been stripped of democracy. As you all know, general elections in which the people vote for a government of their choice has been suspended.
Elections are the quintessence of democracy. Subsequent to the December 2006 military coup, illegal regime Leader Bainimarama promised to hold elections in 2009. His promise was as hollow as his administration of the country.
The term of office of a Government in Fiji is five years. The illegal regime has ruled the country now for five. It speaks of elections in 2014, meaning it will remain in power for eight years or nearly two terms of an elected government, but without being elected.
A scenario for any future election in Fiji was displayed at the recent Lau Provincial Council meeting in which the council had freely elected their Chairman. But they were ordered and blackmailed a day later by Govt officials to change their selection. This was to ensure that the dictator’s choice for chairman was appointment. So the council had to either conform to the dictator’s command or have the Government immediately withdraw all assistance and aid to the Lau province.
This is another reason why I seriously doubt if elections will be held in 2014. Bainimarama is notorious for not keeping his promises.
There is an old saying that the road to hell is paved with good intentions.
A hallmark of democracy is a Parliament in which the elected representatives of the people regularly meet to debate and pass laws, national budgets and make decisions on national matters.
The Parliament of Fiji was dissolved in 2006 by an illegal Decree. There is and has been no Parliament in Fiji since then.
THE TRUTH OF THE FIJI ECONOMY
We all know that men, women and children cannot live by laws alone. They must be able to have a roof over their heads, clothes to wear and food to eat. A strong economy and employment, are essential elements by which the citizens of Fiji can meet these needs.
In 2006, the year the military coup took place, the economy may not have been at its best but growth was on the positive side.
The truth is that from 2007, the Fiji economy began to go down the drain and the lives, hopes, aspirations of the people, along with it.
In 2007, the economy began to slide downwards, not upwards. It dropped by 0.5%.
In 2008, it continued its downward slide. This time by 0.1%.
In 2009, the drop was the biggest of all...some 3%.
For last year, the economy was expected to continue its downward spiral.
The Public Debt of the country, as a result of corruption, fraud and mismanagement, rose to an incredible 74% of the Gross Domestic Product.
The truth is that the fiscal deficit of the country is being partly financed by the Fiji National Provident Fund (FNFP). No wonder the FNPF is facing a serious financial crisis. The Government plans to severely and drastically cut the pensions of retirees. Over 10,000 pensioners will be affected. Due to public pressure, discontent and Court Action the final decision to implement it has been deferred.
Exports, one source from which the country earns foreign exchange, fell in 2009 and 2010, while imports nearly doubled.
The sugar industry, the backbone of the economy which contributes to the wellbeing of thousands of people, especially our Indian community, is in a state of paralysis. It needs rehabilitation and re-tooling. The European Union created a US$75 million Fund to assist the industry. The matter has been put on hold for over three years now since the illegal regime rejected the conditions set by the EU for the disbursement of the Fund. The conditions were the lifting of the Emergency Regulations, the scrapping of the Media Decree and Media Censorship, the restoration of the Rule of Law and the holding of elections within a reasonable time. Like Emperor Nero of the ancient Roman Empire, the illegal regime is fiddling, while Rome, the sugar industry, is burning.
We all know that when an economy is on a downward spiral, the people are seriously affected. Employment is one of the fatalities.
The truth is that unemployment in Fiji is at its highest level in years.
And that unemployment level will rise cruelly when thousands of public servants are retrenched under the illegal regime’s plan to downsize the Public Service of Fiji. And under the proposed Vital National Industries Decree and the Critical Industries in Financial Distress Protection Decree would abolish all existing unions in Fiji, effectively abolishing any remaining human or civil rights of any person in Fiji.
The truth is that another tragedy in Fiji is the growing and expanding the gap between income and prices. While income...salaries and wages... have remained at a virtual standstill, the prices of goods, medicines and services have skyrocketed. Adding to the woe was the devaluation of the Fiji dollar by 20%. That had the immediate effect of a steep rise in the prices of imports. And the situation was compounded by an increase in import duties on goods and medicines in the 2011 National Budget.
The ultimate and toxic result of an economy on a downward spiral, coupled with high unemployment and exorbitant prices, is poverty.
The truth is that, according to a Fiji Times news report of April 2010, the level of poverty in Fiji was estimated at some 45% of the population, inflation rate this year is estimated at 10.3% indicating a drop in living standards of that percentage.
The truth is that the European Union has withdrawn all financial aid to Fiji. So has the United States, the United Kingdom, Australia and New Zealand.
And the truth is that, despite such a depressing situation, the annual salaries of the illegal regime leader and his illegal Attorney-General, are estimated at $700,000 each annually. That amount is more than the pay of Prime Minister of Australia, the Prime Minister of New Zealand and the President of the United States of America.
The solution to the endemic problems in Fiji as I have outlined them to you is the restoration of democracy in Fiji. But that will only come about with the downfall of the repressive and oppressive illegal regime in Fiji. That is the first step. There is no other way.
To accomplish this first step, I have been travelling extensively here in Australia and holding meetings with key groups and institutions. I will also travel to New Zealand next week, and from there to South Pacific Island Countries, the United Kingdom, the United States.
I will be meeting with international organizations, that include the United Nations, the European Union and Amnesty International.
The aim is to internationalize the state of decadence in Fiji being generated by the illegal regime and thereby create and maintain international and local internal pressure on it that will cause it to collapse.
Apart from speaking at Democracy Rallies like this one, I have met and held discussions with officials from a number of Foreign Embassies in Canberra. I have also met with the ACTU in Melbourne who have voiced their strong concerns about the situation in Fiji. In particular, the Rights of Workers and Freedom of the people. They have written these concerns to the regime emphasising that Democratic Governance, Respect for Human Rights and the Rule of Law is the hallmark of developing countries across the world now.
I had a most fruitful meeting a few weeks ago with the Prime Minister of Samoa. The Prime Minister, like all the officials I have spoken with, condemned the flagrant abuse of office in Fiji and called for increased sanctions.
At a UN Human Rights Council Meeting in Geneva on June 15, the Australian Representative said that “the deteriorating human rights situation in Fiji is of concern."
At the same meeting, the New Zealand representative called on Fiji to “take steps to respect and protect the rights of its citizens."
The Ambassador-Designate of the United States to Fiji, Frankie Reed, said at her Confirmation Hearing on June 29 that despite the fact that Fiji's economy and tourism industry have been damaged by the coup, Fiji's coup leaders have not taken any credible steps to restore democratic institutions.
During my travels, I shall be addressing a meeting of the Democracy Movement in New Zealand next week and to meet and talk with Government officials, groups and individuals in the Forum Island Countries.
I am also planning to visit the U.S., United Kingdom, European countries, UN officials, Amnesty International, European Commission and the EU Human Rights body, democratic groups, institutions and individuals.
The pressure is on and I intend to maintain and increase it.
You may very well ask, what will happen after the downfall of the illegal regime.
The Movement for Democracy in Fiji, based in Canberra, has discussed, debated, formulated and agreed to a Roadmap of 10 Steps to restore democracy in Fiji.
For your information, they include:
• The removal of the Public Emergency
• Restoring freedom of Speech and immediately cease all media censorships.
• Restore the 1997 Constitution.
• Allow a Civilian Caretaker Prime Minister and a Civilian Government to lead the country to elections in 2012.
• Restore full diplomatic relations with neighbouring countries and seek the removal of our suspension from the Pacific Forum and the Commonwealth.
• Establish a Truth and Reconciliation Commission.
• Restore the institutions and edifices of democratic and good governance.
• Reinstate the Great Council of Chiefs to its rightful place in the affairs of the nation.
• Restore public confidence in the integrity and independence of the judiciary.
• Disengage the Military from civilian roles and facilitate their orderly return to Barracks.
My goals, with your help, is to coordinate all the efforts and activities of the various democracy groups, institutions, individuals, embassies and organisations to achieve step one - The removal of the illegal regime.
The oppressive and disastrous situation in Fiji is not just a matter for one race. All races have been affected. All are suffering
To achieve our desired results we must all unite and work together towards a common goal – The first step of removing the illegal Regime.
It is in the interest of all communities to unite, cooperate, collaborate and support the restoration of democracy in Fiji.
Ladies and Gentlemen:
Friends of Fiji:
Supporters of Democracy:
Please lend your support to our Democracy Movement and our Campaign.
Add your voices to ours.
Write or speak to your Members of Parliament.
Any assistance, whenever you can, for our noble effort to restore human rights, the rule of law, economic and social development and democracy in Fiji will be highly appreciated by the oppressed peoples of Fiji.
Thank you all very much for attending this Rally:
LONG LIVE FREEDOM!, LIBERTY and DEMOCRACY!
GOD BLESS FIJI!
THUMBS UP FOR DEMOCRACY