April 15, 2017: Statement by Lt Col Pio Tikoduadua – Member and Intending Candidate, National
Text of Statement (please check against delivery) =================================================== Thank you all for being here today. I apologise to those of you that may have had to sacrifice time with your loved ones, this Saturday of Holy Week to attend this press conference.
After consulting with my wife and our two teenage children, I am very grateful and humbled that they have given me their unwavering support, blessings and understanding, to return to public life and service. This sacrifice made by my wife and children comes with their conviction and understanding of the toll it could take on my health personally and my family security. However they also understand my strong belief that contributing positively to our country – and doing so with integrity – not only pays in this life but also in the next.
I have now joined the National Federation Party. I will be applying to be an NFP candidate in the 2018 general election.
I joined NFP after a number of conversations with its party leader, Professor Biman Prasad. In the years 2011 and 2012 the United Nations convened a series of meetings between the military government and its opponents. This was a search for a way to work together to restore democracy to Fiji.
That process did not succeed. But as a member of the Government at that time, I had many discussions with Professor Prasad. I became convinced that consultation and consensus building with our opponents was the way to go. Professor Prasad offered many positive ideas for our country that were falling on deaf ears.
I know about NFP’s deep history in Fiji. Unlike many other parties in Fiji, it was not formed for the purpose of becoming a government. It was formed to defend people who were vulnerable and voiceless. At first this was the cane farmers. But over the years it has become the voice of many more. These are not just Indo-Fijians. As Professor Prasad has reminded me, if NFP had not had many thousands of i-Taukei votes in 2014, it would not be in Parliament right now.
The NFP has given to Fiji statesmen like Mr A D Patel, Mr S M Koya, Mr Jai Ram Reddy and Mr Harish Sharma. It has never departed from its principles. At critical moments in Fiji’s history, it has always sought to do the right thing, even at the cost of votes. At Independence in 1970, NFP allowed the Alliance Party to rule for two years instead of demanding an election. In 1999, it joined hands with the SVT Party to offer the people a genuinely multiracial government, even though many of its supporters did not agree. NFP has never supported a military coup.
In 2014, I had to choose sides to contest the general elections. I chose the Fiji First Party. But before I made this announcement I rang Professor Prasad. I told him that if I had not chosen Fiji First, I would have chosen NFP. So here I am – even if it is three years too late!
As many of you would know, I am a former Minister of the Fiji First Government and Leader of Government Business in Parliament. Before that I was a career officer in the Republic of Fiji Military Forces for 20 years.
At the time of the 2006 coup, I was studying in Canberra at the Australian Command and Staff College. I joined the RFMF-led Government, initially as Permanent Secretary for Justice and later serving the Commander RFMF and Prime Minister as Permanent Secretary in the Office of the Prime Minister from 2008 to 2014.
For me personally, I considered this as a continuation of my military duty to the Commander, spanning some 15 years from 1999 when I served him as his Personal Staff Officer or Aide-de-Camp (ADC). Loyalty to your superiors is the essence of soldiering. I was part of the military government. I cannot and do not ignore that fact.
I believed, rightly or wrongly, that the military could help to create an effective and sustainable democracy in Fiji. And whether I was right or wrong, I must accept responsibility for that fact.
I was one of the 50 people elected to Parliament in 2014. I was and I still am very grateful for the overwhelming support of the electorate in electing me.
I resigned from Fiji First and a Member of Parliament in May 2015. The reason I stated at that time for my resignation was that I had serious health issues developing from my cancer condition. My doctors warned me this could recur if I was not mindful of my personal health and stress. My health has improved during the last 2 years I have lived in my home village at Delasui. I continue to manage my personal health as anyone else would do.
But there were other reasons as well for my departure.
I spoke earlier about loyalty. Loyalty must be given to a leader. But loyalty must also be returned.
In 2015 a Fiji First Party Member of Parliament who was a backbencher voted with the Opposition on a Parliamentary motion on health issues. He did this for reasons of conscience.
This was courageous and principled, even if it was politically unwise. Some of my fellow Ministers called for him to resign. I was not one of them. I gave my opinion to the Prime Minister that we should show flexibility and forgiveness. For me, this was an opportunity for the Government to listen and learn about why that one of its MPs had felt so strongly about an issue that he would vote with the Opposition.
The Prime Minister initially accepted and was agreeable to my recommendation. I told the MP the matter was resolved.
Unfortunately, the PM then took advice of the Attorney General and changed his mind. I went back to argue my case again. He then informed me that my opinion did not matter.
I took that statement as an order that my services were no longer required. I then left the Government.
Fiji’s biggest problem at the moment is not that my opinion does not matter. It is that nobody’s opinion matters, except those of the
Prime Minister and the Attorney-General. No-one else’s views are sought. No concession is made to any person with a different opinion. Nobody else can ever be right and they can never be wrong.
This approach is deeply destructive of democracy and national unity. It divides Fiji it means that we lack a common vision and we operate in a climate of fear and restrictiveness. This is no way to run a country. This is no way to solve Fiji’s problems.
During my time in “retirement”, I kept a close interest on the effects on Fijian society of the decisions made on the national front, in particular of Parliament and of the Executive. And the more I watched and listened, the more I became convinced that most, if not all, the aspirations we in the RFMF had stood for together for democracy and the people have been cast aside today.
I am now an intending candidate for the National Federation Party. I will defend the aspirations of both the NFP and the values that were instilled in me from my youth and that have sustained me in my life. These are integrity, honesty and trust – the same values that I took through my military career and which I very dearly cherish through my Christian faith. These are the same principles that I have held as an elected MP – that no matter what your background or religion, we are all equal in the eyes of God. The same belief of Christianity being inclusive, with the central teachings of Christ being foremost – the Command to Love, sacrifice, show compassion, mercy and forgiveness. Today is the eve of the Resurrection, an event that Christians regard as the epitome of their faith and belief – the victory of good over evil, of life over death, of despair of eternal death to hope in salvation and eternal life.
So today –
I now Stand Free. I stand to defend the values that I believe in as a humane person, a Fijian, an i Taukei and a farmer with roots embedded in the village of Delasui in Korovou, Northland, Tailevu, a steadfast career military man, and most importantly to me as a being – my family and Christian and Catholic values of freedom, equality, justice, democracy, selflessness, and of putting God and country before oneself. I take these with me.
Today I am urging and encouraging all Fijians to stand tall too, and stand free. Let’s take this walk and let’s stand up for the truth, for honour, justice, and democracy and for our voices. Let’s stand up for the life that each one of us, our children, and generations to come, deserve. Let’s demand nothing less. Let’s not take a back seat but CHOOSE to define our destiny.
Thank you very much.
Lieutenant-Colonel Pio Tikoduadua Ph: 7196802 Email: email@example.com