Let the people lead the way
Saturday 29th September 2018
Perhaps if Fiji’s national rugby sevens team ran the country, we would have national unity.
It seems that the one of the few times we are all looking in the same direction is when they are playing.
We come together when there is a national disaster such as a cyclone or floods. Simply, we unite during times of triumphs and tragedies.
But politics seems to bring out the worst in us.
So the first thing that we, as politicians, need to understand is that we cannot bring about national unity. We should do what we can to create the right conditions. Then we must step back – and let the people lead the way.
Unity is about emotion. It comes from the heart. A government cannot achieve it by passing laws.
Since December 2006 the Bainimarama government passed many laws by decrees since without asking any of us. . They are all included in the 2013 Constitution under section 173. They are draconian and divisive laws.
The Bainimarama Government decided to change our national flag. They did not ask us. Fortunately their flag designs were so pathetic that even they had to give up. We ended up wasting a lot tax payer funds.
Coups have destroyed unity
Nothing has destroyed our national unity more than military coups. When suddenly one group of people take power by force, they create fear and hatred. The balance of power suddenly becomes arbitrary and unfair. Those who have taken power have all the power – and those on the other side have none. This creates a deep sense of resentment and a desire for revenge.
Since 1987, as power has swung back and forth between different political blocs, those feelings of resentment and vengefulness have escalated. And those feelings have remained.
The Bainimarama government has not changed this. Ever since the 2006 coup, its preoccupation with power has become the most destructive force in Fiji. Everything the Fiji First Government does is about protecting and preserving its own power.
It passes laws which no one is allowed to challenge. It hands out money and freebies to a chosen few. It floods its chosen media organisations with money to stop criticism. It is all based on a calculation of how to win enough votes to stay in power. Those who do not support the Fiji First Party do not matter.
We all live in fear of being punished by the Government. Anyone who speaks up risks being sacked from their jobs or arrested by the police. Their neighbours say “don’t criticise the government, or our community will not get a new water supply”.
So how are people in Fiji supposed to feel that they are united for a common purpose?
How we are divided
When some in Fiji mentions national unity, we all think about unity between our different ethnic groups. There are certainly challenges there. But unity is about much more than that.
For example, there is a widening gap between the rich and the poor, those who have opportunities and those who do not. That is why, for us, increasing the welfare of the poorest people is critical – doubling the minimum wage and taking quick action on housing, education and health.
Government policies are dividing employers and their employees. They are dividing teachers and civil servants from policymakers. How can we make progress when even the machinery of government services is divided?
We thought that after resumption of parliamentary democracy seven-and-a-half years after the 4th military coup – the longest it has taken to return the country to parliamentary democracy of any form – our leaders would have forever buried the dark days of the past in the aftermath of every political upheaval.
Instead, the Fiji First government seems to thrive, and thinks it can survive, by accusing all our former leaders and governments of creating deep divisions and disunity. Fiji Fist believes fear mongering will once again help it prevail in the forthcoming elections. The latest example of Prime Minister Bainimarama’s rhetoric in New York this week illustrates this government’s deep-rooted hatred of our former leaders and their achievements.
For example, if NFP founder leader Ambalal Dahyabhai Patel his successor Siddiq Moidin Koya and the then Chief Minister Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara’s successful negotiation of a peaceful transition of Fiji from 96 years of colonial rule to Independence was a divisive and racist achievement, why has Fiji First government been celebrating our Independence on 10th October each year with pomp and ceremony? Expect next week’s celebrations to be held in Labasa to be even bigger – and we all know why!
What we will do
First, we recognise that unity is something that the people must feel in their own hearts. Governments cannot manufacture it. Governments must do what they can to encourage national unity.
We will eliminate fear. We will free the media. We will remind the people that this is their government, that we work for them, and it is their right to criticise us.
After 12 years of being told what to do, we want people to take part in running our country. We will hold national summits on the economy, employment, poverty, education, health and housing. These will be annual events where people will come to contribute their ideas.
We will abolish the laws which block challenges to government decisions. We must make people – and those in government – understand that they are not all-powerful and that they must listen to people when they have objections and concerns.
We will give financial and legal support to religious, cultural, and sporting organisations and community organisations which work for the poor and in times of natural disaster. We will not try to control them or tell them what to do. These organisations – which bring together people of all races, all political beliefs and economic classes – are the best reflection of how Fiji’s people can work for a common purpose.
We will spend money to promote and professionalise one of our greatest unifying forces – sport. It is not just about rugby sevens. It is about rugby 15s, netball and cricket. These are all sports in which we once had good world rankings. Even in soccer, another national sport, we can aspire to be a force in our own region. And as sport becomes professionalised, let’s remember that sports creates careers – not just for sportsmen and women, but for support personnel, therapists, managers and event staff. The economic opportunities for us are huge.
National unity is not just a nice feeling. It is a powerful force for good in the economy, in lifting the lives of our poorest people and in making us more productive.
We need a government that understands that the people rule their own country, not the government.
And we need a government that understands that to achieve national unity we must let the people lead the way.
Hon. Prof Biman Prasad