OPINION BY SASHI KIRAN -
Why I'm joining politics It is time for leaders to stand up
For many months now I have been asked to stand for elections. I was quite resolute that I would not.
My path looked very clear to me. I wanted to continue developing interventions to support those in need. I have been very blessed with the trust of many who helped me grow the dream of reaching those in need. This led to the founding of FRIEND, the organisation I have worked for in the past 21 years and which I resigned from this week. My next project was for a care facility in the West for many neglected senior citizens and people with disabilities.
However, last Sunday I made a decision to stand for elections under the NFP banner. This was not an easy decision. I have watched Fiji politics for the last few years and the way Opposition politicians and other dissenting voices are treated by this Government.
They are personally attacked, harassed and victimised. Opposition politics is not an easy path for those who choose it.
But the stark realties for people on the ground and the lack of access to basic needs has made me wonder how we change the status quo. Water infrastructure seems to have collapsed. Some people in urban centres are able to raise their complaints through the news media to get action. But many in squatter settlements and rural areas suffer silently.
Resource owners like people of Abaca Village in Lautoka drink untreated water even while their land is leased by Water Authority of Fiji and their water resource used for the people of Lautoka.
This is one example of so many.
Our hospital system has also collapsed. It is poorly resourced and some facilities are so poorly maintained that they are not fit to be occupied. Almost on a daily basis I see requests for food by those impacted by NCDs and strokes.
Amputees need support and mobility aid but there is no national facility for them to get service or support. Basic medicines are not available for people who suffer from chronic health conditions.
Many people in the West have lost their homes to termites.
There is no help for them to rebuild. We have all seen the same patchwork fixes on our roads year in, year out at great expense to the taxpayers, with little overall improvement.
Each cyclone season I have seen devastation but every season we fail to properly prepare. There never seem to be stocks of relief items made ready before cyclones, only endless assessments afterwards.
Our people are supposed to take shelter in schools as evacuation centres. Yet none of these facilities have engineers’ certificates. Schools don’t receive enough support to build proper facilities.
Year in year out, the same reports are written about the need to change disaster responses. But as soon as disaster season ends, the reports are filed away.
National nutrition surveys, even before COVID-19, indicate high levels of malnutrition in school students. It is not hard to grow our own good, nutritious food in our soil and tropical climate. Why then is anyone malnourished? Even boarding schools are only able to provide poor quality, highly processed foods for our children.
As I have worked with people over the past 25 years, I have learned how we can find resources to support the needs of the poorest people, using the power of self-help and partnerships within the community. I have realised that if there is a will to serve, we can find a way. So why, over the years, do we continue to have huge problems with poverty, poor health, poor housing and lack of basic facilities? What have our leaders been doing? Do they have the will to really serve people? If they did, would Fiji be in the state it is in today?
Why when, each time our leaders talk about development, can they only talk about spending millions of dollars and increasing the Government’s already high debt burden?
I do not understand the attitude of this FijiFirst government.
When we have asked to co-operate, their leaders want only to compete and dominate. Even NGOs are seen as their political rivals and threats to their votes. I have found that in life it is so much easier to work in peace and harmony with others, not to compete with and attack them. Why can we not put this simple rule into place in our national life?
The final factor in my decision was watching the Government’s recent attacks on opposition leaders and others who challenge them. People such as Professor Biman Prasad and others are prepared to sacrifice huge incomes to join public life and help to rebuild this country. But instead of being consulted and brought into national decision-making, they are attacked and harassed.
The first step in rebuilding our country is to win it back from dictatorship. Only then can we mobilise all our resources – Government money, the skills and experience and talent of our own people – to begin the work.
My own experience is in getting people into sustainable livelihoods through rural development and agriculture support. I believe that many of the things that we have done on a small scale can be scaled up. All we need is the willingness to be humble, understand people’s needs and commit to work together.
The rule enforced in my organisation over the past 20 years is that we never ask for anything in return for the help we provide.
So I have a personal problem now asking people to give me their vote. But looking at the way Fiji is governed, the waste of resources and the loss of so many opportunities, I do not believe that community leaders have a choice now.
We have to speak up and we have to stand up. We have to join party politics. We cannot stay out. We need to save this country from the current government.
Each community has huge capacity to solve its own problems as we see every day. We need a government that can mobilise and support them to do this, not try to dominate them and dictate to them and rule by fear.
That is why I have reluctantly decided to join national politics.
But I believe that NFP and its leaders – Biman Prasad, Pio Tikoduadua and Lenora Qereqeretabua and others in its leadership – are people I can work with to achieve my ambitions for Fiji and its people. I sincerely hope that the people will help me to achieve those ambitions.
• SASHI KIRAN is the founder and former chief executive officer of the Foundation for Rural and Integrated Enterprises and Development (FRIEND), a well-known non-governmental organisation, and an election candidate of the National Federation Party (NFP). The views expressed in this article are her own and not necessarily the views of FRIEND or The Fiji Times.
#NFPintheNews - As published in the Fiji Times - Saturday 5 November 2022