Ni Sa Bula Vina’a and a very Good Afternoon to you my fellow countrymen.
When I was elected as your Prime Minister I offered my predecessor Voreqe Bainimarama the hand of cooperation and thanked him for his services to the country.
In my first national address I explained that the governing coalition, The People’s Alliance, National Federation Party and SODELPA, wished to develop a positive relationship with him and his FijiFirst Party in Parliament.
We would always be prepared to consider his ideas and proposals and adopt them if they were worthy.
Mr Bainimarama has now made it more than clear that he rejects the idea of Government and Opposition working together for Fiji. He has chosen instead to walk the same path of arrogance, aggression and provocation that he walked in the last 16 years.
It was the path that led to his recent election loss, and that has prompted me to address you this afternoon, responding to his remarks.
Some public remarks by the current Leader of the Opposition and his former Attorney General, the absentee Mr Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum, indicate they have deluded themselves into thinking that they were not beaten in the recent poll.
He keeps boasting that he personally won more votes than anyone else and that his party is the biggest in Parliament.
Here is the truth: Mr Bainimarama was defeated. His share of the votes had been declining since the 2014 election. When the votes were tallied this time in December the FijiFirst votes had dropped below 42 per cent, well below the support it needed to stay in power.
Approximately 58 per cent of those who went to the polls last year wanted change. Opposition parties in total registered 70,000 more votes than FijiFirst.
In recent days Mr Bainimarama has been bombarding the country with lies and misinformation. He alleges that Fiji is in some sort of crisis; that our new Coalition Government is engaged in repressive and oppressive conduct.
We are supposed to be “stubbornly and recklessly” undermining the law, rights and freedoms and acting in violation of good governance principles. Families are said to be living in fear of job losses and going back to the “dark ages”.
We want him to explain what he means by that. For instance, does he see payment of money owed to the USP as a reflection of a ‘dark age’?
Mr Bainimarama claims “multiple Fijians” have approached him and his party for assistance, presumably to deal with what he calls the “deteriorating situation” in the country.
He may not realise it, but his words portray a perfect picture of the way he ruled our beloved nation for 16 years with Mr Sayed-Khaiyum by his side. They cunningly created a climate of fear, often ignored the rule of law, did not hesitate to abuse individual rights and did not listen to our plight as people of Fiji.
Fiji became the South Pacific’s first dictatorship of the modern era; the complete antithesis of our coalition’s approach to governance.
We have a government for the people and by the people. Our parliamentarians are their servants. Servants of the people. This commitment is central to our political philosophy. I accuse Mr Bainimarama today of attempting to create instability and chaos which he can then attempt to exploit for his own nefarious ends.
He has also tried to sabotage our coalition’s assumption of power by vigorously advising permanent secretaries, other civil servants and those serving on various boards, organisations and independent entities, not to resign, and oppose the will of the People’s Coalition Government. He then asserted falsely that we would bully, we would intimidate and threaten them.
A few weeks ago he tried to terrify the public by spreading lies alleging racial persecution and harassment. Mr Sayed-Khaiyum described the situation as “boiling” and linked it to me. I made a statement of rebuttal and considered legal action against him.
Mr Sayed-Khaiyum is now facing questioning by the police for his role in this attempt to stir racial tension and fear. My understanding is that due process is currently ongoing.
Mr Bainimarama posted a particularly explicit message on Facebook claiming violence aimed at a certain community and also supported Mr Sayed-Khaiyum with public utterances.
None of these worked. It was widely ridiculed and dismissed by members of the public who reported that peace prevailed. They were not buying into their fear mongering tactics.
It’s the same this time around. People everywhere continue to celebrate the end of dictatorship and the rebirth of democracy. There is a new spirit of freedom in the air, on the streets, in villages and in our country.
One letter writer in The Fiji Times urged people to “dance to the drums of freedom.” Mr Bainimarama is completely out of tune with the national mood. He has not withdrawn any of his inciteful remarks, nor his insistence that “multiple” Fijians are asking him for help.
I challenge him today to provide evidence for everything he is claiming. Can he tell us in which parts of Fiji the so-called persecution is happening? How many people are affected?
Are FijiFirst officials at the party’s network of branches filing reports? When we checked this morning at his party’s head office in Brown Street in Suva, there were no constituents present. In fact the office was deserted and locked up.
Members of our coalition have a message for Mr Bainimarama.
On behalf of the people, we demand that he must provide specific details of reports you have received alleging that we have acted unconstitutionally, contrary to the rule of law and in violation of good governance and also committed other transgressions.
If he fails to provide the details of what he has published in his attempt to smear the image of our Coalition, then he and those working with him, must be prepared to face the consequences within the law.
You will have read this week about the fiasco that developed around a meeting of the Constitutional Offices Commission. I presided. We had to discuss a number of items. Mr Bainimarama was present officially as Leader of the Opposition. He had nominated Mr Sayed-Khaiyum as a member. Mr Khaiyum, who was in Australia, took part virtually through zoom.
By doing that Mr Sayed-Khaiyum broke the rules applying to Parliamentarians over membership of public offices. He therefore lost his seat in Parliament.
Mr Bainimarama then declared Mr Sayed-Khaiyum would operate politically outside Parliament. But that will mean he has to step down as a member of FijiFirst in line with certain other legal requirements.
It looks to me that Mr Sayed-Khaiyum failed to follow the rules he himself had created as the former Attorney General.
He fell into a trap of his own making, putting FijiFirst into a fine mess. I am reminded of the story of Haman, the Attorney-General of King Ahasuerus, who was hung on the gallows he erected for his political opponents the Jews in exile in Babylon (Esther 5 & 6).
Meanwhile it is not known when Mr Sayed-Khaiyum will return to Fiji.
I must tell you that this morning we had another meeting of the COC, the Constitutional Officer’s Commission.
Those present in today’s meeting were the Leader of the Opposition and his nominee Ms Tupou Draunidalo replacing the former Attorney General and former MP Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum, and the Prime Minister’s nominee Mr Jon Apted and Ms Cema Bolabola.
The meeting considered nominations for the Chairman of the PSC and members of the PSC. The COC endorsed the nominations and these will be forwarded to His Excellency the President for approval and appointment. An announcement will be made in due course.
Ladies and gentlemen, I wish to emphasise that your Government is conducting itself consistent with the provisions of the Constitution. It seems to me, and my colleagues, that Mr Sayed-Khaiyum, the key figure in the preparation of the 2013 Constitution, was driven by a sense that FijiFirst would rule our nation forever. In fact, Mr Bainimarama said something similar fairly recently.
The reality for our People’s Coalition is that change has arrived and some FijiFirst Party appointees remain in place in office. Where do their loyalties lie? How many of them will follow Mr Bainimarama’s call for them to remain in place?
We will now be looking at achieving the appropriate context, within the law, for the operations of the COC, the Public Service Commission, the Judicial Services Commission, and the appointment of Permanent Secretaries.
We do not want to take the drastic step of terminating incumbents, we do that according to law. We note that the Bainimarama government appointed or reappointed many permanent secretaries not long before the election. That was clearly inappropriate, disrepectful. Those appointments should have been left to the incoming Government.
No ordinary Government worker will lose his or her job. Those who will attract our scrutiny are the political appointees, especially those paid exorbitant salaries.
We will re-establish the cherished principle of localisation introduced when Fiji became independent in 1970. This means that Fiji citizens will be appointed to Government positions whenever possible and on the basis they have the right qualifications.
Mr Bainimarama and Mr Sayed-Khaiyum reversed localisation. They brought in a number of expatriates which naturally raised concerns. Some of these expatriate recruits have obtained citizenship since their recruitment. We will look carefully at the circumstances involved in those case.
Mr Bainimarama’s claims of inefficiencies in delivery of services by our 14-day old Government are simply off the wall. We completely reject the assertion of neglect of victims of the recent floods in the west.
The Minister is monitoring that situation by the hour. There have been no reports of serious damage so far.
Mr Bainimarama is forgetting that even after 16 years of his rule, his government failed to solve or mitigate the flooding problem in the west. They also failed to do many other things for which the country is now paying a heavy price. We will fix these problems.
We believe there is cause to investigate Capital Gains Tax exemptions to apparently benefit a select few. The files are with the Ministry of Finance. We will keep the public informed of the progress of this investigation.
Mr Sayed-Khaiyum always led the country to believe that the financial state of affairs was not a major problem. We will soon know the truth.
However, it’s a fact that his woeful management of the economy left us dangerously exposed with too much reliance on tourism and remittances. While we will fully support our crucial visitor industry, we will aggressively seek to identify and develop other revenue earners.
We made it clear in our manifestos that implementation of certain promises would be dependent on the true state of Fiji’s economy. We are now focused on establishing the exact position.
We will be conducting mandatory audits and associated checks and balances. Until these are completed we will be curtailing what we consider to be wasteful spending in areas that are not a priority.
In the last 14 days, we have made progress in Ministers establishing themselves in their respective Ministries. There’s been a sweeping overview of electoral deficiencies. We’ve started an investigation into what appears to be excessive spending in the Department of Information, through payments to the public affairs company Qorvis, the local communications company Vatis, the Fijian Broadcasting Corporation (FBC) and the Fiji Sun newspaper. In fact, there are many looming issues to address.
I’m glad I was able to provide you with this update and will be talking to you again soon.
God bless You and God Bless Fiji. Continue to celebrate the New Year.