ADDRESS TO THE SENATE ‑ PARLIAMENT OF FIJI

BY

HON SENATOR DR JOHN FATIAKI

 

The Hon. President of the Senate, Ratu Kinijoji Maivalili, Honourable Senators, Ladies and Gentlemen

 

INTRODUCTION

It is my pleasure and honour to stand before you today on behalf of the Chiefs, the Council, and the people of Rotuma, to extend to you all our warmest greetings and good wishes, and our sincere congratulations on your appointments into this august House.

May I also acclaim and congratulate his Excellency, the President of the Republic of Fiji, Ratu Josefa Iloilovatu Uluivuda, for his inspirational and moving address on the occasion of the opening of the first session of the new parliament on the 6th June 2006.

Similarly, Mr. President Sir, may I commend to this house the words of encouragement, wisdom, and frank, honest advice given regularly by his Excellency, the Vice-President, Ratu Joni Madraiwiwi, on the very important issues of the multiparty cabinet and intercommunal relations in Fiji.

 

The honourable Prime Minister, Hon. Laisania Qarase in a recent address to us challenged us when he said, and I quote;

 

"The constitution has given us a new opportunity for co-operation, of creating unity from diversity and shaping a common national purpose. But it leaves it to us to decide on the guidelines and rules we must adopt for the workings of Parliament and the approval of laws and policies that will serve the best interests of the people. This means we must be open‑minded and flexible and willing to adjust. Constructive engagement is the new ideal, with Members of Parliament becoming part of a great partnership for Fiji."

 

The late President and the Turaga na Tui Nayau, Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara had a similar vision for our country which he saw,

 

"as a place where people of different races, opinions and cultures could live and work together for the good of all, could differ without rancour, govern without violence, and accept responsibility as reasonable people intent on serving the best interests of all."

 

The people of this country have spoken in the recent general election and in the subsequent developments, and their pervading message is loud and clear, they want and demand that their leaders come together in a genuine spirit of co-operation. I ask that we unite in this common purpose and seize the moment, as we can ill afford to fail and run the risk of our history repeating itself.

 

For our part, and as a minority community, we, the Rotuman people will continue to contribute in whatever way we can towards achieving this common goal, and God willing, we will succeed.

 

ROTUMAN HISTORY

In this regard, Mr. President Sir, I beg the indulgence of the house as I outline very briefly the circumstances leading to the cession of Rotuma to Great Britain and its subsequent ties to the Government and people of Fiji, as I am sure there are many amongst us who have only a vague notion of this special relationship .... I can assure you sir, that there is more to Rotuma than Taroro and Bisikete.

 

Following the last battle of Saukama in the district of Juju in 1878 and a period of great turmoil on the island, the chiefs, for fear of further conflict amongst the different districts and clans, came to the collective decision that their "only chance of escaping from further calamities was to be found in absorption into the colony of Fiji."

 

The first attempt by the chiefs in this regard was made on the 18th June 1879 when a letter was sent to the acting High Commissioner Sir George William Desvoex which read that "for the promotion and acceptance of Christianity, but more importantly for the Rotumans to live together in peace and harmony, Rotuma and Fiji should be under one government."

 

Lt. Graham Bower, commanding officer of HMS Conflict was dispatched to Rotuma to consult further with the chiefs and on Saturday l4th July 1879, our forefathers collectively signed a document which confirmed their desire to be ceded to Great Britain and their pledge of allegiance.

 

This was confirmed and reinforced by High Commissioner Sir Arthur Gordon whose subsequent dispatch to the Colonial Office in Whitehall London read,

 

"At all these meetings the most eager desire was expressed for a favorable answer to the petition addressed to Her Majesty by the chiefs and the people, and I have no doubt of the sincerity and unanimity of their desire to be incorporated in the colony of Fiji."

 

A response to the chiefs petition was finally received on the 17th September 1880 from High Commissioner Gordon and the dispatch read,

 

"The Queen has listened graciously to your petition, and accepts you as her subjects. I rejoice that your wish is thus accomplished. I trust that peace and prosperity may ever endure among you in consequence."

 

This acceptance by her Majesty Queen Victoria led to the official issue of a Proclamation by High Commissioner Gordon on 5th November 1880, and subsequently to the formal proclamation of the deed of Cession on the 13th May 1881 by the governor of the colony of Fiji, Sir William Des Voex at a ceremony in Motusa on the island of Rotuma.

 

This was subsequently followed by the deed of Annexation of Rotuma to Fiji, and more recently to our decision to remain with Fiji following the constitutional talks in London prior to 1970, and Independence thereafter. In deference to this unique relationship, the island of Rotuma continues to be administered under the Rotuma Act and the Rotuma Lands Act, both of which are incorporated in the Constitution in Chapter 13 sections 185 (e) and (f).

 

Ladies and Gentlemen, this is a brief overview of our short history during the period preceding Cession and I am sure will provide you with a deeper understanding of the special relationship and attachment that Rotumans have for the crown and the people of Fiji. This is mutually acknowledged in the often heard phrase of "Viti kei Rotuma" whenever Rotumans interact with the Indigenous Fijian community in all matters pertaining to the "Matanitu, Vanua kei na Lotu."

 

It is however, not just the act of a foreign monarch that tied us to Fiji. Our links were forged long before that and is the subject of traditional legends such as that of the founding Fijian chief Lutunasobusobu and the sister that was left stranded on the island of Rotuma. This legend of the "woman of the bush" as she is known in Rotuma was vividly portrayed by the famous Maori actress Rena Owen in the recently released Fijian movie "The Land Has Eyes." Another legend speaks about two rocks on the island, the "Han lep he rua" and their relationship to the "Korau na Gin" in Ra, and explains the close bonds that my people have with the people of that province, as I am sure my colleague from Nabukadra, the honourable Adi Laufitu Malani will confirm.

 

HIV/AIDS

Mr. President Sir, we have recently returned from an induction seminar where a most enlightening presentation was made by the HNFPA team on various issues relating to the Millennium Development Goals, Family planning, Population Advocacy and HIV/AIDS.

 

As a professional in the medical field, I have a vested interest in the last of these and believe that I can contribute positively to a discussion on this matter. I therefore ask if I may speak briefly on this topical and very important subject.

 

Dr Jiko Luveni, in her presentation at this seminar, succinctly put it when she called the issue of HIV/AIDS an "impending Pandemic," the potential mortality being on a scale not seen since the Measles epidemic in the 1800s which killed approximately one third of the indigenous peoples of Fiji. Her worst case scenario projected a figure of 104,000 cases of HIV/AIDS in 2015, if we were to continue unchecked on our present path, and which is similar to what other countries such as PNG have experienced. Consequently, let me reiterate the important messages involved in the current strategy to combat this scourge, namely, the promotion of the use of condoms and more importantly, education, education and more education at schools, in the community, and at national level.

 

We in Parliament as representatives of the people, must become a source of inspiration in keeping the problem of HIV/AIDS Prominent in the Public domain and on the national agenda, and mould public opinion and behaviorto prevent the spread of this disease. We must find the means to adequately fund and resource a national strategy, and work with all stakeholders in a determined effort to ensure success, as failure cannot be an option.

 

I also believe that we need to go further, and re‑examine and reassess tried and tested methodologies for the eradication of other infectious or communicable diseases with which we have had considerable experience and success in the past; and see how and where these strategies may be applied in the context of HIV/AIDS. These diseases include Leprosy, Syphilis and Tuberculosis, the prevalence of which has been significantly reduced in the past 50 years by various innovative interventions.

 

CORRUPTION

In similar vein, Mr. President Sir, I heard for the first time during the Transparency International presentation at this seminar, that the letters C.P.I. did not just stand for the Consumer Price Index, but also could refer to a more sinister index, namely that of the CORRUPTION PERCEPTION INDEX.

 

We heard that on this index in 2005, Fiji was rated a 4 out of 10, a failure mark in anybody's language. And of the 159 countries ranked in the survey, Fiji came in at position 57. In other words we were the 57th most corrupt country out of the 159 surveyed.

 

This is a statistic that reflects very badly on us and from a purely economic point of view, costs our country millions of dollars in lost revenue. It would appear that the problem is becoming systemic and needs a committed and concerted effort to stamp it out, before it becomes entrenched. It is often referred to as a cancer and as a physician, my experience tells me that the most effective way of dealing with a cancer, is to excise it completely and fully in it's early stages of growth.

 

Honourable Senators, we can ill afford to do nothing and I look forward with keen anticipation to the day when this house will have the privilege of reviewing an Anti-Corruption Bill.

 

CONSTITUENCY ISSUES

Mr. President Sir, at this juncture I would like if I may, highlight briefly some issues that concern not only our country in general, but my island of Rotuma in particular .... And I feel the need to respectfully inform my colleagues and you Mr. President Sir, of the unique difficulties that affect the everyday life and development of my people.

 

Our island is some 480 kilometres NNW of Viti Levu and is actually physically closer to the island nations of Tuvalu and Wallis and Futuna, than it is to the mainland of Fiji. There is no more remote place in Fiji than my homeland and this presents special and exceptional difficulties for communication and travel, and impacts upon all facets of our existence.

 

My colleague from "Niusiadi Lailai," the Honourable senator Col. Matereti Sarasau will surely understand as an inhabitant of the Southernmost Island of our country, some of the difficulties I have alluded to.

 

These dual difficulties of communication and travel were very vividly demonstrated by the predicament of the Bulou-Ni-Ceva, that ran aground on a reef in Rotuma some three weeks ago.

 

If media reports are true, and of course as we all know, Television rarely lies, then Ratu Sela Nanovo of Kadavu Holdings was certainly the picture of frustration and desperation when he complained bitterly about his inability to contact the crew by telephone for the previous two weeks due to telephone outages; inability to organize a charter flight to Rotuma because of the waterlogged airstrip runway, or arrange for a vessel to go on the two day sea voyage to salvage the ship.

 

I think I need say no more in this regard as his picture on TV said more about the plight of the islanders than any amount of words from me. I instead implore Government to seriously address some of these issues, as they have been around for eons, and are doubly magnified in the context of Rotuma' s isolation.

 

ROTUMAN WISDOM

At this juncture Mr. President Sir, I seek your indulgence to return to the wisdom of my forefathers as inscribed on the stone commemorating the Cession of Rotuma. The inscription in part is written in Rotuman and says, "HUGAG'ESEA MA FE'ENJ TAE LA 'UT'AKIA 'Os 'OTMOTE 'IS SE RERE"

 

This translates as follows,

"UNITY OF PURPOSE AND HONEST ENDEA VOUR ARE THE A TTRIB UTES THAT WILL BRING SUCCESS TO OUR ISLAND"

 

 My forefathers believed that these were the pre‑requisites that led to a peaceful and successful society of individuals who were MUTUALLY RESPECTFUL, TOLERANT, FORGIVING, EMPA THE TIC AND

CARING of each other.

 

Unfortunately, our present society in Fiji falls well short of these ideals, and to engender the necessary changes in society, we will need truly great and visionary leaders.

 

REFLECTION-KING SOLOMON

In this context, I beg your tolerance as I reflect on a small text of scripture from the first book of Kings in the old testament of the Holy Bible; Chapter 3 verses 4 ‑ 8 which deals with this issue of leadership. I also hasten to add that I am sure that there are similar texts in the holy books and writings of other faiths that address issues of leadership in like manner, and which would be just as applicable. The text is about the great King Solomon who was the son of David and the third king of the tribes of Israel. He ruled from 965 B.C. until his death; apparently with the distinction of NOT using military force to maintain his kingdom during this reign. He was renowned as a great administrator, with skills of diplomacy and much personal wisdom, and was responsible for many great public works which included the building of the temple and palace in Jerusalem; the ruins of which are still present today. In reflecting upon this passage of scripture one finds certain aspects of this man's character that made him truly great and I would like us to contemplate on some of these today.

 

Firstly, we are told at the beginning of verse 4 that he went to Gideon to sacrifice there as was the custom of his day, and burnt thousands of offerings upon an alter. In so doing he was acknowledging his belief in God which we as individuals would do well to emulate in our daily lives. The belief in a divine presence forces us face our inherent human weaknesses, and allows each of us to appreciate each others qualities, in the light of our own frailties and failings.

 

Another great virtue that is mentioned in this passage is King Solomon's sense of thanksgiving. Whereupon in Verse 6 he gives thanks for his kingship and acknowledges that this has been given to him by the mercy of God, and is not by anything that is of his own doing. In this regard each of us needs to be grateful every day for all the many blessings and talents that we have and not take these for granted. Invariably, there will always be someone who is a lot worse off than we are. Humility was another great virtue that this reading reveals about King Solomon. In verses 7 and 8 he describes himself as but a little child that I quote "knows not how to go out or come in." In the same vein he describes himself as God's "servant" in the midst of his people. Coming as it does from a King shows his great humility and in this spirit when God asks him what he would wish for, he asks not for riches, long life, or victory over his enemies, but instead asks God for "an understanding heart to judge people and the ability to discern between good and bad."

 

In this text God is pleased with Solomon and grants him not only the wisdom and an understanding heart that he asks for, but also bestows upon him riches and honour and a long reign as King of the tribes of Israel.

 

Today's passage of scripture is particularly relevant in this day and age where self and ego are constantly being promoted as the way that we should be to succeed in the world.

 

I would like us as leaders to take from this passage of scripture some of the characteristics that made King Solomon truly great in his time, and these are:

A sense of prayerfulness and worship and a belief in the supremacy of a God

A sense of thanksgiving and thankfulness for each other and all that we have

A sense of humility in what we say and do particularly when dealing with our fellow man and finally,

An understanding heart with the wisdom to discern between right and wrong

 

CONCLUSION

In closing this maiden speech Mr. President Sir, I wish to share a few personal insights about the many wonderful strengths that I see in our diverse multilingual, multi‑ethnic, multi‑religious and multicultural society. It is a society which includes people who value hard work, perseverance, tolerance, dignity, honesty, farsightedness, patience and respect for authority, customs and traditions. Yet all too often, in our interpersonal and intercommunal relations, we tend to emphasise our FEW differences, rather than our MANY strengths.

 

Honourable Senators, we have a unique opportunity in the next five years as members of this august body to lead by example and be truly great and visionary leaders to our peoples and our nation.

 

I ask you all to rise to this challenge with me and make Fiji truly the Paradise it can be.

 

Mr. President Sir, I thank you once again for your patience and indulgence and commend and support the address by his Excellency the President of the Republic of Fiji, to this house.

 

May God Truly Bless Fiji.

 

Vinaka Vakalevu,

Dhanyavaad,

Shea shea Ni

and ....Fai'aksea