Tuesday, February 20, 2007

President should retire with dignity

The Methodist Church of Fiji has taken a bold step in calling for the resignation of President Ratu Josefa Iloilo. Many critics have examined the call for ulterior motives and have told the church to stay out of politics. But while this action by the Methodist Church is being viewed as negative, perhaps the church leaders should be commended for their honesty. Commitment to the truth in all spheres of life should always inform Christian decisions. Christians should not shy away from informing the public about critical issues and important considerations of character in our leaders. Is there an element of truth in this call? The church has the task of showing people what is good and bad and what is right and wrong. Surely it could not just make the call out of the blue. Through its pastoral duties, the church has first-hand experience in observing the President, who is now 86, and has come to the conclusion that he should resign. The call has caused embarrassment, especially to the people of Vuda who regard it as very disrespectful to their high chief. Here in Fiji, the office of the President is highly respected, it symbolises the unity of the nation and its people. It is a fact that the President is old and, at four years short of 90, he is the oldest president in the world today.

However, we cannot deny the ageing process. With advanced years come changes to the body and the mind and the capabilities of both. Changes in cognition may affect their memory, comprehension, reading and writing, thinking, and aspects of their behaviour. Their capacity for mental health or mental fitness is usually impaired to some degree. Merriam-Webster dictionary defines mental health as: "A state of emotional and psychological well-being in which an individual is able to use his or her cognitive and emotional capabilities, function in society, and meet the ordinary demands of everyday life." According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), there is no one "official" definition of mental health. Cultural differences, subjective assessments, and competing professional theories all affect how "mental health" is defined. One way to think about mental health is by looking at how effectively and successfully a person functions. Feeling capable and competent; being able to handle normal levels of stress, maintaining satisfying relationships, leading an independent life; and being able to "bounce back," or recover from difficult situations, are all signs of mental health, states WHO.

The Methodist Church has been supported by the Assembly of Christian Churches in Fiji (ACCF).
I know the President, who is also the Commander in Chief, is strongly supported by the military, which had vehemently denied that the President was weak and his decision-making affected by old age. We all want our President to lead the country and also to live a healthy life. The call by the church is in accordance with section 93 of the 1997 Constitution, which clearly states how a president or vice president can be removed from office. Based on the fact that our President is very old, we should all be worried about his personal well- being. The President has his own medical team and has the privilege of being able to travel overseas for medical treatment and he has used that during his term. However, for reasons of privacy, we cannot be privy to his medical reports. It is time for his medical team to advise President Iloilo on whether he is fit to carry on or whether it is time to retire. If he retires, I am sure he will do it with good grace. It will be better to act now before it is too late. We have noticed that the President's health is not 100 per cent and for him to keep working could be too much for him. At the same time, we must respect his courageous wish to carry on.

The nation and the people are in his heart. He is a man for whom the priorities are the nation and the people and our current leaders should follow in his footsteps. The ball now rests in the court of the Great Council of Chiefs (GCC). Being the appointing authority, I'm sure the GCC can make some recommendations. It is only fair that a medical board carries out a thorough medical assessment of the President's health and the GCC must be informed of the result. The President has gone through a lot and must be commended for steering the nation during hard times. We all have witnessed how the Turaga na Tui Vuda handled the 2000 crisis. Just six years later, the nation is faced with another political crisis. We have to look at the call in totality. If we really care for the President's well being, at 86, he must be given rest. I know that the late Governor General, Ratu Sir George Cakobau was advised by his secretary, Josefa Vosanibola, to resign because of his deteriorating health. The paramount chief accepted the advice in good faith and spent the rest of his life on Bau Island. President Iloilo's secretary, Rupeni Nacewa, is very close to him and knows about his health. Mr Nacewa should come clean on the issue and if he knows the Turaga na Tui Vuda is medically unfit to carry on, he should inform the nation. The GCC should meet with the people of Viseisei in Vuda and make a decision that would be good for all. We do not want our President to be mentally stressed, we want him to retire from office and live the rest of his life happily with his people. It is time to speak out Mr Nacewa.

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