Thursday, May 31, 2012

First SDL Party Meeting since 2006 Military Coup

Speeches by SDL President and Party Leader at SDL Party Meeting
FTA Hall - 31 May 2012

PM Qarase and Party President Solomone Naivalu

SDL PRESIDENT Solomone Naivalu
Members of the SDL Party, supporters of the Party, Ladies & Gentlemen.
Ni sa bula Vinaka!

Welcome to this meeting. It has been a long time since we had a meeting of this size. In fact, the last large meetings that the Party organized were those leading up to the General Elections in May, 2006.

Today, we meet under different circumstances. The Government our Party led was removed from office by the Fiji Military Forces on 5th December, 2006. Since that time, as we all know, our freedoms have been severely restricted.

Our meeting today has been made possible under a permit issued by the Police. Attendance at this meeting has been limited to a maximum of 250 members. I believe we are close to that number.

We thank Government for the issuance of a permit. We plan to hold similar meetings in other centres around the country during the next few weeks. Let us hope that Government will grant the necessary permits as we apply for them.

The objectives of this meeting are two – fold:
· to enable us to brief you on what our Party has been doing since 2006; and
· to enable us to consult with you on the Constitution-making process announced recently by Government.

I will tackle the first objective, and our Party Leader, Mr Laisenia Qarase will take us through the Constitution –making process.

At the outset, I want to assure you that the Soqosoqo Duavata ni Lewenivanua Party, the SDL Party, as it is commonly known is alive and well! In spite of the many problems and obstacles along the way, our Party has survived the last five years and it will continue to work in the best interests of our country. We have been able to maintain a small office in Suva, at 66 McGregor Road. On one or two occasions our office was closed for short periods of time by the security forces.

Otherwise, the office has remained opened since the military coup on 5th December, 2006.

Because of severe restrictions imposed by the Government the Party has not been able to provide proper and effective services to it’s members. The lack of financial resources has also been a serious limiting factor. But we have been able to provide services in two areas – to those out of work, and to those who wanted to migrate to overseas countries.

Hundreds of people have come to the office seeking advice on job opportunities. We could not offer them jobs, of course. The best we could do was to offer advice. In many cases we have directed them to institutions, such as the Fiji Development Bank, whose functions include providing assistance to those who wish to establish small businesses of their own. In some other cases we have advised them to go back to the land and make a new start. In all cases we knew that starting a new life with little or no capital is never going to be easy.

Hundreds and hundreds of people who came to the office wanted to emigrate overseas. This is an area where we have given most assistance. We have not only given advice, but we have also assisted in other ways including issuing support letters to facilitate entries into other countries of their choice. All these services have been given free of any costs to those who sought our assistance.

A significant achievement during the last five years has been the revision of the Constitution of our Party. In 2008 a small committee of the Management Board was formed to review our Constitution. A revised Constitution for the Party is now in place. Perhaps the most significant change is the absence of ethnic – based provisions. All these provisions in the previous Constitution has been removed. 

Our current Constitution should appeal to all ethnic communities and to all different faiths. In the coming months we will make more copies available to those who wish to retain their own copies of the Party Constitution.

I mentioned earlier that the lack of financial resources has been a serious limiting factor in the provision of services to members. This has been due to severe restrictions imposed by Government on our freedoms to meet in order to raise funds. The Party Office has been kept open by a few individuals who have regularly paid in funds for this purpose. There are no paid staff in the office. The provision of services by the Party as I have explained have been provided on a voluntary basis.

During the next few weeks, we plan to hold similar meetings, with similar Agenda, in Nadi, Lautoka and Labasa. We hope that at the end of these meetings we would be able to gauge the support for the Party which we believe remains very strong. More and more meetings will be organized throughout the country as we move forward to the promised parliamentary elections in 2014. A great deal of information needs to be disseminated to our members/supporters and the general public. We will need your support all the way.

What remains for me to do this evening is to thank those few individuals who have assisted the Party financially during its hour of need. Without your support our Party office would have been closed and this meeting would not have been possible.

I also wish to thank those members/supporters who have provided voluntary services at the office. This is very much appreciated by all of us and I am sure by the hundreds and hundreds of people who have been assisted by the Party. Last but not least, I thank all of you who are here at this meeting.

The numbers attending are encouraging. We look forward to your continuing support.
Thank you for listening. God bless the SDL Party! God bless Fiji! 

Fiji PM Qarase

Address by Mr. Laisenia Qarase,
Leader of the SDL Party at SDL Party meeting, FTA Hall, Suva, May 31st 2012.

Members of the SDL Party, supporters of the Party, Ladies and Gentlemen.

Ni sa bula vinaka! It is good to be talking to you directly again! I wish to endorse the warm welcome extended by our President, Mr. Solomone Naivalu.

Thank you very much for taking the time to be with us and I look forward to your participation in the discussion that will follow.

Let me issue a special greeting to the young people who have joined us,especially those who will be exercising their voting right for the first time in the next election. Use that right well. It is something precious. Inform yourselves about the issues that are important to you and Fiji.

Make the right choice.

I also extend the greetings of the SDL party to our supporters throughout the nation. To all of you here and elsewhere I say be of good courage; be strong in heart. Do not be afraid to speak the truth.

Mr Naivalu has briefly outlined the activities of our party since the illegal overthrow of our Government on December 5th 2006. He has also described some of the problems and obstacles we have faced for more than five years. It has indeed been a most difficult period for our party and our country, particularly with the imposition of severe restrictions on our rights and freedoms.

But let us thank God for seeing us through. Let us thank Him for granting us quiet strength from adversity.

This meeting is part of the Constitutional Consultation Process that our party is preparing to undertake during the next few weeks. My role today is to outline the Government’s roadmap for the formulation of a new Constitution. I propose to draw your attention to some serious misgivings by our Party Executives relating to that process. I will then outline what our Party Executives believe should be the party’s position.

On March 9th this year the Prime Minister, Commodore J. V Bainimarama, issued a statement outlining the consultation process. It has the following elements:

1. Government will collate and print material highlighting issues for the people of Fiji to think about before they make their voices heard. All materials will be distributed widely. This task should have been completed during March-April.

2. A civic education program is to begin in May and continue to the end of July. This will presumably be consistent with the material distributed.

3. After the civic education program consultations will take place between a Constitutional Commission and the people of Fiji. These will be held from July 2nd to September 30th.

4. Members of the Constitutional Commission have been appointed. They are: Prof. Yash Ghai – Chair, Dr. Christina Murray, Ms. Taufa Vakatale, Prof. Satendra Nandan and Ms Peni Moore.

5. From October to end of December this year, the Constitutional Commission will collate the public submissions and then prepare a draft Constitution.

6. A Constituent Assembly will be appointed by December. It will consist of representative civil society groups and organisations that are registered in Fiji, including faith-based organisations, national institutions, political parties, and Government. It is expected that the Constituent Assembly will debate the draft constitution and approve it with amendments if and where necessary. This activity is to take place from January to end February 2013.

7. The Constitution will be assented to by His Excellency the President following approval by the Constituent Assembly. Our Party has identified a number of flaws in this process and expresses its concern about them. If we did not do this, we would be failing in our duty to the nation and to you. 

In our view, a Political Dialogue Forum (PDF) should have been established representing key groups in our society. The forum would have been the ideal vehicle for discussions and consultations before decisions on important issues were made. 

Instead, Government has simply gone ahead with its own ideas, without the benefit of advice and views from the rest of the community. This would have been a more inclusive and democratic way of proceeding. It would also have been in line with the commitments the Government has made to the people and the international community.

The principles and values fundamental to the formulation of a Constitution, have been proclaimed by the Prime Minister. These are to be “non-negotiable”. This is not the language of inclusivity.

Even though the ideals he announced are generally universal an opportunity was missed to obtain, and declare, agreement by consensus.

The civic education program to be completed prior to public submissions to the Constitutional Commission will use material prepared and printed by Government. As far as we know, there is to be no participation by representatives of the public in preparing these materials. Obvious questions arise about content and message and possible bias.

The appointment of members of the Constitutional Commission is also of great concern. In particular, the three local appointees are known to be very supportive of the military Government. How independent then will the Commission be?

Proper consultation on this issue within a Political Dialogue Forum could have arrived at a consensus and removed a point of contention. We will have more to say on this at a later date.

The appointment of a Constituent Assembly is an important milestone in the process. Although the Government has assured that the Assembly will be representative of society, the method of selection and the appointees will be crucial. 

Who is to decide on membership?

If the Assembly has a disproportionate number of supporters of the military Government, then it will be compromised, and so will its decisions. There is obviously a danger here of a foregone conclusion, favourable to the Government.

The approved Constitution will then be assented to by the President. We see certain questions arising on this point as well. 

The SDL contends that the Constitution should be referred to a national referendum if there is no Parliament. A free and fair act of choice would be a democratic and credible means of gauging popular support, or otherwise, for the proposed supreme law.

Ladies and gentlemen, the matters I have mentioned are serious. They should be raised and they should be addressed. 

However, we want to be as positive as we can about this critical Government constitutional initiative. Let us then show good faith; let us assume that some of the questions that trouble us will be given due consideration and win approval.

It is for these reasons that we are recommending the SDL Party prepares a submission for presentation to the Constitutional Commission during the public consultations.

I now outline for you the basis of our position.

Since the last military coup the SDL has maintained that the 1997 Constitution remains in existence and is still Fiji’s supreme law.

We are supported in this view by a 2001 judgment by Justice Anthony Gates in the case Koroi vs Commissioner of Inland Revenue. Justice Gates said, and I quote: “It is not possible for any man to tear up the Constitution. He has no authority to do so. The Constitution remains in place until amended by Parliament, a body of elected members who collectively represent all of the voters and inhabitants of Fiji. The fundamental law represented in a constitutional document may only be changed in accordance with that Constitution”.

In the case L. Qarase & others vs J. V Bainimarama & others, the Court of Appeal ruled on 9th April 2009 that the 1997 Constitution is still in place.

According to many other legal experts here in Fiji, and abroad, the purported abrogation of that Constitution on April 10th 2009 by the military Government cannot be valid.

We note as well that when the Military Government came to power it asserted very clearly that its number one priority was to continue to uphold the 1997 Constitution. That means it saw merit in the document and gave allegiance to it as the highest law of the land.

Consistent with the SDL Party’s stand on the existing Constitution your Party executives recommend that our submission to the Constitutional Commission should be along the following lines:

1. Uphold the 1997 Constitution and re-convene the last elected Parliament.

2. Follow the roadmap suggested by the Court of Appeal on April 9th 2009.

3. Re-convened Parliament to make appropriate amendments to the 1997 Constitution, including changes to the electoral system.

4. Hold general election under the revised 1997 Constitution. We propose to include in our submission some proposed changes to the 1997 Constitution. We are seeking common ground on this in consultations with the Leaders of the Fiji Labour Party, the National Federation Party and the United People’s Party.

Contrary to what has been reported in some media outlets the subject of our talks is not about forming a coalition. At this stage our objective is to work together on our submission to the Constitutional Commission.

The four parties have agreed on a fundamental point of unity. We stand by the 1997 Constitution. We believe that parliamentary democracy should be restored under that Constitution. There are sound legal grounds for this.

We also jointly share the view that some amendments to the 1997 Constitution are necessary and must be made by following proper process.

Ladies and gentlemen, the SDL party was founded on a vision of peace. That vision is expressed through our party symbol - the dove carrying the olive branch. Sadly that dove has been confined and caged. Now, the ruve is ready to spread its wings and soar again. 

It will carry with it an enduring message of truth, justice, equality and freedom. It will carry new hope for Fiji; a Fiji constructed on stronger foundations that will help create prosperity and harmony for us all in the homeland.

The SDL believes in patient dialogue, good faith negotiation and consensus-building. It is these principles that will resolve the considerable challenges that now face Fiji.

We declare again that we abhor violence, force, threats and intimidation. There is no room for coups in our vision for Fiji. It has been proved time and again that they bring nothing but misery, torment, fear and ruin.

We must go forward from here, side by side, for our country and the future happiness and prosperity of all our peoples.

Vinaka vaka levu!

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