|Waqavonovono: youth president for SODELPA|
Yet another visit by the Pacific Islands Forum Ministerial Group, albeit made more significant by the inclusion of Australia’s Julie Bishop, the RFMF supposedly ‘farewelling’ the illegal leader as he prepares to ‘step down’ as commander in chief, and the welcome news the country’s biggest legitimate political party has joined forces with an influential youth advocate.
It could be the game changer Fiji has been looking for and has not found in any of the delegations by the Murray McCully’s, Bob Carr’s and now Julie Bishop’s of the world.
Pita Waqavonovono has been advocating for youth rights for some years and has appeared on these pages in several stories challenging the edicts of the Frank Bainimarama regime.
He has first hand experience with the thuggery of the illegal regime, being one of three NGO workers called to the barracks just after Bainimarama took over in 2006 and abused and beaten.
Waqavonovono has now been made interim youth president of SODELPA, an alliance that has already triggered venom from regime trolls and supporters sensing the damage the partnership could do to Bainimarama’s political ambitions.
Because as we know: Fiji’s youth can vote for the first time and have the numbers to make or break the fortunes of political parties, hence Bainimarama’s attention to their vote.
SODELPA is the first party to name a youth official. Both the party and Waqavonovono have subsequently been quick to take on Bainimarama, challenging a number of the myths he’s been spouting about ‘old politicians’ and youth. Below is an edited version of their statement.
Bainimarama: You need to be in your late teens or early 20s to have any memory of the traumatic events of 2000, when our parliament was seized by rebels. And only those in their mid to late thirties will have any recollection of the equally traumatic coups of 1987.
Mr Bainimarama should be reminded that the military has been the cause of the instabilities in Fiji since 1987. The present regime leader was involved in the 2000 and the 2006 coups and …. he (He) is the most suppressive, brutal and vengeful leader in Fiji’s history and the natural laws of life are unwavering –whatever you sow you will reap.
Bainimarama: The point is that some of the greatest upheavals in recent Fijian history aren’t part of the lived experience of a great many young Fijians. So they are not interested in these old battles being fought again by some of the same politicians now putting themselves forward for political office in the 2014 election.
The Social Democratic Liberal Party does not doubt the capacity of our youths to engage in discussions with respect to their interests and needs, leading up to the national elections in September. The party appreciates that though our younger voters will have barely remembered the political upheavals of 1987 and 2000, they would have felt the impact of those events one way or the other.
Many families directly suffered following the two upheavals. As a direct result of the coups, some families lost their homes and others experienced unemployment, whilst a lot of families were separated and a lot of professionals fled Fiji. These are the fathers, mothers, brothers, sisters, uncles and aunties of the nations’ youths. The greatest upheavals in recent Fijian history will certainly through their shared experience with their parents and close relatives become a part of the “lived experience of a great many young Fijians. You cannot separate the past from the present “our past is part of our lived experience.”
Bainimarama and his government is the cause of the present situation where young people are struggling to find jobs and the economy is stagnant. There are now over 13,000 graduates listed by the National Employment Centres who are yet to find employment. If there was no coup Fiji would be in a situation many times better than what we are in now.
The economy is projected to grow at a low 2-2.5% hardly adequate to grow the economy and provide employment for these graduates and others. The rising unemployment and poverty indicators of rising prostitution, drugs and crimes of violence testify to the general social pervasive malaise pervading the country.
He should first of all tell the youths how much he and his ministers are paid. Tell them the amount of debt his government has amassed in the last seven years. Fiji’s net foreign equity is $6019.8m ($6 billion) which means that every man woman and child in Fiji now owes over $7500 in overseas debt.
Also tell them why he has not revealed the Auditors Report since 2007 to reveal the amount of money his government has squandered during his rule. And tell them how his government is selling of government assets such as FEA Ports Authority and AFL to pay for the development side show his government is publicizing throughout the country. These will be paid back by the youths he is addressing in Vunisea and other youths he is trying to entice.
Bainimarama: These old politicians are part of Fiji’s past. They have no fresh ideas to take the country forward. They are locked in the same mindset that created our national traumas in the first place. They are bogged down in the same old politics of sowing suspicion and discord.
The old politicians have done more for Fiji than his present government has. They have built hospitals, wharfs, airports, hydro dams, provided electricity grew the sugar, pine and mahogany plantations. They established schools and also started the process of free education that the regime is just continuing.
They have offered scholarships to indigenous Fijians that have made dramatically improved their high academic achievements and allowed them to highly paid offices and opportunities for work in Fiji and throughout the world.
Compare that his regime’s scholarship toppers where only approximately 60 indigenous Fijians will receive scholarships from a total of 600. What is the future for the young indigenous Fijians he is addressing in such a high level of disparate allocation of scholarship? Even the lay man would know that something is rotten in Fiji.
A lot of money, mostly borrowed, is being pumped into the economy to try to propel it after six years of dismal growth.
The Asian Development Bank stated that, “The Fijian economy is not achieving its potential. Average annual gross domestic product (GDP) growth during 2006–2012 was negligible (0.7%), well below the government target of 5%, and below the modest growth achieved during 2001–2005 (2.4%).”
There is the truth. The “old politician” Qarase achieved a modest 2.4% growth rate between 2001 and 2005. The naive and blundering Bainimarama was 0.7% for 2006-2012.
Bainimarama: They want to re-empower the same elites who brought Fiji to its knees in the first place. They are yesterday’s men and woman.
…He is the one who has brought Fiji to its knees. Under his rule civilians have been tortured and the deaths of CRW soldiers have never been investigated. The regime has created Decrees that suppress basic human rights and freedoms. He with Khaiyum have written their own Constitution and foisted it upon the nation forcing us to declare it as …” the people’s constitution.” They will become yesterday’s men, pride and power has blinded them to this truth.
Bainimarama: They have nothing to offer Fiji’s young people. They have nothing in the way of a bold vision to take our nation forward.
He should tell the indigenous Fijian he was addressing how his vision has totally destroyed the fundamental pillars of indigenous Fijian society. He has eliminated the GCC and emasculated the Fijian administrative structure with his personal appointments to the Provincial Councils , the iTaukei Land Trust Board (TLTB) and the creation of the land bank to alienate Fijian land. He has put out decrees such as the Land Use Decree and the Mahogany Decree in which he has powers to use native land in the national interest which will override the basic rights of indigenous Fijians.
The indigenous Fijian youths he is addressing should ask him why his regime has not signed and ratified the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. He and Khaiyum will not be forgotten by the indigenous peoples of this country for their unprecedented, callous and systemic disenfranchisement of the rights of the indigenous Fijians. The indigenous youths will know the truth and they will act with their votes to reveal the truth. The youths will not be blinded by his side-shows of “tele-centres and sewing machines “ orchestrated to hide the real damage he and Khaiyum are doing to their future as indigenous inhabitants of these islands.
Bainimarama: They put themselves and their interests first, not Fiji first. And their old ideas, their constant carping and jockeying for power deserve to be rejected.
The youths should ask him whose self- interest he is acting on when he rewards his own family and friends with jobs. Military officers now occupy the upper echelons of the civil service. It is never a policy of the civil service to employ someone who has committed manslaughter (his brother in law) and re-employed as Permanent Secretary in Ministry of Works and Transport. In whose self interest are these? He has rewarded Permanent Secretaries mostly military officers and regime lackeys with salaries of over $200, 00 per year. His regime has in the meantime agreed to a minimum national wage of $2.00 per hour. The youths will not be blinded by the false and empty recycled words of Bainimarama.
Bainimarama: I appeal to Fiji’s young people to turn their backs on the politics of the past and embrace my vision of a new and better Fiji.
We do not support Bainimarama’s claim that the younger generation has no interest in the politics of the past. SODELPA is fully aware that our younger people will hold us to account on these matters that have played a significant role in shaping the Fiji that we have today. SODELPA supports a Truth and Reconciliation Commission to assist in providing us with some answers and to encourage national reconciliation.
His vision “for a new and better Fiji” has created the systematic disenfranchisement of the indigenous Fijians youths and their disempowerment through policies that dismantle indigenous Fijian institutions. His regime will effectively divide the indigenous Fijians. The division will allow the exploitation indigenous Fijian natural resources without due diligence and appropriate environment assessment reports illustrated by the growing concerns of landowners on the negative impacts of the Wailevu Bauxite mine and the Namosi Copper mine. The youths of Bua and Namosi are standing up and making a stand against these gross violations of their inheritance. SODELPA urges all the youths of Fiji to stand up for their country and to secure a sustainable future.
Bainimarama: I want a level playing field, where hard work and the quality of your character determine your success in life, not who you know, which family you come from or which part of Fiji you come from.
….In his regime it’s the family connections and those close to him that get the jobs and the rewards. He has eliminated his close friends who do not agree with him and created discord. In his regime you have to know which family you come from and how much you praise him.
He should explain to the youths what the “quality of character” he had when he claimed 698 days of leave and $185,000 in back pay.
SODELPA believes that going to the polls to cast their votes in September, will become perhaps the most defining moment for some of our youths. They will become leaders of tomorrow. We cannot underestimate the wisdom of our young generation to do the right and thing and vote for justice, freedom and the truth.