The issue which concern all of us as citizens of this country, irrespective of our political beliefs and ethnicity, is this: if we are to forbear all legal proceedings against the perpetrators of the events of 19 May 2000 what does that say about our sense of right and wrong? What does it say to those that were directly and indirectly harmed by their actions? Without an accounting, we encourage repetition of this conduct, make light of the pain and suffering people endured and suggest to the impressionable that such conduct is appropriate.
With hindsight, the Samoa system with appropriate modifications ought to have been adopted. The complete acceptance of western democratic structures, apart from the appointment of Bose Levu Vakaturaga appointees in the Senate, in some respect was in advance of the understanding of democratic principles, particularly in the rural areas.
We have survived bitter divisions in our society. Reconciliation requires us to put aside our differences and forgive the injuries done to us just as justice is essential to that equation. Those who have done wrong and broken the law must be punished. There can be no setting to rights or settling of accounts without that element. Until that is done there will be no finality to our collective nightmare. Until we all accept that simple fact the sense of hurt and betrayal continue.
It is time to move forward together. Stronger for the bitter experiences we have shared, wiser for the suffering inflicted on us and more compassionate for having the capacity to forgive. For all its faults and cruelties, Fiji remains a country full of promise and hope simply demonstrated by the goodwill that has endured and the love we have for this land that is our home.
Not five generations distant, Fijians were cannibalizing each other. The missionaries and the colonial administration imposed a veneer of civilization on their native subjects. However, it is not apparent that they imparted to them any profound understanding of the process involved in the maintenance and upholding of the law.
Until that point (where national unity prevails) is reached, the journey to it must be seen and appreciated for what it is: in a society such as ours where divisions exist both inter-ethnically and within communities the process of nation building of which the rule of law is an integral part requires a deft balancing of priorities in a fair and inclusive manner. This allows everyone to be a part of the challenges that we need to face together. The path to this point has been tortuous and at times strained because we have invariably compromised some of the detail of the rule of law by honouring the letter if not the spirit of the decisions handed down by the courts. However, it has also been a critical learning experience where we have had to combine political reality with legal principle. The result is an imperfect one but the rule of law is stronger for having weathered these sustained assaults on it.
In order to build a common identity, we must find a name with which all of us are comfortable. While I personally have no problem with the term ‘Fijian’, I recognize many others in my community are not. But let us not leave it there, let us find other options.
Calling for a national dialogue on an inclusive nationality adjective for all Fiji citizens
There is no denying the powerful emotions appeals to ethnicity can arouse. We need to develop linkages that will subdue or weaken such appeals. This will lie in deepening relationships across ethnic boundaries. It cannot be forced but must be encouraged by all in any position to do so. Because we need to expand and strengthen the interethnic connections which already subsist to mitigate the siren calls of ethnicity when they are made.
I trust you will bear in mind the deeply-held fears and insecurities Fijian have as an ethnic community. This is a subject I dwell on repeatedly because, while I do not share them, I am sufficiently Fijian to appreciate the depths of these emotions.
The Spirit of Rotary is to voluntarily improve the lot of their fellow human beings because it is the ultimate calling in life. Not for reward of for personal gain, but for the satisfaction of having made a positive difference to someone else. How different would life be if those of us with more advantages could all practice these virtues? This would be a society where the strong would be just and the weak secure. It is an ideal that we can all work towards.
When national leaders address the people of Fiji in specifically Christian terms, whatever the occasion, nearly half of our people are excluded. When prayer in mixed company is uttered in terms of a purely Christian God, we unintentionally omit and diminish others present of different faiths. When we use Christian symbolism to promote reconciliation, forgiveness and unity, we discount the contribution and equally rich traditions extant in other faiths and cultural traditions.
Opportunity marries with circumstance and is midwife to the resultant bartering of public office. The mutuality is advantage to the parties involved merely facilitates the spread of such practices. When it reaches the point of being commonplace and is pragmatically perceived as the most practical means of getting things done, it has become systemic and difficult to eradicate.
This privileged position (lawyer) obliges you to remember that most of the population cannot afford your services or fees. As a consequence they are denied access to justice. It therefore behoves the legal profession to consider practical ways of alleviating this unacceptable state of affairs.
Traditional leadership is based on ascription. In former times, there was some degree of flexibility which enabled change. This was based on prowess in war and statecraft. The British fossilised the system and traditional leaders became government functionaries. Their authority was strengthened by the colonial administration.
The essence of traditional leadership is learned by osmosis. The next generation learns from what their elders and the current generation does. This was appropriate in a society where the pace of change was gradual.
Back then (in 1985) the issue of the day was nuclear testing, now we are faced with problems such as climate change, overfishing, deforestation, shipments of radioactive materials through Pacific waters and nuclear proliferation. We need to remain vigilant so that we won't become victims again.
The critical element in this equation is developing inclusiveness that envelopes all these competing priorities (of the different ethnic groups) in a manner that is fair to all. Without it we risk remaining a divided society all the more tragic for having unfulfilled our potential.
All our communities have to make the effort to reach out to each other rather than waiting passively for gestures that may never be made. We need to write our stories and sing our songs together not necessarily in unison or in tune but in a way that makes space for all of us.
The strength of Commonwealth lies in its diversity and it to be mindful of bearing economic, social, political and cultural systems which comprise its membership … Its commonality lies in its connection to humanity, in the main it has provided an invariable forum whose members to open and continue meaningful issues of concern.
We all belong to this country, what are we going to call ourselves? Recognizing the sensibilities of most indigenous people here about the term 'Fijian', let us find some other name. But let us not leave it unresolved because it is an important symbol of belonging here.
We celebrate who we are although we come from different communities. We are one nation, one people. We have differences and these cause problems and tension at times but we are not on the brink of inter ethnic strife.
There is some suggestion that the Fijian model ought to be adopted as being the first people, the host culture, the landowners and the majority of the population. I have no issue with that proposition, so long as it is acceptable to all other communities as well.
They (Indo-Fijians) came as indentured laborers to this land and were treated harshly. They had little reason to be grateful to their colonial masters and like the indigenous Fijians. The British crown colony of Fiji was funded in part from their toil, yet they were treated like second-class citizens.
Those of us born after that era (of World War II), or with little or no knowledge of those experiences, take freedom for granted. In fact, we give little thought because we are preoccupied with the here and now and yet we owe a debt of gratitude that can never be repaid because you (returned servicemen) paid the price in blood.
Part of them (citizens of Fiji) wishes to believe that we are all one people and as a nation must move forward together. Another part of them is fearful that the hand they extend in friendship will be either spurned or crushed.
Corruption undermines public confidence in our country and institutions. It is a huge cost to the economy. Combating it will take courage, determination and perseverance. The most effective means of doing it is by creating a climate not receptive to corruption.
At times some of our leaders send messages that people of one single race are important and they matter only. It undermines the very fabric of our society and hurts feelings and creates a feeling of not belonging for some people.
When I was nominated for the position of Vice President I was very unenthusiastic about it. But I took the post because it provided a powerful platform to talk on matters that are important for the country.
Our country needs visionary and far-sighted leaders. People who appreciate and understand that our lives are inexplicably linked and our futures tied together. The vision must be one that is inclusive and open to everyone. It is a matter of enlightening self-interest.
When we exclude part of the community, we deny ourselves the participation and contribution of those left out. We allow the possibility of conflict in some future time, neither scenario we can afford. Everyone, irrespective of ethnicity, has a contribution to make no matter how humble or small.
Our ethnicity is part of us, however, it should not isolate or distance us from the community in which we live. People of different cultures cannot not live peacefully together unless they have respect for each other. I accept that seeking further integration is a challenge and it cannot be imposed or done under duress; the feeling has to come from within ourselves. To create an environment for that to happen, we have to develop situations and opportunities that place people in a position to make choices and this is one of them. And unless we begin to see our neighbours as people, as human beings rather than by ethnicity, it is difficult to shed our stereotypes of each other.