(Friday 6th January, 2012 No:13/MOI)
ADDRESS ON THE REMOVAL OF PUBLIC EMERGENCY REGULATIONS BY FIJIAN PRIME MINISTER COMMODORE VOREQE BAINIMARAMA
Ladies and gentlemen: As I announced in my New Year’s address, the Public Emergency Regulations will be lifted from tomorrow. This marks an important step toward the public consultations for the formation of a new constitution under which truly democratic elections can be held. I shall give further details in due course of the shape and form of the consultations which will commence in February.
No modern state wishes anarchy upon itself. The acts of terrorism, racial riots, religious and ethnic vilification and other disturbances have given rise to legal safeguards in even the metropolitan countries such as Australia, the United States, the United Kingdom, Singapore, and India—to name a few.
In Fiji, we too have experienced terrorism such as the events of 2000, during which government members were held captive by terrorists for close to two months. They held the country to ransom while being aided and abetted by political elites, religious groupings and self interested individuals. Suva and other centres including Muaniweni was systematically ransacked, looted and terrorised.
We must never allow this to happen again. Nor must we allow those who will create such a situation to act with impunity.
Many countries have placed limitations on rights where warranted and deemed necessary to safeguard society, to ensure stability and indeed to ensure continued liberties.
For example, in UK, a person can be detained on the grounds of suspicion of terrorism for 14 days and the period of detention can be extended with the consent of the court. In Singapore, a person can be detained for up to 2 years without trial if national security is concerned.
In Australia, a person's movement can be restricted for preventative measures or tracking devices can be installed on the person to monitor his or her movements.
In USA, the President and Attorney General can authorise the detention of persons for undefined periods for suspicion of terrorism.
In Australia and other countries, racial and religious vilification in public gatherings and even on the internet has been criminalised.
We in Fiji have not had such safeguards in law and enforceable in a transparent manner. However, now the Public Order Act, which has been in force in Fiji since independence, has been modernised through the Public Order (Amendment) Decree 2012. This modernization is necessary to effectively address terrorism, offenses against public order and safety, racial and religious vilification, hate speech, and economic sabotage.
We in Fiji will not go to such extreme as some of the countries I have mentioned. For example, for any breach of the offences under the Public Order Act, a person can only be detained for a maximum of 48 hours and if need be for a further 14 days but only if the Commissioner of Police deems it necessary and with the consent of the Minister. No person can be detained for more than 14 days without being brought before the court. In Fiji, we will also not allow tracking devices being installed on individuals.
Over the past few years, my Government has brought about a number of structural and institutional changes to break from the past and to position Fiji for the future.
We have sought to empower Fijians, modernize our country, and strengthen our economy. We have sought to rid our society and institutions of behaviour and practices that discriminate, that spread prejudice and misinformation.
It has resulted in an overall decrease in the crime rate, the creation of a stable society—one that is safe for everyone including individuals, communities and businesses to succeed.
Under our past governments, corruption prevailed, our economy was mismanaged, and society was rife with political uncertainty—which fostered racial, ethnic and religious bigotry.
Although these governments were condoned either directly or implicitly by many, including our neighbours Australia and New Zealand, they were not just, not fair and not truly democratic. They led to intolerance, uncertainty and potential upheaval.
No society, no country—and indeed not Fiji—can ever be free if we do not remove or at the very least address directly these societal and political ills.
Over the past few years, this is what my Government has done.
The imposition of the PER provided stability during this time of reform and change.
These reforms and changes—which have been for the clear betterment of society—include, among others:
• Implementation of a common and equal citizenry
• Outlaw of institutionalized racism and other discriminatory practices
• Codifying equal rights for women
• Creation of FICAC
• Creation of the Independent Legal Services Commission
• Instituting a Child Welfare Decree
• Putting in place a new Crimes Decree
• Creating a transparent and sustainable provident fund
• Equal distribution of land lease monies
• And Restructured Fiji Sugar Corporation and the Sugar industry
• Getting better returns for landowners and providing security for tenants
All of this has made for a better society—one that is more fair, just and transparent meeting international standards. And in the last few years, Fiji has been able to do great things, some of which include:
• We have been able to make unprecedented investments in education, healthcare, technology and communications.
• We have invested greatly in rural, remote and maritime areas—including electrification, roads and bridges and internet access.
• We have provided free text books, subsidized bus fares, food vouchers for the poor and those who live on the margins of society.
• We have seen record-high numbers of visitors enjoying our country.
• We have expanded our diplomatic ties to more nations than ever before.
• We have brokered many successful partnerships to create jobs and diversify our economy.
• we have given the impetus for private sector, both local and international, growth and investment
• And we have even been able to cut taxes for 99 percent of taxpayers.
But none of this could have been done successfully if politicians, religious organizations, and self-interested individuals had been allowed to fan the flames of prejudice and intolerance.
We would not have been able to move forward, if they kept us in the past. As we have seen of late and even through the so called freedom blogs there are still some who are clinging on to the past, some who seek to advance themselves even though it is through racial or religous vilification, defamation, encouraging terror and violence or simply lying about Fiji.
Negativity would have been further exacerbated by the media bias in particular of the Fiji Times and Fiji TV. Media is undoubtedly powerful and critical for a well informed public. However, personal, political and racial agendas cannot be allowed to take precedence and continue behind the façade of a free press.
Like with all societies, the safeguard and well-being of the nation must come first. Without stability, without the right to exercise our own sovereignty, no nation can progress, no nation can prosper.
I urge all Fijians not to be influenced by those self-interested individuals, politicians, religious organizations, and others who may seek to disrupt the stability we have enjoyed in the past three years.
There is nothing more I want than a Fiji with a truly democratic government, one representative of all Fijians. For the first time in our history, we are on the path to making this a reality. We must get there.
But know that elections cannot be held in an environment devoid of social cohesion and economic stability.
Know that those who seek to destabilize society only do so to serve their own interests. They do not serve you.
Also know that we will not tolerate an iota of disruption to the peace, safety, stability and common and equal citizenry we now enjoy.
We cannot claim to be truly free and maintain a liberal society if we are beholden to self-interest and prejudice and seek to advance ourselves at the expense of our fellow citizens and the well being of our country.
We are all Fijians. Let us continue on our path to a new constitution and elections—for all of Fiji and for a better Fiji.