The Fiji Labour Party is disturbed by the outburst of the Prime Minister on national television last night and appalled by the content and tone of his allegations against the FLP on the multi party cabinet issue.
The Prime Minister accuses the Labour Party of using delaying tactics. He even suggests that the Party is responsible for creating instability. Overall, he goes to great lengths to denigrate the Labour Party and its leadership and misrepresent its position.
The Labour Party is fully committed to the Constitution and the power sharing provisions of Section 99. The Party is also aware that our economic recovery and international credibility depend on full compliance with the Constitution.
We cannot undermine the integrity of the Constitution or legitimise an expedient political arrangement that fails to comply fully with its spirit and intent. It is for these reasons that we refuse to compromise a position of principle.
This is not about dragging our feet or playing politics. Such a perception reflects a poor grasp of the issues at stake. The multi party cabinet must be established on proper and lasting foundations. We must set a good precedent in the interests of future generations.
The Prime Minister must also appreciate that the power sharing provisions of Section 99 are there to secure peace, stability and harmony in our multi-ethnic nation. They are not there to be interpreted at whim by the Prime Minister or anybody else.
Mr. Qarase must recognise the political mandate of the Labour Party given by the people of Fiji. Indeed, the FLP has a much larger mandate than his own SDL Party considering that in the 2001 general elections it obtained 35.17 % of the primary votes as opposed to 25.18% that SDL received. The Fiji Labour Party is the only party constitutionally entitled to be in Cabinet along with the SDL.
The Prime Minister insists that he has undertaken discussions over the multi party cabinet in good faith. We disagree.
The FLP has been negotiating with the Prime Minister on three very critical issues, i.e. the constitutional entitlement of the FLP in terms of numbers in Cabinet (which will be determined by the Supreme Court); the nature of portfolios; and the bloated size of Cabinet.
The Prime Minister has reduced the important power sharing principles of the Constitution to a joke by assigning to the Fiji Labour Party token cabinet portfolios that are really no more than sections or departments and which are allocated a mere 2.5% of the 2003 Budget. The greater part of this meagre allocation is earmarked as expenditure for prisons and to pay pensions for war veterans.
This derisory Cabinet configuration is totally contrary to well-established conventions on what constitutes a Cabinet ministry. By assigning to the FLP token ‘ministries’, Mr. Qarase undermines the whole concept of power sharing. Never in Fiji’s 33 year history as an independent nation, have such ‘ministries’ been created.
The Prime Minister would do well to follow the example set by the Labour-led People’s Coalition Government of 1999.
As Prime Minister, I included in my Cabinet, representatives from three other parties, all predominantly ethnic Fijian, who were given substantive and senior ministries like Deputy Prime Minister, Ministry for Fijian Affairs, Home Affairs, Tourism and Civil Aviation, and Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries.
The Prime Minister proposes a bloated Cabinet of 36 ministries and 6 assistant ministries, which in effect is more than half the size of the entire House of Representatives. It is of concern that the Prime Minister shows no regard for the integrity and credibility of his government by insisting on retaining within its ranks elements who have been charged with complicity in the May 2000 coup and for participating in seditious activities.
The Prime Minister has a responsibility to ensure good governance, protect the interests of the taxpayers. No Prime Minister has the right to manipulate or distort the Constitution to serve his own narrow political agenda.
The Prime Minister has not acted in good faith, nor in the national interest, in his negotiations with the Fiji Labour Party. The blame for the current impasse, and the consequent political instability stemming from it must, therefore, lie squarely on his shoulders.
The sequence of events from the beginning bear testimony to the Prime Minister’s bad intentions and his contempt for the power-sharing provisions of Section 99:
- Mr. Qarase acted in bad faith when he first issued an invitation to the FLP to join his cabinet after the 2001 general elections and then withdrew it, under the pretext of policy differences, after FLP accepted unconditionally.
- Mr Qarase then prolonged the uncertainty by appealing the decision of the Fiji Court of Appeal. This had pronounced in favour of the FLP by declaring his government unconstitutional and ordering him to include the FLP in his Cabinet.
- Mr Qarase acted in bad faith after the Supreme Court ruling by allocating to the Labour Party portfolios that were not substantive ministries
The Prime Minister’s claim that his government has provided national stability and growth is not borne out by facts.
The truth is that he has failed to create the political stability needed to attract investor confidence. He has failed to provide impetus to an economy that remains troubled with major sectors such as sugar and garments facing serious problems.
The SDL government’s tenure in office has been notorious for scams, official mismanagement, contempt for civil service procedures and abuse of public funds in almost every ministry and public enterprise.
Under Mr. Qarase’s government, the standard of living of our people, of all races, has declined markedly. How can the Prime Minister claim to have provided good governance when official statistics show 100,000 of our people are now dependent on destitute relief and 60,000 are living in mushrooming squatter settlements in every part of the country? When unemployment and the rate of crime are at a record high?
No, the Prime Minister has no reason to be proud of his tenure in office. He needs the combined talent and pool of resources available in the current membership of the House of Representatives to deal with the serious problems facing our nation.
This is why the FLP suggested that a government of national unity may be the best way forward for Fiji at this critical juncture.
The Prime Minister must genuinely embrace the concept of multiracialism embodied in the power-sharing provisions of the Constitution, if he is sincere in his desire to promote national reconciliation and nation building. He must honour the spirit and intent of the Compact provisions in the Constitution.
The Fiji Labour Party calls on the Prime Minister to fully uphold the integrity of the Constitution, and the principles of good governance. The Party’s priority is to see this done in the long term interests of the nation, not to respond to meaningless challenges.
Labour Parliamentary Leader.