Ba Province wants an effective voice in governance

  • 8th December 2020
  • 2020
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“In my view, successive governments could and should have done much more to promote the interests and welfare of the iTaukei community. It is time for us to make decisions in the best interests of our people in the Ba Province. – Tui Ba, Ratu Filimone NagivalaNale .

Tui Ba,  Ratu Filimone Nagivala Nale was chief guest at the Fiji Labour Party’s Annual Delegates Conference in Lautoka last week (5 Dec). The following is his speech to the conference:

Cola Vina, Namaste, Salaam

I wish everyone a pleasant morning. And welcome you all to
the Ba Province. I deem it an honour to be invited as the
Chief Guest to the Annual Delegates Conference and Convention
of the Fiji Labour Party.

Our links with the Fiji Labour Party go back a long way, some 35 years ago to when the Party was formed. I am therefore, very happy to be here today to renew those links.

Your President and first Labour Prime Minister, Dr. Timoci Bavadra, was one of our chiefs from the historical village of Vuda. After Dr Bavadra, Prime Minister Mahendra Chaudhry maintained very close relations with my Uncle, the late Tui Ba – Ratu Sairusi Nagagavoka who unfortunately is no longer with us. Of course, Mr Chaudhry is also a son of Ba and it is only natural that he should wish to forge an alliance with us in the Ba Province.

It was Ratu Sairusi who spearheaded the formation of PANU, the Party of National Unity, in 1998 ahead of the general elections the following year. His aim was to foster greater cooperation and unity among the various ethnic groups who live so harmoniously in the Ba Province.

Because of our historical links, it made sense for PANU to join forces with the Labour Party and its coalition partner, the Fijian Association Party, to contest the 1999 general elections as the People’s Coalition Party. We won the elections convincingly with PANU winning four seats.  We were delighted to be given two Cabinet positions in the People’s Coalition Government.

If we look back through history, we will find that from early days politicians from the Ba Province, and indeed from the West, have been searching to carve an identity for us in Fiji’s political arena.

Prior  to the advent of PANU,  the Western United Front (WUF) had been formed by the late Ratu Osea Gavidi from Nadroga. Founded in the early 1980s, WUF went into coalition with the National Federation Party to contest the 1982 general elections.

It is only natural that people from the West, in particular the iTaukei from the Ba Province, should want to have a strong voice in the affairs of our nation. In terms of population, we are the largest province.

We, the Ba Province, are the main producers of Fiji’s wealth. More than 90% of Fiji’s current income from tourism and aviation comes from the West where our main resorts and hotels are located.

Our sugar industry is largely based in the West with two of the country’s largest sugar mills located at Rarawai and Lautoka, in the Ba Province. As you all know, for decades sugar was the main revenue earner for our nation.

It is only in the past 15 years or so that it was overtaken by Tourism. But even today, some 200,000 people are dependent on the sugar industry, whether directly or indirectly, for their livelihood.

With tourism devastated by the coronavirus, it becomes even more important for us to revamp our sugar industry to create greater wealth for our nation. I am aware that it is a seriously sick industry but we have to find a solution to revive it.

The answer in my view lies in agricultural diversification. Cane farmers should be encouraged and assisted to diversify to cash crops for export and local consumption. With declining sugar prices and chronic milling problems resulting in huge losses to the industry, it is imperative that farmers and landowners act decisively for their economic survival.

The other main revenue earners for the nation, gold and timber, are also from the West. Fiji Water which is now a household international brand, is bottled in Yaqara with water from the pristine, unspoilt aquifers of the Sovi Basin.

We are the biggest landowners in the country – for cane farming as well as land for hotels, resorts and other commercial purposes. Indeed, we are the owners of the resources on which our nation is dependent  and yet our people remain poor.

This is a source of constant worry for us. Naturally, we seek a bigger voice in the running of our affairs to address these concerns. We want to ensure that the interests of our people as owners of the land and natural resources  are assured and well protected in any development deals that are made on our behalf.

Sadly, we lack the capital and the expertise to develop these resources ourselves. This deficiency is compelling many resource owners to enter into arrangements with developers on terms that are less than equitable for us. This is where government assistance is most needed BUT is not forthcoming in good measure.

We need to ensure sustainable development of our resources. We are concerned about the unscrupulous exploitation of our rivers, pine forests and fisheries which is causing damage, depletion and devastation to these resources as well as to the environment.

We are concerned about the education of our children. Scholarships and grants available for iTaukei students under the affirmative action policies of previous governments have been abolished along with the scholarships available to other communities under the multi-ethnic scholarships scheme. Our children now have to compete for the Toppers scheme which has put them at a great disadvantage.  All those who miss out, even very narrowly, have to finance their tertiary education themselves through student loans. This is  unfair..

We need to effectively address the problems of rising poverty and unemployment among our people, particularly the young. The high cost of living is a major worry for thousands of working families who have to survive on their meager incomes because of low wages.

In my view, successive governments could and should have done much more to promote the interests and welfare of the iTaukei community. It is time for us to make decisions in the best interests of our people in the Ba Province. We believe that this interest can best be served if we have an effective voice in the governance of the nation.

The future looks uncertain. The social and economic problems facing the nation have been compounded with the pandemic caused by the coronavirus.

There is a lot of hardship and suffering resulting from job losses or workers being put on reduced working hours. The worst affected are workers in the tourism and aviation industries.

There is no knowing how long the recovery process will take. All we know is that we must get together to find solutions to these problems.

We believe that no one community is an island unto itself. The well-being of our nation is dependent on all of us working together in peace and harmony, enjoying equal opportunities and sharing in the benefits of growth.

It may be a fitting time to acknowledge the sacrifices made by the Girmityas and other minority communities in the development of our nation. There is much to learn from the perseverance, hardwork and self discipline of these communities. These are the qualities which have sustained them and enabled their economic progress and prosperity.

As Tui Ba, I, therefore, welcome and encourage the move for an alliance with the FLP. I know that the FLP leadership will always have the interests and welfare of the Ba Province and Fiji at heart.

I give my blessings to this alliance and hope that working together, in a spirit of unity and understanding, we can forge even closer ties between our various communities.

With those words I have great pleasure in declaring open the Annual Delegates Conference and Convention 2020 of the Fiji Labour Party.

God Bless Fiji