Fiji Day Message by Fiji Labour Party Leader Mahendra Chaudhry
Fiji today observes 43 years of its nationhood. It should be a time for somber reflection on how our nation and her people have fared over the past four decades since independence in 1970.
Can Fiji sincerely look back over the past 43 years and say it has indeed evolved into a mature, modern and progressive nation? If so, what have we achieved and where do we stand today in relation to October 1970?
At Independence we were a parliamentary democracy with a Constitution that guaranteed our people their basic human rights and freedoms and fully protected the interests of indigenous as well as all other communities that make up our society. The government and the Opposition leaders cooperated at all levels to ensure peaceful transition
from a colony to an independent sovereign state.
Our economy was strong with the foundation laid in these early years, through the sugar industry, pine forestation, fisheries, gold mining and tourism, achieving a steady growth averaging 5% annually. The
groundwork for most of our modern infrastructure in terms of transport, energy and communications, as well as health and education, date back to this time.
But instead of building on this foundation, we have since 1987 regressed as a nation. Except for one year in 1999-2000 when we registered a 10% growth, the 5% growth rate has not been surpassed. Indeed growth has
been lackadaisical at around 2-3% and often, in the negative.
The reason for this can be squarely placed on the four coups since 1987, staged with the assistance of the army, by misguided ultra nationalists, opportunists and the greed of failed politicians and unscrupulous
Today, Fiji stands as a sorry picture of a nation in distress before the rest of the world, and more specifically, the Pacific Island nations over which it once held a commanding position.
Social conditions have deteriorated sharply in a stagnant economy underpinned by years of political instability and lack of investor confidence. Poverty levels are unacceptably high, now standing officially at 43% of the population.
On governance, corruption is reported to be rampant in an environment where there is absolutely no accountability and transparency in the regime’s handling of public funds. Frustrated and disillusioned, people have left Fiji in the thousands, resulting in a huge loss of skilled manpower.
For the past seven years, we have been an oppressed people without a constitution, subjected to repressive, draconian decrees which have robbed us of much of our rights and freedoms. The authority of the judiciary stands seriously circumscribed while the media is cowed by threats of excessive penalties.
Although we are finally heading towards a general election, there is little hope that it will bring much relief in terms of free, fair and credible elections or a return to the liberties and freedoms we enjoyed at the time of independence 43 years ago.
Elections are to be held under a seriously flawed constitution imposed on the people of Fiji by a military-backed regime, under rules and arrangements that cannot be considered free and fair.
It is the time for us to ponder on the dismal state of our nation and to take action to reverse the process. We need to stand up to defend values and principles that we hold dear as a people: to restore genuine democracy and the rule of law – and, above all, to have a constitution of the people’s choice.
Regrettably, we in Fiji have scant reason to celebrate, and much to rue, as we mark the 43rd anniversary of our independence