FLP’s Youth Rep Laisa Bale dreams of a future in the Land of “hope and glory”

  • 24th June 2014
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A future where I dream that a young  man or young woman between the the ages of 20-25 years  could stand before a forum like this, some day soon, to articulate their dreams without fear  of the barrel of  the gun.

A future, where my daughter and those that represent her generation can lead, or as expressed by the late Houston, can enjoy laughter. A future without depressing unemployment or underemployment A future without poverty; a future with healthy youthful workforce A future where they are empowered and free.

Namaste, Bula Vinaka, & Good morning

This morning, I’ve been given the pleasant task of providing the keynote address as a representative of Young Labour – the youth wing of the Fiji Labour Party.

At this juncture, I wish to thank the Party Leader for his belief in the young people of Fiji; in asking me to speak on behalf of our members, who constitute a large percentage of the voting population.

As we were singing the national anthem, I kept reflecting on the things that I love about Fiji. I was born in the year of independence and so I represent that generation of young Fijians who dreamt of the land of “hope and glory”.

The type of land where we wake up to a friendly bula smile, the long loafs, rewa butter and tea – to lunch at Joji’s; and dinner at Singhs curry house; or my Saturday at the Suva Market looking for bila & tavioka-yaca, as well as baigani and dhania with my curry mixed spices and bongo chilies. This is my Fiji – the land that carries so much hope and glory.  May God, in his ultimate wisdom, continue to bless Fiji.

At this juncture, allow me a few minutes to point out that mine is a difficult task of trying to articulate in a short time span, the dreams, the vision, and the hopes of the youths of Fiji Labour Party and in whose hands our future as a nations rests in the upcoming September elections.  It’s the kind of difficulty that one should NOT take very lightly with 88 more days to the ballot box.

Equally daunting, is my task in trying to provide some thoughts as a mother and parent, with a deep vested interest in the future of our young people of Fiji, because ultimately, my child or children of her generation, will inevitably inherit the future; created by the young people in the upcoming years, a future that is based on the last 7 plus years; and the many years of turmoil that we’ve gone through as a nation since 1987.

It’s not the type of daunting task associated with cleaning or caring for your child but the type of daunting task that requires deep wisdom accorded to King Solomon. Fiji, as you all know, has a relatively young population. UNICEF study on Social Indicators[1] in Fiji in 2011, noted that children between the ages of 0-18 years constitute at least 40% of the total population. When combined with what we know of the proportion of young voters in Fiji between the ages of 18-35 years who constitute close to 42% of the total voting population in the upcoming elections, it’s not difficult to use basic arithmetic to calculate the relativeness of our youthful population.

Against this backdrop, I will provide some reflections on the future we will inherit come Sept 2014. Four years ago, I returned to Fiji following a year of undertaking postgraduate studies abroad. Armed with my new qualifications, I was hoping to quickly settle into a job in the Fiji market. Interestingly, after 4 years, I’ve merely made ends meet through short-term consultancies with different organizations. The global recession is partly to blame but more so, in Fiji, our economy is sluggish, therefore impacting on job creation in the short and the long term. It should not have come as a surprise that in 2012, I visited the National Employment Centre (not to register myself) but to enquire if I could hire some skills for my nearly established consultancy company; I discovered an alarming number of young people registered at NEC.

Unofficially as a former staff of the Ministry of Labour, I was told that the number of young people amounted to over 20,000. As we commenced with interviews of these young people, I also discovered that those unemployed held qualifications from USP and from FNU – young people who were searching desperately for a future in Fiji.

While the official unemployment figures are disputable, the International Monetary Fund[2] in its report on Fiji of the 18th October 2013 noted its concern that while “ unemployment at nearly 9 percent continues to be stubbornly high, youth and underemployment were of significantly higher rates”. Ladies & Gentleman, this means that even amongst us, we know of three or four young people in Fiji that are unemployed or under-employed … and therefore not living the dreams of the land of “hope and glory”.

Similarly, the World Health Organization noted[3] that girls tended to drop out of school earlier then boys. This means that a majority of our young women, our nieces, our daughters, our aunts, and our family, leave school with limited skills and qualification, in Fiji’s current climate. In short, ladies and gentleman, it is of some deep concern that for a small developing country like Fiji, employment options are limited for our sons and daughter. This is not an option for us.  It’s not in our interest to have such a large percentage of our population unemployed or underemployed.

Although the global recession has had a role to play in our sluggish economic growth, a key factor is our lack of investors due to the political situation in our country. That’s understandable, as no person would invest their funds in a house that is divided and chaotic, a house where a large portion of its population remain under lock and key, a house that has so much potential for expansion and growth but has not seen it fit to pursue.

In our house, the correlation or a relationship between high youth unemployment or under-employment with poverty rates is profound. As you all know, in Fiji poverty is measured using the Basic Needs Poverty Line (BNPL) estimated about $175 FJD per week for a household of four.  Between 2008/9, the estimated percent of those living below the Basic Needs Poverty Line, was 31 percent of the total population[4]. In 2010, the Fiji Times Newspaper reported[5] that 45 percent of the population, were living in poverty.

Accordingly, while poverty in urban centers decreased, poverty in rural areas increased. Of the four divisions in Fiji, the Northern division, from which I hail, sadly is the poorest. Trailing behind Ra where 56 percent of her population are considered poor, Cakaudrove with 55 percent; Macuata 51; my beautiful province of Bua comes in at fourth place with 47 percent of the population living in poverty.

Ladies and gentleman, there are people in your province also living in poverty; in your neighborhood, and in your homes[6]. Similarly, if we look at the health indicators, we know that Fiji is doing well in meeting its commitment to the MDGs; but when we look at the Non-Commutable Diseases (NCDs) (which you can call our life-style diseases) again we see an interesting trend linkage with high youth unemployment and under-employment and high poverty rates.

The World Health Organization (WHO) factsheet[7] on Fiji noted that we scored higher then the regional average in blood glucose levels; more so for women then men – in other words, diabetes is of concern.  On measuring blood pressure, again, Fiji rated higher then the regional average but more so for men then for women – which means that heart attacks and diabetes and other ailments should be of concern. On measuring for obesity, we again rate way above the regional average with women notably more than men.

On HIV and AIDs, Fiji is in its early state of a possible HIV epidemic; more prominently for the age groups between 30-39 and 40 – 49 years. Our Sexually transmitted Infection rates (STIs) are quite high. Violence against women is a real concern.  A recent report[8] from experts in this field indicate that at least 64% of women in Fiji who have ever been in an intimate relationship has experienced physical and/or sexual violence by their husband or intimate partner in their lifetime. When compared with the estimated global prevalence of the same, at 30%, we know that Fiji is in a bad shape.

It is estimated that everyday, even on a day like today, 43 women are injured, 1 is permanently disabled, and 71 lose consciousness. These indicators alone should provide us with a glimpse of the status of the health of our young people. Apart from living in poverty, challenges with finding employment,  addressing violence against women, we are now faced with the grim reality of an ailing youthful population. Ladies & Gentleman, this does not happen to other people, this happens to us.

And the young people of this nation are victims of our ways. The majority of our population, the young people of Fiji on whose behalf I humbly stand before you, constitute what we know to be coup-babies; those born after 1987. During my preparation for my keynote address, I noted with keen interest the number of thematic reports that indicated that the root cause of the unemployment and under-employment, of poverty, of ailing health, violence against Women and other social ills, is caused by our coup cycle and our political upheavals. These are things that we can fix.

This morning, on my way to the FLP Campaign Centre, the taxi driver had this Whitney Houston song playing on the radio when I got in. I thought it was apt that the late Whitney Houston would speak to me so profoundly through these words:

“ I belive that Children are our future, teach them well and let them lead the way; show them all the beauty they possess inside, give them a sense of pride to make it easier; let the children’s laughter remind us of how it used to be”

Ladies and Gentleman, this morning, do forgive me if I am bold to demand and not kerekere in the normal manner for a future that the young people of Fiji deserve. A future where I dream that a young man or young woman between the ages of 20-25 year could stand before a forum like this, some day soon, to articulate their dreams without fear of the barrel of the gun.

A future, where my daughter and those that represent her generation can lead, or as expressed by the late Houston, can enjoy laughter. A future without depressing unemployment or underemployment, a future without poverty; a future with healthy youthful workforce, and a future where they are empowered and free.

Towards this end, as mother, I stand humbly before you all to demand as follows:

(a)   We demand for the creation of an environment that is stable and free for our young people and children. We owe it ourselves to do the right thing: to create and build a Fiji where we are reminded of how life used to be

(b)    We demand for the creation of an environment where our Youths engage critically in analysis without the fear of being reprimanded or being threatened by the barrel of the gun.

(c)    We demand a Fiji where all their human rights are respected and upheld, including their human rights to free worship is observed.

(d)   We dream of a Fiji where different ethnicity can mix freely without the fear of  violence. Where our children are not judged by the ethnic group that they represent, but as Fiji Islanders.

(e)   Lastly, we demand the end to the coup-cycle and return to sustainable democracy and peace.

We demand because we dream of what is possible – I believe, that this is the same type of dream that countries like Argentina, South Africa, Indonesia and Malaysia, to name a few, created for their children. In presenting you with our demands and dreams, we (the second generation of Fiji Labour Party Members) take up the call to carry on the vision of social justice, equality and equity, drafted some 29 years ago, by our founding fathers.

Today, our moment has arrived. It’s the moment where we march forward, knowing that there is much work, and little time to waste, given that we only have 88 more days to attempt to create a Fiji that our children deserve.

If I may be permitted to reflect on the first founding principle established by our founders at the Fiji Labour Party some 29 years ago because it is the key foundation in our quest to build a better Fiji: they dreamt of the Recognition and protection of fundamental political and civil rights of citizens, including free and democratic elections, freedom of expression and a just legal system” Yes, its time for change – but we can’t have change unless we get our foundation right.

From the Holy Book, I again draw inspiration from the book of Matthew that a “house built on sifting sand” will crash under the waves of globalization and the pressures of the modern world.  

With these thoughts, I conclude by providing some youthful advice to the aspiring Fiji Labour Party Candidates for 2014 September elections. In a few minutes, you will step into the historical books of Fiji with a key challenge in mind – the battle is real for each of us: we are defending a political ideology and carving a future for our young people and our children.

Should we lose, the loss for us is real. We lose the battle on behalf of our young people who deserve a brighter future. We lose the dream of many of the parents present here, of the grandmothers and grandfathers in our community, of our Chiefs:  the dream that it is possible to build a brighter Fiji for all of us

In these regards, I urge you to take heed of the following:

(a)   the calling to represent the Fiji Labour Party is a noble call. It’s a call that would require that we continue to remind ourselves that it’s never about us but about the young people and the children and their future in Fiji. Through the next 88 days to the ballot box, I hope that this vision will keep you pressing on to create history for the third time for this party. As they say for the Fiji Labour Party, we demand the ballot paper & the ballot box, not the bullets – twice denied, third time lucky;

(b)   Secondly, that in order to move forward; we must find in each of us the ability to forgive those that have wronged us so deeply and form partnerships to take us forward. In turn, this will keep us personally objective and focused on the battle ahead of us.

(c)    Lastly, if I may be excused for borrowing from the eloquent words of the late Madiba – the late Nelson Mandela – to continue to push forward until we achieve our dream for a better Fiji:  “I have walked that long road to freedom. I have tried not to falter; I have made missteps along the way. But I have discovered the secret that after climbing a great hill, one only finds that there are many more hills to climb. I have taken a moment here to rest, to steal a view of the glorious vista that surrounds me, to look back on the distance I have come. But I can only rest for a moment, for with freedom come responsibilities, and I dare not linger, for my long walk is not ended” In doing so – let me kindly remind us that we are not the first country nor the last country to have been robbed off our future. But, like South Africa, we too can build to take our place in the global platform as a contender.  It is the type of world that Whitney sang about, the type the Madiba dreamt of, the type that Dr. Martin Luther King Jrn envisaged.

It is, now our time, to Free Fiji.

Viva Democracy, Viva Fiji, Viva Fiji Labour Party.

Thank you

[1] http://www.unicef.org/pacificislands/Fiji_Equity_Atlas_Web_version.pdf
[2] http://www.imf.org/external/pubs/ft/scr/2013/cr13370.pdf
[3] http://www.wpro.who.int/topics/adolescent_health/fiji_fs.pdf
[4] http://www.unicef.org/pacificislands/Fiji_Equity_Atlas_Web_version.pdf
[5] http://www.fijitimes.com/story.aspx?id=144874
[6] http://www.unicef.org/pacificislands/Fiji_Equity_Atlas_Web_version.pdf
[7] http://www.who.int/countries/fji/en/
[8] http://www.abc.net.au/news/2013-12-12/an-fiji-among-world27s-worst-for-violence-against-women/5152018