- This is part 2 of the paper GRAHAM LEUNG was to have delivered at the annual Fiji Institute of Accountants Congress convention at the Sheraton Fiji in Nadi on Friday.
As we look back over the last 39 years, one thing has become clear. Constitution bashing and finding fault in the supreme law has become something of a national past time. Whenever there is a crisis, there is a tendency in some circles to blame the Constitution for the country’s woes and to think that by changing it, we would thereby fix our problems.
May I remind you that the 1970 Constitution produced a Labor Prime Minister with substantial support from the Indo-Fijian community. Similarly the now vilified 1997 Constitution produced a second Labor Prime Minister. And following the last general elections in 2006, it produced a multi-party cabinet with a significant number of Labor ministers in an SDL government. So it is misleading and simplistic to suggest that the Constitution is the cause of our problems. The comment of those who dismiss the Constitution as racist is shallow and simplistic. Context is everything.
The Constitution was not perfect. Reform of some of its parts was work-in-progress. But what we should remember is that every time we criticise and demonise the Constitution, we are contributing to its erosion and the erosion of democracy.
Because it lends the uninformed detractors of the Constitution an excuse to tear it up and to dump it. This is a lesson we must all remember moving into the future. We must stop treating the Constitution as if it were an expendable document that can be chopped and trashed at will.
We must give the Constitution the respect that must be accorded to the supreme law. The lack of respect for the Constitution and a recurring failure to honour the rule of law has been one of the biggest sources of political instability in Fiji.
Time and again our fragile democracy has been hijacked by people who prefer the language of force instead of persuasion. The notion that you can secure real lasting democracy and security through force is misconceived.
It is a wicked lie. The twin evils of racism and corruption will not be eradicated overnight. Neither will they be rooted out by the force of arms.
The best Constitution in the world will not fix our problems. And how have we responded as a people to the rape of democracy?
For whatever reason, the great majority of us have chosen to remain passive, even acquiescent in the face of illegality, hoping that the excesses of the usurpers will soon end, trusting in their vision. Since the first coup staged by Rabuka, we have rewarded and left the usurpers unpunished. We are paying a heavy price for so doing.
So who is responsible for the situation that Fiji is in today?
We all are. Not just the politicians and political leaders, both successful and failed. Not just the corrupt businessmen who support them. Not just the extremists at both ends of the political spectrum. Not only the lawyers and judges who have succumbed to the easier path of acquiescence and revenge. Not just the chiefs who have chosen expediency over what is right. Some religious leaders, members of civil society and the trade union movement must also share some of the blame.
Leaders who have failed us and a culture of selfishness, greed and revenge have also partly led us to where we are today. All of these different elements have worked over the last three decades to weaken and undermine democracy in Fiji.
One day the educated elites in all the professions will have to answer for their silence in the face of despotism and authoritarianism. All of us who have looked the other way and did nothing are as much to blame for our political predicament and economic woes. For not raising our individual and collective voices to condemn the rape of the constitution, the weakening of democratic institutions, of the judiciary, of parliament, the muzzling of the press and the erosion of fundamental freedoms.
Instead of adding voices of reason to the debate on issues of national importance most of us have chosen the easier path of silence and complacency. It is too inconvenient, perhaps even embarrassing to get involved or to take a stand. There is a possible fear of recrimination in some quarters. Some of the reservations about speaking out are understandable. But it is not excuseable.
What should we do?
We must tell our rulers that we have had enough of leaders who choose the path of force over dialogue, who would govern us by fear instead of persuasion. Who tell us that they know what is good and better for us only because they say so. We need to stand up against the evil of dictatorship.
Because make no mistake it is an evil. If we continue to remain silent in the face of what is taking place we become complicit in the wrongs that are happening. I appreciate there is a fear of retribution and of being singled out. But if we all speak out that will lessen the chances of some being targeted for unfair treatment.
Indifference is the friend of the oppressor. Indifference is not a response in the present crisis which has befallen Fiji. Indifference in the face of the human suffering which affects so many is a denial of the humanity of those that suffer. And we betray our own humanity in the process.
Fiji needs to return to constitutional legitimacy. This will generate hope and confidence. It will restore a framework that will allow for respectful debate and conversations about the way forward. It will bring about political stability and accountability, the necessary preconditions for economic recovery and sustainable long term growth. It will allow the voices of the people, all the people of this country, to be heard.
We need to restore trust at all levels. We need to reject extremism and violence in all its forms. Because violence begets violence.
A coup is not just an act of violence. It is a crime and it can never be justified, whatever the cause. By accepting dictatorship we perpetuate it. The road ahead will be long. We will trip.
But we must stand up again and continue the journey of rebuilding a Fiji of which we can all be proud. The task to be accomplished will not be achieved in our lifetime. But we must start that work today. We cannot delay the job of reconciling ourselves to each other. Within and between races. Within and between religions. Within and between families. We have no choice. The alternative to peace, reconciliation and democracy is too horrible to imagine.
Further conflict, tension and arbitrary rule will bring untold hardship. Historians will remember this dark chapter in the nation’s development as the generation of lost opportunities. Future generations will ask: what did you do to halt the decline? And what will your answer be?
It is sometimes said that we get the leaders we deserve. There is a grain of truth in this. When we reminisce about the past, I think it is fair to say that by and large many of our elected parliamentarians have been fairly uninspiring and unimpressive.
This is partly the result of political party selections typically based on patronage and connections. It has resulted in successive parliaments being dominated by poor leaders, lacking vision and wisdom. Leaders who have not led but divided. Leaders whose ideology has contributed to the destruction, instead of the growth of the nation. Leaders who have sown the seeds of discord and rancour.
And let me say this. They are not confined to any one community or political grouping. And we are reaping a bitter harvest.
The well being of all who live in these beautiful islands is inextricably linked to the ability and willingness of all our leaders to come to terms and deal with one another on the basis of tolerance, dialogue and mutual respect. There is no escaping this simple truth. They must abandon past hatreds. We need to insist that this process commence forthwith. If it is delayed, we will be doomed to become another failed, sad state like Zimbabwe. – fiji uncensored