Fiji’s new coalition government faces opposition in Parliament

Fiji prime minister Sitiveni Rabuka addresses parliament. Monday 13 February 2023 Photo: Fiji Parliament

Opening statement for the new parliamentary term, prime minister Rabuka stresses the need for both sides of the House to be united.

He acknowledged that the government and opposition had many differences but said they also share a common interest.

“That is the welfare of our people and policies and measures that will benefit the people and the nation as a whole,” Sitiveni Rabuka said.

“There are many opportunities, Mr. Speaker, sir, for government and opposition to adopt a united approach on certain issues and jointly develop legislation and pursue other initiatives for the common good,” Rabuka said.

The prime minister said he hoped to work together with the opposition leader Frank Bainimarama on policies to protect children, eliminate violence against women, improved services provided by local governments, alleviate poverty as well as inspire the nation’s sports people.

He said the People’s Coalition government would “continue to ensure Fiji’s democracy functions properly.”

Rabuka announced several policy changes impacting civil servants shortly after coming into power in late December last year.

Some of these include increasing the retirement age from 55-years to 60 and removing contract-based appointments.

He said these changes provide government workers “long term security” adding that “consultations are ongoing for the full implementation of this policy.”

“The policy which represents virtual permanent employment across the public service governed by the usual terms and conditions. We look forward to improve morale and productivity in the public service once this policy is fully implemented,” Sitiveni Rabuka said.

Rabuka also pointed to recent revelations concerning senior executives’ salary and benefits from certain public and state-owned enterprises that have been in the limelight.

He said the disclosures “have raised red flags and highlighted the need for greater scrutiny and accountability by executives and directors in these enterprises.”

He confirmed over 1200 people applied to be on the boards of state entities after the government called for expressions of interest in January.

“It is imperative that the right people are appointed to boards on merit board membership must also reflect that dynamics of our population diversity,” he said.

Shifting focus to regional and foreign relations, Rabuka said his priority is to rebuild regional unity.

He said his meeting with Kiribati president Taneti Maamau last month “was very successful.”

“The aim was to find a path for Kiribati to re-join the forum, the forum family after their withdrawal last year. A united Pacific Island firm is better placed to protect the interests of our region,” Rabuka said.

“This is especially significant at a time of international maneuvering for big power influence in the Pacific and the common challenges we face in particular the climate change problems,” he said.

Rabuka has indicated that both leaders have agreed on various measures to improve and strengthen the Fiji-Kiribati bilateral relationships.

He also said work on mending Fiji’s relations with the “most successful example” of regional cooperation – the University of the South Pacific – has taken off.

The FijiFirst Fijian government had withheld paying its dues to the U-S-P and owes in excess of FJ 80 million dollars to the institution.

“We will make an initial payment to begin reducing our significant debt lab with a USP and we will do that later this week. I’m glad the Vice Chancellor Professor Pal Ahluwalia has returned to the gym speaker, sir, and I look forward to meeting him later this week,” Rabuka said.

Meanwhile, Fiji’s opposition leader Frank Bainimarama said, “today’s Fiji does not follow the rule to law.”

“It is a Fiji where the Prime Minister his Attorney General and his ministers do not follow the Constitution which brought them to this parliament in the first place,” Bainimarama said.

“They make their rules and disregard the law as and when it suits them.”

Bainimarama said Rabuka’s coalition is acting against the spirit of the constitution.

He claimed the chief justice has been suspended for frivolous matters and independent constitutional officers forced to resign or suspended with no regard for due process.

“We have intelligent, diligent and professional civil servants removed, terminated suspended and side-lined without rhyme or reason or due process,” Bainimarama said.

“We have our regulatory processes being eroded and illegal directives are issued because ministers their political cronies and newly appointed civil service believe that the interest supersede the law.”

The former prime minister also claimed freedom of expression is under threat and people are worried to speak openly.

He also claimed the president, as the commander in chief of the Republic of Fiji Military Forces (RFMF) also failed to “protect the constitution” and provide proper guidance to the military.

“I appeal to the rank and file of the RFMF to preserve their mana to maintain the credibility and their calling and not forsake the constitutional role,” Frank Bainimarama said.

“I also wish to inform the RFMF and its gift and legacy the Fijian constitution is being ignored and bashed on a daily basis and the current prime minister wants what the RFMF worked so hard for removed.”

The parliament sitting continues until Friday.

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