In Fiji, we unfortunately have a long and unsettling history confronting issues of ethnicity. That history includes the coups of 1987 and 2000 that were justified on ethnic grounds and that drove away many skilled and talented people, retarding our national development and scarring our nation for many years.
We have done our best to move away from that tarnished legacy and begin a new chapter in Fiji by giving every Fijian the benefits of common and equal citizenship and promoting a culture that rewards on the basis of merit and achievement. We have walked into the future together, as one people, to fulfil our true potential, unhindered by the ethnic prejudices of the past.
Yet still, there are some who cannot help but see our progress and development through the lens of ethnicity. Those individuals who cannot let go of the politics of division and who, at every turn, use divisive politics for their own cheap political gain.
We again saw that dangerous and divisive rhetoric in Parliament on 1 June 2016 when NFP Parliamentarian Honourable Tupou Draunidalo made inaccurate and deeply irresponsible accusations against a fellow member. As a result, I strongly support Parliaments decision to suspend her.
Hon. Draunidalo incorrectly attributed the quote “dumb natives” to Minister for Education Honourable Dr. Mahendra Reddy during an exchange in Parliament on 1 June 2016. Upon review of the audio recording, it was revealed Hon. Reddy never made any such statement and that Hon. Draunidalo alone mentioned the quote dumb natives. Instead of engaging in rational debate, she sought to add an element of ethnic prejudice into the exchange and mischaracterise the Ministers statement.
To levy such a heavy charge against Hon. Reddy without any factual proof is inexcusable. It discredits the Minister unfairly and brings ethnic tension and discord into a conversation where none existed.
This was a blatant attempt by Hon. Draunidalo to set back the clock and destroy the vision of ethnic harmony that the FijiFirst Government has worked tirelessly to make a reality. We cannot tolerate this regressive mind-set that threatens our democracy and our Constitution by seeking to divide us along ethnic lines.
It is unacceptable for any member of Parliament to misuse their right to engage in parliamentary debate by falsely accusing another of ethnic discrimination. Not only did Hon. Draunidalo misrepresent Hon. Reddys statements, she also went on to call him a fool and an idiot, blatantly disregarding the Standing Orders and degrading the work, dignity and standing of the Parliament, which represents the Fijian people.
Such careless insults and accusations have no place in modern Fiji or in Parliamentary debates, as clearly seen under Standing Order 62(4) (a) and (d) which states that it is out of order for a member, when speaking, to use offensive words against Parliament or another member or words that are likely to promote or provoke feelings of ill-will or hostility between communities or ethnic groups within Fiji.
Our Parliamentarians must discuss the real issues of national development, climate finance and adaptation, the status of women in our society, economic and youth empowerment and our childrens education objectively without reference to ethnicity, religion or the other forms of commonality. By pointing to our divisions, you stop us from reaching our true potential as a nation. Therefore, it is not in the nations best interest for elected leaders to pull out the ethnicity card at every drop of the hat as the Opposition has a tendency to do.
Hon. Draunidalos comments have also inflamed ethnic tensions and debates on social media. Her comments have been treated as accurate by some and used to divide Fijians on the basis of ethnicity. For her part, Hon. Draunidalo had taken no steps to correct her error prior to todays parliamentary debate or quell the divisive, ethnically charged comments that have been posted online.
Those who have followed Hon. Draunidalos example by spreading lies and insults on social media should be ashamed. It is in no ones interest to use untruthful statements to gain public support, and it is not befitting any elected leader or Fijian citizen to do so.
I urge every Fijian to be wary of those who fan the flames of ethnic tension on social media, and to distance themselves from any who seek to use ethnic division as a tool to destroy.
Given our history, Parliament must never allow such reckless behaviour to go unchecked. Given our history, we must put in place deterrents so that such events never occur again.
We have rules in place designed to ensure our democracy operates fairly and accountably and those rules need to be enforced. Only then can we truly strive to be a nation with a Constitution that protects equal citizenry, civil and political rights and equal access to economic opportunity for all Fijians.