PM ON HON. TIKOCA’S SUSPENSION

STATEMENT IN SUPPORT OF THE MOTION TO CENSURE HON. ISOA TIKOCA FOR BREACH OF PRIVILEGE Madam Speaker, It is with great sadness as well as anger and disappointment that I ask the Honourable Parliament to approve the motion before us today, to endorse the findings of the Privileges Committee that Hon. Isoa Tikoca has contravened Standing Order 62(4)(a) and (d) in circumstances that were grave and a serious breach of privilege. I say it is with sadness because this is now the third time we have had to make the decision to discipline a member of this body for incivility and the second time for statements that incite racial division and hatred. What is saddest, Madam Speaker, is that the language of racial hatred and division is getting worse, despite the fact that we have rejected them and the mentality that spawns them. We endured the incident in May of last year, when Hon. Naiqama Lalabalavu used an obscene and highly offensive term in the vernacular to directly insult the Honourable Speaker. It was an insult that could be seen as offensive to all women and that reflected in some way the precarious situation that many women find themselves in—easily insulted with obscene sexual language and then just as easily raped or physically abused. That is because it is a small step to violence once a person or a group is dehumanized. This insult against the Honourable Speaker demonstrated extreme prejudice against women. It was a contemptuous and deeply misogynistic assault that also went against this very institution of Parliament. Given our history, we had to take strong action to ensure that such an act would never happen again. Then, only last June, we were forced to discipline Hon. Tupou Draunidalo for falsely attributing a racist statement to the Minister of Education. That false attribution was cunning in its execution: It was a coded means of setting ethic group against ethnic group, not by making a direct charge or statement. No, she was too clever for that. Instead, she falsely attributed a racist statement to someone else. Fortunately, Parliament could see her statement for what it was and took appropriate action. But Hon. Tikoca’s diatribe—and I could not call it anything but a diatribe—was the vilest and most explicit statement of racial hatred we have heard on this floor since the Parliament was seized in the coup of 2000. At that time, the racist statements came from criminals who unabashedly declared the superiority and privilege of one race over the other and sought to institutionalize it by force of arms. Today we face something more subtle than we did in 2000, but also more pernicious and dangerous: that an elected Member of Parliament, using the privileges of free expression granted to Members of Parliament in order to ensure honest debate, would seek to cast suspicion on one group. He would seek to divide Fijians, to create in the minds of the people the false idea that one group of Fijians is getting too powerful. He would turn the service and sacrifice that people from one community are giving to this country against them, as if their contributions were meaningless. He sees leadership positions in government as trophies to be distributed as patronage, not as positions of public trust assigned to those most capable of serving the people in each area. Madam Speaker, we should perhaps be grateful to Hon. Tikoca for being as explicit as he was, because it makes our decision easier. There was no coded language in his statement, no hidden message to decipher, no cunning or deception. His racism was on full display for all to see. His language was quite plain and clear: He thinks one group of people has too much power. One only has to wonder what he thinks the remedy should be, how Fiji should deal with people who work hard, lead a life of accomplishment, and volunteer to serve their country. Madam Speaker, this kind of incitement is nothing new. It is part of a long tradition of demagoguery and race-baiting that we have seen all over the world, a tradition that we had hoped to end forever in Fiji. This is how hatred starts, and hatred can easily lead to violence. Look at other countries that have had to confront their racism, sometimes only after periods of great social upheaval or war: Nazi Germany blamed the Jews for Germany’s ills and accused them of being too powerful, too accomplished, too wealthy. And as a result, six million Jews were killed in Concentration Camps. The United States is still confronting the legacy of more than 300 years of racial inequality—and now racial stereotyping that has led to numerous unwarranted police shootings. Neighbours who once lived side by side in places like Iraq and Syria have been set against each other by the forces of religious division. And it often begins with words like those spoken by the Hon. Tikoca. That must never happen again in Fiji. Madam Speaker, Fiji has a long history of racial vilification. In 1987, ethnic prejudice was used to justify the overthrow of Government, resulting in the subsequent fleeing of tens of thousands of Fijians from Fiji. This was followed by wide-spread discrimination and a discriminatory Constitution. In 2000, the overthrow of Government was justified because the Prime Minister at that time was described as an Indian and as a Hindu. This dark period in our history also saw Hindus in Fiji being called devil-worshipers and devils. Today, the vilification is against Muslims. Tomorrow, when it suits the aggressors, it can be against Hindus, Catholics, Whites, Chinese, Sikhs, disabled, women, homosexuals or even based on provincial background or origin. Honourable Tikoca maliciously selected the names of people of the same faith or ethnicity and falsely alleged that they are running the country. Tomorrow, if he decides to vilify, simply for the sake of spreading hate and discrimination, he could compile a list of Hindus, Christians, women, or indeed any group of people and claim that as the basis for any prominence they have achieved within Government. Madam Speaker, the point is that we have to be vigilant in punishing any form of discrimination and jealously guard against any efforts to promote such hatred. We cannot deliver the economic benefits and advancement that our people deserve if we reduce issues to communal demarcations such as religion, ethnicity and provincialism. We will continue to lag behind. Such demarcation and discrimination have caused great damage to this nation and the Fijian people, so they must never be repeated. We in this Parliament must be especially vigilant. Our disagreements must always be civil and respectful. We are elected leaders, and we must show the people that it is possible to disagree and still live together and understand each other. That is the only way our democracy can survive. So we must be keen to spot rhetoric that is based in racial prejudice and be uncompromising in punishing it. Yes, Madam Speaker, I do make this statement with sadness—sadness that we still must confront this kind of prejudice and ignorance in this chamber. I am saddened that we in this chamber are not leading the people to a more enlightened discourse, and that we are not demonstrating by our actions and our words how we can unite as Fijians and see each other as human beings and fellow countrymen, not as members of a race, or a religion, or an ethnic group. This is the Fiji to which we must aspire, Madam Speaker, and I am determined to make it a reality. We cannot do so if we tolerate the language of racial division and hatred in the very institution that is supposed to bring all Fijians together for the common good. Madam Speaker, we have now had three breaches of privilege in less than a year-and-half. Parliament has taken a stand twice before, and things should be getting better. But this is the worst breach yet. We in Parliament must stand for what is right in Fiji, for civil discourse and for mutual respect. We cannot cede one centimetre in this. We must uphold a high standard for discourse and for the behaviour of our Members. Therefore, for the integrity of this parliamentary body, for the future of democracy in Fiji, and for the hope of unity and dignity for all Fijians, I ask that Parliament approve the findings and recommendations of the Privileges Committee and I fully endorse the motion.   [Source: Fijian Government]

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