Greetings. On the 15th of September each year the world marks International Day of Democracy. The day has been annually celebrated and is an opportunity to highlight the importance of democracy and its principles. It was established through a resolution passed by the United Nations General Assembly in 2007, encouraging governments to strengthen and consolidate democracy.
As the Speaker of the Fijian Parliament I wish to share some important thoughts about this year’s focus on the challenges that COVID-19 has posed globally and why democracy is crucial in ensuring an effective response to the pandemic.
COVID-19 has posed many challenges around the world, and for small countries like Fiji, it has become an added stumbling block in our ongoing efforts on climate change adaptation, disaster mitigation and sustainable development.
A lot of our meagre resources and energies are being diverted towards the national COVID-19 response. We have seen the adoption of state emergencies to address the pandemic and Tropic Cyclone Harold.
While these measures are undertaken, it is important, that we ensure that these are implemented through democratic means and due process.
It is crucial that the democratic principles enshrined in the 2013 Fijian Constitution continue to be upheld and practiced.
As we continue to grapple with the impact of the pandemic, the Fijian Parliament as the representative of the people has not lost sight of its core roles and has ensured that parliamentary democracy continues to be observed.
Parliament has persisted on with the legislative agenda amidst COVID-19 and ensured that there is minimal disruption to its law-making, debate and national decision-making functions. It has ensured that consultations and decisions on the national response to COVID-19 is transparent to the public and inclusive.
A special Parliament sitting in March this year passed the COVID-19 Response Budget as part of the response to the pandemic and its economic fallout. It was also an opportunity for Members of Parliament to review and seek clarification on the Government’s response to the pandemic.
The social-distancing norms and safety protocols brought about by COVID-19 has compelled Parliament to enhance its e-parliament initiative and ensure that the core parliamentary processes of representation, oversight and scrutiny are not disrupted.
Parliament has continued to pass key legislation, provide oversight on the work of Government and in particular listen to the voice of the people through virtual means. You can see these in action through the work of our Standing Committees and public access to their reviews of important legislation, international treaties and oversight of government machinery.
We have to ensure there is minimal disruption to our committee processes and Parliament’s accessibility to citizens. In the midst of Covid-19, our core work must continue, albeit in a different form.
Responding to COVID-19 requires that we continue to uphold our democratic values and practices.
Democracy thrives when we do not lose sight of achieving and consolidating the key principles and core values of a free society in the midst of enormous challenges.
Social inclusion and empowerment is a cross cutting issue that all institutions of the state including Parliament need to play a part in.
In this regard, Parliament has put in place measures through its activities and initiatives to ensure engagement across all levels of society including women and youth. Fiji is a young country with around 62 percent of the population below the age of 35. Effective engagement of youth in the economy, society and the political sphere will stimulate growth and development.
Women make up around half of Fiji’s total population. Their participation in the processes of Parliament is encouraged to ensure equal opportunities for all, including their participation in education, leadership, and overall economic development, and through legislation to confirm and bolsters our efforts to eliminate violence against women. In May 2019, we established the Commonwealth Women Parliamentarians (CWP) Fiji Group, the country affiliate of the CWP under the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association (CPA). This is a key action under the Parliament’s gender mainstreaming initiative.
Parliament also has an important role in lending its support to the progressing of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by 2030. Parliament ensures that through its deliberations and activities, is accountable and transparent. Public engagement through outreaches and deliberation on Bills and treaties is responsive, inclusive, participatory and representative through decision-making at all levels.
Amidst the challenges of COVID-19 all these efforts must continue under our democratic system.
As such, I encourage all Fijians to reflect and work together with key institutions of Government to ensure that our democracy thrives.
Happy International Day of Democracy!
HE Hon. Ratu Epeli Nailatikau
Speaker of the Parliament of the Republic of Fiji