STATEMENT BY THE PRIME MINISTER

The reported comments by the Opposition Leader, Ro Teimumu Kepa, in yesterday?s Fiji Times about the Government?s plan to open up its schools to rural and maritime students display an astonishing ignorance and confirm her unfitness for high office. They are inflammatory, divisive and a threat to national unity in that they cast a Government decision that is designed to be fair to all Fijians as a threat to the position of the i?Taukei where none whatsoever exists.

Ro Teimumu refers to indigenous people as ?victims? of the Government?s policy. This is a lie. The real victims are students living in rural and maritime areas who have been deprived of proper access to education because the sons and daughters of families living in urban areas have taken their places in Government boarding schools.

The vast majority of these students from urban areas – many of them children of civil servants, those who work at managerial level in the private sector and statutory authorities and in the professions ? are readily capable of attending a variety of schools as day scholars.

Whereas those from rural and maritime areas come from families who have no choice but to send their children to boarding school because other options are simply not available. However, these people have often been excluded because the available positions have been taken up by students who could have been sent to other schools.

It is a basic issue of fairness and justice that these fully-funded Government schools that also offer boarding facilities give priority to those who lack other avenues to gain an education. These include Queen Victoria School,Natabua High School, Adi Cakobau School, Labasa College and Ratu Kadavulevu School.

Our policy has been determined purely on the basis of need and it is highly irresponsible for Ro Teimumu Kepa to cast it in any other light. There is no threat to indigenous culture or the indigenous way of life. On the contrary, many indigenous children who have been disadvantaged by the policies of previous Governments will now be given an important opportunity for the first time.

More places in our boarding schools are being freed up for rural and maritime students, whether they come from Lau, Kadavu, Lomaiviti, Rotuma, the interior of the big islands or any other more isolated part of Fiji. So this is a huge leg-up for students in those areas and their families, who can now be rest assured that they will have the same opportunity as any other Fijian to get on in life.

Ro Teimumu needs to answer a basic question: What did she do to open up places in Government boarding schools for rural and maritime students when she was Minister for Education in the Qarase Government? The truth is that in this and in so many other instances, Ro Teimumu has acted against the interests of ordinary people by preserving and defending the privileges of the elite. These are people who can afford alternatives that less advantaged Fijians cannot.

The FijiFirst Government stands for equality, justice and fairness. And we make no apology for giving rural and maritime students the same opportunities as those from urban families to gain a proper education. It is the cornerstone of our philosophy as a Government – that every Fijian be given the same opportunity in life, irrespective of who they are or where they come from.

I am especially concerned about the manner in which Ro Teimumu Kepa has chosen to cast this new policy in blatantly ethnic terms. The real ?tabu? in Fiji should benot to attempt to spread alarm based on false information and try to create division for political purposes. There is no ethnic dimension to this issue at all.

It is the most basic test of leadership in the Fijian context and Ro Teimumu has failed it. She has demonstrated, yet again, the Opposition?s obsession with the rights of one ethnic grouping over others ? even when no threat to those rights exists. And in doing so, she has demonstrated, yet again, SODELPA?s unfitness to govern.

The Fiji Times also stands condemned for yet another grossly irresponsible piece of journalism. Rather than report dispassionately and in the interests of national stability, the Fiji Times is controlled by a cabal that manipulates the news agenda and uses inflammatory language to create disunity, division and instability and to advance its own political interests.

Dept of Information