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“Fiji’s flag fiasco: a process hijacked?’ (edited article in Fiji Times, 25 June, 2015).

26/06/2015

Fiji’s flag fiasco: a process hijacked? (edited article in Fiji Times, 25 June, 2015). Professor Wadan Narsey

While Bainimarama announced (3 Feb. 2015) that the new flag process would be driven by the Fijian people and a Fijian Flag Committee, the process has been hijacked and the people marginalized.

Instead of Fiji people deciding from their own proposals for a flag with unique Fijian symbols, once again, we see a foreign ‘flag expert’ flying in, to encourage his version of ‘universal’ flag designs on Fiji.

The Bainimarama Government must tell taxpayers the cost of the whole exercise and whether people would like to save this money for better things like medicine or nurses.

The 2015 ‘new flag’ fiasco has far too many  similarities to the 2012 ‘new constitution’  fiasco, to be a mere coincidence. The refusal to allow the people of Fiji to make the final choice, has the hall-mark of the Bainimarama Government modus operandi: ‘we know what is best for Fiji, whether you like it or not’.

Given what is likely to happen, I can think of a very appropriate flag design to represent ‘the spirit of the new and future Fiji’.

 Why change the flag?

What Bainimarama said is given below in italics and quotes, with my comments following.

We need to replace the symbols on our existing flag.’

Gobbledygook. Only Bainimarama and Khaiyum saw the need to change the flag. The public did not ask for it.

The new flag should reflect Fiji’s position in the world today as a modern and truly independent nation state’.

Gobbledygook.  Not a single flag in the world shows that its country is ‘modern and truly independent’.

‘The existing flag is widely loved and admired. Our United Nations peacekeeping troops have fought and sometimes died under it. Our sportsmen have stood before it as they achieved some of the greatest and most inspirational victories in our sporting history….. every Fijian has stood before it in our schools as they sing our national anthem with patriotism and pride.’

Probably accurate.  But they have done so for forty five years, so why bother changing?

It is time to dispense with the colonial symbols on our flag – the Union Jack of the United Kingdom and our colonial shield.’

Perhaps a proportion of Indo-Fijians say they want the Union Jack removed, as the symbol of the oppression of their ancestors during the indenture period, but interestingly, many Indo-Fijians today have publicly written to the Letters to the Editor, calling for the retention of the current flag.

I suspect most indigenous Fijians will say they want to retain the Union Jack on the flag because they value their link to the British Crown, even though few protested when Rabuka declared Fiji a republic, and broke the links with the British Crown.

An opinion poll will no doubt tell us what the people think.

There may be a case for removing the Union Jack, if that is what people want.

But why remove the ‘shield’ which does indeed have unique Fiji elements on it.

Bainimarama said: ‘you all know that I chose a stylised version of our “noble banner blue” for my Fiji First political movement that won the September election.

We might remember that before the elections, a few opposition political parties complained that the FijiFirst Party was unfairly using the national flag for political purposes, but the pliant Electoral Commission appointed by Bainimarama declined to take any action.

Will the Electoral Commission now act, given that Bainimarama has openly admitted that a ‘stylised version’ of the Fiji flag was misused for political purposes, even if he is now dumping it?

we honour our existing flag as an important link to our past and it will continue to have an important place during the transitional phase to our new national symbol.’ Gobbledygook.

‘It is time to sever links that are no longer relevant.’

Gobbledygook.  No foreign links are being severed, least of all with the Brits.

We want ‘a national symbol that reflects our present state as a nation.. indigenous and truly Fijian … fills us with even more pride… promotes even more unity… make us stand even taller and prouder than our existing one.’

All gobbledygook.  People wave their flags, at sports events or war, to show others their common solidarity. No one ever waves a flag alone in a forest, or in a room by themselves. Waving a flag makes no one better off in real terms.

‘New Zealand and has begun a process to change its flag and Australia is currently debating theirs.’ 

Quite true, but if  they do arrive at alternatives, they will make the final decision by a referendum, or at worst, by an free non-partisan conscience vote in a parliament with genuine democracy.

A  process hijacked

The propaganda for months has been that all Fijians will be encouraged to enter a national competition, a Fijian Flag Committee will select a short list, and the people will then choose the most appropriate design.

Oh yes, for months, the public has been inundated with advertisements about “your nation, your flag, your call”.

Young children with obnoxious foreign twangs in their accent, appeared night after infuriating night, spouting words they could not understand, all coached by the advertising companies laughing all the way to the bank.

Thousands of entries were sent in.  

We are also going to form a national committee chosen from a broad cross section of Fijian society to judge the entries and choose the most appropriate design.

Apparently, the Flag Committee did choose 5 designs, but a Committee member revealed to Radio NZ (10 June 2015) that far from being under the direction of the Chairman Iliesa Delana, they reported directly to the Attorney General. He demanded more designs.

Major mystery:  23 ‘composite’ designs suddenly appeared, seen by some committee members for the first time, with not a single one actually entered by  anyone.

Enter foreigner Ted Kaye

American Ted Kaye, a ‘vexillologist’ (flag expert), apparently unknown in United States where he resides, volunteered to help Fiji choose a distinct new Fiji flag, based on ‘universal principles’. Ha ha ha.  So already we can forget our unique Fijian values and symbols.

Does it not remind you of foreigners flying in after the 2006 coup to help transform Fiji with a new constitution, new media  control, etc.

Kaye was soon giving seminars to the simpletons on the Fiji Flag Committee about the ‘universal flag principles’ of simplicity, the need to have a few colors only, and not to have too many details, so that any child could draw the flag, all supposedly ‘good principles’ allegedly not followed by our current flag.

But, apparently no one told the people of Fiji for the last forty five years, that our Fiji flat that they have been passionately waving around at our international sports events like Rugby Sevens, does not have the ‘good qualities of a national flag’ according to this American vexillologist.

Note that Kaye, even before coming to Fiji, proudly revealed in an interview on 3rd March 2015, to Mark Hay (website Vice.com) that a short list would be drawn up by a citizen’s panel, and the designs would be ‘opened to the public for comment, after which a final design will be nominated by the cabinet for consideration during the national parliament’s July sitting.’ 

No mention of the public choosing democratically.

Indeed, American Kaye already asserted before he came that the Union Jack was ‘a relic of the colonial past’ (perhaps the US Embassy should now fund him to go and give the same message to the American state, Hawaii), that the shield had ‘too many colors’ and that there were many similar flags to Fiji’s current one.

Oh dear, to think we have suffered for forty five years under a flag like this, with so many imperfections?

Yet the shield which has also never bothered any Fijian for the last forty five years, also contains a distinctive combination of historical Fijian elements and contributions of the major ethnic groups:

* the dove from the historical Seru Cakobau flag

* sugar cane: our historical economic foundation built on Indo-Fijian labor

* the coconut palm: the European and kailoma contribution

* the bananas:  the first major indigenous Fijian export industry (before it was killed by Australian and Kiwi tariffs).

Kaye claimed ‘the distinctive aspect of Fiji’s flag is its color.’

Gobbledygook. Many other flags have the same color, and Kaye himself ridiculously claimed, simultaneously, that the new Fiji flag could have the same color as the flags of the neighboring Pacific countries, like Tuvalu, to show our affinity for them.

Kaye, why not go one step further and have some more common symbols drawn from our far more important neighbors, Australia and NZ, or most important new donor, China?

But wily Kaye knows (probably having already spoken to He Who Must Not Be Named) that Bainimarama already declared on 3 February:  ‘My preference at this stage is to retain the existing “Fiji blue” background – but without the Union Flag and Shield … (and perhaps have)  indigenous flora and fauna’.

Hence we can see that the 23 proposed designs do not have the Union Jack or the shield, even though I suspect that many entries may have retained at least the shield.

But what we do have now are simple triangles (some pointing backwards), waves, sails, stars, the sun, the drua (colored red), and the turtle (representing dynamic Fiji); and the flower tagimoucia, the only symbol unique to Fiji, except that few people internationally or even locally,  would ever recognize the flower, or even think that it symbolizes ‘Fiji’ in any way.

The process is now changed

While the ads continue about choosing from the 23 designs, the good news is that Bainimarama has conceded that ‘the public’s reaction to the 23 new flag designs has not been entirely positive’ .

Ha ha ha.  Euphemism implying that most Fiji people think that the designs are gobbledygook.

Bainimarama now says that none of the 23 current designs were carved in stone and if necessary, they would review the current process to get the ‘right result’.

Once again he called on all Fijians to get out of their malua mentality, and suggest new designs that ‘speak to the experience of being a Fijian now and in the future’ (I suggest one below).  

But Bainimarama still refuses to outline the approval process.

Who approves and from what selection?

Of course, a revitalized and genuinely independent Flag Committee could make a short list of new flags.

BUT if the process is to be a genuine ‘people’s call’  (as the daily propaganda tell us) the Flag Committee should add the current flag in the final list that the public can choose from.

The final choice must not be left to Cabinet or a parliamentary vote, as the Fiji First Party will inevitably and mindlessly be forced to ‘block vote’.

A mobile texting exercise with one vote per phone may suffice, but that  rules out all those without a phone.

The only legitimate way is a referendum, which is too costly on its own.

The most cost effective and democratic way would be to have the referendum at the 2018 general elections.  

Fiji can surely survive another three years under the current flag, having survived for 45 years.

After all, the RFMF, the ‘ultimate guardians of Fiji’s sovereignty’, has already assured the public that ‘the new flag would be accorded the same respect by the RFMF as they do for the current flag’ (Fiji Times, 6 June 2015).

No one knows of course, what that means, given the military coups of  1987, 2000, 2006 and 2009, when the soldiers continued to salute the flag, while totally trashing the principles of rule of law and elected governments, that a national flag represents.

Sad similarity to the constitution exercise

The sixty four million dollar question is:  will the Bainimarama Government repeat the Yash Ghai ‘new constitution’ exercise?

Remember how Fiji was told in 2012 that it ‘needed a new constitution’ because the old one (the 1997 Constitution) was merely a revision of the 1970 Constitution given to us by our British colonial masters?

Then there were many public media boasts by He Who Must Not Be Named, about how the Yash Ghai Constitution Commission,  ‘for the first time in the history of Fiji’, was gender balanced (indeed had a majority of women) had an appropriate balance of locals and foreign experts, including world authorities on constitutions likes Yash Ghai and a former Fiji parliamentarian and Government Minister.

Even a supposedly binding legal Decree was signed by the President of Fiji detailing how the Commission would listen to the views of all the people of Fiji (as never before in the history of Fiji), more foreign experts would be flown in with no expense spared, after which a representative ‘People’s Assembly’ would democratically discuss, revise and approve the draft constitution, which will be a ‘first for Fiji’ and ‘in the world’.

What gobbledygook it turned out to be.

In the end, the Masters of the Universe did not approve of some clauses limiting their powers, requiring them to acknowledge their sins before immunity was granted, and requiring that all their arbitrary decrees of the previous six years must be harmonized with the new constitution.

The Yash Ghai draft was carelessly, callously, cynically and brutallytrashed and burnt symbolically, the ‘People’s Assembly’ dispensed with, and the Commission Members disappeared, to be  never heard of again (except for one member who recycles himself alleging undying love and devotion to Fiji, while making sure that he does not lose the real guaranteed benefits of Australian citizenship).

But remember how eventually, the 2013 Constitution was drawn up by anonymous persons well-known to the legal world, and imposed on Fiji, without any referendum.

Remember how the RFMF then also, stepped into the breach, declaring that they would support the 2013 Constitution, presumably just as they had supported the constitutions of 1970, and 1997 when they were being trashed  in 1987, 2000, 2006 and 2009.

A very important question that the Fiji public must ask themselves: why do they display far more passion and public participation over a purely symbolic flag change, than they ever did over a constitutional change which has had far greater significance to their everyday lives in a myriad of ways?

Why is the Fiji Law Society or the judiciary not questioning the proposed flag legislation, as Richard Naidu’s FT article of  the 20 June 2015 does, in pointing out the ridiculousness of assuming that accused people are guilty unless they can prove themselves innocent?

Why on earth would Fiji suddenly need draconian laws to enforce ‘respect for the flag’ when we have done perfectly well without such legislation for the past forty five years?

Why is the Fiji public, or dare we ask, the Fiji Law Society not asking, who on earth is drafting all this ridiculous legislation that demand that the new Fiji flag must be displayed in a ‘prominent place’ in your home.

Or can we expect our hallowed lawyers and judges with their white wigs to only react publicly when lawyers are called ‘crooks’ by He Who Must Not Be Named, a lawyer himself who must know the adage ‘it takes a thief to catch a thief’?

What of the costs?

Despite the daily propaganda that a ‘great country’ needs a ‘great flag’, Fiji is in reality a poor country whose educated people are forever emigrating to the much maligned countries of Australia, NZ, Canada and United Stated who offer jobs, incomes and a quality of life not available in our ‘great’ country Fiji.

One ‘push’ factor is that Fiji apparently does not have the funds to pay for quality education (teachers and facilities) and health (doctors, nurses, medicines, hospitals).  And we are not likely to in the future as well.

Notice that few of the Fijians barracking so aggressively for us to change our flag, are bringing their families back home to resettle and live the rest of their lives out in this ‘great’ country of ours.

Yet the public can see from the massive funds devoted to the daily propaganda, that we  have no shortage of funds for a superficial flag change.

Taxpayers and the members of the Flag Committee must ask the omnipresent and omnipotent Minister of Finance to tell the public how much this flag changing exercise has cost tax-payers so far, and much more importantly, how much more it will cost government if the flag is changed.

Notice that the Minister of Finance, has never once mentioned this most important bit of information  so essential to taxpayers: what is it all going to cost us?

My rough guess is: anywhere between  twenty and fifty millions.

Recommendations

I suggest that the citizens of Fiji should be allowed to decide at a referendum conducted simultaneously with the voting at the 2018 General Elections, whether:

(a) they want to spend this money on a new flag design, or

(b) just keep the current flag and use the savings on medicines and nurses.

(c) accept or reject the proposed flag legislation.

Post script 1

If previous decisions are indicative, then the Bainimarama Government will probably ram the decision to change the flag through their parliamentary majority, or, to cut out the ‘unnecessary’ debate, the jovial ever-willing President will sign a decree, and the new flag will be ‘shown’ to parliament and the public.

In which case, I suggest that a flag which will appropriately represent the ‘true spirit of Fiji now and into the future’ as the propaganda calls for, will be a green grassy background, and lots of sheep.

Since it will have only two (or three colors assuming white and black sheep) it will be easily drawn by children and therefore meet with the approval of our foreign vexillologist, who just might need to be informed that we do produce local sheep now as part of our import substitution strategy (apparently not including vexillologists).

Of course, we might have to be prepared to face diplomatic objections from Australia and NZ for using their most populous inhabitant on our flag symbol, but we will manage that easily with the help of our new international partners.

Also, if Australia and NZ apply sanctions to us, like banning the exports of their sheep meat to Fiji (and fourth grade mutton flaps is all we can afford),  it will lower our incidence of NCDS, so that we will be able to live longer in order to wave our new flags around.

This new flag will also have the advantage that if Someone Who Must Not Be Named thinks we need a new national anthem as well, then our children can suggest a sheep nursery rhyme which could be the tune behind some new lyrics, also designed through the same kind of ‘national competition’ as for constitutions and flags.

Postscript 2 In case some do not understand the sentiments behind the polite word ‘gobbledygook’, i give here some of its more common synonyms available easily from websites: Gibberish, Claptrap, Nonsense, Rubbish, Balderdash, Blather, Garbage, Drivel, Tripe, Hogwash, Baloney, Bilge, bull, bunk, eyewash, piffle, twaddle, poppycock, phoey, hooey.

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