Officials helping voters during an election. The author says the referendum to decide whether we should change our flag can be held with the 2018 election. Picture: FILE
Prime Minister Bainimarama announced in February this year the new flag process would be driven by the Fijian people and a Fijian flag committee. In reality, the process has been hijacked and the people marginalised.
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.
There are many unfortunate similarities to the Yash Ghai "new constitution" fiasco of 2012.
Why change the flag?
What the PM said is below.
It is only he and the Attorney-General who say: "We need to replace the symbols on our existing 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. How does a flag a country is "modern" and truly independent nation state (certainly not with a drua)?
'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."
Correct. They have done so for 45 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, remove the Union Jack, if that is what people want. But why remove the shield?
"You all know that I chose a stylised version of our "noble banner blue" for my FijiFirst political movement that won the September election."
So is he admitting the Fiji flag was misused for political purposes, and is now being dumped?
"It is time to sever links that are no longer relevant." Gobbledygook. No foreign links are being severed, least of all with the Brits.
"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."
People wave their flags, at sports events or war, to show others their common solidarity. No one ever waves a flag alone.
"New Zealand and has begun a process to change its flag and Australia is currently debating theirs." Quite true, but they will do it by a referendum.
A process hijacked
The propaganda for months has been that all Fijians will be encouraged to enter a national competition, a flag committee will select a short list, and the people will then choose the most appropriate design.
Apparently, the committee did choose five designs. But a committee member revealed to Radio NZ earlier this month that they reported directly to the Attorney-General, who 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 Ted Kaye
American Ted Kaye, a vexillologist (flag expert), volunteered to help the flag committee using his "universal principles" of simplicity and a few colours only.
Ha ha ha. So already we can forget our unique Fijian values and symbols.
Kaye revealed in an interview on March 3, 2015 to Mark Hay (www.vice.com) that a short list drawn up by citizen's panel "will 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.
American Kaye already asserted before he came that the Union Jack was "a relic of the colonial past", the shield had "too many colours" and that there were many similar flags to Fiji's current one.
Yet the shield which has never bothered any Fijian for the past 45 years, and contains the only distinctive and historical Fijian elements and contributions of the major ethnic groups:
o The dove from the historical Seru Cakobau flag;
o Sugar cane, our historical economic foundation built on Indo-Fijian labour;
o The coconut palm, the European and Kailoma contribution; and
o 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 colour". Gobbledygook.
Many other flags have the same colour, and Kaye ridiculously even claimed, simultaneously, the new Fiji flag could have the same colour as the flags of the neighbouring Pacific countries.
Because wily Kaye knows Bainimarama had already said on February 3: "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. But what we do have now are simple triangles, waves, sails, stars, and the sun, the drua, and the turtle; and the tagimoucia flower, unique to Fiji, but few people anywhere would ever recognise it as symbolising Fiji.
The good news is that the PM has conceded, euphemistically, that "the public's reaction to the 23 new flag designs has not been entirely positive" and that there will be more time for more suggestions, which we malua Fijians can make.
But he still refuses to outline the approval process.
and from what selection?
If the process is to be a genuine "people's call" the flag committee should choose a short list of proposed new ones (say five to 10), and add the current popular one to form a list the public can choose from.
The final choice must not be left to Cabinet or a parliamentary vote, as the FijiFirst party will inevitably and mindlessly "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" (The Fiji Times June 6, 2015).
No one knows of course, what that means given the events of 1987, 2000, 2006 and 2009, apart from saluting the flag now and then.
Sad similarity to the
Will the Bainimarama Government repeat the Yash Ghai "new constitution" exercise? Remember how Fiji was told in 2012 that it needed a new constitution?
Then a gender-neutral Yash Ghai Commission was set up, with lots of foreign experts, who would listen to all the people's views, then a decree declared that a people's assembly would democratically discuss, revise and approve the draft constitution. But in the end, the Yash Ghai draft was trashed and even burnt, and the people's assembly dispensed with never to be heard of again.
The 2013 Constitution was drawn up by unknown persons, and imposed on Fiji, with the RFMF also declaring that they would support it, perhaps just as they supported the constitutions of 1970, 1990, and 1997.
One has to wonder why there is far more passion and public participation over a flag change than over a constitution change?
Richard Naidu's The Fiji Times article of the June 20, 2015 points out the ridiculousness of proposed flag legislation which assumes accused people are guilty unless proven innocent.
Why on earth would Fiji suddenly need draconian laws to enforce "respect for the flag" when we have done perfectly well without it for the past 45 years.
What of the costs?
Despite claims of a "great country" needing a "great flag", Fiji is a poor country whose educated people are forever emigrating, partly because our governments claim not to have the money to pay for quality education or health.
Yet we seen to have no shortage of funds for a superficial flag change.
The Minister of Finance must tell the taxpayers, how much it has cost taxpayers so far, and how much more it will cost Government if we do decide to change the flag.
As a rough guess, anywhere between $20-$50 million.
I suggest the citizens of Fiji should be allowed to decide at a referendum conducted simultaneously with the voting at the 2018 General Elections, whether:
* They want to spend this money on a new flag design;
* Just keep the current flag and use the savings on medicines or nurses; and
* Accept or reject the proposed flag legislation.
* The views expressed are those of the author and not of this newspaper.
Babasiga (pronounced bambasinga) is the dry land of Macuata in northern Fiji - our place in the sun in Fiji. Peceli is from Fiji from the village is Vatuadova and the beach is Nukutatava. Peceli Ratawa passed away on 27th December 2015 so this is Wendy's blog now. Wendy is an Australian and today live in Geelong, Australia.