The Attorney General and Minister for Education, Mr Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum,
The Ambassador of the Republic of Indonesia to Fiji, HE Mr Raden Mohammad Benyamin Scott Carnadi,
The Deputy Vice Chancellor of USP, Prof. Richard Coll,
The Deputy Supervisor of Elections,
Ladies and Gentlemen.
Bula Vinaka and welcome to you all.
I have worked in an Election Management Body now for four years and six months. The evolution of elections in Fiji in that time has been something that I can vividly record and recall – even the smallest area of improvement or the smallest area of discussion.
Ladies and Gentlemen, over the last few years the Fijian Elections Office under the current framework has also been able to expose very small organizations such as Trade Unions, Taxi Associations or bigger organizations such as university staff and student associations to elections best practices.
As such, I now believe that it is necessary for Fiji and for our Pacific partners as well, to diversify our Electoral Education from something that we run internally to build capacity in our own staff and to keep within our boundaries, to actually expose through direct involvement in education institutions. The first round of training for Election Officials, Political Party Officials or Parliamentarians can actually be done at educational institutions rather than by Election Management Bodies or Civil Society.
My belief is that with the Introduction of the Election Management Program through the University of the South Pacific, the same can actually be implemented through to all the universities in Fiji. It’s an opportunity that the FEO is waiting to explore.
Ladies and Gentlemen, I would like to state that when the FEO began, we only had 13 megabytes of data from which we had to make our manuals and prepare the staff for the 2014 General Election.
We heavily relied on experts and consultants such as Mr Lorrie McGrath and the Deputy Supervisor of Elections who helped us with the development of all procedures and manuals that we can now show and have in the office. That ladies and gentlemen, comes through experience.
But with time, we felt that there was a need for people to know these things by studying it; by actually reading textbooks. In 2014 after I left for home every afternoon, I sat down and read the ACE Project website which is the International Database on Election Discussion and at the end of the month of May in 2014, I must have read the entire website because I had printed around 1,700 pages.
Ladies and Gentlemen, that was the basis on which the FEO thereafter decided to do trainings on election management. We did not stick to the very top level or the political side but we went into the nitty gritty. We went into detail about designing the ballot papers in the way that we do; what some of the securities requirements are and what problems other countries faced.
We recently had to resolve a big debacle about what standing next to the table is.
Ladies and Gentlemen, we believe that there is room to study about elections, this is where ladies and gentlemen we would like to follow the footsteps of Indonesia, UK, Australia, the US, Canada and other European countries which are taking Electoral Education into universities.
It is more about having a theory driven evolution of election learning rather than experience driven election. We all want to have the situation where we already know what might go wrong rather than find out after doing it.
We need to broaden the capacity of the youth and the university students, academia as well as personnel on the ground, Political Parties, CSO’s and Election Management Bodies so that when they eventually get into any field of work elections remain as a significant portion of the good governance and the principle of integrity, fairness and credible election.
Ladies and Gentlemen, my experience in election has not only developed my career, but also greatly assisted me in my personal life. I hope that this program that we intend to build will build capacity around the need for elections to become an evolutionary platform rather than the stagnant code which become ancient day by day and it is realized years later that it is now applicable.
The Fijian Electoral Act in general is a very modern piece of legislation. It has recognized international practices which allows the FEO flexibilities as well as rigidity in terms of ensuring that Fijian elections are conducted on the best possible international standard and at the same time, I am subjected to review of the accepted and expected international form of free and fair election.
The University of the South Pacific has provided the platform for Fiji and our local regional partners so that our staff and students who may eventually win awards or scholarship are interested in taking this Election Management course; This can be their career path – with the FEO, the parliament, or Ministry of Foreign Affairs – in terms of their democracy reporting responsibilities – it could be a lawyer who works in the Solicitor General’s Office or it could even be an accountant but who has interest in ensuring that the election that Fiji conducts is fair and credible and follows the law.
Ladies and Gentlemen, we would like to create a culture where people are learned in the subject rather than the knowledge by experience or to wake up and decide that this what a free and fair election is going to be. We have seen a lot of that in Fiji. Imagine our country in a few years’ time when all the Universities start offering subjects in election and students know and can access the basics of recognized international principles rather than homemade information and knowledge.
They will hold the Election Management Body to account – they will hold the politician to account as well as other stakeholders. This will only promote our democracy.
Ladies and Gentlemen, I would like to conclude by thanking the Indonesian government, Professor Carnadi, the Australian High Commission, Prof. Sandra Tarte and her team. I would like to thank the honorable Minister for his time this afternoon in witnessing the signing of today’s event.
I would like also thank our partner the International IDEA and I wish that this Agreement becomes a well-recognized force of education in the Pacific region as well.
Thank you and Vinaka Vakalevu.