Bula vinaka Ladies and Gentlemen.
My preference this morning is to address you not as the chief guest but I would like to talk you as the person who is the Returning Officer for the 2018 General Election.
Ladies and gentlemen, the responsibility of being the Returning Officer means that I am responsible for every ballot paper, for every politician, for every ballot box and for every single staff who operates polling stations.
I have delegated that responsibility squarely on the team here but there is a lot of delegation to you as well.
In an operation as this ladies and gentlemen, consistency cannot really be understated.
Pre-poll is a precursor to our General Election for the one day election.
We cannot have different procedures in pre-poll and on Election Day.
Of course there are legal procedures that are different like the secret envelope and there is no counting in the evening but our style should not change.
When you are training pre-poll staff, if there is something that you need to fill in the space between your thought and another thought, tell them that they need to be polite. They need to be humble.
We are doing a duty to every voter that is turning up to vote.
We are not be swayed by what some politicians, some disgruntled politicians, some disgraced politicians are saying.
We are to stick to our procedures. We stick to the procedures that have been tried and tested.
This is not the first election that the Fijian Elections Office is running. This not the first time we are discussing procedures in a room.
The team at the office has worked considerably hard for the last four years and the procedures that we have developed have been tested.
There has been numerous mocks conducted so we have confidence in delivering this to our staff.
You should feel confidence also that the procedures are designed to ensure that there is reconciliation, accountability and at the same time highest levels of transparency.
As trainers, you will need to thoroughly familiarize yourselves with the election procedures that you are about to impart to our staff.
I have been to a few mock events in which we have already invited people whom you have trained and I am impressed.
Because the level of information that the staff who come and operate procedures on those days is significantly high. Their familiarity is very good. Their confidence is good.
Which means that the people who we have selected to carry out the training are very good. I congratulate you for this excellent achievement.
I know it has not been an easy task conducting training for three hours. I know it has not been an easy task conducting several trainings over the weeks but ladies and gentlemen, someone has to do it.
Which brings me back to the role of the Returning Officer. My last consideration will be how happy or unhappy the politicians are with the process.
My priority will be that on Election Day, the voter gets the best possible service at the polling station. Whether it’s pre-poll or Election Day or whether it is when the voter comes into our Voter Services Centre to get services in terms of their VoterCard or Voter details. That is our priority.
The election is meant for the voter ladies and gentlemen. It is the voter – number one.
People who are seeking attention with this and that, they are actually seeking the attention of whom? The Voter.
And those who are not registered, they can’t complain. They have still have time.
But ladies and gentlemen, at pre-poll, our teams have to understand in advance that we are going to some of the most remote locations in our country.
We may have to play the role of the Voter Information Officer as well. We may have to play the role of the assistance provider. We may also have to play the role of being the prefects to say ‘sorry, you can’t do that’.
So Election Officers in the field are not only going to be the ones who are going to stick to the script to do that 8-5 or 7-12 job. They have to play another role as well. Many other roles.
We must demonstrate the best customer service experience Fijians get. They deserve nothing less ladies and gentlemen. This should be what we need to inculcate in our trainings to start with.
Based on our HR requirements, we are recruiting the best people we can get for pre-poll. We need to make sure that they are trained so that they can deliver pre-poll and people look forward to the Election Day.
Pre-poll is not a training for voters. It is an actual election. They will only be able to vote there. Voters need to be educated on that. They need to know that if I vote here today, that’s it. I can’t vote again.
So our staff need to make sure that the voter is able to realize their vote with the same level of seriousness that we would do on Election Day, with the same level of security that will be there on Election Day, with the same level of sensitivity that will be there on Election Day.
As the team working with the Returning Officer for this General Election, there is some other responsibilities on us.
Politics in our country has taken an unfortunate turn. Some ruthless politicians have taken to defaming the office, to defaming the people who worked in this office or to attacking the 10,000 or so staff that worked in the last election – without evidence.
And the audacity to step up without this evidence to say ‘I am not going to give the evidence and I am just going to say this.’
So someone would say they are lies. But then someone would also say they are desperate.
When you are conducting the training, you conduct the training based on our procedures and manuals that we have developed.
You do not need to build in an additional procedure just because you saw Mahendra Chaudhry on Facebook saying the election will be rigged in pre-poll.
Don’t worry about him.
Run the training, run the procedure based on our requirements.
Don’t worry if his son says pre-poll is rigged. They are saying 2014 was rigged but have no evidence. So these are people who are trying their best luck. Sometimes you think they are trying to stay on top to remain noticed – desperate for attention. Desperate being the key word.
In our line of work, ladies and gentlemen, we are not bothered by what they say. Our job is our job.
That’s what the people of Fiji expect us to do. The best endorsement is when you are on the street and someone says to you ‘Keep going son. Don’t worry about this’.
The Fiji Labour Party has been complaining about elections ever since we have been having election. Everytime except for 1999 obviously.
Everytime there was an election, they stood up saying ‘something was wrong in this election and we will tell you after the next election’.
So we know them and the people of Fiji know them as well.
What we need to do as election management people is to make sure our election staff are so well trained that these things do not affect them.
Our team will take such great ownership of this process that they are not going to be affected by what social media says.
They are going to run the process so that it is consistent with international best practice as designed by the people on my team.
And trained by all of you. If someone goes home today and says what am I going to get out of this election?
You are going to get that satisfaction when the date of the election is complete and your staff finds you on the streets and say’s Thank You for training me.
Don’t worry about other ancillary matters. Every person’s upbringing, your beliefs, are centered around that conscience and that is what we need to work on.
When you are dealing with your staff, I want you to tell them very clearly that they are not to change any procedure based on what they see in the media or in the social media.
The directives for amendments of procedures will come from our offices only period. It is very simple.
I can tell you that we have developed all the procedures with such level of detail that there is a reconciliation process built in every procedure at every step.
We will make sure that we account for everything ourselves. We don’t want to wait for anyone else to account for us. We are running this election not the political parties. We are not going to wait for them to come and validate our documents.
I bet they will not even be able to have polling agents at all the polling stations. They should focus on that.
We will focus on having staff at every polling station. We will focus on making sure that all our documents are completed. All our paperwork is proper, in legible handwriting, and all our paperwork accompanies every other item that is supposed to reach us.
That is what we have to focus on. That is exactly what we need to do. In pre-poll, I have another thing to discuss in relation to pre-poll. Pre-poll is the only time where the staff will have to look after the ballot box for a considerable period of time. They will have to travel from place to place. They will have the custody of the ballot box. The police officers will be there.
That I am sure everybody will understand. There is great amount of sensitivity and because of our already conducted training I don’t think I need to reemphasize that. We need to keep that in order.
We will store the ballot boxes in shipping containers. At the warehouse there will be a twenty four hour live feed showing the entrance to the shipping containers.
There is going to be proper reconciliation of the receipt and dispatch of the ballot boxes. It is the most secure way to do it.
And we are not doing it in a warehouse where there is no proper lighting. We are doing it right in the middle of our warehouse carpark where our shipping containers are, these are guarded by the Fiji Police. So pre-poll materials will be secure and they will be taken securely to the count center.
Once the pre-poll materials are at the count center, counting will take place and then it will be then returned for storage.
Our staff need to pay careful attention during the transition of these materials that they are very secure. We have to pay careful attention to that.
Ballot boxes are custom sized to allow them to be carried on their lap. If the presiding officer is conscious he can do that.
But I am sure the team is going to train you on the day on how these materials are to be properly handled and we will ensure that our procedures at the warehouse are there to safeguard of these materials.
There are some seventy-two thousand people who will be voting in pre-poll out of the six hundred thousand voters.
They are as equal as important as the six hundred thousand voters. Five hundred and fifty thousand voters actually. So it does not mean that pre-poll voters are insignificant. Pre-poll voters are significant.
We need to make sure that every voter has that opportunity. Ladies and gentlemen, the election date has not yet been announced.
But we must make sure that in this refresher, our pre-poll staff are ready and equipped with all the necessary training so that they are able to deliver the pre-poll as we expect.
And then we look forward to seeing you for the refresher for the Election Day. So having said all this I would like to wish you all the very best for the training.
I would like to heartily thank you for putting in this effort in training the teams that have already been trained. We are impressed by the work you have already done and we implore you to continue this excellent work so that we have the best trained officials for the 2018 General Elections.
With those few words ladies and gentlemen, I wish you all the best for your training.
Thank you and Vinaka Vakalevu.