Sixty people from Rakiraki, Saivou and Nakorotubu in the Province of Ra lobbied for issues concerning their livelihoods to Members of Parliament (MPs) at a public meeting organized by the Citizens’ Constitutional Forum (CCF), International Federation for Electoral Systems (IFES) and the International Republican Institute (IRI) at the Tanoa Hotel in Rakiraki on Tuesday.
The Town Hall Meeting (Talanoa Session) consistedof representatives from FijiFirst Party (FFP), Social Democratic and Liberal Party (SODELPA), and the National Federation Party (NFP) and this presented the people the ideal opportunity to raise issues with influential policy makers whose decisions directly affect their lives.
Agricultural land lease renewal, sugar cane farmers’ assistance, education, electricity, public and government services, health services, and access to proper roads were key social and economic issues raised by the community members.
“This has been a very successful event. The MP’s and participants agreed that there should be more of these engagements, which also allows information sharing by MP’s directly to the citizens’. Citizens’ will also have the opportunity to directly consult MP’s on certain issues.” said CCF’s, Programme Manager, Mr. Ken Cokanasiga.
“This has been a rare opportunity for these people to engage with decision makers. CCF is delighted to have provided such a space to empower Fijians and we look forward to the sessions in Lautoka and Labasa in the next few days,” Mr. Cokanasiga added.
After a brief introduction by each MP, community members were encouraged to ask short questions and all the MPs had brief responses. This was followed by direct questions asked to specific MPs who were encouraged to provide in-depth responses and share their position on the issues raised. Participants then raised follow-up questions, before an interactive session where participants and MP’s talked more in-depth about long standing issues such as roads.
The fifth session of the meeting enabled the participants to present their issues/questions in writing, which were read out by the IRI’s, Moderator, Mr. Jess Yescalis, followed by more interaction between MPs and community members.
Mr. Yescalis said that the success of the meeting in Rakiraki is an indication of how well the two Talanoa will shape out in Lautoka and Labasa.
“There were members of three different political parties, citizens’ and civil society from all over the region coming together to have a conversation about the day to day challenges that Fijian people face and also about the future of Fiji,” Mr. Yescalis shared at the conclusion of the meeting.
“It was really a pleasure to watch the conversation for three hours and the MPs treated each other with respect and the public was able to hear different perspectives”, added Mr. Yescalis.
“Some of the citizens’ have never met an MP before and to have a chance to interact with six of them directly and have their voice heard and questions answered was something that the public appreciated.” said Mr. Yescalis.
“The MPs also enjoyed a chance to interact with a broad range of people and hopefully these Town Hall Meetings will continue and the MPs will come back to interact with the people.” said Mr. Yescalis.
Mrs. Bulou Maria, a participant from Rakiraki Village felt empowered to have been part of the conversation with the MPs.
“As a village woman, this activity has been very empowering. We at the grassroots level have plenty of issues, but we do not know how to take them up to the government to address them”, Mrs. Maria from Rakiraki Village shared after the meeting.
“I am so thankful that CCF has provided us this time to talk to the people in government. We do not know what is happening and it is our right to know what is going on in government and what they are doing for the people,” Mrs. Maria said.
She added, “I would like to see more of this kind of meetings between government MPs and more women involved in these processes.”
The MPs present at the meeting were the Assistant Minister for Health, Mrs. Veena Bhatnagar and Mr. Samuela Vunivalu of FFP, Ratu Isoa Tikoca and Mr. Jiosefa Dulakiverata of SODELPA, and Ms. Tupou Draunidalo and Mr. Prem Singh of NFP.
The next Town Hall Meeting will be held on Thursday 22nd January, 2015 with six different government MPs and community members of Lautoka at the Tanoa Waterfront Hotel in Lautoka.
For more information and/or clarification, please contact CCF’s Communications Officer, Nazeem Kasim on +679 3308 379 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.