The Hon. Dr Ifereimi Waqainabete explaining the response of the Ministry.
COVID-19 response has been “a whole of Government effort”.
As part of the activity “Public meetings between Citizens and MPs at the Local Level”, International IDEA, together with Dialogue Fiji, organized the second webinar of “Talanoa with the Minister” series on 19 June 2020. According to the Executive Director of Dialogue Fiji, Mr Nilesh Lal, this webinar featuring Minister for Health and Medical Services of Fiji, Hon. Dr Ifereimi Waqainabete, generated a lot of interest because it was the first of this nature enabling CSOs and communities to have “talanoa” or dialogue with the Head of the Ministry that has the lead role in responding to the COVID-19 pandemic in Fiji.
The Minister said that COVID-19 response in Fiji has been “a whole of Government effort” under the leadership of the Prime Minister in taking Fijians through what has been a very difficult time not only for Fijians, but all over the world. The Minister said that one thing that is beginning to show around the world is that when you have a very strong, capable and decisive leadership then irrespective of how big the country is or whether they be first world country or not, then their response will be better than those who do not have able and possibly not decisive leadership.
There was a wide range of questions posed to the Minister, creating an informative and interesting deliberation. Upon being asked by one of our participants on how the Ministry is preparing for the second or third wave of pandemic, the Minister explained that they are following what is happening in other countries where the curve was flattened but are now facing 2nd and 3rd peaks of the virus. These situations are analysed, and the lessons learnt help to strategize Fiji's way forward. It was emphasised that Fijians should be focused on “new normal” and when restrictions are being lifted, they should not go back to “old normal” ways. Fijians should continually push out the behavioral changes into the new normal whereby physical distancing, hand washing, etc., becomes the new normal for all.
Another participant asked the Minister about the way the COVID-19 patients in Fiji were put on the spotlight and information was shared publicly especially that of the patient number one. In response, the Minister said that a lot of the spotlight was due to social media whereby the patient was discussed over the social media even before it was officially announced as Fiji’s first case. The patient’s location, where the patient worked, which industry the patient worked in were all discussed over the social media which violated the patients’ right for privacy. Also, the Minister acknowledged that the Labasa patient’s confidential information was leaked by the Ministry staff and now they are being investigated by Police. The Minister assured that they are working on making tighter procedures on information leakages to ensure that rights of the patients are kept secure.
In times of pandemic of this nature, keeping citizens informed and engaged is critical in ensuring there is concerted effort in combating the impacts of the crisis. As such, this “Talanoa with the Minister” series is very significant because it provides the common citizen unfettered access to government ministers which is quite difficult. This webinar has enabled the common citizens to engage with their elected representatives and seek accountability as per their right as a Fijian Citizen. More of such dialogue will be organized with other members of Parliament, and hopefully from both sides of the aisle.
This webinar was part of “Upholding Citizens’ Constitutional Rights for Democratic Consolidation in Fiji” project (C3- Fiji Project), funded by the European Union.