A nation’s loss is the region’s gain. (Well, Fiji benefits too). The incomparable Mereseini Rakuita has become the face of Pacific women to the world by being appointed principal advisor to the Pacific Community (SPC) on gender issues.
It is a wonderful breakthrough for her and for Fijian women generally. Mere Rakuita has long been regarded as a person of outstanding integrity and accomplishment – a lawyer with degrees from the University of Tasmania and the Australian National University, a civil service career that saw her rise to Permanent Secretary for Justice and later, gracing the parliament as a FijiFirst MP and Minister for Women, Children and Poverty Alleviation.
It is shocking indictment of the Bainimarama government that she was forced to resign from the cabinet and the ruling party last August for refusing a demand by the Attorney General to publicly defend his changes to iTaukei management laws – the infamous Bill 17 – when she had opposed it and had provided cabinet with an alternative. She was not only strong-armed from the government but subjected to an unforgivable assault on her personal integrity on the front page of the government’s propaganda rag, the CJ Patel Fiji Sun, that she bore with striking dignity and earned her even more admiration in the wider community.
Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum and Frank Bainimarama will rue the day that they let this outstanding woman go. Alone among FijiFirst ministers, she commanded respect across the political spectrum. And she will undoubtedly bring the same qualities of perception, openness, inclusion and sound judgment to her new role as principal advocate for Pacific women generally.
I am far from being alone in believing that Mere Rakuita has not been entirely lost to politics in Fiji. She has the capacity to return to the political fray at the end of her new role with her credentials enhanced and to rise to the very top. But in the meantime, every Fijian – and especially Fijian women and girls – wishes her the very best in her new role. She has done herself and the nation proud.