It’s never too late to learn something new.
That is what Associate Minister for the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment, Taefu Lemi Taefu, and his 17 Parliamentarian cohorts proved to those who attended their graduation from the University of the South Pacific with a Certificate in Law (civil).
Taefu gave the graduand address on behalf of the foundation graduates and gave an entertaining account of what happens when a group of career politicians return to school with pre-conceived ideas and old habits, only to find themselves regress back into their former mindset as freshman university students.
“When an assignment was late, we thought that as politicians we would be given an exception, no way,” Taefu said.
“As the semester was slowly coming to an end, somehow we heard that exams were open book exams so we organised our notes. A week before the exam we were told that in no uncertain terms that it was not the case. So the study week was more like the panic week.”
The Parliamentarians had experience in capacity building exercises and programmes but according to Taefu, nothing prepared them for the workload and intensity of the 12-month tertiary qualification in Civil law.
“A Parliamentarian is only a part time cohort yet we have attended so many capacity building programmes in Parliament and nothing was more constructive, more intensive, most demanding as the programme we have just completed.”
Taefu painted a picture of law makers at a very mature age being shaken out of their comfort zone with their new work and study schedule.
He reflected on how humourous it was that unlike most conversations taking place among students before sitting an exam, his group of parliamentarian cohorts was discussing how they had forgotten to take their prescribed medication. Despite having very busy schedules as Members of Parliament, Taefu said they were treated just like any other law student.
“Who would think that you can put a politician at this level of their career? Who will think that they can write a 3000 word, six-page topic not once but twice per course for not one or two not three or four but six courses in a year, all of that on top of our normal parliamentary responsibilities.
“And who would think you could a politician given their age in the exam room and sit there and write continuously for three hours? The last time some of us did that was probably about 30 years ago.
“Our lecturers proved that they were supreme over politicians and that’s how vigorous and how strict we were monitored. As a result we had to virtually write an assignment from everywhere some were written at international airports in between flights, some onboard during flights and inside hotel rooms.
“Many assignments were written elsewhere in the Pacific, in New Zealand and Australia, in Asia, in Africa, in Europe and America. Loau would email from South Africa to check on his assignment. Honourable Lopaoo from Rome and the list goes on. Anything not to lose any marks because it was difficult enough just to get one,” he said to the laughter of the audience.
While their collective systems were in shock at the extra study they got themselves into, Taefu said what was not surprising was how they thoroughly enjoyed every minute of the challenge in living out their old dreams of being courtroom lawyers.
“That’s how serious and challenging the programme was. Everybody on their first assignment was asked to apply the defensive principle to the circumstances in the new government of Grenada which was similar to the situation in Fiji experience a couple of years ago.
“It speaks a lot for the quality and the standard of the programme that anyone that studied and wrote that paper, I assure the professor of the programme that the cohort is now ready to provide legal counseling to Honourable Bainamarama should the unfortunate incident takes place again.”
Attributing to their collective success, Taefu said the bond between the 18 graduates was strengthened as they made a pledge to motivate and support each other to the finish line.
“To ensure that we can do the programme, we had a motto that ‘it’s a must to pass’ that if one fails, the cohort fails. What we have done in completing this programme, is use our own ability to build and strengthen ourselves to legislate effectively and to take part actively in the work of Parliament.
“To be a supreme leader requires continual nurturing and fostering, to quote from the expert ‘leaders are not born, they are made’.’ And here we are in the process of making leaders.”