2. What Bainimarama May Be Prepared to Do
Opinion: Crosbie Walsh
One way of answering the question of what the Bainimarama Government may be prepared to do in response to Forum requests for "progress" on democracy is to start by asking what the Government would definitely NOT be prepared to do. Photo: Bainimarama and Ratu Joni Madraiwiwi, mid-2006. newcom.au
To which the most straightforward answer is no major change will be made to the three Roadmap "stages" leading to elections in 2014, and the main pillars or constructs of the People's Charter are non-negotiable.
The first stage, until 2012, will continue to focus on administrative reforms and improvements to physical infrastructure. The former involves public sector reform, land and sugar industry reform, and anti-corruption and abuse of office measures; the latter involves roads, to a lesser extent airports and seaports, and greater agricultural productivity, in sugar, vegetables, import substitution and food security. All these measures are aimed at growing the economy in difficult times. Government action to de-politize this phase, which has resulted in the censorship of the media and restrictions on rights of assembly, is because, at this stage, they think the divisive influences of politics will put their immediate aims out of focus. The constant calls for national unity and nation-building is about as political as it is likely to be.
The second stage starts in earnest in 2012 when the focus will be on Constitutional and Electoral reform to be completed by 2013, when the third stage will allow the country a clear 12 months to prepare for the September 2014 Elections.
The three stages are more statements of intent and focus than absolute boundaries, and some issues that might be expected later are already receiving attention. Many deal with issues that Australia and New Zealand should applaud because they concern material human rights at a personal level. Most can be grouped under the heading of social justice: the introduction of minimum wages, a number of actions action against poverty, non-discriminatory scholarships, educational assistance for poorer families, the protection of women and children, work on HIV/Aids, homosexuality, prison reform and prisoner rehabilitation, and making government services more accessible to the public. The only direct "political" actions have been two representative, but not totally inclusive, Dialogue consultations, and taking the People's Charter, a foundation document for Constitutional and Electoral reform, for explanation and discussion to people in the provinces.
What Bainimara is prepared to do will, I think, be influenced by what those currently opposed to him, in Fiji and overseas, are prepared to do in exchange. I will deal in more detail with this issue in the next and final article in this series, but for now one thing should be made clear: he is far more likely to respond positively if he is not attacked and insulted and if some credit is given for what he is has achieved and is attempting.
So, given these constraints and presumptions, what might Bainimarama be prepared to do during stage one, between now and 2012? Most suggestions relate to different types and levels of civilian participation.
With tactful pressure from Fiji civil society he may be prepared to increase civilian direct and indirect participation in government and, if efficiency can be assured, reduce military participation. To some extent this is already happening with the Dialogue process, but these people are not dealing with the day-to-day issues of government.
A greater number of "credible" people could be invited to be advisers to Government. By credible, I mean well-known and appropriately qualified people who are not currently government supporters. It may be too much to expect former Vice-President and lawyer Ratu Joni Madrawiwi to be either invited or to accept, but it may take people of his mana to persuade Australia and New Zealand that "progress" really is being made.
The Dialogue process could be accelerated with more forward-looking issues dealt with earlier. Here we might have more details, discussion and even possibly debate on what Government wants in the Constitutional and Electoral reforms, and what it intends the military role to be after 2014. I have tried to start discussion on some of these "which path forward" questions in the Na Sala Cava features on my blog. With increasing goodwill and sensible monitoring, it would be good to see matters such as the future possible roles and composition of Senate and the Great Council of Chiefs, an elected President, and the pros and cons of fewer electorates, discussed in the media. It would also be good for Government, not just to hear public feedback but because more public involvement would lead to more support for Government. More people would think it is "their" government. Why wait until 2012 to take the doubters on board?
The Dialogue process, and further work on the People's Charter, could become much more inclusive, involving people from widely different backgrounds, and meetings could be held on a regular basis at different localities. Government could be willing to accept participation from all former politicians (with the possible exception of Laisenia Qarase and his cabinet) who are prepared to accept the People's Charter.
The Media Decree could be quickly finalised, with most matters questioned in the Draft attended to, and the Public Emergency Regulations (PER) lifted. Independent observers could monitor the implementation of the Decree to ensure a free but responsible media. The lifting of PER will hopefully lead to more open but responsible political discussion and freedom of assembly. This could also include lifting the ban on annual meetings and lesser assemblies of the Methodist Church-- if the Church is first de-politicized.
It is too early for reconciliation along the lines of South Africa or the Solomons, but conciliatory moves taken now will make reconciliation easier later.
The changes we might reasonably expect from Bainimarama are not earth-shattering. Considered separately they may appear piecemeaal and incremental, but once change starts in the right direction the momentum should be sufficient to persuade Australia and New Zealand to make major changes to their current approach to Fiji. In the next and final article, to be published on Monday, I shall consider what those changes might be.