Is the PM Pre-empting the Constitution Process?

WEEKEND READING      • Allen Lockington column  • Stifling Opposition by Mosmi Bhim (and others)   • "The King is Dead! Long Live the King!" 

                                   Opinion by Croz Walsh

I find three announcements made by the Prime Minister on Tuesday very disturbing.

With the Constitution Process about to proceed,  he has pre-empted discussion by announcing the abolition of the Great Council of Chiefs (GCC), the probable way of selecting future Presidents, and a change in provincial administration that will see the PM the chairman of all Provincial Councils whereas previously the chairpersons were elected by each of the 14 provincial councils. It is (or should be) the prerogative of the Constitution Assembly to decide on these matters, not the PM. 

At a time when Fijians (and the more observant in the international community) were beginning to see light at the end of the tunnel — but when there is still a long way to go —  nothing should be done to raise doubts about the PM's future intentions. And these three announcement do just that.

Chaudhry and Qarase
Already, the PM is being provoked by Chaudhry and Qarase. They will push the boundaries as far as they can in the hope that he will lose his cool, reimpose constraints on free speech, and so lose him some of his popularity.  There will be many more critical comments in the media, some helpful and some designed to derail the Constitution Process and win back support for deposed politicians.

Bainimarama does not need to address these or any other comments. Qarase, and probably Chaudhry, are on the way out, having lost much of their credibility. All the PM has to do is sit back, agree to differ and let them lose even more support while his tolerance of their opinions wins him more support.  Besides, there are others who can take them on.  Bainimarama belittles himself by taking them on himself.

Many others in the months to come will express opinions with which he may disagree. He should welcome the positive comments and ignore most of  the negative.  This is what a democracy is all about.  And besides, it is the Assembly that will make the ultimate decisions  —and Government is represented in the Assembly.

Around the time Government lifted the Public Emergency Regulations (PER) some decrees (the Essential Industries and Crimes Decrees) were enforced that included provisions for limiting freedom of speech and assembly. The Media Decree had been passed earlier. Many, most, parts of these decrees were of no concern but some provisions within the decrees left many people feeling was that one regulation had been lifted to be replaced by others. 

Professor Yash Ghai
The newly appointed chairperson of the Constitution Commission (that will hear submissions prior to the convening of the Constitution Assembly) has called for these provisions to be lifted.  I wholeheartedly support his call. 

There have, however,  been  two welcome signs of change. The media is now publishing opinions openly critical of Government, and yesterday's reversal of the police ban on an SDL meeting shows that  officialdom can change its mind.

 Dialogue cannot be open and inclusive if media freedom is curtailed and people do not feel free to meet and talk about the new Constitution.  For these reasons Government would do well to follow Prof Ghai's advice, or at least assure everyone that the restrictive provisions are there to contain extreme situations — not  discussion on the Constitution.

Great Council of Chiefs
Why the PM should be especially concerned about the GCC at this time is not clear but his action opened the door for criticism from  the powerful, and covertly hostile,  Tui Cakau Ratu Naiqama Lalabalavu that, according to my sources, found some support from ordinary iTaukei and Indo-Fijians in the streets of Suva.  While the GCC is a goverment body, staffed and paid for by the state, the abolition of a century-old institution should not have even been considered without wide public consultations. And the best time for this would have been during the Constitution consultations.

 If anything needed to be said about the GCC, the PM should only have signalled the need for its reform by the Constitution Commission and Assembly. Even Ratu Naiqama would have had to agree that it was formed to advise Government on iTaukei affairs.  It was never intended to be an arm of government, as it had almost become since 1987.

 Most people would agree that the role ofthe GCC should be limited  to iTaukei custom and land. It should not, as it has in the past, endorse any single political party, and it should have no power to appoint the President.  Most Fijians, and many chiefs, would supported this view.

The abolition of the GCC is akin to "throwing the baby out with the bath water." What was wrong could have been put right. A reformed chiefly body had, and still has,  much to contribute to modern Fiji.*

Senate
I fear Senate is another institution that could go the same way as the GCC.  It needs major reform, particularly in its membership,  but it has much potential as a cautionary, advisory and more representative adjunct to Parliament.  One hopes there is not another "pre-emptive strike" from the PM before its demise or future is discussed as part of the Constitution process.

Electing the President
The PM's reference to the likely election of the President arose indirectly as a result of a media question, because of the GCC's role in his appointment.  The PM should have deflected the question and said that was a matter for the Commission and Assembly.

Provincial Councils

It is also not known why at this time the PM should assume chairmanship of the provincial councils, that already have considerable government membership. His act denies vanua the right to elect their own chairpersons. And the explanation that this will result in Provincial Councils working "with the government in the development of Fiji" seems hardly implausible. It is true that past chairpersons, in Rewa, Cakaudrove and Lau, used meetings to attack or obstruct government policies but their threat had already been dealt with. Merely removing people as chairpersons will not stop them acting against Government, if they are so inclined.  Indeed, it could have the opposite effect in making more provincial council members oppose government.  

If the PM were to say anything new on the Provincial Councils it might have been to indicate that the Commission and Assembly would be considering the role, structures and membership of all local government, including provincial councils that at present administer and assist itaukei villages but not the Indo-Fijian settlements that are geographically located in the same areas.

Conclusion
It is too soon to know how Fiji is reacting to these recent moves by the PM but the next few weeks could be critical.  It can only be hoped the PM's recent un-strategic and  un-necessary moves do not result in a major setback to the Constitution Process plans.  This is where his, and all Fijian, attention should be focused.  Anything else is to take one's eye off the ball.

--ooOo--

* These thoughts from Jale O. Baba on the GCC in Facebook's Fiji Economic Forum
       In challenging Fijian institutions such as the Bose Levu Vakaturaga, the Commander has provided opportunities for reflection and soul searching in the process of national tansformation. Every state organ must be evaluated for its potential role in the modern state.
      For example, what real difference does the GCC which sits as the apex of iTaukei Affairs Board) make in the lives of ordinary Fijians? Does it serve any purpose in view of the fact that the Government has responsibility for infrastructure and economic development?
      The GCC is an instrument of the state; its roles and rules, membership, funding, I believe, are all determined by the state. As such it is incumbent on the state to review and determine its efficacy. 
      Relieved of state duties hitherto encumbered on them through the GCC, our chiefs may now look at leading their people better strengthening the values of kinship, reciprocity and mutual respect that provide a bridge to the other communities. These are qualities that can be harnessed to enhance the vision we seek.

Comments

Anonymous said…
Don?t you think it is in the best interest of the Nation to elect their President rather than have some outdated organisation(GCC) make that determination?
Anonymous said…
Agree that Frank's abolition of the GCC is very 'un-strategic' and the result of very bad advice. It just confirms in the minds of many i'taukei that he is dismantling the i'taukei identity.

History will recall thus decision as being the one that lost him the support of the i'taukei. He no longer is able to capture the hearts and minds of the i'taukei. It will only force them to feel threatened and they will turn inwards and consolidate their distrust of him and his government and rally around their chiefs. The move will strengthen the position of the ethno-nationalists.

Frank now will have lost the support of many i'taukei who were prepared to give him the benefit of the doubt. Unwittingly, by trying to tear down the structure that promote ethnic politics, he has now re-invorated ethnicity as a political rallying point in Fiji politics.

Very unstrategic. In a word - DUMB
Paramountcy vs Supremacy said…
We appear to have forgotten (conveniently?) that the 1997 Constitution gave 'paramountcy' to the interests of iTaukei.

There was always an insufficient understanding of this word 'paramountcy' and in 2000 and post-2000 it was substituted by 'supremacy'.

This ought to have been considered afore-thought by those who sat on the Commission in 1996. It was overlooked. This lapse led to enormous damage and destruction.
Hedging your bets said…
croz
Unlike the dictator it is strategic of you to be hedging your bets. It is only a matter of time before this regime is well and truely erased.
Where's the brain said…
I'm an Indo-Fijian and generally supportive of Bainimarama's attempts to make Fiji more democratic. However, political expediency aside,I think his action regarding the GCC has gone beyond politics. It is an attack on the cultural identity of the i'taukei. Personally, I think the powers vested in the GCC since 1987 made for a very undemocratic system and it became very heavily politicised. But as in the situation with the Methodist church in Fiji, you don't destroy something that needs repair especially when it means so much to the culture of a people. It is a matter that should be addressed at the pending constitutionsl discussion. Because of the timing, I suspect that Bainimarama did what he did so that the matter could not be discussed during the constitution discussions "since the GCC no longer exists". I think we should utter a very loud cry and bring the matter for discussion during the constitutional discussion at whatever cost. I think Professor Ghai, given the conditions that he has already set will be open to the discussion.
Paula said…
As much as want to see Fiji moving forward, as much as I have hoped that the announced consultation process on a new constitution would give us back our fundamental right to have an opinion, recent events have doused these hopes. Is the PM serious about an inclusive dialogue? Is this just another promise soon forgotten and jugged aside with some lame excuse? To me its looks like a dictatorship entrenching, preempting any move that may not be entirely in the interest of those who have taken power in a coup d'etat. Clearly, the exiled Fijian elite and the international community is watching very closely and against the background of a dictator massacring his own people in Syria, sympathy with oppressive regimes is clearly fading fast. And one thing is for certain. The PM should be very careful when he wishes Abbott taking charge in Australia. A right wing government will make populistic moves and play to a right wing audience. And this audience will not embrace an unsavory dictator next door.
sara'ssista said…
so any thoughts on what then happens from a constitution process where the regime may decide to just ignore some or outright reject suggestions or recommendations? What happens when the military regime abolishes whole functions before they are even discussed? So it won't really be a consultation process will it more of the 'feel free to chat while we tell what were are going to do'...and expect you to agree.
freeboard said…
Although, Croz disagrees on how the GCC was dispatched, nevertheless it was a proverbial Gordian Knot.

Realistically the GCC was state within a state and its members were an entitlement class, so it was pushed out of politics, instead of leaving on its accord.
Anonymous said…
I don't think that this has preempted the constitution process. A decision can still be made during the process that a GCC type of body should be included in the new consitution if that is what everyone wants. By removing the body now this just means that we start from a blank slate and will need to add it in if there is consensis. If that happens a proper discussion can then be had as to their proper role and power etc. The alternative was to start with a body in place that most belive is too political and has too much power, then try to wind those powers back through agreement, much harder.
Anonymous said…
@ Anonymous (above)

I thought democracy involved discussion, persuasion, compromise etc. Why tear down the GCC when there was a more reasonable and less destructive and painful option i.e. opening it up for discussion at the forthcoming constitutional talks?

Frank is behaving like a deranged ships captain issuing orders from the quarterdeck. I guess thats the sum of his leadership experience - barking orders from the quarterdeck of the four 'tinnies' that he comands in the Fiji Navy as it negotiates the mangroves at the Lami foreshore.

The people of Fiji do not deserve this type of leadership.
Anonymous said…
Croz, you are way off the mark. Abolition of the GCC is the best thing to happen in the interest of democracy. GCC got itself so deeply involved in politics of Fiji that it ultimately helped in the destruction of democracy in Fiji. Historically, it was the advisory body to the colonial Government but its services was no longer required, following Fiji's independence, as the elected indigenous leaders know the needs, desires and aspirations of their people better than the chiefs. They do not need to seek their advice so it was effectively redundant body and should have been disbanded as soon as Fiji gained independence.
The pressure of chiefs on their people to vote for their chosen parties and candidates has greatly helped Qarase and his SDL Party and this is why he is shedding tears at its demise. The quality of chiefs, most uneducated, today makes it imperative that they should just become part of history. The 21st Century Fiji does not need them.
Anonymous said…
The President who is a descendent of Cakobau can see more clearly than all of us that there is nothing left to give by this institution. That the special education paid for by the tribe and special privilege accorded by the colonial government to Chiefs in directing their professional working careers resulted in a body of men having a critical mass of good sense or “wisdom”.

Since independence and democratic government special treatment for Chiefs could no longer be justified. That was 40 years ago. Without special education and training a body like the “ Council of Chiefs' is no longer a tool of progress but in fact a potentially dangerous institution of destabilisation, as was proved in 2000. Make no mistake, and it takes no great feat of imagination to think how explosive the situation was getting during 2000. The Chiefs were right in the middle of that and the army was faced with dealing with it. They know more than anyone what value or trouble the Chiefs.

The disbandment of the GCC is a great positive moment in Fiji's history, right alongside cession, independence and 87 coup.

Itaukei have been complacent about constitutions and nationhood as they have had their own self government. What are constitutions to them other than a piece of paper of a foreign construct.
What worth to them national citizenship when they are so rooted in parochial provincialism reinforced by the state. Are we forever to be held back from enjoying the fruit of independence and nationhood by colonial institutions that have outgrown their worth.
When was the last time the Cakaudrove Provincial Council was involved in a community spirit building exercise other than funeral or installation of a Chief? When was the last time the Adi Seniniu Festival was held?

Since 87, the Provincial Councils have been the go to forum for political manipulation and control of the bulk of the itaukei people. (Rabuka,Qarase, Bainimarama, nationalist) A people who in the political and religious context still have not developed an adult relationship. The relationship is still one of Parent -Child. Sway the parent and the child follows.
The Methodist church has been quick to step in and light a candle for the Chiefs, not to say that they have not already been holding that candle firmly in their grasp for quite some time now, pretty much since '87.
Unfortunately for Fiji and Fijians, especially the itaukei, is that Adult- Parent transactions are not complimentary transactions but crossed transactions so we will be seeing more “ emotional outbursts” as we evolve towards adulthood as a nation. How these “emotional outbursts” will be manifest remain to be seen. There is no doubt they will grow in the fertile ground of democracy and come into full bloom from being well watered by certain religious leaders, nationalists and Chiefs.

Now, the matter of the GCC is definitely on the agenda and if it is to survive then it will take some justification to do so. The opportunity will be open to review and renewal. A breath of fresh air.
The roll of of the GCC and the roll of Chiefs can be defined for our modern age.
I would think elections and term chieftianships would be a start.

Itaukei institutions, without government support, would they die or not. I think if they were to survive, then it could only do so with terrific community support and that would only come about with excellent leadership, leadership the whole community could get behind. I can only think this would be positive in every way.
If there is no response then it is obviously not worthy.
I think throughout Fiji there would be successes and failures in different arrears at different times, once again dependent on leadership at the time.

The proposed Chairmanship by Frank Bainimarama of all Councils is a disaster and will only succeed in him negating the positives as he shamelessly self promotes himself into the next elections.
submit the facts said…
Can we get some facts on the membership of the GCC ? How many are they, who are they, who do they represent, what percentage are vocal and non vocal at meetings, How much meeting allowance paid, Are hangers on paid, what are their functions in their own communities, how well do they perform these functions, do they meet regularly with their people,do the heads of Burebasaga, Kubuan and Tovata meet regularly with their subordinate chiefs, do they address the needs of their people, how much free will offering do they give back to the people, can a management and financial audit be made on the individual chiefs ? etc etc
Anonymous said…
There is no reason why we still cannot have a discussion about the GCC at the forthcoming constitutional talks.

I bet that the most vocal complaints against the move to dissolve the GCC are also the ones who were also the most vocal saying that Fiji must go back to "democracy" as soon as possible. However, where is the democracy in the GCC and the whole chiefly system. Can someone please tell me who voted to make these people chiefs. Then only these chiefs can be members of the GCC. Also, the GCC is not just symbolic (say like the Queen of the UK) but has tremendous power under the 1997constitution. Can one of you whiners about democracy and the lose of the GCC please explain how the GCC is democratic!!!
referendum said…
If there is a referendum on the GCC, I bet your bottom dollar they will be resoundingly voted out. Many may publicly support them but privately wish to be rid of them once and for all. The less influence they have to incur unneccessary financial burden on the ordinary itaukei the better to ease the burdens of living on the itaukeis.
Anonymous said…
yes 'referendum' but like the role of the military, you won't get a say in that either. The future of fiji is just way too important to be left to ordinary ignorant people so it is best we just start abolishing institutions before anyone can unscramble the egg. After all, the mlitary has been a model pluralistic and representative organisation that has at its very heart highly educated people who hold the values of freedom of expression and human rights and accountability.
sister saras said…
I disagree with you Croz. If it is not taken care of now, it will most certainly rear its ugly head tomorrow. This action of Frank's confirms that he is determined to make Fiji a better place for everyone. Another body that needs to be abolished is the Brahman Sabha, which is based on the ancient caste system.
Anonymous said…
Is the Brahaman Saba funded by the tax payer??

The GCC was funded wholey by the tax payer.

So is every parliment.
sister saras said…
@anon
If you think racism is bad, and should be eradicated, well guess what???? Brahman Sabha (BS) is all about caste system, which is far worse than racism. It is not a question of "tax payer".
Reforms Now said…
Any ancient system that continues to control the lives of ordinary people should be got rid of from all ethnic groups that call Fiji home. It's relatively easy to enact reforms under a military regime. Under democratic rule we'll be back to never ending debates on the pros and cons of issues with little reform taking place. The caste system in Fiji should have been long cast out by now. Was it ever on the agenda of the champions of democracy, the unionists ?
Anonymous said…
Sister Saras

I don"t get it.

Are you talking about a religiuos order that is not funded by the tax payer.

How can one disband such an organization if it is peopled by members of thier own free will.

Christians have had the monolithic Catholic Church. When members have been disatisfied they have left.

Its called freedome of religion.

Parent-child ,complimentary,it works.
Parent- Adult crossed transaction, free to leave where your Adult will determine and control your parent and Child. Gloriuos Freedom! for you.

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