News and Comments Wednesday 6 June 2014

• Who's paying? • Questions for the Constitution Commission • Who should appoint judges • Fiji's new diplomatic relations • Election Office review • The Namosi JV donation • Mason Smith resigns • Churches to work together • Military role models

THE POINT OF IT — AND WHO'S PAYING WHO? A Fiji Broadcasting heading reads "Australia offers $25m to assist Fiji’s return to democracy." Wow! It's Aussie dollars, too. But it's a pity the sub-editor didn't read the article before adding the heading. He missed the point.

The offer is for $2.5million to help fund the electoral office, voter registration drive, the completion of the constitutional consultation and the setting up of a new constitution. Foreign Minister Carr says they have seen real commitment from the Fiji government about having elections in 2014 and the Australians in turn will assist to achieve it, while continuing to keep a watchful eye on the process.

If Fiji accepts the offer, it should put an end to the anti-blogs tiring question: "Who's paying Prof Ghai? What's he getting out of it?" Since FM Carr now admit to progress, it should be time for Australia to lift its sanctions and encourage NZ,  the EU and the Commonwealth to do the same. Losses caused to the sugar industry alone are far in excess of Carr's $2.5 million, even if it is in Aussie dollars. And in excess of the sub-editors $25m, too.  
Stop press. Government has welcomed the offer and urged Australia to deal directly with the Constitution Commission. 

QUESTIONS FOR THE CONSTITUTION COMMISSION. With Commission consultations due to commence and the SDL, FLP, NFP, and UPP  focusing only on electoral reforms (Qarase has now agreed one man-one vote irrespective of race. He would, wouldn't he!) it may be time to raise other issues. Over the next few days I'll focus on appointments in the hope readers will offer their opinions. Here's the first one:

WHO SHOULD APPOINT THE JUDGES? In NZ, judges are appointed on the recommendation of the Attorney-General following advice from the Chief District Court judge and the Secretary for Justice.  Although some of these people are part of the legislative arm of government, every effort is made to ensure the judicial arm is independent.  In Fiji, up until 2006, the Chief Justice was appointed on the recommendation of the PM after discussions with the Leader of the Opposition. Other judges were appointed by the Judicial Services Commission after consultation with the Minister for Justice and a standing committee of Parliament. I think the Fiji Law Society was heavily represented in the JSC. As in NZ, representatives of the legislature (parliament) were decisive in appointments but the legal profession was more involved and every effort was made to keep the judiciary independent.

 I would like readers to discuss:

To what extent should  the following people be involved in the appointment of judges:  (a) the Minister of Justice and/or the Attorney-General(the legislature), (b) a professional body of lawyers, the FLS or some other, and (c) how best to ensure the independence of the judiciary from political pressure.  The next in the series will be "Who Should Appoint the Police?"

FIJI REACHES OUT. The old days when Fiji's diplomatic relations mirrored those of Australia and NZ, but on a smaller scale, have gone,  and this could be making Canberra and Wellington  worried. The latest diplomats to visit Fji were North Korea, interested in fishing, Argentine, that gained Fiji's support in the UN  for the return of the Falkland Islands, and Kazakhstan, that within a decade could be the world's third most important oil producer. And Robin Nair is off to the United Arab Emirates as ambassador.

The benefit from these and other new relationships is hard to predict. Some may have direct and others indirect benefits but collectively they demonstrate a new independence and a stronger voice in international forums.

ELECTION OFFICE TO BE REVIEWED. The A-G who is also the Elections Minister  says government will undertake a major review of the Elections Office to avoid any repetition of the past.

NOT THE BEST TIMING. The $10,000 donation of the Namosi Joint Venture (the group of three companies that hope to explore and potentially mine mineral resources in the Namosi and Naitasiri provinces) to the PM's Flood Relief Appeal could not have come at a worse time. Opinion in Namosi seems strongly opposed to the mining on environmental grounds.  The NJV donation will look like they are trying to bribe.

MASON SMITH RESIGNS. The Permanent Secretary for Agriculture  has resigned, citing the need for new challenges. He left the military in 2007 and is now leaving the government to join the private sector.

CHURCHES TO WORK TOGETHER. With the Methodist Church now out of Coventry,  it is expecting to resume its relationship with other churches to work for the wellbeing of them all.

MILITARY ROLE MODELS. A recent posting on FijiToday says the RFMF is "trying to create a so-called 'Turkish model constitution' where the military stands independent and autonomous outside the government, essentially holding veto power over it." The reason, apparently, is that "for the first time there seems to be a split in aims between the military and those in government. Those in government, including Frank, are looking for a way out that gives them immunity from prosecution and a part in the new government. Their aims are in divergence with the military who are protecting their power base and elite status."

For the record, this is not the first rumour of a split in the military.  Coup4.5 has claimed many.  And it's not the first time a country has been lined up as a model for government and the military. Previous "models" include Singapore, Philippines, Indonesia — and, of course,  North Korea! The issue of immunity and the future of the military are questions that will need to be resolved. But why does Fiji need a model? I'm sure it's quite capable of working things out for itself. As for models, think western democracy, Westminster system, and chunks of the 1997 Constitution.


Sanctions working well said…
Congratulations to Australia and its allies for maintaining the pressure on the junta. Keep the pressure on (including very successful sanctions) until democracy and the rule of law return.
Congratulations also to Hon Qarase. Totally outsmarted the junta and positioning well for another substantial election win.
Delusion of Grandeur said…
Bula Croz, who should appoint judges? Maintain the current practice prior to 2006, with one exception - remove the JSC so that we have judicial independence. Vinaka
Anonymous said…
The Select Committee procedure was too political. It meant that the government members wanted A and Opposition wanted B, and we would end up with C as a compromise although C was not as good a candidate as either A or B. Also it is too political. The JSC was too secret and lacked any transparency. The FLS president was a waste of space. The Chair of PSC was too much a government stooge. I suggest a Judical Services Commission which has at least two lay persons, and with two senior members of the legal profession( the FLS has no members left now that membership is optional plus it is morally derelict in that it covers up for the misdeeds of cronies) chaired by the Chief Justice. Maybe one other senior judge could sit too. Or, how about this to prevent the old establishment settling in, the other judge should be the newest appointee and or a woman!
Bring Back Beyer said…
So farewell Mason Smith. You will be sorely missed by the Ministry of Agriculture for your great knowledge on all things military.

The man you replaced at the Ministry of Agriculture, Dr Richard Beyer, was wasted at the ministry for after all, he knew nothing about the military but a lot about food both about producing and processing.

You ably stepped in when he lost favour with Bainimarama because he said it was pointless to grow potatoes in Fiji and it was far more trouble than it was worth. You certainly showed him how wrong he was and Fiji now produces enough potatoes to feed a couple of villages all year round.

Farewell and may you have more success now you will be back playing with guns.
sister saras said…
@Anonymous Sanctions working well said...

Dream on. There will neither be a qarase nor a chaudhary in a position of authority in the new Fiji. Who gives a rats about oz sanctions. Did it work? Of course it did, in the negative though. We now have the Chinese and North Koreans coming in. What is there for the Aussies and Kiwis to celebrate about?

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