An Original,Thoughtful Submission by Krishna Datt
WEEKEND READINGS. • Allen Lockington Column: Frank Hilton • Subhash Appana concludes his series on constitution-making in Fiji by Asking What Now? • David Robie's Inaugural Address.
One of the more interesting and original submissions made to the Constitution Commission was by former prominent FLP member Krishna Datt, Minister for Labour and Industrial Relations in the power-sharing Qarase SDL-led Govenment.
In the first part of his submission he argued that political parties have been "the major cause of division and rift in the Fiji Society" or, more specificially, the ideals on which the parties were first formed have been eroded and the parties hijacked to serve the interests of their leaders.
When things go wrong, as they did in 2002 and 2006, the leaders call for "democracy" and change sides. The situation he describes is based on his experience with the Chaudhry-led Fiji Labour Party but this should not detract from his analysis. Indeed, the FLP's submission bears out what he says. The FLP since its inception has called for one man one seat one value and the abolition of the ethnic communal seats but now it is calling for the retention of some communal seats, presumably to ensure it wins some seats in parliament.
Krishna asks the Commission to examine the possibility of having a parliament with no political parties. Instead, individuals would be elected independently and be responsible directly to their constituents. He says such a system would give more authority to Parliamentary Standing Committees and dovetail well with a Presidential model in which most members of Cabinet are appointed immediately after the election of the President and a substantial number could come from outside the Parliament.
Lack of trust and vested interests
I doubt the Commission will go along with his recommendation but I do hope they will address its underlying concern: the lack of trust in political parties that have been taken over by personal and communal vested interests. In societies like Fiji where democracy is not firmly embedded, Krishna alternatively invited the Commission to recommend "some far-reaching reforms to make political parties much more accountable" and " lay down specific skills and personal qualities required for national leadership which is keen to adopt practices of a cooperative and participative democracy in a country fast becoming an integral part of a globalised world."
Massive civic education programme
Many other recommendations followed: on corruption, human rights; local government as the training ground for national-level democracy; a re-think on provincial councils; and, most importantly, on the need for ongoing civics education in schools and among adults:
"With massive Civic Education, visionary leaders at the helm, it may be possible, gradually, for the people to come to accept that representatives of the people need not come from the same community but be men/women of honesty, integrity and with skills and ability to lead and to represent the Constituents in an increasingly globalised society."
The full approval of the iTaukei
There's more, on targetted, monitored affirmative action based on surveys of need, and on affirmative action for young chiefs to equip them for modern leadership; on no changes to iTaukei institutions or resources, including land, without the full approval of iTaukei; on an Upper House, if needed, "comprising representatives of legitimate, registered and recognized NGO’s, provincial councils, school management association, and trade unions."
And, finally, on the two big thorns: the exit of the military and reconciliation.
The military and an "honourable exit"
Krishna points to a bottleneck in military promotion. He says that with nowhere else to go, "it leaves little option but to take over civilian control and redistribute its top leadership into political appointments in Government. This has been a repeated phenomena in Fiji politics."
He thinks that "having tasted political power, there can be no guarantee that the military will not usurp political power again [but the coup cycle may be broken with ] enlightened leadership agreeable to limiting its own numbers and confining its activities to peacekeeping and civilian activities which require a more disciplined labour force to conduct emergency business during natural disasters, etc."
Significantly, he commends the military "for its tenacity and perseverance in the way in which they have conducted the business of the state, no matter how shortsighted their vision for the country has been" and perceptively notes,
"if democratic governments in the past had carried out their work with the same dedication and perseverance, it would have been very difficult for a military, no matter of what size, to wrench democratic control from civilian hands."
"The constitution," he says, " should provide for an honourable exit for the military from civilian preoccupations. Military personnel should be provided with redundancy packages and assisted to settle to work in regular civilian life ... peacekeeping activity should be regulated and executed as a one or two time operation for each officer. Thereafter, they should return to civilian life [and] international agencies requiring peace keeping services should provide for the training and payment of emolument for their services.
"The predominant ethos of military training and work should be predicated on an overriding and an all encompassing philosophy of subjugation to civilian authority and control. There can be no exception to this. Any breach of this fundamental principle should incur severe punishment."
Reconciliation, a Truth Commission and the "real movers" who have destabilised the state
Krishna says that at no level has there ever been a concerted effort to reconcile differences amongst the various communities. "Instead of laying foundations of peace and togetherness, political leadership has often fanned animosity, jealousy and greed. Visionary leaders have been marginalized."
The new Constitution should remedy this omission and re-foster common visions of sharing, care, peace and stability through a "truth commission to which past and present leaders could make confessions of the articulate various forces, fears and apprehensions that had conditioned their social and political behaviour. They are to be given an opportunity to talk about forces and individuals responsible for coups in the past.
"Those who would ‘tell all’ should be recommended to parliament for pardon. Anyone subsequently found to mislead or tell lies to the Commission should be punished for treason.
"It would be easy to blame and to apportion total responsibility and punishment to the military leaders who conducted the coups. But this, in my view, would be totally unfair.
In all coups there have been people behind the scene who have prodded individuals and the military to conduct coups. Unless we get to know who these people are and what motivates them we will never be able to stop coups in the future. Fiji society deserves to know who have been the real movers and shakers in destabilizing the state.
"If those who lurked in the background came up before the Truth Commission they should be recommended for pardon as well. Otherwise, full investigation and due punishment be meted out to those found guilty of perpetrating coups in the country.
"There should be no amnesty before confession. Reconciliation, Peace and Truth Commission may be the way forward."
To read the submission in full, download from Scribd by clicking here.