CCF Submission Trying to Please All But One
Review and Opinion by Crosbie Walsh
The preamble and general principles will, I think, be accepted by all fair-minded people in Fiji— respect for differences, social justice, protection of NGOs, affirmative action based on needs, a bill of rights, and leadership code of ethics, and decisions by dialogue and consensus.
The document is forward-looking in its support to call all citizens Fijians, and for electoral reform that
includes proportional representation,1 open list seats, fewer electorates (the four divisions and the overseas diaspora), a voting age of 18 years, a smaller 51 seat parliament, and political parties that must be open, inclusive, reflect diversity and promote national integration.
In addressing the issue of accountability, they recommended the establishment of a Constitution Office or Commission to appoint, terminate or discipline public servants such as the Ombudsman, the Attorney-General, Director of Public Prosecutions, Public Service Commission, Military Commander, Commission of Police, and the Governor of the Reserve Bank.
The Commission would be appointed by the PM, Leader of the Opposition, the Speaker, Chief Justice and Ombudsman (when his position is not involved). I could find no reference to who appoints the Chief Justice.
The judiciary would be appointed by a resurrected Independent Judicial and Legal Services Commission comprising the Chief Justice, the Ombudsman, legal professionals, and Chairman of the Public Services Commission.
The powers of the Ombudsman were to be greatly extended with unspecified powers over the legislature and executive, a re-appointment Human Rights Commission and, I think, the Electoral Commission. Who appoints the Ombudsman and Electoral Commission was not clear but I assume it would be the new Constitution Commission.
On other issues they wanted:
- An elected President2 but they did not say who elects, or what his powers would be other than dissolving parliament in unspecified circumstances;
- A Senate3 of 25 members but they said nothing of its functions, or how it was to be elected;
- A Great Council of Chiefs that played no part in national politics, but they left "the back door" open by saying it could have a national advisory role and could continue to be active in provincial councils.
Here again, other than reducing the direct power of the Great Council of Chiefs, there is little change from 1997.
The role of the military
Finally on the Catch 22 question, what to do with the military, the CCF is unequivocal. It should be
accountable to civilian institutions "such as the legislature"; its size should be appropriate to "Fiji’s
national security requirements"; recruitment and appointment must be on merit; there needs to be a review of the roles of the military, police and corrections service; and, most importantly, the Immunity clause for "coup perpetrators should be revoked".
In other words, there is to be no role for the military in the Constitution dialogue process from this point onwards and no special role for the military in the governance of Fiji, not even on critical civilian appointments, a seat in Senate or in the Great Council of Chiefs. Understandable perhaps, given the total insensitivity of the the military even towards its former friends in recent months, but not very realistic (even the Great Council of Chiefs is assured a greater role), and historically a little unfair.
But what if?
If there had been no military coup in 2006, the CCF would not have been in Levuka last week for there is nothing to indicate that without the military intervention of 2006 Fiji would have become anything other than the unfair, unjust and undemocratic country it was. There were parliamentary advocates of change towards a more inclusive and representative democracy or moves towards change.
Before the Coup here were no SDL whispers of amending the 1997 constitution as urged ten years earlier by the Reeves Commission; no talk by the SDL or a frightened FLP of affirmative action for all; no concerted efforts to renew leases, increase agricultural production and sustainable development (the FLP mentioned it in 1999 and was out of office less than a year later); no attempts to rout out corruption (that even the Fiji Times said was rampant under the SDL government); no mention of seeing ordinary iTaukei receive a just share of land rents; no forthright attacks on the divisive, religious extremism and racism of some politicians and religious leaders; a little talk, but absolutely no action on tolerance, equality and national unity.
Surely, the Bainimarama government must have done some good over the past six years and deserves some place in shaping Fiji's future, at least until 2014.
And the final irony? The CCF is advancing recommendations that for the most part will find support from the old racially-elected parties and the Great Council of Chiefs: the very people it condemned prior to December 2006, and condemning those who sought change, and be opposed by the Government that launched the People's Charter, also unmentioned by the CCF.
If all does not go well
The CCF is "putting all its money" on a new electoral system that if all goes well should return a truly representative government and opposition, and on administrative checks and balances.
But if all does not go well —if the military insists on some role in Fiji's future, or if too many of the old politicians, political parties and lawyers put in a reappearance; if there has been insufficient change in the mentalities that allowed corruption and abuse of office to flourish; or if it takes a while to get used to the new system —they may well wish they had recommended more powers for the President and the ongoing participation of the military in some role acceptable within the new Constitution.
2. No mention is made of the position of Vice-President.
3. Senate could be an assembly of representative experts with authority to receive public petitions, advise Government, and defer certain legislation for further parliamentary consideration. Membership could comprise two representatives each from designated sections of society, for example, the professions, educationalists, lawyers, trade unions, employers' associations, religious organizations, ethnic minorities, women, youth, and the disabled, preferably elected or nominated by them from among their membership.. The disciplined forces (military, police, correction services) could also each have two members, and certain officers or their nominees (for example, the PM, Leader of the Opposition Senate, Ombudsman) could be ex officio members. Senate could meet for one or two days six times a year when parliament is sitting. Senators could be paid a sitting fee and expenses. .