Three Temporarily Unwise Men

Fiji Report #4
Part I, Professor Yash Ghai
By Crosbie Walsh

I didn't know which title was better. Three Wise Men, when, as things turned out, they clearly weren't, or Bermuda Triangle where ships disappear without trace. So I settled on Three Temporarily Unwise Men. Normally wise, but in this one instance —the kerfuffle about Ratu Joni's short term Constitution Commission consultancy— decidedly unwise. My assessment, of course, comes with the benefit of hindsight. and being a bystander allows me benefits the three wise men did not have. 

I was there, at that moment in history, when the Yash Ghai-Ratu Joni Madraiwiwi-Voqere Bainimama saga finally came to a head. In fact, I was waiting outside the PM's office as Prof Ghai and other commissioners left, all looking positively downcast. I suspect strong words had been spoken by both parties. And then I was there, in the PM's office, part way through my own interview, when the PM pointed at the tape recorder and asked me to switch it off. He looked less shaken that Yash Ghai but he was clearly very upset. For the next 30 minutes I was the sounding board he used to "get it off his chest."

You all know the outcome. Ratu Joni resigned his advisory role with the Constitution Commission or his contract was not renewed, or both. Take your pick. Yash Ghai told Radio Australia the Commission had broken no part of its terms of appointment and he refused to be intimidated by the PM. The PM denied intimidation, saying that Ghai's job was to draft the constitution, not solicit the opinions of those opposed to government at social and other functions, or hire consultants with a conflict of interests. It was up to Ghai, he said, whether or not he wished to continue as a commissioner.

Soon afterwards, the decree appointing the Commission was amended, limiting or clarifying its scope, again depending on your interpretation. For a day or so Fiji waited, not knowing how Ghai and the other commissioners would react. It would have been a monumental disaster had they pulled out. So much work has been done, and the appointment of the Constituent Assembly and the 2014 Elections, are almost in sight.

I had met Prof Ghai on Friday, the day after my arrival, in his office in the Parliamentary Complex, close to where George Speight had kept his hostages during the 2000 coup. The only hint I was given that things were about to turn pear-shaped was that there could have been some, unstated, interference with the Commission's secretariat and his comment, "It's very unfortunate they have taken this position" referring to Bainimarama's complaint about the appointment of Ratu Joni Madraiwiwi as a consultant.

We covered a wide range of topics: the young woman who said the Commission refused to hear her submission. Untrue, said Ghai. She left her submission to the last moment, they ran out of time, and she wasted no time telling her side of the story to the press. One wonders whether the incident was staged.

I raised the question of the legality of government and the Commission. "The fact is that there is a government in place. It's been governing the country for several years. Life goes on. We have to accept for better or worse that this is the situation." He knew there had been criticisms on the appointment of the three local commissioners —Dr Taufa Vakatale, a former MP, Peni Moore, an NGO activist, and academic Prof Satendra Nandan— but thought they made for a well balanced commission and they  all worked well together.

I asked whether the 1997 Constitution would be used as the template for the draft constitution. No, he said. They had read it of course and many elements and general principles would be similar, but the Reeves team did not include a lawyer. They had two, and their own style of drafting. He wanted things kept simple with every literate person able to read it. 

He saw his job to be also about consensus-building. "It's about people living together" he said but thought government did not see it this way. He  wanted the final draft to reflect a broad consensus. I observed that true consensus-building was especially difficult in Fiji because people often deferred to the opinions of senior people, so what they said may not be truly representative of how they thought. "That's right," he said, "but we have people deciphering, interpreting and analysing submissions with this in mind." I had the impression that all the concerns expressed by ordinary Taukei about a Christian state, land, and human and traditional rights, would be receiving their full attention.

At the time of the interview Ghai said, "We don't feel under any pressure" from government. He thought the "non-negotiable principles" were open-ended and acceptable to all democrats. This belief would come back to haunt him. Bainimarama clearly saw the Christian State issue and Ratu Joni's appointment to be totally closed issues (even though he was appointed on a one month contract  before Bau made its submission.)  But the Commission   recruited its  own support staff and considered itself  independent of Government. He spoke highly of Ratu Joni Madraiwiwi who he'd known for many years and valued his help as a lawyer (there are no lawyers among the three local commissioners) and his knowledge on iTaukei matters "He's always been a very balanced person," he said. Bainimarama, as we shall see, did not agree.

He expressed concerns about some of the decrees passed by government and was not happy that the Constituent Assembly would be appointed without prior public consultation. I said the PM did not seem to know that many of the people critical of government were also its supporters. Government appeared to lack confidence in the level of its support. Prof Ghai agreed, and said the PM seemed to think that without the decrees restricting trade union and other freedoms, his drive for a better Fiji would "collapse."  He agreed government had lost some support as a consequence, and thought they "could begin to open up now. As a whole, the people are peaceful and they wanted the Constitution dialogue to succeed."  He saw the weekly Commission-USP seminars as an educational part of the dialogue process. I'm not sure the PM agrees.

Finally, he said he was "very confident" about the professional job the Commission was doing to meet the concerns of the different communities, and expected to meet the deadline for the draft presentation to the President. He would have liked to be around when the Assembly meets, and perhaps offer a one or two day workshop, and he hoped the secretariat would also be available to clarify issues for the Assembly.

My impression?  A fine, highly principled, knowledgeable and very able man who is doing his best, under the most difficult of circumstances,  to help Fiji. His one mistake. Underestimating Bainimarama's distrust for Ratu Joni;  his concerns, real or exaggerated, about threats to his government, and his reluctance to listen to those he considers are again' him.

Bainimarama sees the role of the Commission as strictly limited. Their job is to hear submissions and draft a constitution. Ghai sees the Commission's role more holistically. It is about educating people on the basic  principles of  democracy and easing their doubts and fears  in order to produce a broad consensus.  It is about nation-building and drafting a constitution that will heal wounds and serve Fiji for many years. It is about a constitution that, with the support of the present government,  will make it very difficult to mount a future coup.

The appointment and reaction to the appointment of Ratu Joni is only part of the story but I wonder whether, with hindsight, Yash  Ghai would have  appointed  Ratu Joni had he seen how events would turn out.

In Part II, I will relate my interview with the second "unwise" man, Ratu Joni Madraiwiwi.


Blind fool said…
Let us all make sure we all understand you. So in your view anything that upsets the dictator bainimarama is a mistake? You really are a blind fool.
Crosbie Walsh said…
There were, in my opinion, THREE unwise men. How can you presume to know what I think when you have only read (and not very carefully, at that) about my interview with the first one? The interviews with Ratu Joni and Bainimarama are still to come. They are taking so long to publish because it takes ages to listen to and take notes from long interviews, decide on what is most worth passing on to readers, and then writing it up. The Ghai interview, for example, took most of one day, much longer than your one line condemnation. And note, this is a courteous reply. I do not counter your "argument" by calling you a blind fool.
Anonymous said…
Croz, take no notice of this idiot. This is the problem with so many of the Government's critics - blind rage and prejudice. They offer nothing other than foot stomping. Give the Government anything other than total condemnation and you get branded a fool. But it is they who are on the wrong side of history. Fiji today is infinitely better than it was under their corrupt alternative. Bugger them.
Anonymous said…
Have we ever receieved an apology for anything from Bainimarama or the military regime? It appears that others accept they are flawed, but i don't recall anyone in this regime ever fronting up and saying sorry for what they have done and it appears from details of court case of the recent escapees and their injuries, still do without any accountability.
Anonymous said…
Do you seriously think this coup and the military junta has been good for Fiji? Or are you in denial like the idiot Barr?
Crosbie Walsh said…
@ Last two Anonymouses (sic!)... Did you read ALL the article? Your failure to comment on the topic, the interview with Yash Ghai, does not reflect well on your levels of comprehension. And that is putting it politely.
%$#@! said…
There is nothing gracious, noble or pragmatic about the so called 'leadership' in Fiji. THis really does speak to the issue that we are continuing to get lectured by a regime, told how we should be feeling and acting and directed to respond ina way that please the military and their allies. Nothing they do will be sustainable under a demoocratic system but they insist on trying. Anything they try to enforce on the people now will get rejected at the first opportunity as they have no mandate.Ghai is coming to learn who is calling the shots, and what the military demands from this talkfest.Apparently this sits well with you Croz as you always feel the need to apportion blame around as if shared equally, and not at who actually has Fiji at gunpoint.
Roshika Deo said…
“The young woman who said the Commission refused to hear her submission. Untrue, said Ghai. She left her submission to the last moment, they ran out of time, and she wasted no time telling her side of the story to the press. One wonders whether the incident was staged.”

It is so disappointing and quite undermining that our credibility is being questioned in this manner and facts fabricated.

If I may, I would like to share in actual fact what transpired.
Firstly, staging?!? If it wasn’t so ridiculous, it would be very offensive. Participating (or trying to) in our country’s national affairs, asking for accountability, sharing our experiences and asking for our rights seems staged? Sad that our experiences are being mocked in such a manner and then you expect young people and women to have their confidence intact and be active citizens!

Secondly, I wish people made an effort to read our press statement and then respond to the facts in it. Attached is the same. Also since releasing the statement, other fact have come to light, which is prudent that it is shared so people are aware.

Firstly one group was to present that day but had cancelled so there was a 30 minutes free slot.

Secondly the commission had been calling the Arya Pratindhi Sabha till the Thursday before the actual incident saying that they had slots available for them to present on Saturday! And I was at the Commission in person on Thursday afternoon asking for a slot, and being told there was none!!
And as for leaving it last minute, sigh. It is always sad when people in power assume that everyone is just like them. For young people, especially a woman’s groups our realities are not like yours or others.

We started participating in this process from April, and had to undergo substantial civic education. We had to organise resources, find networks, etc. For us it was the first time we participated in such national affairs, and I am sorry if it did not come naturally to us.

Also has anyone asked why there was not substantial civic education organised by the State and commission before this process to prepare the people of Fiji?
And also let me share that whilst doing all this we had to attend uni, study for exams, go to work to make sure we do not get fired or miss out on promotions, work overtime without pay, look after younger siblings, cook, clean, and do deliver on other social responsibilities and obligations.

And yes I will waste no time in asking for accountability, it is my right to do so! The very right that the constitution protects!

Roshika Deo said…
15 October 2012 Press Release
Young women denied the right to participate in the constitution making process

The Emerging Leaders Forum Alumni’s (ELFA) right to participate in the affairs of their country was grossly violated by the Fiji Constitutional Commissioners.

The Commission advertised that public consultations were going to be held at the Great Council of Chief (GCC) complex on 13 October 2012. There was no mention of any appointment procedure during any of the advertisements for this public consultation. ELFA discovered through other networks that an appointment had to be made for an oral submission. ELFA tried for several days to secure an appointment but the Commission did not give an appointment, stating that all slots were taken.

The alumni emphasised to the Commission that they were a young women’s group and wanted to make an oral submission as it was in their right to do so.

According to ELFA Coordinator Roshika Deo, the responsibility of the Commission is to ensure that everyone’s voices are heard and that they are able to participate in this process.

“More time could have been given on the day or more days allocated for public consultations if people still wanted to make oral submissions.”

Any public process especially one of such grave consequences, when designed, should take into account substantive equality. The Commission should have taken active and concerted measures to promote women especially young women’s right to participate in this public and political process. The unequal power relations between women and men, and more specifically the lack of power that young women have in society should have been considered by the Commission when organising public consultations.

After being refused by the Commission an appointment, the Youth Assembly of Fiji Islands (YAFI) offered to share their 30 minutes slot. YAFI was already sharing their slot with the Drodrolagi Movement. Both ELFA and Drodrolagi Movement are affiliates of YAFI.

ELFA arrived at the venue around 1.30pm and went to register. Deo advised the registrar at the door that they were an affiliate of YAFI and would be sharing their time slot. Deo also wrote in the register book that the groups will require at least 20 minutes each to present. She asked the Registrar to advise the Commissioners that they were all youth groups and should be given an opportunity to speak. The Registrar advised that it was okay since “everyone” that have been presenting spoke well beyond their time.

YAFI was called at around 3.40pm to present. All the youths went up and Commissioner Christina Murray advised that they only had 30 minutes to speak. Whilst YAFI was presenting, Deo wrote a note to the Commissioner advising that they were an affiliate of YAFI and that they would need an extra 15 minutes to the 30 minutes allocated so that ELFA could also present. In the note, Deo also wrote that it was important that young women were visible in the public sphere.

Murray wrote back stating that only ten minutes will be allowed if YAFI finished their presentation at 4.00pm (in 20 minutes). After YAFI finished, Drodrolagi was next. Drodrolagi had to quickly take the mike and start presenting, as the Commissioners attempted to stop the group. Drodrolagi rushed through their presentation.

Deo states that “the youth presentations were not given due importance and felt rushed through”.

Roshika Deo said…

After Drodrolagi finished, Deo asked the Commissioners again if they could be allowed only 10 minutes to present. Deo also advised the Commissioners that they have edited their contents from 20 to 10 minutes. The Commissioners still denied them the time stating they were an hour behind schedule.

“Obviously other people have been allowed time beyond their allocation for the schedule to be an hour behind. The Commissioners are treating young women, including the other youth groups that presented, with disrespect and prejudice. Murray has mentioned in the media that written submission carries as much weight as oral submissions, then why were some politicians and groups given more than one opportunity to make oral submissions? Why is it that certain people were allowed to go well beyond their time?” asks Deo.

On Friday 12 October 2012, Mahendra Chaudhry was allocated 40minutes to speak, however he spoke for nearly two hours and was allowed to do so. Also on this day, a law academic showed up at the venue and was given 15 minutes to speak. And he had no appointment.

On the day that ELFA hoped to present, politician Iliesa Duvuloco insisted and was given time beyond his 30 minutes to finish his presentation.

Deo asks “Where is the fairness and equality? Or are some of us just more equal than others, especially when it comes to political spaces?”

ELFA believes that this process has many flaws and legitimacy concerns. It is an unfair, rushed, prejudiced and a compromised process. There have been no proper and substantial civic education carried out or enough time allowed for this to happen. And now when people have started mobilising and acquiring resources to prepare submissions, the Commission are denying them the time and space.

ELFA is a voluntary alumni group of 82 young women from diverse backgrounds. There were five members present at the venue to do the presentation on behalf of the group, with more members present to show support.

ELFA member Jope Gavidi said that “not having the young woman's voice in the public sphere was quite an insult and we feel discriminated”.

Another ELFA member Miriam Robanakadavu says “I felt so low just because I was a young woman and got me thinking that if I was a man I would have gotten more courage to stand up and claim my right to speak”.

ELFA member Paulini Turagabeci says “it is disheartening that the people who have a background in human rights and advocacy are the very ones exacerbating a culture that suppresses the voice of young women. We made the effort to come and make a presentation, we waited patiently through the process, the least we required of the Commission was that they show us the same courtesy”.

Women face multiple barriers in relation to political and public participation. The presence of only 3% women in Pacific parliaments is a clear example of this.

There is lack of spaces for women, especially young women in the public and political spheres, and discriminative practises such as those of the Commissioners continue to marginalise and isolate women, especially young women.

An enabling environment for young women to participate is greatly lacking and their rights are being actively taken away by the very people meant to be protecting it.

The presence and visibility of women, especially young women participating in public and political processes is very critical in changing the culture and attitudes that discriminates them.

Women’s presence and participation in such processes will help build the confidence and empower women. Women’s active participation will also establish their authority and legitimacy in political and public spaces.

For ELFA, an oral presentation in this process would have held far more significance and value than a written presentation because young women would then have been visible in transforming the political sphere.

Great article, I am happy to visit this website pakar seo :)

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