The Month that Was: December 2012
In the first half, we had allegations by the Fiji NGO Coalition on Human Rights that the police and military had used excessive force in the re-arrest, in September, of six bank robbers. No local media outlet published their statement probably because after the elapse of ten weeks, their protest was no longer newsworthy. The event had been well covered by the media at the time (see this Fiji Times report) and Government had launched an investigation.
They did not mention the escape was facilitated from outside and there are suspicions the trail of destruction they left across Suva was intended to trigger general unrest, that the escapees were armed when they resisted arrest, and that the prisoner who eventually lost his leg was diabetic. Information Permanent Secretary Sharon Smith-John said,"Such incidents are unfortunate and the government makes it clear that behavior of this nature is unacceptable."
The story was taken up by overseas media and the anti-blogs but none of them provided any background into the arrests. Amnesty International called on government to address allegations of torture inside Fiji prisons. NZ Amnesty International chief executive Grant Bayldon, said it had reliable research the escapees had been beaten, one so badly his leg had to be amputated. The statement seemed to be based on public knowledge, and ignored the fact that the Fiji Government was already investigating the claim.
Unfortunately, as I itemised in a post a year ago, AI can no longer be considered a credible independent source of information on Fiji, especially if Apolosi Bose is still its Fiji representative.
The Trade Unions
The overseas trade unions — ACTU, NZCTU, TUC and AFL-CIO—urged the ANZ, US and Fiji governments to support the FTUC submission to Fiji's constitutional commission asking, among other things, that government to hand over control to an interim administration three months before the 2014 elections.
Despite claims by Navosanavua in Fiji Today of: "Years of economic decline and deteriorating schools, hospitals, water supply and roads..." infrastructural work continued, Queen's Road has been improved beyond recognition, and the Asia Development Bank's local representative Caroline Currie had given a general thumbs up, despite the January floods (and before December's Cyclone Evan). Growth is excepted to be 2.5% up,revenue collection and tax compliance have improved;, tourist numbers are up, there are improvements in the sugar industry, stronger investment activity, more private credit, and new players in the private sector.
Independence of the judiciary
Allegations of lack of independence continued, most especially from the FLP with Mahendra Chaudhry now on trial and his son's legal credentials withdrawn, but none of these claims have been substantiated. They are claims with no supporting evidence, and most seem unaware of what a judiciary can and cannot do. For example, as one of my legal informants, said:
"Someone mentioned judicial review which is the ability to challenge the decision of an individual appointed under a law on the basis of unreasonableness or arbitrariness. Judicial review operates to review the decision of the individual; it has nothing to do with reviewing the actual law and has nothing to do with the merits of the decision only the process by which the decision was made. They seem confused with the US which can strike down laws if they are arbitrary, vague, or unconstitutional but this has never been the case in Fiji, or NZ for that matter."
"As for Amnesty International, their demands are contradictory. They want the judiciary to be independent then in the next breath they are demanding it overthrows its decisions. Where have AI been for the past earlier? If they were so concerned, why have they not voiced an opinion earlier. They have not read the judges' findings on the judgments they now condemn? They do not understand that corruption, no matter when it happened, and I refer here to the charged against Qarase, is still a crime, and FICAC was only established in 2007. Prior to that it was a free-for-all. That's how Qarase got away with it for some many years. Some of these human rights organisations are backing the very people who have abused human rights for years."
Australia and New Zealand
Both countries have relaxed their position this month. Australia has appointed a High Commissioner elect who will take up office in January, and travel sanctions have been cut back. NA Minister McCully has finally admitted that travel sanctions prevented suitable people from applying for senior government posts, thereby forcing government to fill them with military personnel."New Zealand and Australia want to encourage more civilians into Fiji's government and the travel restrictions were a big deterrent."
Both countries will also be providing significant assistance towards Cyclone Evan relief. NZ is talking of $3 million in response and recovery works.
But the big news all came at the end of the month, first Cyclone Evan and then the Constitution Commission's presentation of the draft constitution to the President. This latter event created a cyclone of its own.
Its presentation was followed almost immediately by the departure of Prof Yash Ghai and the other foreign commissioners, and what appears to have been attempts to release the draft to the public before the President had had an opportunity to comment, as was first agreed. Government had also agreed the public would see the draft but only when it went to the Constitution Assembly in January. Instead, some 600 copies were allegedly burnt by the police and — inevitably— some other copies were leaked to the media and anti-blogs. Fiji Leaks, reputedly published by Victor Lal in the UK, published what appears to be a legitimate a copy of the draft and the Commission's explanation booklet.
The futility of book burning was demonstrated by the Fiji Sun reporting on the military response to the draft which included parts of the draft itself. The anti-blogs are having a field day. I have read all three documents but need more time to make anything more than a quick comment.
On the whole, the draft is a remarkable and most thorough document. It covers, as Commissioner Peni Moore told RadioNZ, all bases and takes into account everyone's concerns. (see report below). The military's stated objection concerns the number of parliamentary seats. It wants fewer than the recommended 71.
I suspect, however, the military has deeper concerns about the Commission's recommendations for the period between now and the 2014 elections and its challenged role in Fiji's future. But more on this when I have had more time to study the documents and confer with informed friends and readers.
Expect much more to follow over the next few days. The potential to destabilize the constitution process has never been higher. One must hope for restraint in Suva, and the forbearance of overseas governments as Fiji works its way over yet another few hurdles.
Fiji constitution draft covers all bases,
says Commission member
Posted at 20:04 on 26 December, 2012 UTC
A member of Fiji’s Constitution Commission, Peni Moore, says the draft constitution covers everything it was required to and she can’t foresee any problems with it.
The Commission handed the document to Fiji’s President last week.
There has been criticism the draft is now in the hands of the interim government without the chance of further public scrutiny before a regime appointed Constituent Assembly debates and ratifies the document.
Peni Moore says anyone who fears what’s in the draft should rest assured.
“The constitution we’ve written is the most advanced, forward-thinking, promotes everything that is said that they wanted, so there really shouldn’t be a problem with it. It covered everything that they wanted covered. It’s covered in more ways than they could have imagined. We’ve put in amazing reforms that have never been seen before so my feeling is if they read it there’s really nothing to worry about.”