The Month that Was: December 2012

December was another month crammed with news and comments on Fiji.

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.

The Economy

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.

Constitution Progress

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.”


Eating each others vomit said…
The following may assist your confusion. It is unambiguous even for junta groupies in denial. I doubt that eating each others vomit is sustainable for even junta fools.

"""The Fiji police force has been accused of illegally confiscating printed copies of the country’s draft constitution and setting some of them on fire.
The Constitution Commission, which was tasked with drafting a new constitution to return the country to democracy, says all 600 copies were seized from the printer last Saturday.
Commission chairman Professor Yash Ghai says he went to the printers to tell police their actions were illegal.
He says he was abused by the police officer in charge as a result.
Professor Ghai says some copies of the draft document were shredded before being soaked in kerosene and burned.
“Of course I was extremely upset,” he told Radio Australia.
“I thought that this was some kind of a symbolic act on the part of whoever gave the orders … to tell me that this is how we will treat your work.”
The remaining copies were reportedly taken by police and have not been seen since.”"
Anonymous said…
Actually Croz, your legal informant is incorrect. NZ and the UK are the exceptions in the Commonwealth. As is the case with all of the other Commonwealth countries that have written constitutions, the Fiji High Court from 1970 enjoyed the power to strike down legislation as unconstitutional. This was the process that should have been used to challenge the proposed qoliqoli and the national reconciliation legislation in 2006.
Crosbie Walsh said…
The draft was presented to the President on Friday and at that point in time the Commission ceased to exist as is clearly stated in the Fiji Constitution Process (Constitution Commission) Decree. What then was Prof Ghai doing at the printers on Saturday when he was no longer a commissioner? And why was he distributing copies of the the draft when this was clearly not allowed under the amended decree passed in October? Legal technicalities, you may say, but they are important. Prof Ghai was understandably bitter, but he also exceeded his brief and was acting outside the law. I shall take up this and related issues in fuller postings over the next few days.
Crosbie Walsh said…
I'll refer this back to my informant for comment.
Anonymous said…

It does feel like the military or government is going to extremes to make sure the public don't read the commissions suggests or draft. You quote the decree and process but let's be honest - that itself was changed at the last minute when the military - government decided they didn't like something.....hardly letting the commission be independent.

The big question remains will the Military accept the will of the people ? Or will they want a dominant role in Fiji life forever ? They appear to have developed n overly important sense of themselves and their roles. They appear arrogant, inflexible and incapable of adjusting or listening. You have accused Qarase, Mahen an d Bedods of self interest many times ( rightly ). The military are starting to look the same but worse because they still have the guns and their feet on the necks of any detractors.
As Rome burned... said…
It is undeniable this junta is going the same way as other dictatorships. Frank has become addicted to wealth and power. By wanting to stay on he is sowing seeds of his own destruction. Ghai offered way out for regime and whole country but it was rejected. Unfortunately whole country will suffer consequences. Aiyaz has become arrogant beyond belief, wasting time on things like prosecuting Yabaki for contempt, and calling for Fiji Times editor to be jailed over minor subjudice infraction. Shows what a petty, small-minded person Aiyaz is, with no strategic vision, maybe it is true he was a mediocre person to begin with, elevated only by the coup. Totally lost sight of big picture. Alienated supporters. Developed penchant for shooting themselves in the foot. That's what arrogance does to you Aiyaz. Unfortunately you guys drunk with power and reek of corruption. You have put Fiji in far worse situation than it was prior to Dec 2006. You guys are failures. Fiji is becoming poorer, more divided, more dangerous by the day, but you too busy suiting up, being photographed, giving vacuous but fancy speeches, hobnobbing with elites and basking in their flattery. You are a fool, Rome is burning, wake but before you ger consumed by the flames you flaming idiot Aiyaz.
Cin Cin said…
Sounds like Ghai is just playing the regime at their own game - ignoring due process and legal nicieties. Its a bit rich to suggest that Ghai should be playing by the rules.

I would suggest that perhaps Ghai has realised that he has a reputation to protect and this perhaps was the only way to ensure that his work was out there before it was butchered by the regime. It may not be the final, definitive product - that doesn't really matter. What matters is that it is out there, and the public - and the aid donors who paid for the whole exercise - can now study it and draw their own conclusions.

Good on Ghai - or whoever leaked the 'final draft' - they have done the people of Fiji a service.
Anonymous said…
The Fiji courts did have the power to strike down laws before 2006 but only if the breached the Bill of Rights, and only if there was no other option. However any challenge to the Reconciliation Bill and Qoliqoli was doomed to fail. As Justice Marshall pointed out in his Petition, the pre-2006 judiciary was a slave to the SDL government. It had lost its independence long before 2006.

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