News and Comments Friday 18 January 2013
• Daylight saving • Download copies of recent decrees, the leaked draft and submissions • Corrections to my party decree article • Commendable code of conduct for political parties • Father Barr, Judas and the PM
• Methodist church turns over a new leaf • Victor Lal, Mick Beddoes: the heading tells it all • Mark of the Beast
DAYLIGHT SAVING. Sunday 20 January. People in Fiji should put their clocks back one hour at 3am otherwise their children may arrive an hour too early at school on Monday when Term I commences.
DOWNLOAD COPIES OF THE RECENT DECREES AND THE LEAKED DRAFT http://www.scribd.com/doc/120767525/Constituent-Assembly-Decree
These and other files may be seen on the "Resource Material" page under the blog' main heading.
Copies of all decrees may be downloaded from the government website
And most submissions from the Constitution Commission's website Weebly
Highlight the file you wish to see, copy it as an URL address, and press enter.
CORRECTIONS TO MY PARTY DECREE ARTICLE. In my article "Political Party Decree Misconceived" published yesterday I erred in assuming the new decree applied to new parties. It applies only to previously existing parties. New parties will be able to register up to 28 days before the elections. The statement on the exclusion of the President, PM and Cabinet members from the list of public officers requires further explanation. The PM, for example, is seen to hold an office and a position. If he wishes to stand for elections he must resign his office as Commander of the RFMF but not his position as PM. The Ghai draft constitution proposed the withdrawnal of the PM and Cabinet before the elections and denied them a right to stand as candidates in the election. My article omitted to mention that the RFMF is on the public office list.
Having now read the decree I can now add more details. • If any of the existing parties fail to meet the conditions of registration within 28 days, they are considered deregistered. • If the Registrar refuses to register a political party, he must provide the reasons in writing, and his decision can be appealed in the High Court. • No one who has been declared bankrupt or who has served a prison sentence of six or more months within the past five years can be a registered member of a political party or stand for election. • The internal organization of political parties comes under closer scrutiny to ensure that they are internally democratic. No member may be expelled, for instance, unless he or she is seen to have infringed the party constitution and is the offered a fair opportunity to be heard before a party's internal disputes committee. This provision may have helped the FLP avoid the internal disputes between the Chaudhrys and Krishna Datt and the trade unionists. • The names of all party members and officers, its sources of funding and the financial situation of the party, must be provided to the Registrar.This information must also be kept in the party offices and may be inspected by the public upon payment of a fee. This provision has the merit of transparency but it could also be seen to infringe on a person's privacy and be subject to abuse and intimidation.
These provisions seem reasonable. The two unreasonable elements in the decree are those concerning (a) the high membership numbers and geographic representation requirement, and (b) the exclusion of "public officers" from party membership.
COMMENDABLE CODE OF CONDUCT FOR POLITICAL PARTIES. The first schedule of the Political Party Decree outlines a code of conduct for political parties. They fall into three categories.
First, those promoting good governance, integrity, transparency and accountability within the party (e.g., the fair election of officers and nominations: compliance with the rules of its constitution).
Secondly, proper behaviour outside the party (e.g., discouraging violence by members and supporters, peddling influence, bribery and other forms of corruption; the acceptance or use of illicit or illegal money; use of public resources other than those allocated to the political party). All these provisions may be considered commonplace but there have been too many instances in Fiji where political parties have not followed one or more of these requirements.
The provision in the third category are unique and necessary. They require all parties not to "advocate hatred that constitutes ethnic or religious incitement or vilification of others or any other communal antagonism", to respond to the interests, the concerns and the needs of the citizens of Fiji; to respect and uphold the democratic process as they compete for political power so as to implement their policies; to promote consensus building in policy decision making on issues of national importance; to promote national patriotism and national unity; and respect, uphold and promote democratic values and principles, performing inclusive participation of political party members and accountable representation in governance" and to "respect, uphold and promote human dignity, equity, social justice, equality and non-discrimination." There are more along similar lines.
Everything in the Code of Conduct is commendable. If only similar wisdom and foresight were evident in all of the decree's provisions, it would have be welcomed by all who wish Fiji well.
FATHER BARR, JUDAS AND THE PM. Fr Barr wrote a letter to The Fiji Times questioning whether the PM's proposed new flag for Fiji would consist of a smaller version of the Chinese flag. He had previously cautioned against the level of Chinese investment in the country. Readers familiar with the use of satire in the English language would have seen it as a tongue-in-cheek letter. But, with respect, Fr Barr should have known better. The PM is not familiar with the subtleties of the English
language and often reacts too quickly to what he sees as personal insult.
The PM rang Fr Barr and let loose with both barrels in language that he should not have used, which should not be repeated, and which the PM, some time later, probably regretted using. My guess is that he felt let down by Fr Barr who he had previously considered a friend. The PM also threatened Fr Barr with the withdrawal of his work permit at the end of the year. Fr Barr emailed an account of the phone call to his Archbishop and the Australian High Commission, which was a sensible
precaution. Unfortunately, he also copied the email to a small group of people he assumed were his close friends under the heading "For your eyes only" — failing to remember that there's usually a Judas even in the best company.
We don't know who the Judas was but in no time at all Fr Barr's email was being published and republished by the anti-Bainimarama blogs. Now, every Tom, Dick and Harry (and even Michael Field) knows about it, and many will use it to further their cause. This was not Fr Barr's intention in sending the email to "close friends." The blogs have intruded on Fr Barr's privacy and made reconciliation with the PM that much more difficult but that, presumably, was part of their intention.
Far be it for me to offer advice to Fjii's most well known and most highly respected priest. Fr Barr's record as an activist for the poor, most recently as chairman of the Wages Council, member of the Housing Authority, and his work in the People's Community Network demonstrates his concern for social justice which his sees as as part of his role as a priest.
This was probably also the reason for his recent interest in the newly formed Workers' Party. But there is a difference. This is a political party and being seen on stage with Felix Anthony and visiting trade unionist Sharan Burrows at the party's formation meeting in Nadi last weekend will be seen by some as a political act, and contrary to the conditions of his work permit. My advice, Father, is to continue working for social justice, including the rights of trade unionists, but steer well clear of would be politicians who are most likely using you. My advice the the PM? Continue working for social justice and be reconciled with this good friend of Fiji.
METHODIST CHURCH TURNS OVER A NEW LEAF. The leaders of Fiji's largest Christian denomination - the Methodist Church - who take up their roles this year want to work closely with the government. Church general secretary Reverend Tevita Nawadra said the new leaders, during a standing committee meeting, decided they would work with government. They also decided that the government must listen to the church's needs. Mr Nawadra said with the new year, those leaders who had been causing trouble for the church and its members were out and the new leaders would move the church to new levels.
Rev Nawadra said the past four years for the church were tough as far as its relationship with the government was concerned. There have been divisions within the Church, membership has dropped and relations with other churches had not been good.
"We want to better our relationship with our members and with other churches in Fiji. ...We believe Fiji is one and all the churches are one ... and we want to reconcile with all churches". he said. It was time for the church to do away with suspicious thinking and move towards a better Fiji.
VICTOR LAL, MICK BEDDOES, THE HEADING TELLS ALL. "Carrying on Regime's Propaganda against Draft Ghai Constitition: Bob Carr the Unelected Australian Senator and Minister of Foreign Affairs 'Bobbying' Against Great Council of Chiefs and National Peoples Assembly." This was the heading in the Fiji Today article by Victor Lal. It's a fair summary of the article.
In this diatribe, Victor Lal claims the Australian Foreign Minister has no right to speak because he was not elected. Victor, if that's a shortcoming, its a product of the Australian political system, not a fault by Carr. Australia does not appoint its Foreign Ministers who cannot speak. You should note also that the Ghai draft that you support recommended the appointment of non-elected members to the Fiji Cabinet. You did not challenge this recommendation. Nor did you mention that non-elected members of the Fiji Senate often served in past Fiji Cabinets. Why single out Bob Carr?
You also refer to Prof Yash Ghai as "the world's leading constitutional lawyer"(prominent, yes;s leading disputable). You then accuse Carr of "perpetuating the Fiji regime's propaganda" because he raised questions about the draft's recommendations on an unelected National People's Assembly and an unelected Great Council of Chiefs.
Down goes one man because you disagree with him and up comes among because you agree with him. This is hardly an academic approach, Victor. Attack the argument, not the man.
Mick Beddoes has also leapt into the attack condemning what he called Bob Carr's "endorsement of the Regime’s unilateral decision to ‘scrap’ the Draft Constitution." In fact, all Senator Carr said was that he could "understand" why the Fiji Government acted as it did. He did not endorse the Regime or its actions. Nor for that matter did the Government "scrap" the Ghai draft. It is amending it. The use of imprecise, emotional language cannot help our understanding of what is going on, and why.
MARK OF THE BEAST. It's the funny season in Fiji. Otherwise intelligent people are circulating an email which likens a presumed US requirement for health care recipients to have a microchip identity implant in the forehead or arm to the "Mark of the Beast" prophesied in the Book of Revelations. The email urges all Fijians to prepare for the Rapture —the End Time is Coming! And these people vote!