Prof Ghai 'Prejudiced from the start." I think Not
A critique of Savenaca Madanavosa's article in the Fiji Sun
by Crosbie Walsh
Commission but, more recently, when the Commission produced a draft Constitution with which they mainly agreed, the roles were suddenly reversed, and it is Government and its supporters who now find fault, and in the usual style of Fiji criticism, they attack the integrity of the actors far more than the supposed demerits of what the actors have done.
One such attack was recently published in the Fiji Sun. Government Former USP senior assistant registrar and postgraduate student Savenaca Madanavosa, writing in the Fiji Sun, makes a number of surprising statements against intellectuals in general and fact that Prof Vijay Naidu, the CCF and Dialogue Pacific and other groups where intellectuals are well represented made submissions to the Commission, and that this blog published by an academic has been both forthright and practical in it many comments on the Commission.
In criticising Professor Ghai he should first note that the Commission had five members not one. To assume the draft decree was Ghai's creation alone and then to accuse him of a nebulous "expert syndrome" steeped in what he calls Westminster orthodoxy ignores the fact that the draft was adopted unanimously by the Commission's five members after they had listened to hundreds of submission from Fiji citizens in many walks of live. Their aim was to produce a document that reflected the views of a large segment of Fiji society. As for the "expert syndrome" whatever this means, of course Ghai is an expert. There is no cause for shame in that. It is the reason he was hired.
But Savenaca is mistaken if he thinks there is such a thing as Westminster orthodoxy. Westminster had been a model for a large number of parliamentary systems that vary widely from each other, including all the parliamentary systems of countries that were former Pacific colonies.
Incapable of innovative thinking outside the square
Savenaca seems to think Prof Ghai (the Commission?) was incapable of innovative thinking "outside the square" because of his commitment to the Westminster system. But the Commission did not determine its own terms of reference. These were established by Government there was no mention of innovation or squares. Nevertheless, the draft contained many examples of original thinking and detailed recommendations fitted to what were seen by the Commission, but not by Government, to fit Fiji's needs. It is likely Government thought the document too innovative.
Savenaca's article goes on to spell out where the Commission fell short of what he expected of them but, contrary to what the items he listed as a) through e), the Commission's draft fully supported the principle of one man one vote; the need to improve the quality of parliamentary representation, the paramount importance of national unity, and it made very specific recommendations on how to avoid further coups. What Savenaca objects to is that the draft recommended the continuation of two house, and 71-seat lower house, parliament. He thought the system "bloated" and clearly supports a smaller, 41-seat parliament. But these numbers were only recommendations that could be debated and changed by the Constituent Assembly, and the Upper House recommended was a very different one from the old Senate or that proposed by the SDL in their submission.
What they could have done, and didn't
Having noted these two recommendations where, in his opinion, the Commission was wrong, he goes on to spell out what the Commission should have done but didn't. First, sins of commission; now sins of omission. The Commission got nothing right. The omissions, all recommended by one or other group during the consultations, included its failure to consider a smaller parliament and single house (I am confident this and similar recommendations were fully considered); the suggestion that
political parties be abandoned because they have created disunity and replaced by a government of national unity; its failure to compare the performance of the Bainimarama Government with its predecessors; its failure to adopt the People's Charter; and its failure to recommend the vetting of election candidates. He concludes that the Commission invited further contributions from "orthodox" people but not from the unorthodox, mentioning Rajendra Chaudhry and Ratu Joni Madraiwiwi, and he sees all this as evidence that "Professor Ghai already had prejudices when he took up the task."
I remember and am grateful for the assistance you always provided to academic staff when I was working at USP. I'm pleased also that you and I seem to have adopted similar positions on Fiji's present "state of the nation" but I am quite sure you are mistaken about Prof Ghai's "prejudices" and the partiality of the Commission. Like you, I do not agree with all the Commission's recommendations, and I think Prof Ghai acted unwisely in seeking to distribute the draft constitution, but I am sure he and the other commissioners thought they were doing the best for Fiji.
Perhaps we should be thinking outside the square
Perhaps it is us who should be thinking "outside the square" instead of focusing on Prof Ghai and the Commission. I think we should redirect our attention to the actions of the old political parties, in particular the SDL and FLP. We should ask why were they so quick to support the draft constitution when they had earlier wanted nothing to do with the Commission. How could they support a draft that was so very different from their own submissions?
I suspect there was manoeuvring here that aimed to outflank the Bainimarama government, and the manoeuvre that had nothing to do with the draft or the Commission. By saying they supported the draft (even though it did not support their main submissions), they prompted Government to oppose the draft, even though most of its recommendations were in line with what government wanted.
We see a similar strategy with the position of the SDL and FLP in their attempts to register their parties. They must have known full well Government would not accept parties which wished to retain the race-based constituencies —and certainly not one that wished to increase the powers of the Great Council of Chiefs and make Fiji a Christian State. Why then did they persist in their registration? It can only be because they expected their registration to be rejected. They could then call "Foul! We have been rejected. This is not going to be a democratic election." And their followers would shout this out to the world, and the world would believe them.
I wonder whether their next manoeuvre may already have been anticipated on the anti-Bainimarama blogs — boycott the elections. If they try this, goodness knows what would happen. It would be their biggest gamble to date.