News and Comments Friday 12 April 2013
HE AGREES, THEN RECANTS. On the side, in a major surprise announcement, Timoci Bulitavu, an official of the former SDL government said he agreed with the Bainimarama Government’s draft constitution but later denied the videoed message heard by a Labasa audience of 300.. He said the draft constitution protects indigenous land owners more than the previous 1997 constitution. “We have been enlightened that the i-taukei land is much more secure from 1997 and the i-taukei land and its laws are now much more secure than before.”
IN HOW MANY COUNTRIES DOES THIS HAPPEN? A Fiji Sun article asks: "Who says there’s no robust debate on issues in Fiji? Yesterday the discussion on the draft constitution was again transparent and robust, as it should be. Full credit to the Prime Minister and the Attorney-General. The PM has regularly gone on FBC talkback radio and TV to discuss the draft, listen to the views of the people and answer their questions. It is the same as he has been doing all along in his regular visits to rural areas. Commodore Bainimarama has also – heeding requests from some callers to his FBC sessions – extended the consultation period. Meanwhile, Mr Sayed-Khaiyum has launched a series of face-to-face public consultations. He is inviting questions, even from known critics. Then he is sitting in front of them answering them fully and fairly. In how many countries are Government leaders so easily accessible to the people?"
IS THE FORUM PLEASED WITH PROGRESS? Four different headings, four different stories on the present visit of the Pacific Islands Forum Ministerial Contact Group charged with reporting on Fiji's "progress to democracy", a condition for the lifting of its suspension from the Forum.
The Fiji Times reports "Forum team queries constitution process"; the FijiLive notes "MGC notes Fiji's commitment"; FijiVillage writes "Ministerial Contact Group pleased with progress", and the Fiji Sun was too late to report today.
Here is the FijiLive account:
The Pacific Island Forum Ministerial Contact Group is pleased with the progress Fiji has made so far in preparation for the their elections in 2014. In a press conference this afternoon, Chairman of the Group and New Zealand Foreign Affairs Minister Murray McCully said the Ministers noted progress Fiji made in 2012 towards election including extensive consultation and work of the independent Constitution Commission, which had generated a level of popular engagement and interest which was unprecedented since 2006.
McCully said in that context the group expressed concerns about departures from Fiji’s previously announced Roadmap process and emphasized the need for a constitution building process that enjoyed the support of the people Fiji and the respect of the international community. According to McCully, they were pleased to have the commitment reiterated in today’s meeting and noted that the decision to extend the consultation period for the draft constitution and the announcement that permits were not required for political meetings to discuss the draft constitution were welcomed. He said the group will continue to watch Fiji’s actions closely and reaffirmed the Forum Leaders willingness to support Fiji’s return to democracy."
FLP, SODELPA AND NFP REGISTRATION ANOMALIES. Registrar of Political Parties Mohammed Saneem has given the three parties have until midday next Friday to explain explain anomalies in their applications to register for the 2014 elections. The anomalies include apparent impersonation, incorrect member details and names that do not exist in the Electronic Voter Registration Database.
SHOULD THEY OR SHOULD THEY NOT? The military obviously have a political viewpoint. There would not have been a coup in 2006, and they would not have made a submission to the Ghai Constitution Commission, if they did not. But there is a difference between holding a cluster of views in broad agreement with the draft constitution and supporting a particular political party in the 2014 elections. Or, at least, there normally would be. But given a choice between the political voices now being heard, that of the UFDF (read: the old political parties) and the Bainimarama government, they probably thought they had no choice at all. Support the UFDF and undo what has been achieved in the past six years and forsake the ideals of a racially equal, fairer Fiji; or offer ongoing support for the government now that the PM and his new 'government' political party will contest the 2014 election.
These thoughts came to mind when RFMF’s chief of staff, Brigadier-General Mohammed Aziz said the military want to see Voreqe Bainimarama lead the country after the 2014 General Election, and will “give him our support to keep his leadership.”
The PM, he said, has started a new political path for the nation, which was totally different from what the nation had experienced from past governments. Something of that path has been seen already. Previously promises were made by politicians as a way to win votes, but it was rather sad that these votes were never translated into meaningful change. This has not been the case with the present government.
The controversial issue of land, for example, was used as political tool to gain votes from the iTaukei landowners but very little was done to tackle major land issues by past governments, and most landowners received rents far less than the rents paid by tenants. By contrast, the present government's land reforms have made more land available for commercial use, particularly in the mining and natural resources sector, on new favourable terms and conditions to landowners and tenants. Grassroots landowners now receive almost all rent money, with the chiefs bypassed and the ILTB administrative costs kept to a minimum. And reforms are now in place is to eradicate abuse and corruption in land dealings.
Should the RFMF's chief of staff said these things? Probably not, but they needed saying.
CCF AND MINORITY RIGHTS. The Citizens’ Constitutional Forum, in partnership with London-based Minority Rights group (MRG) launched “Fiji: The challenges and opportunities for diversity” on Wednesday. The report is part of an MRG/CCF program to improve inter-ethnic relations and reduce discrimination in Fiji. Published by the Minority Rights Group (UK) and the CCF the report was authored by Professor Vijay Naidu and sets out to provide insight into two of the most divisive issues that the current constitution making process initially set out to address: tackling discrimination and exclusion based on ethnicity, and improving inter-community relations.
VANUATU APOLOGIES. Vanuatu Deputy PM Edward Natapei presented a traditional apology to Foreign Affairs Minister Ratu Inoke Kubuabola for actions taken by Vanuatu during his time as PM in 2010 when he opposed Fiji getting the chairmanship of the Melanesian Spearhead Group (MSG) and later as opposition leader, he again opposed Vanuatu Prime Minister Sato Kilman who supported the plan to make Commodore Voreqe Bainimarama the MSG head. "I speak on behalf of my government and the people of Vanuatu to say sorry for all the things we've done," he said. "As a chief and government leader, I feel that it is always right to seek forgiveness in the traditional and Melanesian way."
THE METHODIST CHURCH said it is not going to be involved in the 2014 elections in any way. General Secretary Reverend Tevita Nawadra says neither the head office nor any of their branches will have anything to do with politics, and the church will not affiliate itself with any political party. He said political involvement in the past has hurt the church. “The Church has learnt their lesson from the past and we are coming out of that and we are even discouraging the use of the Methodist Church building or premises for politics because we have suffered from that in the past.” The Church is yet to make submissions on the draft Constitution.
HYPERLINKS. You can download the MOI's Focus Newspaper on this link Its programme on investing in the Northern Division on this link. For daily MOI updates log on to www.fiji.gov.fj or visit the Ministry Facebook page.
Visit the Fiji Pensioners' website and read what Dr Shaista Shameem had to say about a mullah's Easter message.
NORTHERN DEVELOPMENT PROGRAM. The NDP has approved 1500 projects worth $9.8 million in the last five years. The NDP oversees and assists in the setting up of small and medium enterprises. Its objective is to stop internal migration as hundreds of people were leaving Vanua Levu due to a lack of economic activity in the North. Program Manager Waisale Tuidama says the initiative is bearing fruit. The projects have assisted about 22,000 people, or about 19% of the populaton of Vanua Levu, and provided direct 0r indirec employment for about 4,300 people (9% of employment), mostly in the informal sector. The most common projects under the NDP are Dalo and Yaqona farming, but Tuidama says there are new plans for 2013.
DID HE, DID HE NOT BREAK THE LAW? The Qarase-led cabinet in June 2006 converted 68.7 hectares of i-taukei land to a Crown grant to freehold land for the Momi Bay Resort project. Attorney General Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum says although the native land related laws were entrenched at the time and clearly prevented anyone from converting i-taukei land to freehold land, this was done in this case. The land was swapped with freehold land that the developers gave to the state. Lawyer Adi Litia Qionibaravi, however, says that the landowners had given their consent in this case. Qarase denied any wrong doing.
MORE FOR WOMEN. The government draft constitution does not make any special mention of women, nor is there any mention of political parties being obliged to reserve seats for women MPs. Several women’s NGOs and former politicians have questioned the omission and will no doubt make their wished known to Government during the present consultations. In response, A-G Sayed-Khaiyum says the Government has passed more laws specific to women than any previous government , and asks why the same politicians that are protesting now never nominated or pushed for a high percentage of women to be their candidates in the past elections.