Constitution Released: Reactions, Thoughts and Content
|Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum with the Constitution|
The Citizens Constitutional Forum said they'd study it and release their analysis soon but said it was the Government's constitution, not the people's. I thought this qualification unnecessarily provocative and not altogether correct.The draft constitution has been significantly amended as a result of public consultations and over a thousand submissions.
I have read the constitution and for the most part I cannot see how any reasonable person could totally denounce it. Human,civic, political, and religious rights are suitably protected. Trade union rights are protected but I would have liked to see the Essential Industries Decree revoked. The provisions on women, children, the disabled, gender orientation, education and languages, absent in earlier constitutions, are commendable. Responsibilities for appointments to the most important government commissions seem reasonable. I'd prefer the retention of several geographic constituencies to a single national constituency. The amnesty and transitional clauses have to be accepted. The emergency provisions have checks and balances, but I'm a little uneasy about the role of the military in ensuring "at all times the security, defence and wellbeing of Fiji and all Fijians" and I think a 75% vote in parliament and a referendum to amend the constitution is unnecessarily restrictive. I will comment further when I've thought things through and when I've seen what other people have to say.
All daily papers had articles on the release of the constitution today. I thought the FijiLive report the most comprehensive.
This report from FjjiLive
Fiji's fourth Constitution that will underpin the first genuine democracy in the country history has been released to the public. His Excellency the President will give his assent to the document on September 6th.
The document will be the supreme law of the country and pave the way for elections by September 30th 2014 conducted, for the first time, on the basis of equal votes of equal value. It is in line with the constitutions of some of the world’s most liberal democracies and provides a framework for the development of a modern, progressive state.
As previously flagged by the Prime Minister, Commodore Voreqe Bainimarama, the final version differs from the Draft Constitution by containing specific provisions that guarantee and strengthen the protection of communally-owned i’Taukei, Rotuman and Banaban lands. During the consultation process that followed the release of the Draft in March, a large number of submissions were received calling for explicit protection clauses. These have been accepted and incorporated into the final document. They provide greater protection and security for I’Taukei, Rotuman and Banaban land than ever before. In addition, for the first time, an extra provision gives any landowner the right to a fair share of royalties derived from the exploitation of resources beneath the surface.
The 98-page constitutional document in English has also, for the first time, been translated into the two main vernacular languages - i’Taukei and contemporary Hindi. In the 15 days before His Excellency the President gives his assent on September 6th, members of the public are invited to read the vernacular versions and provide feedback on their accuracy. Some of the legal terms and phraseology in the English language do not have equivalent words in the vernacular and therefore may be open to interpretation.
The Constitution provides for a single chamber 50-member Parliament – up from 45 in the Draft document- which will be the country’s supreme authority and be elected on the basis of one person, one vote, one value. Elections are to be held every four years and every Fijian over the age of 18 is entitled to vote. In another alteration to the Draft document, individual regional constituencies are abolished. There will be one national constituency covering the whole of Fiji, as in The Netherlands and Israel. And every voter will get one vote, choosing the candidate who they believe best serves their interests under a proportional representation system.
A Prime Minister who commands the party with the most seats in Parliament will head the elected Government and, in line with current practice, a President will be the Head of State and perform the ceremonial function of Commander in Chief of the Republic of Fiji Military Forces.
Among the Constitution’s major provisions are:
- A common and equal citizenry.
- A voting system of equal votes of equal value.
- A secular state and religious liberty.
- An independent and impartial judiciary and equal access to the law.
- The right to legal aid assistance.
- Specific protection of the ownership of I’Taukei and Rotuman lands and recognition of their unique culture, customs, traditions and language.
- The protection of the rights of leaseholders.
- Specific recognition of the culture and language of Indo-Fijians, other Pacific islanders and other immigrants and settlers.
- A Bill of Rights containing specific provisions guaranteeing a range of civil and political rights and, for the first time, social and economic rights. These include the right to education, economic participation, a just minimum wage, transport, housing, food and water, health and social security.
- A free media and freedom of speech, expression, movement and association.
- The safeguarding of the environment.
- The compulsory teaching of the i’Taukei and Fiji Hindi languages at primary school level, along with English as the common language.
- The right to multiple citizenship but a provision that only Fijian citizens be entitled to stand for Parliament.
- The right to fair employment practices.
- The right to join, form or campaign for a political party.
- The right to privacy.
- An Accountability and Transparency Commission which, for the first time, will hold all public office holders accountable.
- A Code of Conduct for public office holders.
- A provision requiring public office holders such as civil
servants, members of the disciplined forces and trade unionists to
resign before contesting a seat in Parliament.