Political Round Up for the Second Week in April
|Fiji Times photo.|
Among several recent political developments two, and perhaps three, stand out.
First, the visit of the NZ Foreign Minister Murray McCully and the announcement there will be bilateral talks that "signalled a new chapter in Fiji-New Zealand relations as the two countries sought to chart the way forward with goodwill and positive co-operation", and that Fiji workers will soon be included in the seasonal workers programme.
Secondly, the ongoing kerfuffle about the CCF booklet.
And thirdly the rapturous Fiji Sun report on the PM's tour of West and, with one exception, the near absence of any mention of the tour by the other online media.
ELECTORAL COMMISSION TO SEEK INDEPENDENT LEGAL ADVICE on some of the provisions of the Electoral Decree of 2014. The decision followed the second meeting with civil society groups. The major area of interest is section 115 of the Decree that restricts NGO’s funded by foreign aid from being involved in any electoral related activity.
The Commission assured civil society organizations that they can still work together pending an independent look at some of the questions they have raised. The Commission re-affirmed its position that it considers NGO involvement in voter education is important.
SHOULD VOTER EDUCATION MATERIAL BE SANCTIONED? 94% of those answering this Fiji Live polls said yes. But what is meant by 'sanctioned' I'm not altogether sure. Checked, perhaps? Or, its dictionary definition, 'given official approval'?
CCF NOW HAS ISSUES WITH CONSTITUTION. Looked at from one perspective, the CCF has shot itself in the foot this week. First, it claimed it had published an independent constitution booklet written by experts, with no mention of any issues with the constitution itself. Now, Rev Akuila Yabaki says they have "some issues" starting with "the manner in which the 2013 Constitution came into being." The A-G's response was this would "mean that their analysis or simplification of the Constitution is bias."
The A-G pointed to a number of errors in the booklet. These included statements on the size of Cabinet, the statement that the Bill of Rights provisions were weaken than in the 1997 Constitution, the supposed control of the Judicial Commission ("The PM and A-G appoint, but do not control, the Judicial Services Commission".), the statement that there will be unqualified immunity (People can be charged for criminal actions, but these do not include their participation in the 2006 Coup), and a misleading statement about government control over native land.
NFP WANTS ELECTORAL DECREE AMENDMENTS. The NFP has asked the Electoral Commission to seek amendments to what they term "restrictive provisions" of the decreee to ensure free and fair elections. They share the concern of NGO''s about section 115 that prohibits persons and/or organisations receiving foreign funding from involvement in the election process. They are also concerned about the ballot paper that they believe will confuse voters. (See also Biman Prasad's speech to the NFP AGM.)
PM WELL RECEIVED IN THE WEST. The Fiji Sun coverage may be a little over the top, afterall it's purportedly pro-government. But this does not explain why the PM's tour of the West had so little coverage, or no mentioned at all, by other media. The Tui Vuda's endorsement of the PM's Fiji First party should have merited a heading on its own.
The Sun reported, "Westerners from Rakiraki to Lautoka were in the grip of the Bainimarama fever Monday as the Prime Minister and his blue bus drove to their towns and settlements. Men, women and children of different races came out in a sea of colours and in numbers to express their support, singing one chorus “We are for Bainimarama”.
The journey started in Rakiraki where hundreds turned up. The next stop was in Tavua, where more than a thousand people cheered, as he got off the bus in the Gold Town. He then travelled to Vatukoula where he got a raucous welcome too. On the way to Ba, the bus made several unscheduled stops. Women, children, young and old also stood with roadside banners, declaring their support for Bainimarama.
In less than eight hours, over 5,000 people had signed up for the proposed Fiji First.
NFP AND COMMERCE COMMISSION DIFFER. The NFP wants all residential landlords and tenants to be able to directly negotiate their rent without the interference of the Commerce Commission. NFP leader Dr Biman Prasad is questioning why the Commerce Commission is getting itself involved in determining how the market should work. Commerce Commission Chairman Dr Mahendra Reddy replied by saying there is an imperfect market in the housing sector and price control is necessary to protect tenants. Rent increases are based on a formula that take capital improvements into account.
WHAT NEW DECREE IS FLOUTED? The Fiji Trade Union Congress says it is going to intentionally flout a new decree by the regime placing restrictions on political parties. The Decree says the nomination of an independent candidate is not valid unless it is accompanied by 1,000 registered voter signatures, containing their addresses, occupations and voter numbers. No new restrictions have been placed on political parties. Daniel Urai says "The trade unions will flout this decree. We treat it as a joke. We have to fight the injustice. You cannot fight injustice by abiding with laws or decrees, whatever they put out. We'll have to fight them."
But what is new or restrictive about the Decree? Similar restrictions are normal overseas and only an Independent with considerable national support can expect to win a seat in the forthcoming elections. They will need to win 5% or more of total votes, an estimated 28,000 votes. Can anyone think of a likely independent candidate able to win such support?
CANDIDATES NAMED SOON. As the PM wended his way around the country collecting the required 5,000 members to register his Fiji First party, SODELPA says “We have quite a very high number of educated and well experienced candidates. I think the party leader will have a hard time choosing to the final fifty.” Thet expect to name their 50 candidates soon. NFP leader Biman Prasad says they "are hoping to announce the first set of candidates ... sometime in May.” And FLP has invited people who wish to contest the elections as FLP candidates to show and expression of interest.
SODELPA leader Ro Teimumu has told a women's workshop they should question government policies, and gave Government's introduction of free education as an example. They should ask, "Where Government got the money from and what services have to be cut to pay for them?" [Not, apparently, whether free education is a desirable policy.]
GREENS PARTY DEREGISTERED. The High Court has ordered the de-registration of the proposed Greens Party which failed to meet the requirements of the Political Parties Decree to register within 28 days. Greens leader Bernadette Rounds-Ganilau says she will respect the decision.
INDEPENDENT CANDIDATE ROSIKA DEO is reported to have said she has declined offers from the three registered parties, the FLP, NFP, and SODELPA to join them.
EMERGING FLP POLICIES. The FLP says it will have "special policies to promote gender equity, youth schemes to provide adequate jobs for the young population and policies to preserve and promote Fiji's diverse cultural traditions"
Meanwhile, it has promised to reverse the FNPF pension cuts (Government said they were necessary to keep the pension fund solvent) and will scrap the road user tax. It says petrol prices are high because Government taxes take an unreasonable 69 cents a litre which results in unleaded petrol costing F$2.59.
For comparison, the NZ Government tax is about 74 cents a litre and unleaded costs NZ2.16 and more. The Fiji Government is taking far less than its NZ counerpart and the cost of petrol is much cheaper than in NZ. (F$1 = 63 NZ cents.) Fiji is well served by its Commerce Commission.
PDP CALLS FOR CANDIDATES. The People's Democratic Party is calling for applications from those interested in contesting the general election under its banner, and says it will contest all 50 seats in the election. Its manifesto will be ready fo the party conference on May 3.
THE PM's ASSETS. Long a contentious isse, the PM now says he will reveal his assets, income and liabilities before the registration of his Fiji First Party. I do not know why this was not done long ago. His silence has resulted in wild claims that have damaged his image.
CHAUDHRY LEGALLY AND MORALLY GUILTY. Four assessors and High Court Judge Paul Madigan found Mahendra Chaudhry guilty as charged for breaches of the Exchange Control Act. Chaudhry received donations totalling A$1million (now grown to A$1.5 million) in India to assist his family relocate after he was ousted by the 2000 Speight-led Coup. Instead of relocating, he returned to Fiji and invested the donated money in Australia and NZ without seeking approvals from the Reserve Bank of Fiji. This was illegal.
My question is a moral one which calls into question the character of the accused. Why did he not return the money to the donors when it was obvious it would not be used for its intended purpose? Or, if this was not possible, why was it not distributed among needy people in Fiji, many of whom have supported Chaudhry politically over the years? A$1.5 million ($F2.8 million), even when spread thinly, would go a long way. Or it could have been invested in a charitable trust earning interest over $F140,000 a year. Chaudhry faces maximum imprisonment of two years or a penalty of three times more than the funds invested overseas.
He won't be able to stand in the coming elections, and could be disqualified from being a FLP office holder for the next five years by which time he will be 77 years-old. He will be sentenced on May 1, international Labour Day.
PETITION ON MINING. A petition to the PM on proposed mining legislation from the Kauvai Network invites your support on this site.