Monday, January 28, 2013

A Clarification and Further Apology from Fr Barr

Dear Croz,
Greetings from Fiji!
Sorry I have not been in touch recently but I have been busy and did not have access to my internet.  Our system has had some problems.
You are obviously aware of the events of the past few days and the misunderstandings and misinterpretations that seem to have arisen. You might like to publish this statement on your blogsite.
My comment on the flag was not intended to be disrespectful to Fiji, government or the PM.  As reported, the rumour intended to be a humourous dig at the growing Chinese influence in Fiji about which I had previously expressed some concern to the PM. Some, including the PM, seem to have taken the letter as an insult and I again apologise if they have seen it as such.  It was not my intention.
Also, unfortunately, my confidential letter to the Archbishop and a few close friends got into the hands of some anti-government bloggers who publicised it widely and made me appear to be anti-government.
Again some misrepresented my talk on Social Justice at the recent FTUC Conference as being involvement in the founding of a new political party. While I do support worker's unions, I had nothing to do with the founding of a new party.  My views on the Church and politics can be found in my various articles - most recently in my recent booklet on "Social Justice in the Judeo-Christian Tradition" chapter 6.
Also I did not "seek asylum" at the Australian High Commission (as some have stated).  I simply went and informed the High Commission of my situation and the misunderstandings which seem to have arisen.
As you know, for the last few years I have supported many of the good things government has been doing.  However I have also offered my criticisms directly to the PM and I trust these have been helpful and positive.
I am grateful that the decision for me to leave Fiji has been revoked by the PM. I see Fiji as my home and I am committed to all the people I love and serve here.  I continue to hope that a positive way forward for Fiji will be found and the vision originally proposed by the PM will become a reality.
You are welcome to publish the above as a clarification to the misinterpretations which seem to have emerged.
Keep well and every blessing.
Kevin Barr.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

The Impact of Government Policies on Vanua Levu

The impact of Govt policies in regional Vanua Levu

By Mahsood Shah 

Fiji-born Mahsood Shah is a principal adviser-Academic Strategy, Planning and Quality at RMIT Uni versity, Melbourne, Australia. The views in this article are his own views and not the views of the University. Email:
In recent years the current government of Fiji has introduced policies in many areas of priority. Such policies have been introduced either to ensure economic sustainability of the country or to fulfil social responsibilities to the general public. The uncertainty in the global economy and the lack of financial support by neighbouring countries means that the government has to find ways to survive with budgetary constraints and limited resources.

At the same time, government is pressured to assure the general public, including the international community, that the new policies are going to have a positive impact on all stakeholders including industries and businesses, civil servants, non-governmental organisations, and the general public.
More importantly, the government has to assure the general public that its policies and initiatives are fair and that it will be beneficial to the diverse groups of people.
Innovation and developments in any government or institution are based on the financial health or sustainability and leadership which provide strategic change as needed. At times, leadership also requires one to make tough decisions in the best interests of various stakeholders. In the last 25 years, many of us have witnessed political upheavals in Fiji which, in turn, has had a huge impact on the country in terms of social and economic developments.
In many ways, such actions tend to punish the innocent people in our society while the government is shifting its priorities with limited funding in areas of national need.
Govt policies impact in Bua
The progress made by the current government is enormous in many areas. In fact, the government, in its limited time span, has made significant reforms which the previous democratically elected governments were unable to deliver – notwithstanding that the progress made by the current government is without opposition, freedom to critique policies and critical debate on key strategic policies and reforms in the parliament.
The inability of previous governments to deliver key promises raises important questions on whether people of Fiji are well served by the military government or by a democratically elected government, which has attempted to introduce controversial policies to suit certain groups of people.

The actions of the previous governments (although democratically elected) with the introduction of controversial policies and increased corruption at almost all levels also raises questions around ethics, moral values and accountability of senior and academically educated leaders in public service.
While government policies and actions may not have pleased some in the society, it has made significant impact in remote communities.

I am a strong believer that government or institutional policies and reforms are only value-added if they have positive impact on people of all walks of life irrespective of whether such policies and reforms are implemented by a military or democratically elected government.

What has changed in Bua
In this article, I will briefly outline the impact of government policies in regional Vanua Levu, particularly in an area called Bua. This area is well-known for its rice farming and commercial fishing and it is fair to say that this region has been ignored by many governments in the past in terms of key services such as education, employment, health, transportation, investments, infrastructure (including technology) and road upgrades.

In 2011, Prime Minister Bainimarama visited various settlements within this region including two small settlements, Vuniuto and Naruwai. Both settlements have made enormous progress where iTaukei and Indo-Fijian farmers have worked together in rice farming.

The poor assured
Historically, in both of these settlements, Indo-Fijian farmers have been dominant in rice farming, however, in the last few years more progress has been made by iTaukei farmers.
There is a widely accepted view in these two very poor settlements that the first ever visit by any prime minister in these settlements assures farmers that their voices will be heard and their issues and concerns will be addressed.

The remoteness and poor backgrounds of families in this settlement is such that only a handful of youths have been able to successfully complete secondary education with high academic outcomes.  The access to and success of tertiary education in these settlements is a dream which may only come true if government provides scholarships to potential high-performing students from such backgrounds. Some of the high impact areas where the current government is fully credited include the following -

School education: the current student bus fare voucher system has provided financial relief to many parents. Some students in these settlements used to walk barefoot for almost 10 kilometres each day to access primary education. Their active participation and engagement in the class and the consequences on the academic outcome is affected by long distances of walk along gravelled roads. Many schoolchildren in these settlements h ave dropped out after primary education because of the poor financial status of the parents.
Agriculture: significant assistance is now provided by the government to those farmers with proven success in various farming areas such as rice, livestock farming, pineapples and other projects.
Financial assistance is provided for machinery and relevant farming equipment and the role of the agricultural officers in these regions are also strengthened to help and support farmers.
Investment: the current investment in mining by the foreign company in Nawailevu, in Bua and the current bio-fuel project are some of the recent examples of how investments are boosting the region with the hope of job creation and other economic benefits.
The renewal of the Wairiki pine project could witness further development in the region. Some other areas yet to be explored by the government in this region includes
  • the logging of one of the largest mahogany projects in Fiji, renewal of pine plantations to replace what has already been exported,
  • possible renewal of the cocoa project in Namuavoivoi which could see one of the first production and possible manufacturing of home-made chocolate pin Fiji;
  • possible investment of large scale poultry farm;
  • potential to renew the plantation of sandalwood which benefited the region in the 1980s;
  • investment in coconut and copra production;
  • significant potential for one of the largest citrus projects based on the success of the Batiri citrus in the past;
  • funding of large scale livestock farming; and
  • many other agricultural projects which the region is capable of sustaining.
The region could also attract prospective research students around the world to undertake research in agriculture and marine science.

Government’s plus points
The government’s social welfare payment in remote regions is also commended by many in such remote regions and there is a strong view that policies are fair and equitable irrespective of the ethnic background of people. Discussions in these communities suggest that the corrupted practices in the past are now eliminated with the fear of the community and stakeholders complaints that are made directly to the Prime Minister’s office.

The momentum that has already been gained in these regional communities, in terms of developments, can be described as ‘destiny not to miss’, with more benefits yet to be seen if the government contests and succeeds in the 2014 election. The downfall, post 2014, if the current government does not contest and succeed, could see a reversal of projects and investments in regional communities and how such communities could contribute to the economic development of the country.

While the government has made significant progress in remote regions  -
  • more work is needed to improve the access and success of youths from these communities in tertiary education;
  • more investments to boost regional developments and employment;
  • improvement in health services;
  • upgrading of the highway from Nabouwalu to Dreketi; and
  • the improvement in law and order in such communities.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Personalities and "Progress"

By Crosbie Walsh

I feel as if I'm on two treadmills trying to catch up with and publish comments on the daily news while at the same time trying to put recent and unfolding happenings into some sort of perspective. What some call "the big picture."  If only I could do a Coup4.5 and change editors when I get tired, or farm out editorship like "Peter Firkin" in Fiji Today. You can always trace these changes when they  occur by subtle changes in policy and their tolerance of contrary comments. Peter, come back. Fiji Today is fast losing its reputation as a reasonable anti-Bainimarama blog.

The elements or major constructs in the bigger picture are government, its various opponents, and more distantly, foreign governments, agencies and advocates  most of whom are tied into one or another of the local opponents. Some NGOs and trade unions are cases in point.

The issue at the centre of the current big picture stems from the conflicting disappointments with the Ghai draft constitution and, inevitably, with the subsequent passing of the Political Parties Decree.

The Ghai Draft and the Political Parties Decree
To some, some features of the Political Parties Decree are draconian. It imposes difficult or impossible requirements on existing political parties (but not, significantly, on any new parties that may emerge later).  First, there is the requirement of 5000 members and $5005 dollars, recruited in the numbers stated from each of the country's four administrative districts. This will be no problem at all for the SDL party and not much harder for the FLP, but smaller parties will have problems.  Secondly, is the requirement that the party must apply for registration within 28 days. And finally, the requirement that no "public officer" may join a political party or stand in the election without first resigning from his or her public office.  I have expressed the view that I see no problem with civil servants being limited in this way but there  should be no restrictions on trade unionists and others who in most democracies may wear two hats: one as a unionist, the other as a party member.  Graham Davis suggests a way out for the old parties: fold up and re-register under a different name later along with the new parties. But this may be no solution if Government is seeking to exclude the old politician and its more voracious critics, which I believe is its  primary purpose.

There is no doubt in my mind that the Political Parties Decree is intended to thwart the formation of the announced Workers Party, undermine the trade union movement, and the Fiji  Labour Party.  There is, after all, no employers' party on the horizon, the SDL is not threatened, and there is no requirement that chiefs cannot  join a political party, yet they should also be considered  public officers in this new, extended meaning of the term.

People not Organizations Targeted
But this judgement requires qualification.  I don't think it is the Workers' Party, the trade unions movement or FLP per se that are being targeted,  although the Bainimarama government is far more right wing than left.  Rather it is the people who lead them that Government seeks  to marginalise. From what has been said many times, I can't see Government making any accommodation with the likes of Felix Anthony, Daniel Urai, Attar Singh and Mahendra Chaudhry.

Fiji is a small society and an important consequence of "smallness" is that personal relationships are that much more important in the political arena than in bigger societies.  What may have started as differences in opinion or policy so often end up as a conflict of personalities.

Bainimarama sees these trade unionists  and Chaudhry as putting their self-interests ahead of the nation, and their efforts to win support from the international trade union movement as acts of betrayal tantamount to  treason. Government claims unionists were responsible for pushing Air Pacific close to the edge of bankruptcy. I think this unlikely but it matters not whether these claims are fair and accurate. It is what they believe.

Opposition as bad or worse
The opposition argument is similarly founded. It is not willing —or even able— to look at any of the government's measures that many would say were long overdue or  much needed or commendable.

All it can see are two men, Bainimarama and Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum, whom they loath. Hence, the venom, accusations and vitriolic personal attacks in the anti-blogs and in a more guarded fashion in the mainstream Fiji and overseas media.  This, I think, is one important reason why Government passed the Public Emergency Regulations and the Media Decree. It could not trust the opposition to do anything other than criticise negatively.

For those who may say:  Of course. It is the job of an opposition to criticize, one must consider its extent and purpose.  Government has been submitted to a barrage of criticism on every conceivable issue: mining in Bua  and Namosi, Chinese investment, its loans (that will "cripple our grandchildren"),  the sugar industry, its handling of the the two floods in 2012, the FNPF, the proposed casino, the PM and A-G's salaries, e-voter registration, and unfounded accusations against the judiciary. Even the
frequent visits of the PM and ministers to remote rural areas (rarely if even visited by previous politicians),  and its free or subsidised bus fares for school children and the elderly are labelled vote buying.

The list is endless and the purpose obvious. These are not the criticisms of a reasonable opposition hoping to influence Government policy. They do not propose informed alternatives. Their aim is to distract, delay and cause doubt. Their only purpose is to undermine government and hope that in the "fallout" that follows they will somehow be able to return to the good old days.

Both the FLP and Fiji Trade Union Congress submissions to the Constitution Commission wanted all the things Government did not want.  They did not want a new constitution. They wanted to retain the 1997 Constitution with only minor modifications, Senate and the Great Council of Chiefs. Both wanted Government out of all arrangements leading into the 2014 elections. Both opposed the granting of amnesty. And both expressed reservations about the Constituent Assembly.

Looked at in this way they did not want any dialogue on a new constitution until much later when, having gleaned some knowledge of the Ghai Commission's recommendations, they were suddenly transformed into its keenest advocates.

Opposition don't want process to succeed
Personalities are also a major reason why the old political parties were wary of the constitution dialogue process. They do not trust Bainimarama or Khaiyum. They did not want the process to succeed because they knew that ultimately amnesty would have to be granted; Bainimarama and Khaiyum would still be around, and they would also have to agree to compromises that could undermine their future prospects in parliament.

Similarly, this is why Government tried to stop the draft decree being made made public until it could be discussed in the Assembly under normal rules of debate.  The opposition's past record led Government to believe they would inflame the situation, stir up strong feelings on particular issues and  create altogether the wrong atmosphere prior to the first meeting to the Constituent Assembly.

Events lend some credence to this suspicion.  With the easing of media restrictions we might have expected somewhat more tolerant or balanced public statements by those opposed to Government but this was not to be. The criticisms, personal accusations and unrealistic demands have not  abated.

The "personal factor" can, of course, be overstated.  There are differences in philosophy and policy, and Government and the old political parties definitely have different visions for Fiji,  but even these are often used by both Government and its opponents to attack each other on a personal basis.

Sometimes one wonders whether Fiji's motto should be Argumentum ad Hominem and not Rerevaka na Kalou ka Doka na Tui  Fear God and honour the Queen. Something else that may need changing?

Antipathy not new
This antipathy is not new. It preceded the 2006 coup.  It could be seen in the personal attacks on Mahendra Chaudhry in 1999; in the refusal by Qarase to include Chaudhry in his Cabinet in 2001 even though this was required by law; in Chaudhry's refusal to form a parliamentary opposition and the subsequent farce of a one-man party, Beddoes, as leader of the opposition.. It is seen also in the peripatetic behaviour of Tupeni Baba who parted from Chaudhry to form the New Labour Party and who has now moved into the SDL, abandoning his former pleas for multiculturalism. And in Chaudhry's departure as Bainimarama's Minister of Finance in 2007.

More recently, it is seen in the refusal of the "opposition" to participate in the People's Charter; their refusal to even consider the Roadmap; their initial refusal to participate in the constitution dialogue process and ongoing demands for a return to the 1997 Constitution and that Bainimarama immediately step down.

Imagine what a heyday they would have had had the draft constitution been released for public scrutiny. Think what they have done with the leaked version.  There is no spirit of reconciliation or accommodation here.

Opposition don't really want the Constituent Assembly
Think what the political parties have said about the Constituent Assembly.  They refuse to accept a chairperson nominated by Government and have prevaricated about participation. This can only be aimed at undermining the credibility of the Assembly's decisions. They don't really want the Constituent Assembly.  They want the Ghai Commission recommendations on the transfer of power.  Which may seem reasonable except that the recommendations virtually excluded the de facto Government, and
obviously would be unacceptable to them.

Only if different people (on both sides) were involved, would there have been an outside chance the transition recommendations would have been accepted.

Opposition let lose in a china shop
Let us assume the political parties change their mind on participation in the Assembly as they did with the Constitution Commission. What sort of discussion may we anticipate within the Assembly as it attempts to achieve consensus or workable compromises that would result in acceptance of the draft constitution?

Government will obviously refuse to hand over to an interim Cabinet and it will not agree to the National People's Assembly overseeing Parliament. How will the political opposition react to this? What will the fiery, wily Chaudhry do when he cannot win the Assembly over?  I think he will choose his moment to walk out —or be sent out by the Chairperson for disorderly behaviour— and have yet another opportunity to discredit the Assembly which is, let's face it,  the only process that will return Fiji to parliamentary rule.  And how many of the old politicians will follow the Chaudhry example?

Did Government anticipate the Opposition actions?
My guess is that it is with this sort of drama in mind that Government decided to amend the draft before it got to the Assembly, and to hobble the old political parties before they could generate any traction.

The reaction of Government to the formation of a "united front" of the old political parties and some trade unions  last week lends weight to the contention that  it sees its old antagonists personalising issues and engaging in petty politics. Note in particular item 5 in the official media release below (my underlining).

Government does not wish to engage with these people.  It holds them responsible for the state of politics prior to 2006 and their opposition to what it has been endeavouring to do for the past six years.  And to this extent the central issue is  not about  democracy  but about some of the people who have claimed the word.

Neither, of course, does the opposition wish to engage with Government.  They hold it, but particularly the "illiterate  dictator" Bainimarama and the "self-serving" heinous Muslim Sayed-Khaiyum,  responsible for the curtailment of civil liberties, their loss of power and the loss of freedom that they equate with a loss of democracy. There seems no way these two groups will agree.

And yet, there is perhaps still one small possibility of reconciliation. A traditional apology (matanigasau) by Bainimarama to the President for the arguably less creditable feature of his administration, followed or preceded by public apologies and matanigasau by his main opponents.  But can you see this happening?


1.     The issues raised by the so-called United Front for a Democratic Fiji ("UFDF") have already been answered by Government.
2.     The latest release by this so-called UFDF goes precisely against the address by His Excellency the President, that is to disengage from petty politics and to focus on contributing positively in the formulation and adoption of a new Constitution for the betterment of all Fijians.
3.     In terms of Government transparency and accountability, these questions have already been addressed and as stated, further laws are also being developed to ensure even greater standards of accountability and transparency for all. Amongst these laws include the Political Parties (Registration, Conduct, Funding and Disclosures) Decree 2013 ("Decree"). Suffice to say, previous governments which have consisted of or were supported by the members of the so-called UFDF, have failed to do so.
4.     In their rush to personalise matters and engage in petty politics, the release by the so-called UFDF contains a number of factual inaccuracies and anomalies - one of which is that the salaries of all cabinet ministers are in fact paid and processed by the Ministry of Finance and not by any private entity.
5.     The Bainimarama Government does not and will not engage in political bickering, which of course these political parties are used to and which have they have been practising for years. The Bainimarama Government is focussed on development and introducing systems, processes and laws that will ensure transparency, accountability, prosperity for all Fijians and true democracy. Accordingly, Government will no longer respond to this already discredited UFDF.
6.     The release by UFDF also demonstrates how they relish and thrive in such political bickering without having a principled approach. It is quite apparent that in their desperation to not comply with the Decree, they are now clutching at straws.

The Rise and Fall of Political Parties

By Mahsood Shah 

Fijian-born Mahsood Shah, originally from Bua, is Principal Adviser Academic Strategy, Planning and Quality at RMIT University, Melbourne, Australia. Shah is also an adjunct with the Faculty of Education at the University of Canberra, Australia. The views in this article are his own and not the views of the University. Email:
The year 2014 will determine the future of Fiji’s political landscape.
It will be a critical year in the history of Fiji with future developments yet to be seen.
The current government although unelected has made significant progress with limited financial aid from neighbouring countries.

The policies introduced by the current government have had a big impact on people of all socio-economic classes.

The impact ranges from education, social welfare, tourism, investments, infrastructure development, agriculture, and new diplomatic relations. Government policies have also been felt by many because of a lack of democracy and freedom, the rise in the cost of grocery with inflation rate at 5.5 per cent in 2010 compared to 3.7 per cent in 2009, the increased divide between the rich and the poor, and limited innovative developments in key areas of public service such as health.

The Government has most recently outlined the rules of engagement surrounding the formation of political parties.

It is clear that some dominant parties who have traditionally represented the voice of many poor and middle class people may demise.

The demise is because of a number of factors including leadership of the party and the trust from the general public.

The 2014 election will witness the emergence of few new political parties whose members were part of the dominant party; however individual differences and self-interest has resulted in members forming or joining new parties.

While politicians move around and form or join a new party, it is clear that the product is the same with a different sales pitch.

None of the existing or new parties have outlined their key policies which may attract voters.
This is because of the fact that the current government has not encouraged political campaigns leading towards the 2014 election.

At the same time, many, including the young generation aged between 15-39 who represent almost 50 per cent of the population, are not interested in politics. However they are interested to find out if policies and principles of the party address issues facing our country including:
  • Gender equality;
  • Increased use of drugs and alcohol in our society and its implications;
  • Creation of jobs and employee mobility;
  • The role of trade unions to fight employee rights;
  • Agricultural developments in remote regions and outer islands;
  • Access to national broadband and other technological developments;
  • Modernising public health and other essential services such as transport;
  • Access to education and scholarship in a wide range of disciplinary areas;
  • Renewal of our relationship within the Asia Pacific region, and
  • Issues around climate change and environmental sustainability.
Another important area none of the political parties have focused on in the past is research on contemporary issues facing Pacific Island countries to position Fiji as a leader within the Pacific in research and innovation in tourism, agriculture, mineral resources, marine science, public health, and climate change.

The current and new political parties will be dominant with former members of Parliament who had the opportunity in the past to influence national policies. However, history suggests that most have focussed on self-interest rather than the needs of the broader society.

The focus of politicians has shifted from patriotism to egotism.
As the people of Fiji wait for policy announcement and membership composition of the parties it would be interesting to see if new or existing parties provide opportunities for underrepresented groups such as women and young people to participate in politics.
The 2014 election is very important for the young generation who represent almost 50 per cent of the population and their choice of the party is critical on issues that matters to the young generation.

Maybe it is time for the old horses to rest and give opportunities for interested young people to enter into politics.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Solomons Reaffirms Support for Constitution Reforms

Solomon Islands PM
The Government of the Solomon Islands has reaffirmed its position on supporting electoral reforms implemented by the Fijian Government.

At a recent meeting between Fiji’s foreign minister Ratu Inoke Kubuabola and the Honorable Prime Minister of the Solomon Islands Hon. Gordon Darcy Lilo, both parties discussed Fiji’s progress towards achieving electoral reforms.

Minister Kubuabola visited the Solomon Islands and paid a courtesy call to Prime Minister Lilo and updated on a number of issues. At the same time, the Minister was able to convey Fiji’s recognition of the enduring support of the Government of the Solomon Islands towards Fiji’s Roadmap to Parliamentary Democracy and our appreciation for Solomon Islands vigorous support towards Fiji.

In doing so, Minister Kubuabola also provided an outline of the recent developments on Fiji’s new Constitution, confirming that following the successful completion of national consultations, a Draft Constitution has been tabled to His Excellency the President of Fiji. Minister Kubuabola specified that whilst the merits of such a Draft Constitution are being acknowledged, there were certain critical elements that required further discourse and analysis, such as the size of Parliament relative to the size of Fiji’s population, and the notion of a largely unelected national people's assembly comprised principally of non government organisations sitting alongside the elected Parliament. These are the possible amendments that the Constituent Assembly would be considering, to the Draft Constitution, as opposed to what activists are deliberately interpreting to be “A New Draft Constitution”. Minister Kubuabola assured PM Lilo that the New Constitution would be ready by March this year.

The Hon Prime Minister Lilo thanked Minister Kubuabola for these clarifications on recent political developments in Fiji, commending the manner in which Fiji has meanwhile conducted herself on the international front. He conveyed his confidence that Fiji would be meticulously monitoring the undertakings of the Constituent Assembly over the next month to ensure that the crux of the New Constitution shall enshrine issues that are fundamental to Democracy, and reiterated his support and the support of the Government of the Solomon Islands for Fiji’s efforts towards Parliamentary Elections in 2014.

The Hon Prime Minister Lilo also expressed his appreciation to the Hon Prime Minister of Fiji, Voreqe Bainimarama, for his exemplary leadership and his congratulations for Fiji’s recent assumption of the Chairmanship of the Group of 77 + China in 2013.

Minister Kubuabola took the opportunity to also discuss with the Hon Prime Minister Lilo the Fiji Volunteer Scheme, recognising that the Solomon Islands was amongst the first Pacific Islands to have signed the Development Cooperation MOU with Fiji in 2010.  The Hon PM Lilo thanked the Government of Fiji for this Scheme, accepting the proposal by Minister Kubuabola for the surplus Solomon Islands graduate doctors from Cuba being considered for deployment to Fiji under the Scheme.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Graham Davis on Political Parties and the Political Parties Decree

Posted: 18 Jan 2013 12:33 AM PST

Blood on the carpet (
On February 14th 1929, the notorious American gangster, Al Capone, sent four of his henchmen into a Chicago garage with guns blazing. Seven members of an opposing gang were murdered in what became known as the St Valentine’s Day Massacre. That same day in Fiji 84 years later – which is normally dedicated to a celebration of romance – may also spell the demise of a string of local political leaders. Because as things stand, they won’t just be tormented by the usual pressure to buy flowers or cards for their spouses or partners. February 14th is the deadline for them to meet undoubtedly the strictest condition the Bainimarama Government has set for parties wanting to contest the 2014 election.

By the end of Valentine’s Day, the sixteen existing political parties in Fiji have to come up with five thousand registered members, plus their five party executives, and the princely sum of $5005 – a dollar for each person – or they’ll be struck off the current party register. Even if they can raise the numbers, there’s an extra hurdle in the requirement for their party membership to be spread across the nation – 2000 in the Central Division, 1750 in the Western Division, 1,000 in the Northern Division and 250 members from the Eastern Division. The parties have a 28 day deadline to achieve all of this starting Friday. The clock is ticking away. And as the enormity of the challenge dawns on them, their leaders are aghast and screaming “stitch-up” in the local and overseas media.

Yes it’s tough. As the critics have it, unreasonably so. Yet amidst all the gnashing of teeth, one important consideration has been ignored; that there is nothing to stop the leaders of these parties from winding up their existing structures on Valentine’s Day and starting all over again. They can simply allow themselves to be deregistered and regroup down the track without having to be bound by the 28-day rule.

Why would they be remotely interested in doing this? Because all of these parties are personality based. They revolve around a brace of national figures who are well known – some might say too well known – and whose faces are arguably far more important than their organisations. In any event, those party organisations are in a state of flux after six years of being excluded from the process and in some cases, are in crisis. So why not start again with a clean slate? Why be bound by the 28-day rule? Why not let the deadline pass, dissolve, regroup and then rebuild either singly or in coalition with others? Form new parties and meet the required membership rules in a much more leisurely and considered fashion. As they wage war on the Political Parties Decree, it’s worth examining the challenges each of the existing organisations now face.

SDL: Soqosoqo Dua Vata Ni Lewenivanua: The SDL is gutted by the provisions of this decree. For a start, its name has been declared illegal because every party henceforth must have an English language appellation. Under normal circumstances, the SDL might have had a real chance of getting the 5000 members required to register by February 14th because of all the existing parties, it alone arguably has a truly national geographical spread. Yet it faces several added burdens. The SDL founder and leader, deposed Prime Minister Laisenia Qarase, is serving a year-long jail term for corruption. So he’s automatically excluded from standing next year by the Decree’s provision banning anyone convicted in the past five years of an offence carrying a jail sentence of six months or more.
The SDL now claims to be a multiracial party but as its name suggests, it is almost exclusively i’Taukei. In its current form, can it meet the test of being non discriminatory and respond to the needs of all Fijians, as the law now requires? Probably not – at least in the public mind – given the discriminatory policies it pursued in government that contributed directly to Voreqe Bainimarama removing it in 2006. Now that we know that Laisenia Qarase is barred by law from making a comeback, who could lead the SDL into the election, or at least the party that is now required by law to be re-named and represent the interests of all Fijians?

Two names seem to be at the fore at the present time -Ratu Jone Kubuabola – the brother of the Foreign Minister – and Dr Tupeni Baba, the academic and former Labour Party politician who’s astonished the country with his political transformation over the years. Dr Baba was a member of the Bavadra Government that was removed by Sitiveni Rabuka in the coup of 1987. Back then – with his Labour colleagues – he was committed to a multiracial agenda for Fiji. But after falling out with Dr Bavadra’s ultimate successor, Mahendra Chaudhry, Baba did a complete about face. He’s embraced the nationalist cause and – to the dismay of many former colleagues and supporters – now sits at the apex of indigenous politics. The less charitable view is that Baba is an opportunist who turned to the SDL after Chaudhry froze him out. The more charitable view is that Chaudhry’s unlovely personality and uncompromising control of Labour drove Baba into the arms of the nationalists in the SDL.

The problem for the SDL is that Baba is hardly charismatic and those around him are virtual unknowns. Yet at the apex of the party as its patron is someone who is both charismatic and at the apex of the vanua – the Roko Tui Dreketi , Ro Teimumu Kepa. Ro Teimumu is head of the Burebasaga confederacy – one of the three main indigenous groupings – and was a minister in Laisenia Qarase’s cabinet. So she is high born, well connected and politically experienced. At the present time, she is arguably the most potent opposition in the vanua to the Bainimarama Government. At the head of a reborn, renamed, ostensibly multiracial party, she could be a formidable force if she can overcome her less attractive political attributes. She horrified many Fijians last year with her warning of “racial calamity” if the chiefs were ignored. And she has been strongly identified with the nationalist cause- which will deter many non-indigenous people from supporting her – as well as the unsuccessful campaign to declare Fiji a Christian state. But someone definitely to watch.

The Fiji Labour Party: Of all the existing opposition parties, Labour is most identified with one person, the wily Mahendra Chaudhry, who was Fiji’s first Indo-Fijian prime minister until he was removed in the George Speight coup of 2000. As Labour’s General Secretary, Chaudhry rules the party with an iron fist and broaches no dissent. The style is old-fashioned socialism, authoritarian and unyielding, and there are a string of political figures who’ve exited Labour for daring to question Chaudhry’s authority. They include not only the aforementioned Dr Baba  but also traditional Labour figures of the stature of Krishna Datt and most bitter of all, the recent falling out between Chaudhry and Felix Anthony, the head of the Fiji Trades Union Congress (FTUC).

Both men now loathe each other and trade insults at every turn, Anthony accusing his former close associate of being a dictator and Chaudhry accusing the feisty union leader of being a traitor to the workers’ cause. Chaudhry’s abrasive son, Rajendra, has fought some of this battle by proxy, amusing television viewer last year with his description of Felix Anthony as a “Chihuahua” and a “howling banshee”. Yet the underlying problem of this momentous falling out is that the labour movement – not to mention the entire left faction in Fijian politics – has suffered a momentous and highly damaging split. Anthony and his union colleagues at the FTUC have broken away to form what they’ve dubbed the Worker’s Party. But where do ordinary workers now go to safeguard their interests, faced with this slanging match between once close allies?  What happened to the old song “Solidarity for Ever”? The classic political maximum is that disunity is death. So the longer this schism on the left continues the less likely these titans are to get anywhere in 2014, irrespective of the hurdles they now face.

For Chaudhry – with his main powerbase among sugar cane growers in the west – the Political Parties Decree is a disaster. Not only does he have to gain substantial members all over the country in the next 28 days but his opponents are convinced that he will also have great difficulty meeting certain other provisions of the decree. The most glaring of these is the requirement that any political officer bearer or candidate must make a declaration of all income and assets – both in Fiji and abroad – on behalf of themselves, their spouses and their children.

Chaudhry has already been exposed for having large sums in personal bank accounts in Australia that allegedly came from Indian donors for the Labour cause. He’s currently facing charges in the courts of violating Fijian currency laws. Will he really be keen to declare his assets in Australia plus the land holdings he is said to have acquired in India through his family connections there? If funding for Labour has come from India or any other foreign source, that will also have to be declared and the arrangement halted. Because another provision of the decree is that no party funding can come from foreign governments or NGOs. And the limit that any individual can donate – foreign or Fijian – is pegged at $10,000.

Felix Anthony is also in a bind. His new Worker’s Party was launched in a blaze of publicity in Nadi last weekend, where he appeared on stage with Sharan Burrows, the former Australian union supremo who’s now strutting the global union stage. Was the global brotherhood planning to support Fiji’s Worker’s Party financially? Because it clearly won’t be doing so now.

Before the Decree was unveiled, Felix Anthony clearly saw himself as standing in 2014 as an MP. But the Decree stipulates that no elected or appointed official of a trade union can be a party member and hold office. Felix Anthony screamed loudly about this but then announced that while the Worker’s Party would press on, he would not be standing for parliament. He’s evidently far too financially comfortable where he is to resign as FTUC leader and risk standing for parliament next year and losing. Yet if Labour and the Worker’s Party are to have any viable future at all, the split between them has to be mended. They too should consider dissolving altogether and regrouping rather than pursuing a vendetta against each other based on personal animosity. Because leaving aside the decree, the way they are going they are toast.

The National Federation Party (NFP):  This once great party – of the likes of A.D Patel and S.M Koya – is a pathetic shadow of its former self. What on earth is the point of its existence? It was once the principal opposition party in Fiji, the Indo-Fijian counterweight to the “Fijians” and “others” in Ratu Mara’s successive governments. Yet what is its raison d’etre now?  Pramod Rae is fighting a losing battle against total irrelevance. The great quest of the old NFP was one, man, one vote. Yet now that it’s finally got it -thanks to Voreqe Bainimarama – Pramod Rae thunders on. He too has no hope of meeting the stipulation of being a national party representing the whole country. It’s high time for the NFP to dissolve and its existing members to seek political solace elsewhere. Times have changed but the NFP hasn’t.

The United People’s Party: Mick Beddoes seems a lovely bloke and given the pasting Grubsheet has given him, we were impressed when he warmly shook our hand when we recently ran into each other. Yet his mouth is infinitely bigger than his electoral base and he needs to realise it and give up. The UPP is Mick, a small rump of old “general voters” and people who also think Mick is a lovely bloke. Given that he has no hope of meeting the provisions of the Political Parties Decree, he should forge new alliances if he has any thought of staying in politics, which he must do otherwise he would shut up.

The “Perfectly Frank Party” aka the Great Unknown: And so to arguably the biggest unknown of all, just what will happen if Prime Minister Voreqe Bainimarama does what many expect him to do and morph into a civilian politician. Will he or won’t he?  The whole nation is asking the question and we haven’t got a formal answer yet. But whatever the Government’s opponents say about the Political Parties Decree, they can’t say it is selective and doesn’t apply to everyone. Apart, of course. from the obvious fact that if Voreqe Bainimarama forms a political party and stands, he’s obviously not bound by the 28 day limit to register. That’s because he’s yet to declare his hand and says he won’t do so until after the new constitution is finalised. On every other provision of the Decree, the Prime Minister would have to live by the same rules as everyone else.

As the Attorney General, Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum, made clear this week, any member of the RFMF who wants to stand as a candidate next year will have to resign their commission. This means that if Bainimarama runs, it will be as a civilian. He will leave the military and contest the election with a list of candidates who are all civilians and have to live or die politically at the hands of the Fijian people under the same rules as everyone else. None of them can hold any public office, they must declare all their assets and those of their families, take no money from companies, take no more than $10-thousand from any individual, no money from foreign governments or NGOs, no “freebies” or kickbacks, their personal finances laid bare. Yes, all those alleged millions in Chinese bank accounts included.

No-one can accuse the Prime Minister or his Attorney-General  - the architect of this decree – of double standards. What’s good for the geese in the old parties is also good for the ducks who’ve worked hard over the past six years to produce the Bainimarama Revolution – to smash the racial paradigm of the past and introduce the first genuine parliamentary democracy in Fiji of one person, one vote, one value. The old parties can’t see it yet and neither can their overly excitable fans in Fiji and abroad. But come the election next year, every candidate – including Voreqe Bainimarama if he so chooses – will be presenting themselves for the nation to make its decision on the same footing – transparently, fairly and with precisely the same opportunity to win. Now that we have a level playing field at last, Fijian voters may not know precisely right now who is going to make up the competing teams. But get set for one hell of a game.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Lockington's Everyday Fiji ... Life Goes On

Vanua Levu reef
A Bridge Too Far

When reading the article about the bridge that was supposed to have connect Vanua Levu and Viti Levu, an old joke came to mind.

A man was walking along a beach and saw a lamp half buried in the sand. He picked it up and thought to himself that it could be a magic lamp, so he rubbed it. Out came a genie who said, “You have released me from a thousand year prison you may make a wish.

The man quickly said, “Build me a bridge from Viti Levu to Vanua Levu.” The genie mmmm’d and aaaaahed and mmmm’d and aaaaahed some more. Then he said, “Hey man think of something easier, that’s one massive job.”

The man then said, “Ok, look into my wife’s mind and see what she really wants from me and life.”

The genies once again mmmm’d and aaaaahed and mmmm’d and aaaaahed some more and said, “How many lanes do you want on the bridge master.”

But the bridge article is interesting and I’m thankful that it has been cancelled. The reason – just look at our present roads, do you really think we can build and maintain that bridge.

But let's look for a lamp and see if a genie can build it for us, and he can maintain it also.

Allen Lockington is a self-employed customs agent and business consultant who has regular articles published in Fiji. I thank Allen for permission to reprint some of them in this political blog. They remind us that life goes on, whatever the political situation. And it's good to know that. 

Friday, January 18, 2013

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.

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!

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Political Party Decree Misconceived

By Crosbie Walsh

The new Political Party (Registration, Conduct, Funding and Disclosure) Decree  comes into force from this Friday, January 18, 2013. The 16 existing political parties, and any new party in the process of formation,  will need to register within 28 days. The registration fee is  $5005.

Attorney-General Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum says  the decree drew its inspiration from the existing law, the Kenyan and New South Wales (Australian) model as well as the Canadian model.

To register, parties must show they are "truly" representative. They will need  at least 5,000 members drawn from all the four divisions: 2,000 from the Central, 1,750 from the Western, 1,000 from the Northern and 250 from the Eastern Division.  The A-G says  5,000 equates to about one percent of registered eligible voters and the geographical distribution is similar to that of the overall  population. Parties are also required to have party offices in all these divisions, which he says is a common requirement overseas. I was unable to find any democratic country where is it a  "requirement".   The former required membership for registration was 180.

Assets and donations
Parties, party officials and politicians will be required to make a full declaration of assets, liabilities, income, and donations, and the party's finances will require an annual audit. The limit of $10,000 donations (and no donations from private companies, trade unions, foreign governments and NGOs)  is intended to prevent undue influence on party policies.

The trade union limitation is similar to New South Wales where it was argued TU members paid their fees to the union, not to fund a political party. A similar argument has been made in NZ  but some  unions are still 'collective' members of the Labour Party and contribute substantially to its funds.

Code of Conduct
The decree also requires parties to abide to a Code of Conduct, a requirement similar to that in the Ghai draft constitution.

No public officers 
The most controversial requirements concern initial membership.  For an unstated period, no public officers will be allowed to hold office or form part of the initial 5,000 membership numbers, or stand in the 2014 Election.

“The public officers", the A-G said,  "include members of statutory boards, from the public service including the police, prisons, Republic of Military Force, officials from trade union movements, judges/magistrates and so forth. The list ...will also include organisations such as employer’s federation who will not be eligible to become officials and/or members of the political parties but will require their resignation if they want to join a political party." He said the President, Prime Minister and Cabinet Ministers are not part of this list.

Government intentions in this decree are either to encourage the formation of genuinely national, multi-racial parties immune to corrupting donations.  Or to discourage the formation of any party that may, on winning the 2014 election, undermine its work over the past six years. Or a bit of both.  But either, or both, ways, some of the decree's requirements are excessive, even  impossible.

Coming on top of its more justifiable but still criticised action on the draft constitution, the decree will also be seen as repressive. and further undermine Government's  credibility as the initiator of the dialogue process. The recruitment of respected, able people for the Constituent Assembly will now be that much more difficult.  Government PR will need to be working overtime to remedy the situation. So far the limited explanations offered on the new decree  are not very convincing.

The 5,000 membership  and geographical requirement  is an unreasonable requirement for party registration. It might be acceptable later when the parties register election candidates but even then 5,000 will be an impossible number for all but the old three-four major parties.

Assuming all 16 of the existing parties will seek registration, collectively they will need to sign up 80,000 members, more than one in ten of the total population. In each of the four divisions the 16 parties will be competing with each to obtain the necessary number.  In the Eastern Division, which is overwhelmingly iTaukei, to be successful each party must recruit at least 250  members. What chance has any of the smaller parties or the old FLP, that will still be considered Indo-Fijian by most iTaukei?   Even at their most popular, I doubt that any past or present party has ever had 5,000 paid up members.  This requirement alone makes a mockery of the remainder of the decree.  I would have thought evidence of multi-racial membership more important than numbers.

I have yet to sight the decree but the requirement also seems to rule out the possibility of important groupings standing for election. These would seem to be independents, smaller parties, new parties, and parties with a strong local presence in fewer than all four divisions. The net result could be a Parliament comprised of only two large parties which, from past experience,  lends itself to confrontational politics and prevents the emergence of coalition governments.

I also have difficult accepting that trade union officials, employer representatives and similar others are public officers in the normal use of the term, and the exclusion of public officers from party membership.  The limitation on public servants is understandable because there could be a conflict of interest, but the exclusion of other "public officers" will prevent almost anyone with a public persona from belonging to a political party.  The requirement should be that they resign from public office if they accept nomination as a party candidate in an election.  Or even if they are members of a political party's  national executive. Not if they are merely party members.

The exclusion of the President, Prime Minister and Cabinet Ministers from the list of public officials begs explanation.  They are the most public of public officers, and their exclusion can only be taken to mean that one or more of them will form a political party or stand as candidates in the 2014 Election.  This is something the PM has previously denied and acceptance of the draft constitution would have made impossible.

The anti-Government blogs have make much of the requirement for parties to register the name of their party in English. I see no problem with this. English is an official language and the lingua franca. Parties will also be able to have names in the vernacular languages.

But, overall, though for a different reason, I'm with the anti-blogs. They will do anything to discredit government and undermine the dialogue process.  I wish to see the dialogue process succeed.

This decree is counter-productive. It plays into the hands of Government's opponents and will result in a loss of support.. The decree should be immediately  amended to make the requirements more  reasonable and acceptable.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Australia adopts softer stance on Fiji's constitution process

Carr sees draft inconsistencies  • ITUC free to enter Fiji but sees only TU people  • Brij Lal assumes worst • Ratu Epeli: draft mixed bag

Australia's Foreign Minister, Bob Carr, says he can understand why Fiji's interim government would reject aspects of the draft constitution.

Australia appears to be sympathetic to the Fijian interim Government's rejection of the draft constitution.
While New Zealand and Samoa have been highly critical of the recent development, Australia's Foreign Minister, Bob Carr, is taking a softer stance.

"The notion, for example, of a largely unelected national people's assembly comprised principally of non-government organisations sitting alongside the parliament is something I can't think of enjoying precedence anywhere else in the constitution of a democratic country," he said.

"The re-creation of an unelected Great Council of Chiefs would seem to give rise to the suggestion that ethnic divisions in the country were going to be exaggerated by new constitutional arrangements.
"I can find it understandable that the interim government has objected to both these features of the draft constitution presented to it."

The draft, which took into account seven thousand submissions, was drawn up by a committee headed by Professor Yash Ghai ahead of planned democratic elections.

Commodore Frank Bainimarama has announced he's scrapping the draft and his legal officers will write a new constitution to be presented to a constituent assembly appointed by him.

Fiji's interim government says its determined to meet its election deadline of September 2014.

The country's Information Ministry says preparations are underway in earnest to assemble materials needed throughout Fiji to conduct the scheduled polls. The interim government is inviting companies within Fiji and abroad to register their interest in supplying such items as ballot boxes, polling kits, ink, voting booths and voting screens. They are being asked to submit expressions of interest tot he Acting Permanent Secretary Responsible for Election, Ms Mere Vuniwaqa by February 28th.

The Fijian Attorney General and Minister responsible for Election, Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum said interested companies would be required to meet several accepted international standards.
"We invite all interested companies to register as soon as possible and contribute to this landmark event in Fiji's history - the introduction of the first genuine parliamentary democracy based on the principle on the principle of one person, one vote, one value," he said.
Fiji has been facing mounting pressure to hold democratic elections since it scrapped its constitution in 2009.

Union campaign
Meanwhile, union groups are calling for international condemnation of Fiji's Interim prime minister for effectively tearing up the draft constitution.

The general secretary of the International Trade Union Confederation, Sharon Burrow, has told Radio Australia she's just returned from Fiji where many people are frustrated over what's happened.

"The anger was palpable about a dictator who has basically taken over a country with no legitimacy and it demonstrates that Bainimarama is not willing to hand over power," she said. "He himself says he will now write the constitution. "It's time that the international community raised it voice again and said 'enough, we have had enough and we have been duped',"
Some political watchers in Fiji believe the government has deceived the international community.
Professor Brij Lal told Pacific Beat Australia and New Zealand have been taken for a ride by the regime and should reconsider their involvement in the county's constitutional process.

"This is a wake-up call for Australia and New Zealand" he said. "Their proposed re-engagement with Fiji, they supported the whole review and draft constitution process to the tune of hundreds of thousands of dollars, they welcomed the draft constitution and now this has happened."

Professor Lal says the new draft document will carry the stamp of the military government, and will then be passed by a committee chosen by the Prime Minister.

"The constituent assembly will be hand-picked by the Prime Minister, Frank Bainimarama. There is no independence, there is no transparency and basically the military will have its way." he said. "The [original] draft constitution was widely welcomed by the people of Fiji, by all the major political parties and now the military and the regime simply wants to have a document that is its handiwork and enshrines its interests and concerns and aspirations." 

Misplaced criticism
Fiji's government is standing by its decision, citing shortcomings Professor Yash Ghai's draft and saying much of the criticism is unwarranted.

On Thursday, President Ratu Epeli Nailatikau criticised the Ghai draft for being "very bureaucratic" and said the institutions it would create would require a "very bureaucratic structure."

"It [the draft] has unfortunately, perhaps, succumbed to the whims of the few who have had an interest in perpetuating divisions within our society," Mr Nailatikau said.

However, Mr Nailatikau highlighted several positives of the Ghai draft, including provisions on social and economic rights, good governance and accountability and independence of the judiciary.
The government now says it will move forward with another draft.

Permanent Secretary of the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet, Pio Tidoduadua, told Radio Australia they have until February to put together the constituent assembly and the country will have a new constitution by the end of April.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Whistling in the Wind: "Brave But Futile Attempts"

For months now this blog has urged those opposed to the Bainimarama government to be realistic. This is not because I approve of everything government has done —far from it— or because I am in the pay of the military junta or the PR company Qorvis as some have claimed I am, but because it should be evident to anyone with any knowledge of Fiji, the RFMF or, indeed, human behaviour, that this government does not respond well to threats. Whatever the obstacles, it will not abandon its stated goals.

Responses to Government's intended redrafting of the "Ghai" draft constitution are also human. No one likes to be pushed around and abandon their stated goals. All but two published reactions reflect this mentality. 

 The exceptions come from former commissioner Peni Moore who expressed disappointment that the draft was not put to the Constituent Assembly for them to change if they thought fit, and from the Citizen's Constitution Forum that limited itself to asking Government to review its position. (Australian Jenny Hayward-Jones also adopts a moderate position. See immediately preceding post). 

The opposition reaction

Others are less circumspect. The FLP website calls upon the media to "do its duty without fear," saying the government action is "a ruse to prolong the rule of those in power." Ratu Tevita Mara says the same. Fiji Live reports former Labour Government Deputy PM and now SDL member Tupeni Baba as saying the Government decision is unacceptable and a "slap in the face of all right thinking people...and an affront to our intelligence. The FTUC is appealing to the international community to put pressure on the Bainimarama government. NFP's Pramod Rae says he has "lost faith in the process." NZ has expressed disappointment. Col. Tikoitoga says Fiji will ignore NZ. And so it goes on.

Persuading Government they are not the enemy

If civil society or an overseas government wish to make any impression —and have any positive influence on events— they must first persuade government they are not its enemy. This, of course, is easier said than done for Government has shown itself to be incredibly inept in distinguishing between critical support and critical opposition.

The same might be said of some Government opponents. They persist in repeating the same accusations, deepening the rift between them and government, as if to make absolutely sure that even their sound advice goes unheeded. 

More often, they offer no advice and make no realistic demands. Their words are not addressed to government but to their supporters to maintain their support and fan the flames of mistrust. 

They fight their battle, not up front around a table, but through scathing printed and verbal releases to the Fiji media, the overseas media, and the numerous anti-Bainimarama blogs. Self-interest is only too apparent. There are exceptions, of course, people and organizations who are genuine democrats who have been forced into the camp of the devious though government's failure to distinguish between friends and enemies.

The whole sorry saga of how government and its opponents have handled what has become known as the  Ghai  draft constitution demonstrates the one thing they have in common: their shared inability to use unfolding situations to their own advantage.

Government needs to persuade, too

If Government wishes to maintain and increase its support among Fiji's thinking population, it must do more to take them into its confidence and involve them more in decision-making. Appointments to the Constituent Assembly is an obvious starting point, but it could start earlier than this. It could even initiate  closed doors face-to-face meetings with its opponents and the undecided, starting with the more reasonable.  

Opponents need to re-think their tactics

If Government opponents wish to influence outcomes, they need to re-think their tactics. Forming a coalition of political parties will have no impact until the 2014 elections. Many people are disillusioned with the old political parties, and it is questionable how long such a coalition would last. 

Their best path is though the Constituent Assembly. They are unlikely to be able to bring about a major constitutional shifts but they could get a number of draft provisions modified. The second-to-last thing they should be doing is to further discredit the Assembly, and the last is hoping or working for its collapse.

For the moment, they should be considering what the Solicitor-General's office is likely to change in the YG draft. The A-G's press releases give some hints. He talks of a constitution that is "simple" and uncomplicated; that will not result in endless debate in the Assembly; that does not contradict reforms made by the Government for "the way forward ... next year's elections and ...a true democracy."

When the A-G talks about simplicity, uncomplicated and endless debate he may, as opponents will claim, be talking about parts of the draft that were unacceptable to government for "political" reasons. This is highly likely but we should not assume this to be the only reason" parts may also not be acceptable for "legal" reasons.

Parts of the draft lack "internal coherence," one part contradicts or minimises another. Independent institutions, for example, like the police and Director of Public Prosecutions office, should be kept independent, and not made dependent on the Public Service Commission. Another lack of internal coherence in the draft is the influence of a large and unelected National People's Assembly over the elected Parliament. And yet another, the failure to deal appropriately with the President's emergency powers. The latter has been the subject of expensive litigation after each coup. There is now an opportunity to get it right in a way that gives the President the necessary powers but in a way that upholds democracy.

Part of the trouble here is that "internal coherence" involves complex legal issues that are not really suitable for debate by lay people. They should have been resolved by the Commission. How this will be resolved, with a lay chairperson, is difficult to see.

It was hoped that most issues could be resolved by consensus in the Constituent Assembly. This was always going to be difficult (Think Great Council of Chiefs, the appointment of the President and members of the several recommended commissions, and the question of immunity) but it will now be much more difficult with the reopening of wounds.

Constituent Assembly holds the key
It is expected that work on the revised draft will be complete by the end of the month ready for discussion by the yet-to-be appointed Assembly next month.

 Meanwhile, it is hoped that those opposing Government do not project themselves so far out on the limb that they risk losing contact with events, and throw away opportunities to influence outcomes. 

Their present position seems to be to dismiss the Constituent Assembly. It seems likely they will try to dissuade people from joining the Assembly and heap personal inventive on those who do. My guess is that they will find unacceptable whoever is appointed as Chairperson. This is what we can expect from their track record.

I suggest they hold back at least some of their fire until they have seen the new amended draft. They should then compare it with the Ghai draft, try to understand Government's reasons for the changes, and then, outside and inside the Constituent Assembly they should work on what can be changed. 

Over the next few months they should not be beating drums to win votes in 2014. That can come later. For now they need to work on what can be achieved for Fiji.

Note: I hope to publish an analysis of the Ghai draft over the next few days.