Tuesday, February 26, 2013

News and Comments Tuesday 26 February 2103



POLL ON REGISTRATIONS. The online media site Fiji Live's poll "Should the government extend the time for the political parties to register?" resulted in Yes 40% No 60%.   It is pleasing that FL is again publishing polls on a political topic.  

CONSTITUENT ASSEMBLY SOME: Qs and As.  Permanent Secretary to the PM's Office, Colonel Pio Tikoduadua says the announcement of members of the Constituent Assembly is probably being held up until the political party registration issue is resolved. He expects the number of members to be about 40. The Assembly will review the draft constitution which is being re-drafted by Lawyers at the Solicitor General’s Office, and also study the Ghai draft complied by the Constitution Commission led by Professor Yash Ghai.
 
UNIONS WANT IN. Trades Union Council (FTUC) is hoping to be part of the Constituent Assembly. Speaking  to FijiLive FTUC general secretary Felix Anthony said they have noted that civil societies will be invited to be part of the assembly and they hope to be also one of those that will be invited. Anthony also told FijiLive their preparations to start a new political party are progressing well and they are hoping to lodge their application soon.  The Decree on the Constituent Assembly requires it to be diverse, and where possible, be composed of members who represent registered political parties, faith based-organisations, trade unions, employers, the business community, Government, farmers and members of rural communities, the RFMF, national organisations, women, youth, people with disability, pensioners, other Fijian-registered civil society groups, and individuals, amongst others.The Assembly members, to be announced next month,  will review and approve the draft constitution.

MORE AUSTRALIA AID FOR HEALTH AND EDUCATION. AusAID is expanding its development assistance in areas such as health and education in Fiji, and about $100 million has been allocated this financial year. AusAID is working with  Government to find out the areas of need in the communities. AusAID  will also work to increase the economic opportunities for people in disadvantaged communities, helping farmers find buyers for their produce, and helping women who have products to sell gain access to markets.

POLITICAL PARTIES DECREE VIOLATES INTERNATIONAL CONVENTIONS. A study by international lawyers  has found the decree to be extreme compared to electoral provisions applied in democracies and in parts unprecedented in global practice. The International Senior Lawyers Project says banning civil society leaders, such as trade unionists, from party membership manifestly breaches Fiji's obligations under the ILO Convention. The New York-based group says in-depth research has failed to identify a single country that has such rules. It says the decree's provision allowing anybody access to a party's records is in breach of the right to privacy under the UN Human Rights regime. It describes Fiji as an outlier by international comparison in for example how it criminalises political finance offences. The report says the way parties are being made to wind up violates the international right to property. It concludes that should democratic rule be restored in Fiji, affected parties might claim compensation, restitution and damages. --- Radio New Zealand International

MUSLIM PHOBIA:  COUP4.5 EVEN WORSE THAN MICHAEL FIELD. This comment by Deepak Chaudan on Facebook's Fiji Economic Forum:

Even Michael Field, for all his distaste of the Bainimarama government, has not stooped to such accusations. Field, a frequent visitor to India, says all Fiji's Muslims are liberal Muslims with no links to Sunni extremists. Yet the Coup4.5 editors, who seem quite untutored on Islam, have persisted, for the past two years, to claim Muslim influence in Fiji politics. They have claimed the 2006 Coup was Muslim-led; they have portrayed Bainimarama as a Khaiyum puppet, and repeatedly called attention to supposed Fiji Muslim links to Al Qaeda. This story, for which they have produced no evidence, is what they are trying to sell to U.S. Intelligence, and drill into to a gullible itaukei public.

Readers who choose the check out their latest story will find mention of supposedly mysterious comings and goings of people and money, a trip to Cuba, Fiji's membership of the Non-Aligned Movement, a UAE embassy in Suva, Fijian soldiers who speak Arabic, and more, much more, in a rambling overkill that will leave U.S.A. Immigration no less confused that the blog's more intelligent readers. But the main message is clear: Fiji's Muslims could be aiding terrorism.

Putting aside their other claims (I will not ask them to name names or amounts of money), I must ask them one question that can easily be proven or not proven: Where did they get their story about Aslam Khan? I know for a fact that he has not even been to the U.S. recently, and the last time he was there he denies he was frisked or detained. Someone made this up.

Coup4.5 continues to use deceitful tactics by creating, spinning and embellishing tidbits of information, pandering to the prejudices of the less educated and the more bigoted, warning i'taukei not to trust their Muslim and Indo-Fijian fellow citizens.

This supposedly Christian blog has thrown the 9th Commandment — Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour — out of the window.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Lockington's Everyday Fiji ... Life Goes On

 Politics

Old politicians have emerged to contest the next general elections. I wonder if they have groomed their younger members because we will still need politicians in government and as opposition.

They need to pass on their experience and not take it to the grave. Never mind what we say about how they may have performed or conducted themselves in the past, let's look at the positives. And of course some of them have been utter clowns bordering on being completes idiots. Most of these people have long gone, we can do without them, it’s the hardened politician who comes back again and again. We look to their better parts and learn not to be like their bad parts.

There has been talk of the younger generation to take up politics, not many will be willing because of our political situation. Anyway I wonder if a person who has never been in politics but has been politically vocal in the media will take up the challenge to join our political elites.   It's time for them to now walk the talk.


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, February 22, 2013

News and Comments Friday 23 February 2013


WEEKEND READING.  I've posted two major articles in the past few days on the old political parties, the military and the draft constitution.   If you have not already read and commented on them,  please read them. They took far longer to write than it will take you to read them.
Coming Up. I intend to publish a full article on the dilemma of the media in the next few days, and the final article on the Political Parties and the Military once the new draft constitution is available. 

PARTY REGISTRATIONS. Government's amendment to the Political Parties Decree within days of promulgation, and its further clarifications about the SDL acronym and its warning to the press not to refer to un-registered political parties as political parties,  leaves some people thinking the goalposts are constantly moving, which does not help confidence.
Comment. Knee-jerk reactions to events rarely reflect sound tactics. Government needs to re-examine the political scene to see who it can work with in the old and yet to be registered political parties.  The NFP perhaps, the Fiji Workers Party, or the less extreme and less abrasive people in the old SDL and FLP?   It cannot go it alone.

FIJI TRUTH MOVEMENT ON TWITTER.  This tweet from Twittter,  "@crosbiew is wrong its Fijians being robbed of their identity. Who cares about power if its  corrupt. Fijians want their voices & their Chiefs."
Comment. Now, what should true democrats make of that?

McCULLY SAYS ITS WORRYING under a heading in the international news that reads "Opposition parties banned from campaigning in Fiji". The article by Brian Soper goes on to say only one of Fiji's 17 political parties re-registered.  True, but what he does not say is that most of these parties won under one percent of the vote in the last election, and that of the two big parties, Qarase's SDL wants the Great Council of Chiefs to have powers that would control Parliament and Fiji to be declared a Christian State, and both parties, the SDL and Chaudhry's FLP,  want to retain race-based electorates.Not the sort of thing I would expect the NZ Minister to support.

NZ Foreign Minister Murray McCully says the crackdown is worrying. "I think most people would regard that (the ability of opposition parties to canvass) as a key element of a free and fair election. Obviously the political party decree passed recently has caused a good deal of concern, not just for Fiji but also amongst those who are watching developments there. Certainly, we've moved past the point of debating whether there is likely to be an election in 2014, that's good news. Whether it's going to be free and fair is still very much in the balance, and that's something we're watching carefully."

Comment. I suggest Soper and McCully read the submissions of these parties to the Constitution Commission,  or my summary of their positions, and re-think what is really at stake in Fiji.  The Bainimarama Government will not retract their non-negotiable principles, nor should they. To do so would be to unwrite history and Fiji would be back to the old  racially divided country it was. Going forward, as McCully says, may be bumpy and Fiji will not immediately become the full liberal democracy he wants, but it will be forward and, if the military keeps to its promise to stay out of politics if the new Constitution to be decided by the Constituent Assembly  is upheld,  it will be more democratic than it was.

BAINIMARAMA OVERPAID. The Public Accounts Committee  reports the Army Commander, Commodore Voreqe Bainimarama has completely paid off the overpayment of his leave compensation. After analyzing the Auditor General’s Special Investigation Report of 2009, the committee said seven other senior officers have either paid off the leave compensation  overpayment or have made arrangements through fortnightly salary deductions. Four officers who had underpaid leave have been
compensated accordingly. The Public Accounts Committee said the problem originated in 1988 when a the major change in entitlement occurred.  Those previously enjoying 10 days leave got 24 and 29 working days.

FURTHER PROTECTION FOR NATIVE LAND. Government has further strengthened the protection of iTaukei land by closing a loophole that allowed some of it to be converted into freehold land, to the benefit of some at the expense of  the iTaukei landowners.  Under the new Decree any iTaukei land which is exchanged for portions of State land can no longer be exchanged for private freehold land.  The Attorney-General Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum said that despite having provisions in previous Constitutions that entrenched iTaukei land laws, this practice was still allowed to happen. “This demonstrates that having entrenched provisions did not safeguard iTaukei land ownership,” the Attorney-General said. “The law must always be practical and effective in ensuring the protection rights – including property rights.” The Government’s policy is absolute. No native land can be permanently alienated from its owners.

ROADS ON TRACK The Fiji Roads Authority has commended road maintenance works that have taken place around the country since January despite the teething problems faced. Various contractors working in each division have undertaken repair works on hundreds of kilometers of road in urban areas and on main rural highways. In addition some 1,500 tons of asphalt has been used to fill in excess of 20,000 potholes, enough to fill a large swimming pool. Close to 1,500km of road have been graded, while drainage works are progressing and in some cases roads that have been closed for years have finally been reopened.  FRA chief says, “It will take time, but we are working hard to make sure the priorities are right in everything we are doing”.

GETTING OUR HOUSE IN ORDER.  An article in Grubsheet by Graham Davis that was commended by Fiji Today, the only  reasonable anti-Bainimarama blog.

HELP THE FIJIAN LANGUAGE. Dr Apolonia Tamata from iTaukei Trust Fund says, while Government is trying its best to promote the language, its people are losing track because of lack of resources. There is not enough learning materials in Fiji for the iTaukei people to promote their mother language She said iTaukei institutions should come together and try put something for their future generation .The iTaukei Ministry has urged more indigenous people to write books in their mother language.
Comment. This is the sort of initiative one might have expected from the GCC over the years, not just for Bauan, the "official" iTaukei language, but for the other dialects that are even more threatened.  They wrote  about the preservation of the language in their Constitution Commission Assembly but it's hard to see what they have actually done about it.

FLP SUBMISSION. I can't find the FLP submission to the Constitution Commission on their website www.flp.org.fj. The FLP manifesto is prominently shown but the submission is hidden or absent. I wonder why.

THE CASE OF RATU TEVITA MARA is still before the courts because he fails to turn up.. The Suva Magistrates court again adjourned the case, this time until the 29th of May. Uluilakeba Mara is charged on a count of uttering seditious comments.

CCF WANTS ELECTION TRANSPARENCY. The Citizens' Constitution Forum , a non-government organization that educates and advocates for good governance, human rights and multiculturalism in Fiji that is not aligned with any political party, wants government to appoint an Independent Supervisor of Elections outside the control of the Attorney General's Office that it claims  "has a tight leash on the Elections Office and current and prospective political parties through their continuous interventionist decrees."  CEO Rev Akuila Yabaki warns people will lose faith in the constitution process if this is not done.
Comment.  Forget the old political parties that failed to register.  Concentrate on the new ones.  A fair democracy will never be achieved under the SDL or FLP.

STUDENT LOANS. A loan package totalling $2million is now available to students from low-income families who are accepted into universities but are not able to pay their fees. The PM says that no Fijian  student accepted into university should be denied an opportunity to attend because they cannot afford it.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

The Fiji Times and the Independence of the Judiciary

The conviction of the Fiji Times, reported below, could not have come at a worse time for Government.  Coupled with the non-registration of the old political parties, it will be used by anti-government people as further "proof" of government oppression and interference in the judiciary.

I was not in the court and do not know the arguments presented but I have little doubt that the convicting judge formed an independent judgement.  And before the anti-bloggers claim otherwise, they should recall Coup4.5's posting last year that said Justice Calanchini was about to be dismissed because he would not do Government's bidding. He is still there.   And they should also remember that  earlier, in October 2010, Justice Calanchini rejected an appeal by the Military against conviction for the brutal beating of villager Navualeba immediately following the Speight 2000 Coup. The judge fined the Military $48,000 and $3,000 in costs.

Now read on
High Court judge Justice William Calanchini has rejected an appeal by the Fiji Times against a conviction of contempt of court, and fined the newspaper $300,000, it former publisher Brian O'Flaherty $10,000 and its editor-in-chief Fred Wesley to six months imprisonment suspended for two years. The A-G's office had asked for a$500,000 fine. The judge also ordered The Fiji Times and Wesley to arrange for an apology  directed to the judiciary of Fiji to be first drafted and submitted to the court for approval prior  to being published in The Fiji Times within the next 28 days.

The convictions were entered for the republication in the sports pages of The Fiji Times on 7 November 2011 of an article originally published in the Sunday Star-Times, a weekly New Zealand newspaper. The article contained a statement from Tai Nicholas, the general secretary of the Oceania Football Confederation, about the judiciary in Fiji. Justice Calanchini had earlier found that this article scandalised the Fiji courts.

Justice Calanchini said an "aggravating factor" of the contempt was the publication by The Fiji Times of another story in June last year which conveyed "the impression that the judiciary was not independent from the government".

Editor-in Chief Fred Wesley and  former publisher Brian O'Flaherty were not at work on the day the article was publication.  Both pleaded not guilty. A fortnight ago, Justice Calanchini convicted Nicholas, who had pleaded guilty, and fined him $15,000 for making the original statement about the Fiji judiciary. -- Much of the above is based on Fiji Times article.

My view
As previously stated in this blog, everyone is entitled to criticize a court decision —I, for example, consider the $300,000 sentence unnecessarily excessive.  This is a locally owned paper lacking the resources of Fairfax and  the overseas-owned  media. But no one is entitled to question the independence of the judiciary, and although I do not believe Fred Wesley approved the publication (my view, having met the man, is that he would have spike the article)  he was ultimately responsible.

I hope to have a fuller article on the issue, and the difficulties facing the media, in a few days time. Watch this space.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

The Political Parties, the Military and the Draft Constitution

By Crosbie Walsh

Part II. The Submissions Compared

A few weeks ago two of the parties whose Constitution Commission submissions were summarised in part I, the SDL and FLP, together with the UPP (the NFP was not invited) were talking about forming a united front in the lead up to the 2014 Elections, and a little later, when the Yash Ghai draft constitution was leaked, they all rushed to support it .

This display of accord and agreement raises two obvious questions. First, how could they form a united front when their submissions, as we shall see, were so very different, and secondly, how could they support the Ghai draft when, for example, it ruled out the SDL's call for Fiji to be declared a Christian state and a more deeply entrenched political empowerment of the Great Council of Chiefs, and the SDL and FLP recommendation that race-based electorates be retained.

In this article we shall compare the submissions of the political parties with each other, and their general positions with that of the RFMF which is likely to be close to that of the Bainimarama government.

Major elements
The emphases of the political parties, indicated in the the forewords and conclusions of the three submissions are critical. All three criticise the Bainimarama government and see neither sincerity nor merit in any of its actions, All three want the 1997 Constitution retained, but —and it is a big but— with some very important changes.

The SDL wants the Constitution to "strengthening the indigenous position" by declaring Fiji a Christian state, and by retaining the separate ethnic Fijian administration, a GCC (with vastly extended powers), affirmative action based on race, the recognition of customary laws, the Fijian language to be the lingua franca taught compulsorily  in schools, Fijian as a requirement for entry into the public service, and for only iTaukei to be called Fijians. It claims that only then will ethnic Fijians no longer feel threatened, insecure and disadvantaged.

I have no doubt these feelings exist. It could not be otherwise because they have long been actively promoted by most ethnic Fijian leaders, and used by their political parties to maintain power. But, in truth, it is difficult to see how a majority people who own over 90% of the land, with major communal business investments, who fill well over half the seats in parliament, occupy most senior senior civil service positions, and who dominate the police and the army, can be seen as either threatened or disadvantaged. There are threats, of course, but these come the forces of change (globalisation, urbanisation, better education, etc.) not from their fellow citizens of other cultures. And many ethnic Fijians are also disadvantaged but so, too, are many people of other races.

None of the other political parties want any of these things. They all want a secular state. They recognize the "first nation" status of ethnic Fijians, and they are happy (if that is the right word) about a separate provincial administration and the GCC, but only if it is apolitical. They recognize the need for affirmative action but only if it is based on need, not race. They make no claim to ethnic Fijian land but they want more and more secure leases, and they want appointments and promotion in the civil service to be based on merit, not race, and for the civil service, the police and the army to be more ethnically balanced. The NFP wants all three major languages, and not just Fijian, taught in schools, and to be compulsory from Class 1 -8 (from about 6 to 12 years old.) The FLP made no mention of language or culture.
  • The RFMF submission, and the policies of the Bainimarama government. most especially in the People's Charter and non-negotiable principles recommendations, run counter to most of the general issues recommendations made by the SDL: Fiji should remain a secular state; the indigenous position is already well protected and does not require strengthening; there should be no race-based electorates; the GCC should remain abolished; all citizens should be treated equally; affirmative action should be based on need; conversational Fijian and Hindi will be taught in schools, and as part of efforts to build united nation all citizens will be called Fijians.
Land
Land has always been the key issue in inter-racial politics in Fiji. The FLP wants ALTA (the landowner and tenants act) retained with an increase in the length of leases. The NFP goes a step further. It wants Schedule A and B land belonging to extinct mataqali to be returned to the state for leasing (the SDL wants this lease money used to help fund the GCC), and government to obtain a "master lease" over all land available for leasing and so act as a buffer between landlords and tenants. The SDL is more concerned with ownership than use. Hence its opposition to the Bainimarama Government's land bank and the Surfing decree that overrode owners' qoliqoli rights by allowing surfers and others access to the foreshore and sea. It wants ALTA abolished and all native land to be administered by the Native Land Trust Board.
  • The RFMF submission makes no mention of land but the government's position is to increase production while protecting the positions of landowners and tenants. Its opposition to Qarase's qoliqoli and land bills were two of the reasons it gave for mounting the 2006 Coup. Their position therefore is closer to those of other political parties.
Dual citizenship
Dual citizenship would favour Indo-Fijians more than ethnic Fijians because of their greater number overseas, and the greater likelihood of them investing in Fiji. The FLP was not opposed to dual citizenship but it wants this issue left to the incoming government. The SDL opposes dual citizenship.
  • The RFMF makes no reference to dual citizenship but this provision has been introduced by the Bainimarama government.

Parliament (House of Representatives)
All three parties accept the principles of one man one vote and proportional representation and all wanted 71 parliamentary seats,  but agreement stopped there. The SDL and FLP want to retain ethnic voting. The SDL wanted 25 single-member ethnic seats (ethnic Fijians 14, Indo-Fijians 9, Others 2), 25 seats based on open electorates, and 25 seats chosen from closed party lists. The SDL wanted the position of Attorney-General abolished and the Solicitor-General to assume this role. The FLP wanted 26 "reserve" seats (ethnic Fijians 12, Indo-Fijians 10, Rotumans 1, General Voters 3) and 15 3-member open seats based on one man one vote, and the retention of the Alternative Vote and preferential voting. The NFP made no mention of ethnicity and wanted large multi-member electorates and closed party lists, with.the ranking of list candidates reflecting Fiji's ethnic and gender composition. The basic similarity of the SDL and FLP submissions is that both wanted assured ethnic representation and hence the opportunity to appeal to voters on ethnic lines. For the FLP this would mean it would be better able to contest against other predominantly Indo-Fijian parties in the Western and Northern divisions.
  • The RFMF wants a smaller, better paid and more qualified parliament of only 46 MPs, elected on the basis of one man one vote from only four electorates based on the country's four administrative divisions. It proposes a closed party list system to elect 10% of MPs. It would require all MPs to disclose their personal assets and conform to a Code of Conduct.

Cabinet
The NFP wish to see the retention of the "power sharing" which would see parties with 10% or more of parliamentary seats having a place in Cabinet. It says the system did not work well previously because of Qarase and Chaudhry. The SDL and FLP want a Cabinet where the "winner takes all" and no power sharing.
  • The RFMF makes no mention of power sharing but it proposes a smaller Cabinet with a maximum of 12 members to share 24 portfolios and the appointment of the Attorney General, the Minister of Finance and the Speaker from outside parliament. This is similar to current practice.
The President and Vice-President
The SDL proposed that the President be elected by both Houses of Parliament from nominations by the GCC, and the Indo-Fijian and Other communities. This would probably mean the appointment of an ethnic Fijian whose outlook reflected that of the GCC. Given the authority of the President in the appointment of many officers of state and his or her role in the transitional arrangements, this would in effect give the GCC powers above Parliament. The FLP and the NFP preferred appointment by an Electoral College appointed by both Houses of Parliament. The SDL wanted the GCC, and not only Parliament,  to be able to dismiss the President. All were agreed the President would have no special reserve powers.
  • The RFMF proposes the President be appointed by secret vote in the House of Representatives from PM and Leader of the Opposition nominees. The President would appoint all senior officials, and call internal and external national emergencies, on the recommendation of the PM. The position of Vice-President would be abolished.
Senate
The SDL wanted no change: 32 members with 14 nominated by the GCC, 9 by the PM and 8 by the Leader of the Opposition. The GCC would continue to dominate Senate. The FLP wanted 35 members, 30 nominated by the PM and Leader of the Opposition, and 5 by Rotumans and other minority groups. The NFP wanted 25 members appointed by the PM and Leader of the Opposition. The significant difference is again in the SDL submission that places the GCC highly in the political process.
  • The RFMF sees Senate as costly and unnecessary and wishes it abolished. 
Military
All three parties wanted the military to be downsized and to have no political role or authority to act in internal or external emergencies except on the instruction of Parliament. All wanted military personnel in Government to resign once the new constitution was approved.
  • The RFMF sees itself as the ultimate guardian of the Bainimama Government's "vision" and states it will continue to monitor the political situation, but from outside Parliament.
Immunity
The SDL and FLP totally opposed the granting of immunity and the NFP only after the military.admitted to "wrong doing, apologized, showed remorse and acknowledged the need for reparations." Should the Constituent Assembly agree to immunity, the NPF wanted the incoming government to set up strict provisions against future "treasonous acts."
  • The RFMF insist on immunity except where there have been violations of domestic or criminal law. It points to three court judgements (the deaths of Sakiusa Rabaka and Nimilote Verebasaga and the kidnapping of Dr Anirudh Singh) where military personnel were found guilty and imprisoned or, in the case of Singh, required to pay damages.

Non Government Organizations. The political parties did not mention NGOs but they supported the Yash Ghai draft constitution where NGOs play an important role in transition arrangements and in the monitoring of Parliament after 2014
  • The RFMF sees no special role for NGOs, several of which have been anti-Bainimarama government and perhaps influenced by funding from foreign governments. It wishes all NGOs to submit annual audited accounts to Government.
Transition Arrangements
All three political parties wanted the President to appoint a Caretaker Government in April this year or as soon as the new constitution was promulgated, and the President to appoint new members of the main commissions dealing with the law, the public service and the election process.
  • The RFMF made no direct mention of transition arrangement, presumably accepting that all arrangements will be made by the Bainimarama Government, with military appointees in Government resigning and Cabinet resigning closer to the Elections when Commissions not already in place would be appointed.

Summary
It is difficult to see any sustainable unity between the political parties or their "shadow" parties that may emerge if they are not registered or if the SDL acronym is not acceptable. The SDL is unashamedly a party representing the old ethnic Fijian elite intent on using the old appeals to a supposedly "threatened, insecure and disadvantaged" ethnic Fijian race; the FLP is fighting to retain a presence in Parliament with the aid of its Indo-Fijian "reserve seats", and the more moderate NFP has major reservations with the policies of these two parties.

The rushed and unexpected acceptance, without comment or amendment, by the political parties of the Yash Ghai draft constitution can be seen, at best, as the more likely way to get some of their submissions accepted by the Constituent Assembly or, more likely, as a political ploy to focus opposition against the Bainimarama Government.

It is difficult also to see either the RFMF or the Bainimarama retracting from their non-negotiable principles or the non-racist principles of the People's Charter.

The final article in this series will be deferred until Government releases its draft Constitution to the Constituent Assembly. The article will compare the Government and Yash Ghai drafts.

Monday, February 18, 2013

The Political Parties, the Military and the Draft Constitution

By Crosbie Walsh




This three part article looks at the submissions made to the Constitution Commission by the significant* "old" political parties (the SDL, FLP and NFP) and the Military, and at what has become known as Yash Ghai's draft constitution. Part I will consider the submissions separately; Part II will compare the submissions, and Part III will compare how each party stood in relation to the draft constitution, and how the Yash Ghai's draft might compare with the likely Government draft that will be presented to the President and the Constituent Assembly. Links to the submissions are to be found at the end of the first article. * The General Voters' United People's Party headed by Mick Beddoes is considered no longer "significant."



Part I. The Submissions



The SDL (Soqosoqo Duavata ni Lewenivanua) Submission





The SDL wants a harmonious and united Fiji with the rights of all ethnic communities respected. It claims this can only be achieved if ethnic Fijians no longer feel insecure and powerless, and claims these feelings have been exacerbated by the Bainimarama government that has created land banks, abolished the Great Council of Chiefs, hijacked the name "Fijian", installed its own representatives on the Native Land Trust Board, passed the Surfing Decree that attacks qoliqoli rights, and now proposes a secular state. The result, it states, has been a weakening of the voice of ethnic Fijians and indigenous rights—and a feeling of increased insecurity and powerlessness.



The party sees the 2006 Coup as a means of meeting the personal ambitions of Bainimarama, and nothing more. It sees no need for a new constitution and wants the 1997 Constitution used as the base for the new Constitution.



Specific recommendations included the following:



1. The Republic of the Fiji Islands to be declared a "sovereign democratic Christian state." It argues that a secure Christianity will protect the freedom of other religions.

2. Fiji to be called the Fiji Islands; its citizens Fiji Islanders, and only ethnic Fijians to be called Fijians.

3. Fijian to be the national language (lingua franca); to be compulsory in all schools; and to be a requirement for entry into the public service. It argues that with only 600,000 Fijians worldwide, their heritage is at stake, and this provision would also help national unity

4. The continuation of the "compact" that gives ethnic Fijians rights to a separate administration and affirmative action. And amendments to all "group rights "defined in the 1997 Constitution to require 75% of parliamentary votes, and the votes of 75% of Fijian (appointed by the GCC) and Rotuman Senators. The party thought this would ensure "effective protection."

5. No provision for dual citizenship.

6. The words "sexual orientation" to be removed from the Bill of Rights because the "Biblical template for marriage is a divine ordinance of God between man and woman like Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden."

7. Several social justice provisions to address inequalities.

8. An Act to enshrine the Boselevu Vakaturaga (Great Council of Chiefs) in the Constitution.

9. Lease money from the land of extinct mataqali (the Schedule A and B land once administered by the State that Qarase returned to native land) be used to fund the GCC

10. ALTA (the 1976 Agricultural and Landlord Tenants Act) to be abolished and all Native land to be administered under the Native Land Trust Act.

11. Traditional, customary laws to be recognized and applied, subject to agreement, where necessary, of the higher authorities of Parliament and the Courts.

12. Parliament (House of Representatives) to comprise 71 seats, made up of 25 seats allocated by ethnicity (Fijians 14, Indo-Fijians 9, Others 2) and 46 seats on the basis of one man:one vote, with 25 of these seats from closed part lists, similar to MMP (Mixed Member Proportional representation in NZ).

13. Work towards 30% women's representation in Parliament, and make provisions for youth parliamentary participation.

14. Senate to be unchanged from the 1997 Constitution, i.e, 32 members, 14 appointed by the President on the recommendation of the GCC, 9 by the PM and 8 by the Leader of the Opposition.

15. President to be appointed by both Houses from nominees proposed by the the GCC, and the Indo-Fijian and Other communities.

16. President, Reserve Powers. None. Council of Advisers for President. President can be removed by GCC.

17. No Multi-Party Cabinet. Winner takes all.

18. The Military. No role in government or emergencies unless invited by Parliament. Section 112 (1) of the 1997 Constitution amended.

19. Amnesty. Limited. All existing military leaders to be dishonourably discharged and stripped of their medals. Not allowed in political life or to take up any political office for life, Similar provisions for "abettors of the Regime."

20. Transitional Arrangements. Appointment of a caretaker government from April 2013.

21. Conclusions. Need to strengthen the indigenous position regarding institutions, especially the GCC, language, and the Christian tradition.



The FLP (Fiji Labour Party) Submission



The FLP saw no need for a new constitution but thought some provisions should be changed. It was highly critical of the Bainimarama government's performance and wanted a caretaker government to be installed prior to the 2014 Elections.



Specific recommendations included the following:



1. The question of dual citizenship be left to the Government elected in the 2014 Elections.

2. The Bill of Rights in the 1997 Constitution be retained.

3. A special Constitution Commission be established, the Fiji Human Rights Commission (with 5 members including at least 2 women) be retained, and a Code of Conduct for government personnel be introduced.

4. On social justice, the issues noted were: the minimum wage, decent, affordable housing, retirement at 60 years, or 55 years if wished, and pensions for persons over 65 years with no other income. .

5. Parliament (House of Representatives) . To retain 71 members but with (a) 26 "reserve" seats (12 for ethnic Fijians, 10 for Indo-Fijians, 1 for Rotumans and 3 for General voters) and (b) 45 "open" seats contested in 15 3- member, relatively heterogeneous electorates of approximately equal size. [Previously there were 46 communal and 45 open seats. The FLP proposal halves ethnic Fijian and Indo-Fijian reserve /communal seats and leaves Rotuman(1) and Other/General voters (3) the same.] The alternative vote to be retained. This allows preferential votes to be transferred, and the successful candidate had to to win at least 50% of the voters cast.  If fewer than 15 women are elected, more women may be appointed but without the right to vote.The residential qualification for voting to be two years; youths aged 18 years to be eligible to vote, and the parliamentary term be reduced from 5 to 4 years.

6. Senate, with referral powers, to have 35 members, of which 30 are nominated by the PM and Leader of the Opposition, and the other 5 (one of whom a Rotuman) nominated by the other minority groups.

7. The President and Vice-President to be appointed by an Electoral College from pairs of nominees proposed by both Houses of Parliament. The President would have no reserve powers.

8. Multi-Ethnic Cabinet. The PM to appoint an 18-member multi-ethnic cabinet from both Houses of Parliament. [The 1997 Constitution required a multi-party cabinet.]

9. The Attorney -General must have qualifications equal to a High Court judge.

10. The Police Force. To establish a Police Integrity Commission and make efforts to achieve a reasonable ethnic balance.

11. The Military. To be under ministerial control with the Commander appointed by the President on the advice of the PM; numbers and expenses to be cut, and a reasonable ethnic balance achieved within 3-5 years.

12. The Great Council of Chiefs to be retained as an advisory body to government, and kept apolitical.

13. The Bainimarama Government Decrees to be repealed where they infringe human rights.

14. The Judiciary. Charges of inference by the Bainimarama government to be investigated.

15. The Media. A Media Tribunal be established to consider complaints.

16. Agricultural leases. ALTA to be retained. The minimum lease period to be 50 years. rents to be fixed at 10% of UCV with Government contributing a further 4%. UCV to be reassessed after 7 years, not 5 as is the present case.

17. Immunity. No.



The NFP (National Federation Party) Submission



Fiji's oldest political party the NFP has lost support in recent elections, to the advantage of the FLP, because it was seen to have comprised Indo-Fijian rights by co-operating with the Rabuka Government that passed the 1997 Constitution. It was once also more multi-ethnic and on several occasions had one or more ethnic Fijian MPs in Parliament. The party claims to have always worked for national unity and attributes supposed shortcomings in the 1997 Constitution to the unwillingness of the SDL and FLP to work together. It blames the coup culture for the increase of racist legislation since the 1987, the increased Fijianisation of the public service, and the emigration of some 130,000 Indo-Fijians, many of them highly qualified. In the 2006 Election it won 15% of the Indo-Fijian vote.



The NFP wants to retain the 1997 Constitution and has concerns about the current constitution process that it thinks has "predetermined outcomes." It argues that all but three (one man one vote, no ethnic voting, votes for 18 year olds) of the Bainimarama government's "non-negotiables" are in the 1997 Constitution, and welcomes the three omissions. It has argued for one man one vote since its formation in the 1960s, and is the only party to have done so.



Main issues:



1. Land. Schedule A and B land should be returned to the State for leasing. This land belonging to extinct mataqali had been returned to native ownership by the Qarase government.

2. Racial discrimination  should be made a criminal offence.

3. The civil service should be overhauled.

4. The Military should be downsized and work towards ethnic parity



Specific other recommendations included the following:



1. Secular State. Retain the 1997 Constitution provision.

2. Language and Culture. Fijian, Hindi and English to be compulsory for all Class 1-8 students.

3. Parliament (House of representatives). The voting system should be proportional representation with closed party lists with 71 MPs elected from large multi-member constituencies. Party lists to reflect national ethnic and gender situation. The "power sharing" provision in the 1997 Constitution to be retained, and all parties with ten or more seats should be included in Cabinet.

4. Senate to be retained as a "House of Review" with 25 members appointed by the leaders of the political parties in Parliament proportionate to their number of seats.

5. President and Vice-President to be appointed by an Electoral College from both Houses, and to serve no more than two parliamentary terms.

6. Land. Government should act as a "buffer" between owners and tenants by obtaining a "Master lease" over all available agricultural land, re-leased to tenants for 99 years and reassessed after 50 years. Rentals to be "fair" to both parties at 6% of Unimproved Capital Value with an additional premium added  by Government to make up 10%.
7. Civil service. Entry and promotions to be by academic merit and a better ethnic balance achieved. Military officers currently in the civil service should resign from the service.

8. Affirmative Action only on the basis of need, not race.

9.The Military. "We re-iterate our recommendations that we made to the Reeves Commission in August1995: (i) There should be an independent Armed Forces Service Commission for recruitment and promotions within the Armed Forces, (ii) It shall be the responsibility of the Armed Service Commission to ensure the recruitment of non-indigenous Fijians with a view towards balanced racial representation." The military should be downsized, be subject to civilian control, and law and order be left to the police.

10. Judiciary. Retain the Judicial and Legal Services Commission and the provisions of 1997 Constitution to ensure independence.

11. Bill of Rights. Retain those in the 1997 Constitution.

12. Constituent Assembly. Members to be appointed by the political parties, with no representation of the military.

13.Transition Arrangements. Appoint a caretaker government immediately after the new constitution is promulgated. The caretaker government to immediately appoint new members of the Judicial Services Commission, the Constitutional Officers Commission, the Public Service Commission and the Electoral Commission.

14. Immunity. Should only be considered following "acknowledgement of wrong doing; apology and genuine remorse; and restitution and reparation." If the Constituent Assembly grants immunity, the next parliament should address the issue and set up strict provisions for future treasonous acts.



The RFMF (Republic of Fiji Military Forces) Submission



The RFMF submission opened by welcoming the constitution process which it thought captured the people's opinions, "It is not our intention to undermine any individual, group or institution to the contrary. We are here to ensure that through this process we are able to formulate a constitution that is representative of all the people of Fiji."




It stated it intended to have no role in parliament but would continue to "monitor the ongoing situation" to ensure that what has been adopted since 2006 and in the People's Charter will be fully implemented. Referring to the PM's "vision", it stated that "no other institutions are capable of bringing about this change."





The RFMF protested it had been abandoned by the chiefs, church and political parties in the 2000 Coup and the two mutinies that followed, and that it was its "responsibility ... to ensure at all times the security, defence and well being of Fiji and its people."



The simple choice was either to support the RFMF or its opponents and the continuation of corruption, racial division and hatred, the undermining of the underprivileged and social injustice.



Specific other recommendations included the following:



1. The RFMF must be retained as the "last bastion for law and order (that) exists to deal with both Internal Security situations and external threats."

2. The President. A largely "ceremonial" President to be elected by secret vote in Parliament from two nominations each by the the PM and Leader of the Opposition, for one term of 5 years. The President would be the Commander-in-Chief of the RFMF, call and dissolve Parliament, and on the advice of the PM have executive powers to appoint most senior officials, including the Commander of the RFMF, the PM and Cabinet, Chief Justice and other judges and magistrates, the Ombudsman, and the Commissioners and chairpersons of all government commissions. He or she would also have the power to grants pardons and clemency, and declare States of Emergency, also on the advice of the PM.

3. Vice-President. There would be no Vice-President. In the absence of the President the Chief Justice would assume this role.

4. Parliament. A 46-seat parliament with MPS elected by proportional representation from four electorates based on the country's four administrative divisions, elected for a five-year term. Cabinet to comprise no more than 12 to share the 24 ministries, with powers to co-opt the positions of Attorney-General, Minister of Finance and the Speaker from outside Parliament, similar to previous practice. All MPs to disclose their personal assets and comply with a Code of Conduct. They must have no criminal convictions for ten years, and no convictions pending. The salaries of MPs to be increased to attract high calibre candidates.

5. Senate and the Great Council of Chiefs, now deemed unnecessary due to other provisions, to be abolished.

6. Total agreement with all eleven Non-negotiable principles:

(i) common and equal citizen; (ii) a secular state; (iii) the removal of systematic corruption; (iv) an independent judiciary; (v) elimination of discrimination; (vi) good and transparent governance; (vii) social justice; (viii) one person, one vote, one value; (ix) the elimination of ethnic voting; (x) proportional representation; and (xi) voting age of 18 years.

7. Agreement with the Bill of Rights but subject to limitations in the interests of national or public security, morality, health, and personal dignity and freedom of the rights of others, acts likely to cause ill will between races and communities, undermine the independence or authority of the courts. All such limitations to be based on the principles of natural justice.



The Rights to include: a. Right to life, b. Right to personal liberty, c. Freedom from unreasonable searches and seizure, d. Rights of charged persons, e. Rights to access to courts or tribunals f. Freedom of Expression, g. Freedom of Assembly, h. Freedom of Association, i. Freedom of Movement, j. Rights to privacy, k. Protection against compulsory acquisition of property, l. Enforcement, m. Freedom of labour relations, n. Right of Religion and Belief, o. Right of Equality, p. Right to Education.

8. NGOs. Due to concerns about foreign funding and acts against Government, all NGO's to submit annual audited accounts to Government

9. Immunity to be granted to those involved in the 2006 Coup and all events until the formation of a new government, except where there have been violations of domestic or criminal law.

In the second part of this article, we shall explore commonalities, major differences in the submissions of the three parties, and major differences between these submissions and the submission of the RFMF.




Links to the Submissions, the Yash Ghai Draft Constitution and Explanatory Report

SDL http://www.scribd.com/doc/125965678/SDL-Submission-With-Annexes-Final

FLP http://fijiconstitution.weebly.com/uploads/1/2/4/6/12466522/flp_submission_to_the_fiji_constitution_commission.pdf

NFP http://fijiconstitution.weebly.com/uploads/1/2/4/6/12466522/finaldraft_submission.pdf

RFMF http://www.scribd.com/doc/125965596/Military-Submission-to-CC-Hl2Constitutution Commission (Yash Ghai) Draft Constitution

http://www.scribd.com/doc/125966353/Draft-Constitution-of-Fiji-One-1112-1

Constitutution Commission Explanatory Report

http://www.scribd.com/doc/125966359/Explanatory-Report-DC-Good-Copy