Criticism mounts on Unity Bill

  • 25th May 2005
  • 2005
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The Police Commissioner has joined the chorus of voices critical of the Unity Bill and its adverse impact on coup-related investigations.

Commissioner Andrew Hughes said yesterday that the Bill if passed could compromise police investigations into the coup because the amnesty sections of the Bill would override any court action taken against the perpetrators, the Fiji Times reported.

On ongoing coup investigations, Hughes said Police were looking into claims of others who were involved made in a statement given by senior army officer Col. Viliame Seruvakula.

The officer had named Rabuka and Savua as being closely involved in the overthrow of the Mahendra Chaudhry government in May 2000.

Meanwhile, the Fiji Law Society which has made its criticism of the Reconciliation and Unity Bill quite clear, now calls on the government to withdraw the Bill becaue it was a threat to the rule of law.

Society President Graham Leung has written to the Prime Minister to say that the Bill was not the answer to Fiji’s problems: “Reconciliation and forgiveness are matters of the heart. They cannot be forced on the people.”

Leung claimed the Bill discriminated against the poor in that it favoured the rich and powerful: “For the rule of law to work, you cannot treat people differently. You cannot have one law for the rich and one law for the poor,” he said.

In reply to the Prime Minister’s claim that the silence of the majority was an indication that the Bill was approved, Leung said the government could not take the people’s silence as its consensus.

“It’s the way we are – our people show their respect to their leaders by keeping quiet. It is considered rude to speak your mind,” he said.

Two prominent Suva lawyers have also expressed criticism of the Bill, in interviews with The Fiji Times today.

Constitution expert, Jon Apted in his reaction has confirmed Labour Party’s stand that the Bill breached  the Constitution in several respects.

Apted said while government could flout public opinion and still enact the legislation, once passed it could be declared unconstitutional by the courts. This would be worse for the government.

If government was really committed to unity and reconciliation, it had no option but to review the controversial provisions of the Bill and then to consult widely on it.

Colleague Richard Naidu said it was hard not to be cynical about the Bill considering its timing.

He said the potential for the Amnesty Committee to interfere with the court system was troubling. “We can’t have two justice systems competing with one another.

Under the provisions of the Bill, the President stood in danger of being accused of “dishing out amnesty to every politically-motivated law breaker of the land – a controversial and divisive role for the President to play,” Naidu said.

There have been several calls from Church leaders and other prominent people for government to take a referendum on the proposed Bill. But Qarase says Fiji has no provision for a referendum to be held.

The Fiji Times itself has been very critical of the Bill in several editorials. Today’s editorial warned that the Unity Bill would affect every avenue of justice.

It has called on the Home Affairs Minister and the Director of Public Prosecutions to join the Police and the Military in expressing their concerns on the Bill.

“A government cannot ram a piece of legislation down the throats of its people. It cannot allow blanket coverage for crimes committed against a nation in entirety, specially when the jailing, investigating and prosecuting of these criminals is on going.

“To do so would go against everything this country has worked so hard for over the last five years,” it said.