The Fiji First government falls short of internationally accepted standards of transparency, accountability and good governance, Pacific Dialogue Chairman Jone Dakuvula told the Fiji Labour Party convention on Saturday.
“It has sophisticated public relations through its foreign Media agency QORVIS, but the public is never provided with real information about its decision making and how these are made and why some commitments are not implemented.
The public impression is that the person who makes all the decisions of this government is the “Minister for Everything” Mr Aiyaz Khaiyum. He is the elephant in the room. The rogue elephant,” Mr Dakuvula said.
Speaking on the theme Accountability and Transparency in Governance, he said in a democratic society regular elections and the existence and effective functioning of non-government organisations were important to hold government leaders accountable.
Such institutions were strong civil society groups, the independent news media, effective political parties, auditors and independent universities that conduct research, publish and comment on activities and decisions of the government and the concerns of the people.
On the Media, he asked:
How could there be proper democratic accountability of government by the media when it was “intimidated into silence, self-censorship and suppression of news about government corruption and abuse of power”.
“…You have Media Decrees under which the Fiji Times Editor and Publisher are prosecuted for seditious publications, fined $300,000 and have two years suspended jail sentences hanging over them and, another prosecution for seditious publications in Nai Lalakai.
“And then we have the Fiji Sun. It had opposed the coup of 2006. So, “principled” was the Fiji Sun between 2006 and 2009 that it used to refuse publication of statements from the Government it then considered illegal.
What is the Fiji Sun today? A craven government newspaper that publishes everything the Government wants to publish, will not allow any criticism of the government on its pages, does not publish Opposition statements but only publishes the Attorney General’s attacks on statements of the Opposition that were never published in the Fiji Sun.
The Fiji Sun letters to the Editor column gives special privilege to Government supporters to criticise the Opposition parties on issues that were never published in that paper.
And where are the Fiji Sun journalists that we so opposed to the 2006 coup? They are still there. The paper is now controlled by a “Training Officer” who is a New Zealand citizen. We need to ask who pays his salary? Why did he come back here to support the Coup regime and remain it’s main apologist and defender?”
You may remember Prime Minister Bainimarama’s first press interview after deposing the elected Government in 2006? He said no one is going to benefit from his coup. It was about cleaning up corruption. In other words, he was selling it as a “Good Governance Coup” and remain its main apologist and defender?
What is accountability and transparency when FB and ASK, according to certain blog sites, are paid more than the Australian and New Zealand Prime Ministers. If this information is incorrect, why not publish the correct information so everyone knows how much our leaders are receiving from taxpayers and external funds?
For that matter, why do we not know how much the Cabinet Members were receiving in salaries between 2010 and 2013 when they were being paid by Dr Nur Bano’s Accountancy firm?
No investigation took place because under the Decreed 2013 Constitution, the Government never did anything wrong in its first 8 eight years and, with the non-introduction of a Code of Conduct law, the government remains unaccountable for another 4 years. Are Aiyaz Sayed Khaiyum and Frank Bainimarama getting payoffs for the bogus Green Fund Investment?
The Rule of Law:
Do we have a fair legal framework that is enforced impartially?
Our Constitutional framework is the decreed 2013 Constitution which was imposed on the people of Fiji after the 1997 Constitution had been illegally abrogated in 2009. This happened against the independent ruling of the Court of Appeal that the sacking of the elected SDL government (then in Coalition with the Fiji Labour Party) and led by Laisenia Qarase, was illegal.
Fiji does not have a fair legal framework based on principles of accountability, transparency and good governance “when the Constitution has declared no one can challenge in a Court of law the validity of the 2013 Constitution, or any Decrees made between December 5, 2006 (the day after the coup) and the first sitting of Parliament 2014.
The Government decreed that there will be no accountability for any illegality, wrong decisions, misuse of public funds, other corruption, criminal acts, including the unlawful overthrow of an elected government.
You cannot complain to the Human Rights Commission for any breach of human rights in those eight years. The coup perpetrators have given themselves immunity from prosecution. The Auditor General’s Report for that period have not been released to the public.
The Decrees of that period still apply even though they may be in conflict with the Bill of Rights under the Decreed Constitution (Section 172(3)(4)(5).
The 2013 Constitution
The people had no say in the formation of the 2013 constitution and it was not passed by Parliament. Yet the Preamble begins with WE THE PEOPLE OF FIJI…. declare our commitment to justice, human rights and so on.
- The Constitution cannot be changed unless three quarters of the Members of Parliament approve and then three quarter of the votes of people in a Referendum (Section 160).
- The 2013 Constitution is not a fair legal framework because its provisions for change are almost impossible to achieve.
- It is not impartial when under Section 23(4) of its Bill of Rights, two elected former Prime Ministers, Hon Mahendra Chaudhry and Hon Laisenia Qarase have no political right at all to stand in any Elections. That is the prohibition laid down by those who came to power through the 2006 Military Coup.
So, what’s the meaning of this commitment to human rights and justice in the Preamble?
- Parliament under the Decreed 2013 Constitution is a dictatorship and not a democratic body. There is no accountability or consensus there. In the Parliamentary Committees, the Opposition Member’s views, and indeed the public views, of those that appear before those Committees of the Bills, are not respected by the government. We have no influence at all on the Bills the Opposition discuss with the Government members. The Minister responsible for the draft Bills will not accept any changes recommended from the Parliamentary Committees, especially if the Opposition Members have made them.
There is no transparency or respect for the rule of law in this Parliament. Last year the Government, under the guidance of the Attorney General, expelled from Parliament three Members of the Opposition when it had no power under the Parliamentary Powers and Privileges Act to do this. It was also in breach of Parliamentary Standing Orders.
This was followed up by a Bill to amend the Parliamentary Powers and Privileges Act so Parliament can sit like a High Court and fine Members and citizen up to $100,000 dollars, or imprison them up to five years for the crime of “demeaning the dignity of Parliament”.
What does dignity mean in a Parliament that is a mere front for the dictatorship of two men?
Chapters 8 on Accountability, Section 149 of the Constitution requires a law to establish a Code of Conduct applicable to the President, Speaker, Deputy Speaker, Prime Minister, Members of Parliament, Permanent Secretaries, Members of Commissions, Ambassadors, Executives of Statutory Bodies and Public Offices appointed under written law.
There is no Code of Conduct Act in place even though it is required under the Constitution. And in the social media we read a lot of allegations of illegal and bad conduct. Now we learn that the Ministry of Information wants to introduce laws and technology to eliminate criticism of Government through the social media such as Facebook.
A Code of Conduct Bill was introduced in 2016 and referred to the Parliamentary Committee. The Code of Conduct Bill has so much wrong with it. It is not intended for serious investigations of corruption, abuse of office, neglect of duty and improper conduct. Complaints against high office holders will not be taken seriously because these can be summarily dismissed as “pure speculation, frivolous, vexatious or politically motivated”. Some public officers and Executive positions in government owned corporations are not included in the Bill.
Complainants are required to be secretive and they are not to discuss their grievance with anybody, otherwise their complaint will be summarily dismissed. In other words, you cannot ask anybody for advice before you submit a complaint. The Bill is more about preventing any serious investigation.
Under Section 149(a) of the Constitution, the Government is also required to establish an Accountability and Transparency Commission to be responsible for enforcing compliance of Office holders with the Code of Conduct. No such body has been established by the Government after eleven years in office.
During the early years of its rule, we often heard the Attorney General Aiyaz Khaiyum rabbiting on about the lack of good governance, responsiveness, accountability and transparency, especially of elected governments before the 2006 coup. He often said he is going to introduce good governance qualities and “true democracy”. Well, he has been in office for over a decade. We no longer hear these sanctimonious preaching from him.
Bill on Freedom of Information – more about prevention and restriction of information
Part B of the Accountability Chapter of the Decreed Constitution says:
Section 150 – A written law shall make provision for the exercise by members of the public of the right to access official information and documents held by the Government and its agencies”.
An Official Information Bill was introduced to Parliament last year and referred to the Parliamentary Committee. My NGO, Pacific Dialogue, made submissions to the Committee on this Bill. We found it to be the most ridiculous Bill we have ever read.
Its provisions were more about prevention and restriction of official information from being released. To the Chairman of the Committee, Hon Sunil Sudakhar, we contrasted its restrictive provisions with those of Freedom of Information laws in other countries like New Zealand for example.
And even submitted to the Committee a draft Freedom of Information Bill made by the Yash Ghai Constitution Commission. We recommended that the Government replace its Bill with that one because it was the most recent model. One and half years have gone and we have not seen their Official Information Bill back in Parliament. Remember that Yash Ghai Constitution Commission and what happened to it? Its Report was burned.
FEA Privatisation Bill
In February this year the Attorney General got a Bill for the privatisation of the Fiji Electricity Authority taken to Parliament as an “emergency” legislation, without Members having any opportunity to read it. It was not referred to a Parliamentary Committee for public scrutiny. Mr Khaiyum could not explain why this Bill was emergency under Standing Orders or any public interest justification for it.
This month, before the Prime Minister went to Bonn for the COP23 Conference we read of a $100million flotation by the Reserve Bank of “Green Bond” at 6.3% interest for 13years to establish a fund for climate change damages and renewable energy.
This offer to unknown overseas subscribers was made even though Reserve Banks all round the world were getting bond investment at no interest or negative interest rates.
I say this is a bogus fund for the indirect privatisation of the Fiji Electricity Authority by unknown foreign investors. You see, if foreign interests want legislative changes to serve their predatory interest, this Government will break all the rules to provide for their need. But if the laws need to change in the public interest of the people of Fiji, the Bills might just make an appearance in Parliament and then be put on the back burner and forgotten.
Danger of control by foreign creditors
This government is increasingly falling under the control of foreign creditors whose only interest is payment of interest on loans. They are not genuine investors because their interest in Fiji is speculative and short term.
If there are problems in the payment of loans, then public assets such as the FEA, the Fiji Ports, Fiji Airports, Air Pacific, Fiji National Provident Fund, the Water Authority, the Reserve Bank, Fiji Development Bank, Housing Finance Corporation, Housing Authority and the others will be sold.
You may not know that some of these public enterprises are already partially privatised. It happened during the 8 years before the 2014 Elections. Privatisation as the means for paying debts has happened in many countries all over the world. In bankrupt Greece for example, 90% of the recent 130 billion-euro dollars of the emergency loans from the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund never arrive in the Greek economy because they go to pay overseas creditors and bond holders. State taxes are taken including reduction in pensions and massive layoffs of employers in the public sector. Greece has to sell off public assets including roads, gas fields, mines and even tourist resorts islands to pay these creditors.
This is the future Fiji faces under this Government.
2018 General Elections – danger of rigging?
Finally, I have to mention the Multinational Observer Group Report and the Electoral Commission Report 2014. They have made many good recommendations to improve the electoral system. Some involve changes to processes and other mean changes to the relevant Decrees.
In any genuinely democratic country that believes in free and fair elections, the Government would deal with these recommendations in a transparent and bipartisan manner so that all stakeholder political parties and members of the public can be involved in building consensus for changes to the system before the 2018 Elections.
Instead, the government has replaced the first Electoral Commission with its own political appointments and amended the Electoral Decree so that the reappointed Supervisor of Elections is now directing the Electoral Commission as its Secretary. This has compromised the independence of these offices.
This is the Supervisor of Elections that the Court of Appeal had ruled last year that he had unlawfully disobeyed the direction of the Electoral Commission to disqualify candidate Mr. Praveen Bala who is now Minister for Local Government and to allow Steven Singh a Labour Party candidate to stand. Mr Saneem should have resigned because of the Court ruling but he is still there.
The Commission and the Supervisor have rejected most of the recommendations of these Reports, instead of advising the Government on how the Electoral Decrees need to change.
Opposition Parties do not believe there will be free and fair elections in 2018. The Elections will be rigged just as it was in 2014. For those who want to know how it was rigged talk to me after this and I will explain.