The Fiji Labour Party has told the MCG that the regime’s constitutional process cannot be recognized as inclusive, participatory and credible so long as restrictions on human rights remain in place under the various decrees.
In a written submission handed to the MCG yesterday, FLP Leader Mahendra Chaundhry emphasized that statements made by the Attorney General that there is a free environment for public discussions and debate on the constitution making process, are not true.
The Police insist that permits be obtained for any gathering of people to discuss any issue. And the military and Police are known to harass, interrogate and intimidate political party supporters and activists.
The FLP submission raised several other issues connected with the process and has called for it to be replaced by a roadmap that is truly participatory and inclusive.
The full text of the FLP submission follows:
To: Honourable Members of the Ministerial Contact Group
Pacific Islands Forum
The Fiji Labour Party (FLP) welcomes the visit to Fiji of the Ministerial Contact Group (MCG) of the Pacific Islands Forum. Regrettably, the visit is very short – it does not give enough time to the MCG to meet with a wider cross-section of the Fijian community.
We believe the visit is made in connection with the constitution process announced by Commodore Voreqe Bainimarama on 9 March 2012. The process involves the promulgation of a new constitution – the fourth such constitution since independence in 1970.
The Fiji Labour Party considered the process and the timetable as announced by Commodore Bainimarama, in its National Council meeting held on 24 March 2012. The Party issued a statement after the meeting outlining its concerns and calling for the regime’s roadmap to be replaced by one that is truly participatory and inclusive. The National Council statement is attached for MCG’s perusal.
Members of the MCG may be aware that Commodore Bainimarama has openly expressed his hostility towards the FLP and other political parties. We do not, therefore, expect that he will entertain our views and suggestions on how the constitutional process can be made truly inclusive and participatory. We hasten to add that the process as announced by the Prime Minister on 9th March, is solely driven by the regime without any input being invited from political parties or civil society organisations.
A free environment
It is our view that the process, to be accepted as credible and legitimate, must guarantee an unrestricted environment for full and free discussion and debate by all citizens’ organisations, such as, political parties, NGOs, trade unions, religious organisations etc on all matters relevant to constitution making.
In this regard, we draw your attention to a statement issued by the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group (CMAG) following its last meeting in London on 16 April 2012. In the statement the Group expressed concern that:
“restrictions on human rights remain in place under the Public Order Amendment Decree and other decrees. CMAG urged the Government of Fiji to restore full respect for human rights, including freedoms of expression and assembly, and access to justice, noting that these values were not only fundamental to the Commonwealth and essential in their own right, but also indispensable in order to create the environment necessary for credible constitutional consultations and elections.”
The FLP supports the statement and urges the MCG to take up this issue with the authorities in Fiji.
The Ground Reality
The situation on the ground is very different from the assurances that may be given by the administration that discussions and consultations on the constitution process can be undertaken freely. The authorities here insist that permits be obtained for such activities. Both the military and the police are known to harass, interrogate and intimidate political party supporters and activists.
The Police insist on being provided details of the meeting agenda, the number of people attending, number of vehicles to be used etc. Moreover, there are unexplained delays in the processing of applications for permits making it next to impossible to schedule any programmed activity.
The involvement of political parties and civil society organisations in the civic education programme is absolutely essential, if the process is to be considered credible. But this is being obstructed by the requirement to have permits which would seriously hinder their participation.
The “non-negotiable” Principles and Values
In his address of 9th March announcing the constitutional process, the Prime Minister referred to what he called universally recognized values and principles which are non-negotiable, insisting that these must be incorporated in the constitution.
But the fact remains that most, if not all, of these principles and values, except for those concerning the electoral provisions, were enshrined in the 1997 Constitution. As for the electoral provisions, these must be negotiated and an acceptable system which takes due cognizance of the rights and interests of the minority communities, adopted.
Speaking of values and principles the Prime Minister terms as non-negotiable, we must say that his own administration falls far short of following most of them. His obsession with the principles set down in the Peoples’ Charter is but for public display – very little of it, particularly those on good governance, is practiced by him or his ministers.
The Constituent Assembly
This assembly is of utmost importance in the entire process as it will finally decide the constitution. According to the Prime Minister’s timetable, the Constituent Assembly will be announced in December 2012. This is not acceptable – its membership will not be known until the very last minute.
According to the Prime Minister’s statement, the rules for the Assembly are to be finalized with the assistance of the international experts prior to the formation of the Assembly. We are apprehensive about the composition of the Assembly – we fear it may not be truly representative of the people given the record of the regime in such matters.
We feel strongly that the composition of the Constituent Assembly must be discussed and finalized in consultation with the leaders of the political parties represented in the 2006 Parliament.
We note with some concern a recent government announcement that chairpersons of all Provincial Councils will from this year be appointed by the Minister, and not elected by the members of the respective Councils. Provincial Councils will, no doubt, be members of the Constituent Assembly. Plainly speaking, we need to be assured that the Constituent Assembly will not be stacked.
Speaking from experience, it is our view that there is likely to be undue interference by the regime in the constitutional process. What has been announced is for public consumption and for the international community but there is real danger that every attempt will be made to have a tight control over it in order to obtain a pre-conceived outcome. This is something the MCG must note.
The role of the Military
There is one significant omission from the Commodore’s list of essentials that must be written into any new constitution. We refer to the role of the military in any future governance of Fiji.
Whether the constitution is re-written or not, the role of the military has to be thoroughly determined and finalized once and for all. The Army has been responsible for trashing our constitution twice. Fiji has to ensure this does not happen again otherwise the nation could be treading the same path again and again in the future.
FLP reiterates: Fiji does not need a new constitution. What we need is to ensure respect and adherence to our national charter, to reform the electoral system to ensure non race-based elections and to determine what role the Military should play in the future of our nation.
The FLP believes that the final acceptance/rejection of the Constitution should be determined by a national referendum rather than a constituent assembly of the type suggested by the regime.
The Election Process
The Attorney General has been given ministerial charge of the elections office. The position of Supervisor of Elections remains vacant while voter registration work is reportedly in train.
We are concerned that the independence of the Office of the Supervisor of Elections is being undermined. We exhort the MCG to take note of this and require that all matters connected with the elections be carried out by the independent office of the Supervisor of Elections and that an appointment to the position be made soonest of a suitable person who is acceptable to the stakeholders – political parties and civil society organisations.The person may be sourced from the Commonwealth Secretariat, if possible.
Finally, we believe that a sustainable solution to Fiji’s complex political and socio-economic problems can be achieved only if it is predicated on universally recognized democratic principles and values accepted by the international community.
A solution which serves political expediency at the cost of democratic values and traditions will not be in the interest of the people of Fiji.