The Fiji Labour Party today decided to walk out of parliament as Prime Minister Laisenia Qarase rose to present the highly controversial amnesty Bill to the House.
The FLP move was in protest against the SDL government’s decision to forge ahead with the Bill despite widespread condemnation from the people of Fiji.
Labour also announced, at a press conference afterwards, that in view of government’s obstinacy, it was withdrawing cooperation from the parliamentary ad hoc select committees on land, constitution and sugar. And that it would not participate in the select committee that would discuss the amnesty Bill.
Also protesting at the temporary Parliamentary chambers in Navuso were a group comprising 60 members of the NGO Coalition who had met in Suva on Monday to show opposition to the proposed amnesty Bill.
The Bill if passed will provide amnesty to the perpetrators of the 2000 coup and army mutiny on the grounds that their actions were motivated by political considerations and were not criminal in nature.
The press briefing following the walkout was held by Deputy Opposition Leader Poseci Bune as Opposition Leader Mahendra Chaudhry was out of Suva attending a family funeral.
Explaining Labour’s decision to walk out, Bune said the government was obstinately forging ahead with the Promotion of Reconciliation Tolerance and Unity Bill 2005 (PRTU) despite widespread condemnation of the proposed Bill by the people of Fiji.
“Political Parties and civil society organisations including the Fiji Law Society have made it clear in no uncertain terms that the Bill is both dangerous and unacceptable in its present form. Significantly, the Bill is also opposed by the Fiji Military Forces who see it as a threat to national security.
All these politically independent critics want the Bill withdrawn, in the national interest.
The SDL Government has chosen to ignore this sane advice and is obstinately going ahead with its presentation in Parliament.
The Labour Party’s objections to the amnesty provisions of the Bill have been well articulated through the Media.
I do not wish to go into the details of this again except to say that no right thinking citizen can allow the passage of such a Bill through Parliament. The Fiji Labour Party will certainly not be part of the charade that is being enacted in Parliament this week.
For government to stubbornly push such a highly controversial legislation through and say that it will be scrutinised at the Select Committee stage, is merely wasting the nation’s time and money, at a heavy cost to the taxpayer.
The same criticisms that have already been voiced will surface at the Select Committee hearings.
FLP’s advice to government, in the circumstances, is to withdraw the Bill and then to take the issue of reconciliation and unity to the Talanoa Talks for proper consultation and discussions.
The PRTU, as it stands, is a recipe for political instability in the future, and further coups. Instead of stamping out the coup-culture that has developed in Fiji, it will simply encourage political dissidents to take the law into their own hands and overthrow any government they are opposed to.
The amnesty provisions of the Bill provide a refuge and a haven for such terrorists. Apart from this, provisions of the PRTU undermine the independence of the constitutional offices of the President, the DPP and that of the judiciary.
It will set up two standards and two systems of justice in Fiji that is both repugnant, and totally undesirable in a nation that professes to value human rights and other principles of democracy.
The PRTU Bill will have far-reaching consequences to national unity, stability and prosperity. The Fiji Labour Party is vehemently opposed to the Bill as it currently stands, and we will take whatever action is necessary to oppose its passage through Parliament.
The Fiji Labour Party will not participate in the Select committee to which this Bill will be referred.
In addition, the FLP will put on hold its co-operation on all Select Ad Hoc Committees – this includes Land, Constitution and Sugar,” Bune said.