Oppressive features of the Political Parties Decree

  • 20th March 2014
  • 2013
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Decree 4 of 2013 is, undoubtedly, draconian and oppressive. Its provisions both for registration and in terms of the administration, operations and conduct of political parties are onerous and harsh.

Penalties for non-compliance, or breach of the decree by party officials are extremely severe, involving fines of up to $50,000 and/or 5-year imprisonment terms. The harsh terms are highly punitive and indicative of the regime’s intention to deter the formation of political parties.

It is also discriminatory against existing political parties. All existing parties have to apply for fresh registration within 28 days of the effective date of the decree ie 18 January 2013. New parties have until before the Writ of Elections are issued to register.

Any existing party that fails to register according to the provisions of the decree will be deemed to be de-registered, will be wound up and its assets seized by the State.

Officials of the party who continue to function will incur a fine of $50,000 and/or a jail term up to 5 years.

Once an application for registration is lodged, the political party ceases to function as such until its registration is approved by the Registrar. There is no timeline set for approval.

Party registration and membership

To register political parties must tender the names, addresses, Voter ID numbers and signatures of 5000 members to be taken as stipulated from all the four Divisions-

  1.    Central   Division – 2000 members
  2.    Western Division – 1750 members
  3.    Northern Division – 1000 members
  4.    Eastern   Division –   250 members
  • be accompanied with a registration fee of $5005.00
  • to be signed by at least 5 applicants – who must undertake to be bound by the    decree and the Code of Conduct for political parties
  • Only registered voters can hold elective position in a party or be an applicant for registration of the Party
  • an undischarged bankrupt or person jailed for a period of 6 months or more cannot be a member or official of a party
  • political party names have to be in English

The Registrar is required to Gazette the application and publish them in the media.

Within 30 days of registration being approved, the party must make a full written disclosure of all assets and expenditure including contributions, donations etc. It must state the source of all funds. The disclosure should be supported by a Statutory Declaration by the Registered Officer of the political party.

The Registrar is required to Gazette this information and publish it in the media. The cost of publication is to be met by the political party.

A party will be deregistered if it fails to comply with this requirement or if it makes a false declaration.

Trade union officials and public officers including members of boards, statutory authorities and commissions cannot be officials of a political party or engage in political activities unless they resign from their respective office.

Party records and Finances

  • Political parties are required by the decree to maintain at its head office and all branch offices for public scrutiny on payment of a fee, the following records:
  • Maintain register of all members
  • Copy of policies and plans of the party
  • All financial records – including particulars of contribution, donation, pledges of support whether in cash or kind made by founding members of the party; record of assets; audited accounts; names, addresses of donors, record of membership dues, sources of funds etc.
  • Any interference or damage to records carry a fine of $10,000 and/or a 5-year jail term;
  • Failure to comply carry a $10,000 fine and/or 5-year jail term for party officials. The Registrar may call on the party to furnish such information for inspection. Failure to comply carries a fine of $10,000 and/ or a five-year jail term
  • Where a political party commits an offence under the Decree, every office holder of the party will be held
    culpable
  • Likewise, in the case of corporate entities that breach the decree, every director, partner, secretary of the organization will be deemed to have committed the offence

A party can be deregistered for not promoting free and fair nomination of candidates or if the majority of its members apply for deregistration.

Funding

  1. A jail term of up to 5 years and or a fine equivalent to value of the resources not disclosed on failure to disclose;
  2. If overseas source of funds not disclosed – $10,000 fine and or 5 year jail term
  3. Companies, corporate or other entities cannot donate funds to political parties, officials, party activists candidates – only individuals can
  4. Nor can such contributions be in the form of vehicles, computers, accommodation, payment    of advertisements or other expenses in cash or kind
  5. Individuals cannot contribute more than $10,000 cash in a year
  6. For a party, official or candidate to receive more than that amount is an offence –  offence carries similar penalty          with the amount in question forfeited to the State
  7. It is an offence for political parties to be funded by foreign governments, NGOs or intergovernmental organizations

Financial Report to be submitted within 30 days of end of financial year;

All political parties must submit within 30 days of a general election – a statement of its assets and liabilities

Declaration of assets

  • Applicants for registration of political parties and office holders must within 30 days of end of each financial year.
  • Provide to the Registrar in respect of himself/herself, spouse and children, the following information:
  • Total assets in Fiji and abroad- total income whether in Fiji or abroad business connections or directorships; business transactions.
  • Assets acquired during the period in question

Implications of the Decree

  1. Membership requirement – this is not a problem. The Party has in fact collected more than the required signatures and I must commend those members and officials who have worked hard to ensure this. The willingness of people at the grassroots to sign the forms, shows that FLP’s support out there is still intact.
  2. The $5005 registration fee is high and will pose a deterrent to many parties; political parties in Fiji do not as a rule charge subscription for membership of the party;
  3. There is the danger that even though we comply with all the requirements of the decree, the regime will find some means of deregistering the Party – there is enough scope within the ambit of the decree to find a reason for this
  4. It should not be forgotten that the Registrar is not independent – she is the Permanent Secretary for Justice and comes directly under the control of the Attorney General. The Registrar’s impartiality is thus suspect from the start.
  5. Even if the Party were to overcome the initial hurdles and get registered, operating a political party under the very stringent rules and financial regulations will be quite difficult. Source of funding will be a problem – donors’ names, addresses and other details will have to be disclosed. In Fiji, in practice, donors tend to be unwilling to have their names openly associated with political parties least of all under the current repressive climate.
  6. Some of the requirements of the decree are not difficult for the FLP – we have branches in all districts – maintaining records will not be a problem. We have always been multiracial both in intent and practice. In fact, FLP has been the most multiracial party in Fiji. This is reflected in our electoral wins i.e. the high number of Open seats we grab.

Our main objection is with the draconian, undemocratic, repressive requirements of Decree 4 which go against the guiding principles of the Fiji Labour Party:

The Decree is an assault on individual privacy, and the freedoms and rights of individuals. The requirements for financial disclosure are not only onerous, they are a violation of peoples’ right to privacy.

  • It is a violation of the civil and political freedoms of an individual, specifically the right to peaceful assembly and association as enshrined in the United Nations Declaration on Human Rights;  .
  • The Decree is an assault on individual privacy, and the freedoms and rights of individuals. The requirements for financial disclosure are not only onerous, they are a violation of peoples’ right to privacy.
  • It is a violation of the civil and political freedoms of an individual, specifically the right to peaceful assembly and association as enshrined in the United Nations Declaration on Human Rights;
  • It is in breach of core ILO Conventions which grant trade unions and their members freedom of association including the right to form and become members of political parties
  • It also breaches international Conventions that allow freedom to organize and operate political parties without State interference and unlawful restrictions
  • It is a breach of people’s right to form regional parties if they wish or those based on issues such as environmental parties not likely to have broad national appeal
  • The severe penalties imposed under the Decree are clearly designed to deter the people of Fiji from forming and supporting political parties

14 February 2013