The constitution review process announced by Prime Minister Commodore Voreqe Bainimarama this morning is unduly prolonged and is predicated on writing up a completely new constitution, says the Fiji Labour Party.
Moreover, the regime has imposed its own roadmap on the people of Fiji without any consultations with their elected representatives or civil society for that matter.
It is imperative that the process back to elections and constitutional rule, and in particular the membership of the Constitution Commission and the Constituent Assembly, be decided after thorough consultations with key stakeholders as had happened prior to the appointment of the Reeves Review Commission. This is essential to instil public confidence in the membership of these bodies and to ensure they are not stacked.
“The processes mentioned in Commodore Bainimarama’s address as essential to constitution making are not new. These were followed by the Reeves Commission in the formulation of the 1997 Constitution,” said FLP Leader Mahendra Chaudhry.
“Why is it necessary to repeat these again and prolong the return to democratic rule via free, fair and credible general elections?” Mr Chaudhry asked.
The 1997 Constitution upholds most of the fundamental values that the Commodore wants in the new constitution. It provides for a secular state, an independent judiciary, the elimination of discrimination, social justice and the removal of systemic corruption via a Code of Conduct for those holding High Office.
“The 1997 Constitution should not be considered entirely flawed simply because previous governments failed to adhere to its provisions.
“Neither the SVT nor the SDL, or the current administration, for that matter, followed the constitutional requirements for Code of Conduct and Freedom of Information legislations. The Labour-led government had draft Bills published for Parliament but was prevented from proceeding further because of the 2000 coup.
“Yes, we do need to review the electoral arrangements but we don’t have to rewrite the entire constitution to do this. Nor does the process require 12 months noting that it will be a further 18 months to elections in September 2014 from the time the constitution is assented to in March 2013.
“Why should it take so long? The whole process can be abridged to have an elected government in office by May 2013.
“There is a need to hold governments accountable for sound fiscal and financial management. But this can be achieved through subsidiary legislations under a broad provision in the constitution,” Mr Chaudhry said.
One must also ask: How many of the fundamental values that the Commodore is insisting on, are being upheld by his own administration?
- He talks about the need for accountability and good governance – is his administration accountable?
- He talks about the need to include provisions for economic and social justice – yet his administration has been indicted by international human rights organisations for flagrant violation of the basic human rights of our people and the rights of workers and trade unions;
- He talks about the need for an independent judiciary – is he prepared to argue that under his administration the independence and jurisdiction of the judiciary is not curtailed?
There is also one significant omission from the Commodore’s list of essentials that must be written into any new constitution. I 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 constitutions 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 re-iterates: Fiji does not need a new constitution. What we need is to ensure respect and adherence to our national charter, to change the electoral system to ensure non-race based elections and to determine what role the Military should play in the future of our nation.