Draft constitution trashed to retain power

  • 11th January 2013
  • 2013
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It is a day of shame for Fiji. A widely accepted draft constitution that addressed many of the problems of overnance plaguing our nation for the past three decades, is to be trashed to preserve power and status quo for those who rule by the force of guns, says Labour Leader Mahendra Chaudhry.

The entire move is a travesty and a fraud on the people of our nation. Most regrettable of all is the fact that the President has allowed himself to be drawn into this subterfuge.

He has become a proponent of the regime’s agenda, leaving the fight for return to genuine democracy to the people themselves.

Under Decree 58, he is required upon receipt of the draft constitution and related documents to refer it to the Constituent Assembly for debate and adoption. But he chose not to do so, presumably under pressure from the regime. Instead, he has decided to issue another decree trashing the (Ghai) draft constitution and substituting it with a document under preparation by the regime’s legal team.

What is being trashed is, in fact, the will of the people. The people of Fiji are being side-lined to retain power for a few.

However, Mr Chaudhry said the announcement by the regime last night that a legal team of government officials will be changing the Ghai draft comes as no surprise … it was to be expected.

The FLP had warned from day one that the entire process lacked integrity and credibility. Indeed, our preliminary submission to the Constitution Commission questioned the legitimacy and integrity of the process under Decrees 57 and 58,” Mr Chaudhry said.

Since then, the regime has continued to change the rules through subsequent decrees to suit its own agenda and vested interests.

The Ghai draft is, in fact, a forward looking document that aims at stamping out Fiji’s coup culture, the destabilizing role of the military in Fijian politics, lack of accountability and transparency in governance as well rising levels of official corruption among other problems.

There is absolutely no doubt that the change is envisaged to protect and preserve those in power. There are several recommendations in the Ghai draft that do not suit the agenda of the powers that be:

  • the tenure of office of the President and the Army Commander to be restricted to one term only
  • the position of the attorney general to be scrapped
  • a transitional government to replace the current military regime to oversee the return to democracy and constitutional rule via general elections
  • parliamentary oversight of the military

  • salaries of top government officials including the prime minister and his Cabinet to be transparent and determined by a Parliamentary emoluments committee. Under this regime, Cabinet salaries are top secret, paid out by a private accounting firm with close links to the AG.
  • the authority and jurisdiction of the Courts to be restored and its independence from the executive guaranteed
  • the right of people to access the courts
  • transparency and accountability in governance

The President’s justification for not appointing a transitional government ahead of the elections is bereft of any substance as is the rest of his address putting the blame for Fiji’s political, social and economic disintegration on everybody except the real culprits.

The President says that such a government could include corrupt former civil servants. He very conveniently, or perhaps deliberately, ignores the fact that the draft constitution specifically defines former senior public officer as “… a person who has served Fiji with honour and integrity at any time at the level of Permanent Secretary…”

As for corruption… it is public perception that the current regime is the most corrupt administration Fiji has ever known… it is utterly lacking in accountability and transparency, to say the least.

Apart from the scam surrounding the secret Cabinet salaries, government accounts and finances have not been published for public scrutiny since 2008, Auditor General’s reports are no longer published; major public contracts and consultancies are reportedly handed out to cronies, relatives and favoured companies without proper procedures being followed.

The role of the National Assembly is being deliberately misrepresented. The aim here is at more inclusive governance but one can understand that such a concept won’t be acceptable to the current dictatorship.

Regrettably, there never was a sincere attempt to return Fiji to true democracy. The entire process was simply a ruse to prolong the rule of those in power under the guise of restoring democracy and constitutionality.
Mahendra Chaudhry