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Australia Adopts Softer Stance On Fiji's Constitution Process
Source: http://www.abc.net.au/news/2013-01-14/anfijiunions140113/4463490?section=australianetworknews
Source Date: Tuesday, January 15, 2013
Focus: Institution and HR Management
Country: Australia
Created: Jan 14, 2013

Australia appears to be sympathetic to the Fijian interim Government's rejection of the draft constitution.

While New Zealand and Samoa have been highly critical of the recent development, Australia's Foreign Minister, Bob Carr, is taking a softer stance.

"The notion, for example, of a largely unelected national people's assembly comprised principally of non-government organisations sitting alongside the parliament is something I can't think of enjoying precedence anywhere else in the constitution of a democratic country," he said.

"The re-creation of an unelected Great Council of Chiefs would seem to give rise to the suggestion that ethnic divisions in the country were going to be exaggerated by new constitutional arrangements.

"I can find it understandable that the interim government has objected to both these features of the draft constitution presented to it."

The draft, which took into account seven thousand submissions, was drawn up by a committee headed by Professor Yash Ghai ahead of planned democratic elections.

Commodore Frank Bainimarama has announced he's scrapping the draft and his legal officers will write a new constitution to be presented to a constituent assembly appointed by him.

Fiji's interim government says its determined to meet its election deadline of September 2014.

The country's Information Ministry says preparations are underway in earnest to assemble materials needed throughout Fiji to conduct the scheduled polls.

The interim government is inviting companies within Fiji and abroad to register their interest in supplying such items as ballot boxes, polling kits, ink, voting booths and voting screens.

They are being asked to submit expressions of interest tot he Acting Permanent Secretary Responsible for Election, Ms Mere Vuniwaqa by February 28th.

The Fijian Attorney General and Minister responsible for Election, Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum said interested companies would be required to meet several accepted international standards.

"We invite all interested companies to register as soon as possible and contribute to this landmark event in Fiji's history - the introduction of the first genuine parliamentary democracy based on the principle on the principle of one person, one vote, one value," he said.
Fiji has been facing mounting pressure to hold democratic elections since it scrapped its constitution in 2009.

Union campaign

Meanwhile, union groups are calling for international condemnation of Fiji's Interim prime minister for effectively tearing up the draft constitution.

The general secretary of the International Trade Union Confederation, Sharon Burrow, has told Radio Australia she's just returned from Fiji where many people are frustrated over what's happened.

"The anger was palpable about a dictator who has basically taken over a country with no legitimacy and it demonstrates that Bainimarama is not willing to hand over power," she said.

"He himself says he will now write the constitution.

"It's time that the international community raised it voice again and said 'enough, we have had enough and we have been duped',"


Some political watchers in Fiji believe the government has deceived the international community.

Professor Brij Lal told Pacific Beat Australia and New Zealand have been taken for a ride by the regime and should reconsider their involvement in the county's constitutional process.

"This is a wake-up call for Australia and New Zealand" he said.

"Their proposed re-engagement with Fiji, they supported the whole review and draft constitution process to the tune of hundreds of thousands of dollars, they welcomed the draft constitution and now this has happened."

Professor Lal says the new draft document will carry the stamp of the military government, and will then be passed by a committee chosen by the Prime Minister.

"The constituent assembly will be hand-picked by the Prime Minister, Frank Bainimarama. There is no independence, there is no transparency and basically the military will have its way." he said.

"The [original] draft constitution was widely welcomed by the people of Fiji, by all the major political parties and now the military and the regime simply wants to have a document that is its handiwork and enshrines its interests and concerns and aspirations."

Misplaced criticism

Fiji's government is standing by its decision, citing shortcomings Professor Yash Ghai's draft and saying much of the criticism is unwarranted.

On Thursday, President Ratu Epeli Nailatikau criticised the Ghai draft for being "very bureaucratic" and said the institutions it would create would require a "very bureaucratic structure."

"It [the draft] has unfortunately, perhaps, succumbed to the whims of the few who have had an interest in perpetuating divisions within our society," Mr Nailatikau said.

However, Mr Nailatikau highlighted several positives of the Ghai draft, including provisions on social and economic rights, good governance and accountability and independence of the judiciary.

The government now says it will move forward with another draft.

Permanent Secretary of the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet, Pio Tidoduadua, told Radio Australia they have until February to put together the constituent assembly and the country will have a new constitution by the end of April.
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