A good step forward for Fiji

March 10th, 2012 at 11:00 am by David Farrar

The Fijian Government has announced a timetable for a new constitution. This is well overdue, but better late than never. First the principles that will make up the constitution:

  • A common and equal citizenry;
  • A secular state;
  • The removal of systemic corruption;
  • An independent judiciary;
  • Elimination of discrimination;
  • Good and transparent governance;
  • Social justice;
  • One person, one vote, one value;
  • The elimination of ethnic voting;
  • Proportional representation; and
  • A voting age of 18.

The commitment to a secular state, an independent judiciary and the elimination of ethnic voting is especially welcome. Hell, maybe one day we’ll do the same in New Zealand and our Head of State won’t have to be a particular religion, and we won’t have race based seats.

Some of the issues to be discussed are:

  • Do we want economic and social rights to be included in the Bill of Rights? In other words, should there be a right to basic housing, to clean drinking water, to basic health services, to electricity?
  • What should be the size of Parliament? Should it be reduced from previous numbers?
  • How do we attract better quality candidates to Parliament?
  • Should we have a Senate? If so, should Senators be elected or selected?
  • How should the judiciary be selected?
  • Should political parties and their office holders disclose their assets and liabilities?

The Chairperson of the Constitutional Commission will be Professor Yash Ghai, who is an  internationally renowned constitution and human rights expert.

The timetable is:

  • July 12 – Sep 12 – Public consultation
  • Oct 12 – Dec 12 – Commission writes a draft constitution
  • Jan 13 – Feb 13 – Constitution considered by a Constituent Assembly

The one area for concern at this stage, is that an unelected Constituent Assembly approves the constitution. It would be better to have the Assembly amend the draft and finalise it, but have a public referendum on approving it.

But overall it looks a positive step forward.

Tags:

22 Responses to “A good step forward for Fiji”

  1. cows4me (248 comments) says:

    So what does social justice mean? Sounds like PC nonesense is an infectous disease. The basic right to housing , clean drinking water and health services, sounds like page one of the socialist manifesto. And the elmination of ethnic voting, come on pull the other one it has bells on it

    Vote: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0 You need to be logged in to vote
  2. Scott Chris (6,036 comments) says:

    Brilliant!

    I especially like the clear and simple constitutional principles. A fantastic model. Well done Fiji.

    Vote: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0 You need to be logged in to vote
  3. Leaping Jimmy (16,227 comments) says:

    I didn’t realise the removal of systemic corruption was a necessary principle to incorporate into one’s constitutional re-write. I suppose it’s a pretty good thing though. After all, if left unsaid then people might accidentally think it’s OK and develop a constitution that endorsed it, people being what they are and all.

    Vote: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0 You need to be logged in to vote
  4. thor42 (971 comments) says:

    An **excellent** move by Fiji!
    They are truly light-years ahead of us in this area. It is **long** overdue that New Zealand put in place a constitution as well, and this one would seem to be a very good model.

    Vote: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0 You need to be logged in to vote
  5. Mary Rose (393 comments) says:

    >The basic right to housing , clean drinking water and health services, sounds like page one of the socialist manifesto.

    Quite right. What any constitution should insist on is the basic right to living in the gutter, polluted water, and untreated diseases.

    Vote: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0 You need to be logged in to vote
  6. KevinH (1,205 comments) says:

    DPF says:

    The commitment to a secular state, an independent judiciary and the elimination of ethnic voting is especially welcome. Hell, maybe one day we’ll do the same in New Zealand and our Head of State won’t have to be a particular religion, and we won’t have race based seats.

    I agree but can’t see the day when the race based Westminster system is tossed out.

    Vote: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0 You need to be logged in to vote
  7. asterisk.4 (13 comments) says:

    To be fair, Yash Ghai has been pretty soft on Pacific constitutional consultation processes. I hope he’ll be a real hard-ass, in the interests of Fiji, and maybe also his reputation. The consultation period seems mighty short. Could someone get Jenny Bryant-Tokalau/Iati Iati to write/interview in on this please?

    Vote: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0 You need to be logged in to vote
  8. Put it away (2,878 comments) says:

    When can nz get a timetable for doing away with ethnic voting?

    Vote: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0 You need to be logged in to vote
  9. Paul G. Buchanan (293 comments) says:

    I think we should be very cautious about lauding Baimimarama on his constitutional consultation process. Not only has he dropped mention of a timetable for the elections he promised for Sept 2014, he has drastically shortened the consultation process and under the terms of the security laws that replaced the 3 year state of emergency declared in 2009, a number of important civil society and political actors will be excluded from that process (as threats to national security, as defined by Baimimarama and his Attorney General). In addition, besides the unelected nature of the Constitutional Assembly, basic freedoms of association and speech will continue to be restricted by provisions in the security laws during the public consultation window. Add to that a judiciary that has been stocked with Baimimarama appointees (many of whom are Sri Lankan), after the original jurists were summarily dismissed, and the process begins to look a bit fraught.

    It is true that Fijian democracy was extremely dysfunctional and plagued with nepotism and corruption. That situation has not necessarily changed under the Commodore, although the beneficiaries certainly have. It therefore remains to be seen if putting a new code on paper will alter the real nature of Fijian politics down the road. What is clear is that, as any constitutional expert will tell us, the outline for the next Fijian constitution has already doomed it to failure. Constitutions can either be statements of procedure, which basically outline the rules of the political game, or they can be statements of substantive rights, with guarantees offered to individuals and groups. Although in practice most constitutions are mixes of procedural and substantive guarantees, the key to success is to limit the number of substantive guarantees while reinforcing the procedural aspects so as to guarantee the rule of law, role of elected governance and the like. As proposed, Baimimarama’s vision of the charter is a step too far because it proposes broad substantive guarantees that may in fact be unachievable. Once this becomes apparent to the public, it will undermine faith in constitutional governance and start the cycle of military intervention once again.

    Before the latest announcement, I explored some comparative aspects of the Fijian process over at Scoop: http://www.scoop.co.nz/stories/HL1112/S00083/paul-buchanan-bainimarama-channels-pinochet.htm.

    Vote: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0 You need to be logged in to vote
  10. thor42 (971 comments) says:

    One thing that seems to be missing from the list is “freedom of speech”.
    That should definitely be there – it is a must-have.
    If that were included, then this would really be a great bit of work.

    Vote: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0 You need to be logged in to vote
  11. wreck1080 (3,861 comments) says:

    Democracy in fiji lasts only as long as the military allows.

    Vote: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0 You need to be logged in to vote
  12. CLATONRATNAM (2 comments) says:

    I am pretty happy with what Mr. Bainimarama is doing for Fiji and it is really appreciated by all Fijians.He is a great leader and he has a vision to improve Fiji.A coup was necessary to eradicate corruption in the previous Fijian government.Our economy was really towards bankruptcy if the Qarase government continued.Lo and behold a savior Mr. Bainimarama took right action at the right time to save Fiji.We are the real residents of Fiji and we know the real truth but do not know why international communities are against Mr. Bainimarama when he is absolutely doing good for his people.Elections will be in 2014 and a progress is evident.Even voting age is 18 and it shows that Bainimarama government is making the voices of the young people heard.My question is Why does the new Australian Foreign Affairs Minister goes to NZ to talk about Fiji when he can come and see for himself the good things the Bainimarama government is doing???We want a government which makes Fiji a better place and thank the Bainimarama government for putting the effort in making Fiji the way the world should be….Strong leaders are hard to find and if Mr. Bainimarama stands in the 2014 Elections he will surely win badly..We Fijians want him him to be our leader.

    Vote: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0 You need to be logged in to vote
  13. calendar girl (1,214 comments) says:

    “What is clear is that, as any constitutional expert will tell us, the outline for the next Fijian constitution has already doomed it to failure.”

    The words “as any constitutional expert will tell us” ring warning bells in my mind. Please provide links to relevant work of “constitutional experts” who support your premise. Then we can investigate their alleged expertise and make an assessment for ourselves of your own surprisingly categorical dismissal of the Fijian constitutional process and principles.

    In today’s information supermarket, there is no good reason to accept as authoritative an assertion from a single academic (even one as distinguished as your good self!).

    Vote: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0 You need to be logged in to vote
  14. Paul G. Buchanan (293 comments) says:

    cg: Google search “constitutional design,” “constitution making,” “constitution,” “constitutional foundation,” ” democratization,” “constitutional reform in regime transitions,” Substantive verses procedural guarantees,” “constitution framing” and many more variations on the wording. Better yet, since you seem to be a curious person, look up the Brazilian and South African constitutions for an illustration of the conundrum.

    Vote: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0 You need to be logged in to vote
  15. mara (763 comments) says:

    Why do we interfere with Fiji and fuss about their system? Leave them alone. What will be will be.

    Vote: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0 You need to be logged in to vote
  16. rouppe (963 comments) says:

    Do we want economic and social rights to be included in the Bill of Rights? In other words, should there be a right to basic housing, to clean drinking water, to basic health services, to electricity?

    No.

    First, some of that will be abused. The pressure groups will keep raising the definition of ‘basic’ beyond all reasonable levels. Some will choose to spend their money on Vitamin P and then say they can’t afford electricity.

    Clean water isn’t a right, but there certainly does need to be much more attention paid to it. If we shut down the ETS and disengaged from Kyoto etc, then the money currently being spent achieving, well, nothing can be used to achieve something quite worthwhile.

    Vote: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0 You need to be logged in to vote
  17. thor42 (971 comments) says:

    I think it is long overdue that we had a constitution in New Zealand.
    The items on Fiji’s list would be a very good start. Freedom of speech (and of the media) would need to be added as well.

    Given that busybody groups like the UN are passing more and more resolutions each day that restrict freedom of speech (like the one that they passed which forbids criticism of religion), I think it is essential that countries have their own safeguards and protections in place to counter that. A constitution is a great way to do so.

    Vote: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0 You need to be logged in to vote
  18. Peter Freedman (127 comments) says:

    CLATONRATNAM, Thanks for a thoughtful contribution. I have always believed Bainimarama was on the right track. It is a shame he stooped to press censorship etc, which only gave countries like NZ and Australia a stick to beat him with.

    I hope everything works out, your people and their islands are beautiful indeed.

    Vote: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0 You need to be logged in to vote
  19. calendar girl (1,214 comments) says:

    Sorry, Paul. That disappointingly dismissive response does nothing to support your claim that “the outline for the next Fijian constitution has already doomed it to failure”.

    The constitutional principles (listed above by DPF) as enunciated by Bainimarama and said by him to be “non-negotiable” seem to me to be a reasonably good start – although I have concerns about how the “social justice” principle might be defined and integrated into a Constitution.

    Your main worry about the process, however, may relate to what Bainimarama’s proclamation refers to as “The kinds of issues that the public should consider in advance of the consultations include, but are not limited to, the following:” (again they are listed above by DPF). Most of these matters appear to be reasonable procedural issues for a Constitutional Commission to consider – although I would say that the first of them, about the possibility of “economic and social rights [being] included in the Bill of Rights” is out of place. In all fairness, however, the issues listed in that section are said to be (a) for discussion / debate, and (b) not exclusive of other issues that are able to be raised in the consultations process.

    What you regard as “broad substantive guarantees”, largely incapable of being delivered, nevertheless constitute (in the main) some fairly sensible and laudable objectives that are worth pursuing. To claim at this early stage that their inclusion “has already doomed [the Constitution] to failure” is premature and extravagant. It is clear from your writings that nothing that Bainimarama does now will ever satisfy you, and it is proper that we treat with extreme caution any measures proposed by a person who has effected a coup d’etat. But your shrill language leads to a belief that you are beating a noisy drum on Bainimarama himself rather than analysing dispassionately his “Announcement on the Constitutional Consultations Process”.

    Vote: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0 You need to be logged in to vote
  20. Paul G. Buchanan (293 comments) says:

    I was not being dismissive, shrill or extravagant, cg. I was just trying not to embarrass you by pointing out that the issue of constitutional design goes back to the Greeks and has been a central feature of the literature on democratization over the past twenty years. The historical consensus of this large body of thought is simply that constitutions that contain large number of substantive guarantees often are not worth the paper that they are written on, and that the best form of constitution is one that establishes a procedural framework that allows parties and interest groups to negotiate, in the pursuit of a mutual second best compromise, the substantive rights all can agree upon. The Commodore and his advisors may turn out to be genuine democrats at heart, but I shall reserve such a positive judgement until the new Constitution has been finalized after an open consultation process, restrictions on freedoms of speech, assembly and movement lifted, free, fair and transparent elections held, and a representative government installed. We may not agree otherwise, but I assume that we can agree that is the bottom line that will demonstrate proof of Baimimarama;s intent.

    Vote: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0 You need to be logged in to vote
  21. wreck1080 (3,861 comments) says:

    Once again, whats the point? Democracy will only last so long as the indigenous fijians allow.

    Vote: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0 You need to be logged in to vote
  22. calendar girl (1,214 comments) says:

    PGB, while agreeing with your last sentence, I’m certainly not “embarrassed” by your blustering dismissal of any querying of your position or any contrary viewpoint. Sadly, many of us mere mortals have developed less than enthusiastic confidence in categorical claims from eloquent and assertive academics.

    I’ll wait to judge Bainimarama’s government’s actual performance during this process and the quality of its ultimate outcome. Your categorical pre-judgment may prove in time to be correct, but personally I can’t accept at this stage that “the outline for the next Fijian constitution has already doomed it to failure”. (Nor do you if your latest provisos are a genuine reflection of your position).

    The principles of western democracy have many admirable virtues, but micro-managing legal and constitutional structures for less-developed countries is not among them. Reasoned advice is the best contribution that the outside world can offer Fiji, coupled with respect for that younger country’s sovereign right to determine its own way forward.

    Vote: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0 You need to be logged in to vote

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.