President’s dialogue forum a waste of money, says Rabuka
Former Prime Minister Sitiveni Rabuka yesterday said the interim government had lost its credibility in the international arena. He said the international community had focused its attention on Fiji since the 5th December 2006 military coup. Soon after the removal of the democratically-elected government and when military Commander Commodore Voreqe Bainimarama stepped into the President’s shoes, he promised the nation his government would clean up corruption in government ministries, institutions and departments. But 21 months later, no one had been convicted.
There was a twist when the Commander handed back the executive authority to President Ratu Iloilo who then appointed him as interim Prime Minister. Announcing the formation of an Interim Administration, Ratu Iloilo outlined what he called the President’s Mandate. This included upholding the constitution, facilitating legal protection and immunity from both criminal and civil offences for the military, recognizing the right of the military to suspend, dismiss or remove from office anyone it thought appropriate, steadying economic growth and ‘correcting the economic mismanagement’ of the previous government, restructuring the Native Land Trust Board to ‘ensure more benefits flow to the ordinary indigenous Fijians,’ creating an anti-corruption unit in the Attorney General’s office to eradicate systematic corruption, introducing a Code of Conduct to improve ‘governmental and institutional transparency and preparing Fiji for democratic elections ‘after advanced electoral office and systems are in place and the political and economic conditions are conducive to the holding of such elections.’
Well we know that a lot has been asked about the President’s mandate. Legal eagles said the President gave a mandate that was never his to give in the first place.
In the Westminster system as adopted in Fiji, the President acts on the advice of the Prime Minister as the head of an elected government. The power that the President exercises in ‘his own deliberate judgement’ is carefully prescribed and limited, to be used in exceptional circumstances and then only for short periods of time. The proper course of action for the President to authorise would have been the prompt restoration of the deposed government.
The next twist was the formation of the National Council for Building a Better Fiji to work on the People’s Charter that will have the detailed plan on the way forward for Fiji. We all know some key stakeholders refused to accept the invitation from the President to be members of the NCBBF as they believed it was unconstitutional. With government’s effort to include these people, it again came up with the proposed President’s Political Forum. They said this was an initiative from the President.
Interim PM Bainimarama said a day before the Pacific Islands Forum leaders meeting in Niue on 19th August: “The President’s Forum which is to be facilitated by the Commonwealth Secretariat and the United Nations, and which is to be parallel to and independent of the NCBBF, provided the opportunity for registered political parties to discuss the weaknesses of the current alternative voting (AV) and communal electoral system and the compelling reasons why it needs to be replaced.”
Now with the draft charter in its consultation stage, there is another twist and that is the President’s Dialogue Forum will only sit when the charter has the majority support of the people. Addressing the United Nations General Assembly in New York Mr Bainimarama said: “His Excellency, the President of Fiji has proposed that a Political Dialogue Forum be convened, as a mechanism independent of the NCBBF, to achieve this. It is through this Forum that we hope to reach a consensus and to introduce the reforms through legal and constitutional means. Again, I say with emphasis, the timeframe to achieve all this is not dependent on me or the Interim Government; it is the collective responsibility of all the stakeholders.” In May this year, Fiji sought assistance from the Commonwealth and the United Nations to facilitate, as a priority, and with urgency, the proposed President’s Political Dialogue Forum.
We had hoped that this Forum, which would initially focus on electoral reform, would have been convened by now. Little progress has been made and we are concerned about the delay. I take this opportunity to reiterate our request to the United Nations and the Commonwealth to help us, urgently, in this regard.”
Mr Rabuka says there is no need for the President’s Dialogue Forum. “I must admit that the President’s Dialoguer Forum will be a waste of time and money,” Mr Rabuka said. This he said was just another initiative from the interim government that would make the international community note the involvement of different stakeholders to support the charter.
“I must warn the government that whatever initiative they would put across would be of no value to the international community because of the lies they had made.” In fact he said they had lost their credibility.
He said his party the Soqosoqo ni Vakavulewa ni Taukei had given its full support to the proposed President’s Forum with the backing of the Commonwealth Secretariat and the United Nations but new SVT had totally withdrawn its support from it. Mr Rabuka said the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group had aired its concern on the government’s decision that there would be no election in March 2009.
While it is prepared to continue its help to see the restoration of parliamentary democracy, it has confirmed it wants this by March 2009. Mr Rabuka said there would be no reason for the United Nations and the Commonwealth Secretariat to be involved in the Presidents Forum because the government had already made its decision on the election.
Ousted Prime Minister and Soqosoqo Duavata ni Lewenivanua party leader Laisenia Qarase said his party was supportive of the President’s Dialogue Forum. He said this was the best option available to the interim government to deal with the current political crisis.
However, he said this Forum must be totally independent and must be chaired by someone with world wide reputation.
The President’s Forum he said also had the support of the Fiji Labour Party leader Mahendra Chaudhry and the National Federation Party and this was a good start. “So in my view government must make good use of this support terms to them.” The charter consultation can run parallel with the President’s Forum and members should be given the freedom to express whatever they want in regard to the political crisis. Mr Qarase warned that this Forum should not be used to rubber stamp the proposed electoral reform in the charter.
In an interview with Radio Fiji Mr Qarase had aired his concern about the draft charter as many of the changes in it could only be done through parliament. On the new electoral system Mr Qarase said this was a constitutional issue and it would only be used after an amendment is made in regard to the issue and passed by parliament.
The President’s Forum cannot legitimize the charter. It is rather sad that the interim government continues to push for the charter when it knows it is unconstitutional. Someone has to be held responsible for ill advising the Prime Minister on this.