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The Charter: charting us into uncharted waters [The Fiji Times, 13 November 2007]


The Military Junta is in the process of creating a People’s Charter forFiji.

The Charter’s objectives (ending racism and corruption and ensuring good governance) are praiseworthy.

And the Charter has the support of eminent persons like Archbishop Mataca.

But the eminent persons forget the hard lesson of the 2000 crisis that “the method is just as important as the cause”- that how the Charter is put in place is surely just as important as the good objectives themselves.

The public are being asked to build a castle on a foundation of sand, violently thrown up on the beach by a military storm.

The violent foundations

   For two decades,Fiji has struggled, despite traumatic coups, to peacefully build a political consensus between our two major ethnic groups.

This process culminated in the 1997 Constitution, which was legally approved by all the institutions in this country-Fiji’s Parliament, all the major political parties representing all the ethnic groups inFiji, and the Great Council of Chiefs.

This Constitution is the only genuine lawful covenant between all our peoples.

Central to this covenant is the multi-party provision by which any political party that had 7 or more seats in our Parliament, would be invited into Cabinet to help in the running of the country.

This is invaluable protection, not just for minority groups like Indo-Fijians, but also any geographical entity like Vanua Levu, orWestern Fiji, which feel strongly enough to have their own party representing their own interests in Parliament.

This provision did not work well in 1999, or in 2001.  But it was beginning to work in 2006.   This peaceful co-operation was violently overthrown by the military.

Legitimising violence

   We keep hearing the call:  “let us move on”,  “let us rebuildFiji”.

We would all like to do that.  But why are eminent persons like Archbishop Mataca  turning a blind eye to the violent illegal origins of the Charter?

The Commander, using the force of guns, illegally deposed the President.  The Commander illegally appointed an Interim Prime Minister, who dissolved Parliament.

The Commander illegally appointed a President.  An Interim Government is appointed, with the Commander as Prime Minister.

Fact: a democratically elected government was illegally and violently deposed, on allegations of vote rigging and corruption which, a year on, have yet to be proven.

The results of the 2007 Census suggest that even if any small voting irregularities are found and corrected, there would have been no substantial change to the composition of the 2006 Parliament or the Multi-party Government thereafter constituted.

The Charter is coming in through the force of guns.   Today the guns are in the command of Commodore Bainimarama, whose stated objectives appear noble.  Tomorrow they may be in someone else’s command whose objectives may be less noble.

What recourse will any citizen have (Archbishop Mataca notwithstanding), should those same guns again be turned on another government, with equally unproven allegations of wrong-doing?

Far from ending the culture of coups, this 2006 coup has simply strengthened the “coup mentality” in the RFMF,  in whose hands we taxpayers have entrusted the guns of violence and death.

To support the Charter initiative of this Military Junta, as the Archbishop does, is to also legitimise the violent illegal methods that have created this Junta.

The Constitution, the Charter, and other pieces of paper

   A Charter (like a Constitution) is like any other pieces of paper:  it is only as good as the will of the people that support them.

Despite the Archbishop’s pious justification of the proposed Charter, the only legal and people’s covenant before us is the 1997 Constitution.

Any future Charter must ultimately be subsumed into the 1997 Constitution, and approved by a Parliament lawfully constituted under that 1997 Constitution.

That must require the support of all the major parties, including the SDL.

The military cannot thrust the Charter down the throats of the  Fijian community, the bulk of whom support the SDL which is rejecting the Charter.

And it is surely natural for them to do so since the Charter is being created by a military (which violently removed them from Government), and shadowy and not-so-shadowy figures riding on the military’s back.

Remember the Forced Reconciliation of 2001?

   We should remember that many people also rejected the reconciliation and matanigasau process that the Qarase Government, with the support of theMethodistChurch, was forcing upon the Fiji Labour Party despite their rejection of it as not being genuine.

No doubt there also were merits in that reconciliation and matanigasau process.

And no doubt theMethodistChurchleaders then, just like the Catholic leaders today, also had very pious quotes from the Bible to support the process.

But that reconciliation could not be enforced if the victims did not wish to accept it- for whatever reason.

And neither will this Charter survive, if the leaders of the Fijian people feel that it is being thrust down their throat after they have been illegally kicked out of office (just as the Fiji Labour Party was in 1999).

The Way Forward, Charter and all

   For the good of the country, the Commander needs to return authority to the pre-coup President Iloilo- as he was appointed under the 1997 Constitution.

The President needs to recall the Parliament elected under the 2006 Elections.

The President’s Office needs to order the Commander, and the Leaders of the SDL and the Fiji Labour Party to meet and form a Government of National Unity, drawn from Parliament, Senate and outside if necessary.

Given the current circumstances in which the military has taken on the role of  “guardian of good governance” (GGG) nothing whatsoever will be served by having elections in 2009.

This Government of National Unity should run this country until 2011, the normal end of the term of the elected 2006 Parliament, with the military continuing as (GGG) but in the barracks where they belong.

Whether the Commander likes it or not, Mr Qarase should be returned as the lawfully elected Prime Minister (just as Commodore Bainimarama should have returned Mr Chaudhry as the Prime Minister after ending the 2000 coup).

No doubt Mr Qarase would be amenable to giving Mr Chaudhry the opportunity to continue as Finance Minister for another four years, and see what he can build out of the ashes were are in.

That Government of National Unity will be required to honestly consider all positive initiatives of the Military Junta, such as the Charter, FICAC, Electoral Reform, etc.

Those initiatives which are approved (if necessary with revision) are to be subsumed under the Constitution with the necessary support of a lawfully constituted Parliament.

To facilitate co-operation between the major political parties, the President would appoint an independently constituted Committee of Conflict Resolution which will hand down binding decisions on the two major parties should they disagree on any fundamental issue.

Such a Government of National Unity will have the support of Forum member countries, including the donors.

It will have the support of a “restored” judiciary who will be spared the legal and moral contortions of adjudicating on the cases currently in court.

The investor community (local and foreign) will be reassured and we should have healthy economic growth for the next five years- enough to fund Blueprints, Greenprints and Any Colour Affirmative Action for disadvantaged groups.

Such a Government of National Unity will have the support of all peoples ofFiji.

We can then all, with a clear conscience, help with the process of  buildingFiji, the Charter and any other positive initiative we can dream up.

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