|REVEALED: Samy's controversial Peoples Charter. Image: Wadan Narsey blog. http://narseyonfiji.wordpress.com/2012/03/17/the-charter-charade-the-fiji-times-23-december-2008/|
He fronted on the controversial Peoples Charter but he has been a shadowy figure behind the regime, helping to kill off the 1997Constitution. Said to have been one of the ones who convinced Frank Bainimarama to carry out the 2006 coup, John Samy cashed in on the spoils and went on to become a poisonous but a well-compensated key advisor. With 12 others from Auckland, he is now telling everyone there should be no more coups and the new Constitution should make the death penalty mandatory for acts of treason.
SUBMISSION TO THE FIJI CONSTITUTION COMMISSION
This submission is from us Fiji people and who constitute a part of that diaspora that has grown significantly in number following successive coups in Fiji since May, 1987.
We continue to care deeply about Fiji, its overall situation and about the welfare of its people. We do so because Fiji is our motherland.
We are dismayed by the fact that for too long, Fiji has remained at a critical cross-roads, mired in a deep rut in regard to its political, social and economic governance.
We believe that the Constitution Commission has been entrusted with a responsibility that is not only gravely significant but also one of great historic importance to enable Fiji now to go forward: for it to not only restore democracy but also to be able to sustain it; to rid the country of the coup culture; to regain lost opportunities ie for the country to achieve growth and progress and to lift its people out of deprivating conditions of poverty; and for Fiji to fully re-integrate into and restore its rightful place as a member of the international family of nations that is committed to adhering to the rule of law and to ensuring and safeguarding the fundamental human rights of its people.
We recognize the tremendous potential that Fiji has, to demonstrate “the way the World should be”, because the most important of the resources that Fiji possesses are its diverse people. We believe that because of poor governance, persisting political instability, and the serious erosion of confidence, Fiji and its people have regressed rather than attain their full potential.
We respectfully submit to the Constitution Commission that to formulate a new Constitution for Fiji that will be both relevant and responsive to the aspirations and needs of the (vast majority of the) people of Fiji, due consideration must be given to the country context, as inherited from its colonial past, and as it has evolved post-Independence since 1970.
Fiji’s Overall Situation: Major Problems and Issues
At independence in October, 1970, Fiji inherited an institutional infrastructure for governance that could potentially have evolved further and strengthened, to allow democracy to take root and to flourish. This did not happen.
While for about a decade Fiji enjoyed relative peace and stability, and also achieved modest rates of economic growth, in the body politic of the nation, however, social tensions and the potential for rupture simmered. The country’s leadership at the national level as well as at the level of the communities was characterized by parochial, ethnic-based communalism.
Following the coups of 1987 and 2000, which were all motivated by an extremist ethno-nationalist “Fiji for the indigenous Fijians” agenda, race-based politics became more pronounced. Many of the country’s key institutions were politicized and ethnocised, and these have continued to suffer rupture and a severe weakening over time, made worse by the emigration of significant numbers of the highly educated and experienced people. Fiji’s overall political, economic and social situation has tended to persistently deteriorate.
Fiji’s constitutional and electoral arrangements, since 1970 and also under the 1997 Constitution, have been very divisive. The communal rolls-based alternative voting system promoted extremist, polarizing, race-based politics. One of the most fundamental problems facing Fiji is the lack of unity among its people. The general level of trust between communities has been low.
The ethnic, racial and religious divisions in Fiji’s society are reflected in the sad fact that until recently, the country still did not have a widely accepted common name for all the citizens of Fiji. In short, a common, shared national identity did not exist. This was a particularly sad failure in nation building, since Fiji attained independence in October, 1970.
The traditions of religious tolerance, following the coups of 1987 and 2000, frayed with unacceptable incidents of violence directed at places of worship. The emergence and continued persistence of religious fundamentalism, as evidenced by calls to declare Fiji a Christian state, is also disturbing.
Extreme ethno-nationalism and the quest to preserve self-interest on the part of certain leaders, were the prime motivating factors behind the coups of 1987 and 2000. For Fiji now to move forward on to a path of sustainable peace, progress and prosperity, zero tolerance must be exercised on such insidious motivating factors as ethno-nationalism and also corruption and the preservation of self-interest on the part of those in positions of leadership.
Following the coups of 1987 and 2000, major institutions – Parliament, the Judiciary and the Public Service – became weak and require major reforms to improve their accountability, transparency and responsiveness to the needs of Fiji’s citizens. By the time elections are held in 2014, Fiji would have been without an elected Parliament and legislature for almost 8 years. Particular attention, therefore, will need to be given to making the Legislature fully functional and effective. Fiji will need financial and technical assistance to ensure the effective functioning of its parliamentary system under the new Constitution; and this will be needed both prior to and following the elections in 2014.
Fiji’s economy has been stagnating, performing well below its potential and unable to generate the new jobs needed. Savings and investment rates are at historically low levels, the efficiency of capital has been declining and productivity not improving. Insufficient land is available for productive and social purposes and there is a major property rights problem – the inability to create an adequate number of leasehold interests in land – which is harming landlords and the country because this does not allow Fiji’s landowners to access the latent capital in their land, which they could use to further develop the land or use for other productive purposes.
Average incomes have been stagnating and the number of people living under the poverty line has increased sharply, from less than 10% in the late 1970s to now almost 40% of Fiji’s total population.55% of those in employment constitute the “working poor”, earning incomes that are below the poverty line. Moreover, income inequalities in the country remain deep: the poorest 20% of Fiji’s people receive only 6% of the national income while the richest 20% receive close to 50% of the national income.
Service delivery generally, and, in particular, in the health and education sectors, remain unsatisfactory. 10% of the children aged 5-14 years do not attend school. More than half the total numbers in final year of primary school do not progress to secondary education. Increasing numbers of Fiji’s people lack access to potable water, power, and transport. Squatter settlements in major urban centres have increased in size at a very rapid pace.
Many institutional arrangements in Fiji – legal rules, rules surrounding the operation of markets and government regulations – are weak and do not support modern economic or financial arrangements. They make it difficult for entrepreneurs to get access to the assets they need to run their businesses e.g. land, capital, skilled labour, foreign exchange.
For a large part of the period since Independence in 1970, overall governance has been characterized by an over dominant, and in some areas inappropriate, role of the government: the government, for instance, has involved itself in businesses that would be better left to the private sector. More importantly, it has not addressed many of the problems that only the government can deal with e.g. specifying property rights; maintaining and creating new infrastructure; providing opportunities for people to upgrade their skills; and providing an enabling environment for the private sector and a more supportive one for civil society.
All this has been accentuated by inappropriate and/or inconsistent policies: government policies need to be compatible with each other, consistent over time, and credible. In practice, and particularly over two decades since May, 1987, some policies have often been fighting against each other (e.g. fiscal and monetary policy), have been internally inconsistent, and/or constantly changing.
There has also been a deep-rooted dependency syndrome in looking to the government to do everything. For the indigenous Fijians ( ie the i-Taukei) in particular, this stands in the way of their progress: in the exercise of initiative, entrepreneurship, and innovation. The mainstream leadership among the i-Taukei community have tended to willfully perpetuate such dependency, relying on the spoils of the State for patronage and power.
Untrained leadership, at all levels and in all domains in society, is a major national problem in Fiji. The overall quality and effectiveness of management, and key skills and competencies relating to the exercise of effective leadership, remain poor throughout Fiji’s public, private, and NGO sectors.
Within the i-Taukei community, the autocratic and feudalistic use of traditional power is institutionalized through the chiefly system. The tendency on the part of the many, though not all, who hold chiefly power, has been to willfully perpetuate a “culture of silence”, with the “commoner” i-Taukeis being expected to be submissive to the dictates of their chiefs. This traditional system of chiefly authority is feudalistic and quite fundamentally different from the system of rights-based democratic system as espoused by the international community.
There are some who continue to believe that the 1997 Constitution as a whole was perfect even when certain parts of it in fact helped to entrench, perpetuate and legitimize race-based, divisive politics.
Given such fundamental, deep-rooted and complex problems, the case for change now is compelling. It is time to do things differently. There is a need for major changes and reforms in every area of Fiji’s institutional, political, economic and social governance. It is against this background and context that the new Constitution for Fiji needs to be formulated.
A New Constitution for Fiji: Key Values, Principles and Fundamentals
Some Critical Pre-Conditions:
We submit that Fiji’s new Constitution be formulated within a solid foundational framework, based on certain key values, principles and non-negotiable fundamentals.
We note that for its part, the current Government in its “Fiji Constitutional Process ( Constitution Commission) Decree 2012” ie Decree No. 57 of 18 July, 2012, has stipulated, inter alia, the following: i) that the new Constitution must be premised on the fundamental values and principles set out in the Peoples Charter for Change, Peace, and Progress, and, further, that it must include provisions that achieve the following non-negotiable principles and values:
A common and equal citizenry, including the name “ Fijian” to refer to all Fiji citizens and that this be irrevocably entrenched in law;
A secular state; the removal of systemic corruption;
An independent judiciary;
Elimination of discrimination;
Good and transparent governance;
One person, one vote, one value;
The elimination of ethnic voting;
Proportional representation and
Voting age of 18 years.
We fully endorse the foregoing fundamental values and principles as set by the current Government of Fiji. In doing so, we further submit that the following should, additionally, underpin the vision in the new Constitution for rebuilding Fiji:
A just and fair society, Merit-based equality of opportunity, Uplifting the disadvantaged in all communities, Mainstreaming the i-Taukei in a modern, progressive Fiji; Growing the economy through sound policies; and Interfaith dialogue and a sharing of spiritualities and, in particular, the initiation of a process of national reconciliation and healing.
In the context of the foregoing, we submit that Fiji needs a united and unifying vision; a vision that brings the people of Fiji together, to celebrate the strengths embodied in their diversity and for them to work together to solve the inherited deep-rooted political, economic, and social problems for the common good of all in the country.
We further submit that the case for change and fundamental reforms is now most compelling for Fiji and its people. The need is imperative for major changes and reforms in every area of Fiji’s institutional, political, economic, and social governance.
Some Concrete Proposals:
We submit that the new Constitution must clearly define the structure of the government and its relationship ( and obligations and responsibility) to the people of Fiji, and indeed also, to the international community, in its conduct as a member of the international family of nations committed to democratic governance.
In regard to ensuring sustainable democratic, good governance in Fiji, we submit the following in particular:
Fiji’s people should aspire for a representative parliamentary democracy based on the following key principles:
To freely elect, on an equal basis, their representatives who will decide, through majority decision-making, on the national priorities and the allocation of resources for the common shared interests of all the people;
The government, to be legitimate, should be for all the people and include all, regardless of ethnicity, race, religion, gender, ability, age or any other similar circumstance;
As a government of the people, it must extend rights equally and fairly to all,
The majority’s right to decide public policy must be balanced by the right of the minority to be protected against bias or victimization;
The interest of the nation should be paramount. The government should not systematically and willfully pursue the interest of the few over the broad and continuing interest of the nation as a whole; and
The formulation and implementation of policies and programmes should be through processes that have integrity and are transparent and accountable.
In regard to electoral reform, we submit that under the 1997 Constitution, Fiji’s electoral system was undemocratic; that it violated UN Conventions on discrimination and the right to universal and equal suffrage. In this context, we submit that Fiji needs and must have a system that embraces the following: a simple voting system that promotes neutrality and ensures accurateness; that it does not encourage bias towards any particular ethnic, religious or political ideologies; that to be legitimate, it must reflect the will of the people. Also it must produce a Parliament that is accountable to the voters. In this foregoing context, we submit in particular, the following:
The complete abolishment of the communal representation system; and for this to be replaced with a common roll system for all future elections;
The Alternate Vote electoral system under the 1997 Constitution to be replaced by a Proportional Representation(PR) system and which provides for Open List Voting;
That specific anti-discrimination measures be incorporated into Fiji’s electoral laws to ensure no person is discriminated against by political parties on the grounds of race, religion, gender, or circumstance;
That a relatively small number of large constituencies, but no more than five, be adopted to maximize the proportional benefits of the PR electoral system;
That the mandatory power sharing arrangement as contained in the 1997 Constitution be removed; and
That the voting age be reduced to 18 years.
In regard to other related issues, we submit the following for due consideration by the Constitution Commission:
There should be a single elected House of Representatives. Do away with the Senate or an ‘ Upper House”, Great Council of Chiefs or other machinations that are likely to exercise supra governance or political power above the head of the elected representatives of the people in the Parliament;
The term of the elected parliament should be 4 years and not 5 years as previously;
We support the recommendation arising from the Peoples Charter process that the total number of seats in the House of Representatives to be reduced from 71 ( as under the 1997 Constitution) to 54; and the total size of the Cabinet not to exceed 25% of the overall size of Parliament;
The salaries of the Parliamentarians to be increased;
The elected government should have the flexibility to appoint a specified number of non-elected individuals such as the needed technical and professional people ( up to at least 25% of the Cabinet) to serve as Cabinet Ministers but without any voting rights in the Parliament.
There should be minimum prescribed requirements for eligibility to stand for and contest in the elections. International conventions and best practice should apply in this context;
No one individual may serve more than two consecutive terms of four years each ( ie total of 8 years) as Prime Minister;
The President’s term of office should be limited to one term of 5 years to see through the four-year election process before handing over the reign of office to his/her successor.
The Governments of the future under the new Constitution must be fully accountable to the people of Fiji through Parliament and its procedures. These to include:
A robust and effective Opposition, able to fully scrutinize the programmes and policies of Government;
A Parliamentary Committee system that has the resources and capacity to consider matters before the Parliament in a non-partisan manner in the interest of the people and the Nation;
The people to have access to Parliament through their petitions and proposals and that these receive appropriate and due consideration;
The Parliament to have the capacity to adequately carry out executive and administrative oversight of governance through its own constitutionally created independent statutory agencies.
These to include: i) an independent and well-resourced Ombudsman’s Office with broadened powers of investigation; ii) an independent and well-resourced Fiji Human Rights Commission; iii) an independent and well-resourced Auditor-General’s Office; iv) a Parliamentary Accounts Committee; and v) an independent and well-resourced Fiji Independent Commission Against Corruption ( FICAC). The responsibility for funding these agencies should be entrusted to the Parliament; and for the Electoral Commission to be robustly independent as is the case in countries such as India.
System of Appropriate Governance for Fiji:
In regard to the system of government for Fiji ( ie in terms of the Westminster; non-Westminster European model; or the various Presidential systems), we submit that it would be most pragmatic and prudent to stick with what Fiji has been used to to-date, albeit to look at ways and means to make that work better for Fiji and its people. Going forward, therefore, the Westminster model that Fiji inherited at Independence, and which it has become accustomed to, may best be further adapted, refined and evolved. This would be the most pragmatic action to take in going forward for Fiji.
Challenges to and for Change:
There are some who believe that the 1997 Constitution as a whole is a success, even when certain parts of the Constitution have in fact helped to entrench, perpetuate and legitimize race-based, divisive politics. A major impediment to Fiji’s return to parliamentary democracy is that the current electoral and voting system, as contained in the 1997 Constitution is itself undemocratic.
There are people in our communities who tolerate the leadership of those politicians and ethno-nationalists who are elitist, extremist and self-interested. It is time that Fiji’s people awake to the motives of such leaders whose actions are divisive and damaging and which leave the people of Fiji behind, in terms of peace, stability and progress.
There has been a tendency on the part of many to be gullible in reacting to the basic fears and resentments that some leaders have chosen to manipulate, and which has resulted in people not facing up to the fundamental need for change. Fiji needs leaders who are progressive, visionary, and constructive. Fiji’s people, in all communities, need to reject those so-called leaders who sow nothing but the seeds of fear, insecurity and negativity. Criticism can be valuable but not if that is all such leaders have to say. Optimism must have its place. Fiji cries out for better, more enlightened leadership.
People have in the past accepted governments that have been nothing but a national embarrassment in the way that they have discharged their sacred responsibilities to the people of Fiji. In particular, Fiji needs strong and effective institutions to enforce accountability and the rule of law.
There is a need to confront the fact that Fiji’s economy has been performing at a level grossly below its potential; that increasing numbers of Fiji’s people, especially the youth, may face long term unemployment with all the risks this may pose for their well being. Leaders and policy makers need to be imaginative, innovative and bold, to ensure Fiji’s environment is conducive for private sector - led growth; for confidence and investment in the country to increase. Fiji must find new markets and create more new job opportunities. Part of the solution lies in better education. In addition, more thoughtfulness is needed in the approach to giving access to land and its utilization for new economic growth.
There is a need to stop treating law and order as someone else’s problem. Families and communities need to recognize that it is their children and families that commit crimes. Jail time often solves nothing. Communities need to find ways to help and change those who engage in criminal behaviour.
There is a need to break the cycle of coups, to put an end to what is now widely perceived as the “coup culture” in Fiji. This means an acceptance, through change in thought, attitude and behaviour, that Fiji’s framework of governance, which must entrench the rule of law, is paramount and that no individual or community in Fiji can claim any higher interest. It means dealing with those who persist in peddling the ethno-nationalist-supremacy agenda; and also in moderating the rise of religious fundamentalism. It also means rethinking the role of the army so that it still protects national security and that any of its concerns about governance gets addressed and resolved within the established governance framework. The RFMF, in its composition, should be truly multi-racial reflecting the diversity of Fiji as a nation. The RFMF as an institution is strong. One of the problems for Fiji is that other, key institutions are weak. It is imperative that the new Constitution of Fiji contains punitive mandatory measures, such as the death penalty, for any acts of treason; that this be enshrined in Fiji’s laws which no one should be able to change.
There is a need to resolve the long term problems in Fiji’s international relationships. Currently, these are not good, in large part because of the 2006 coup but substantively, since May, 1987. Fiji needs to demonstrate, consistently, that it is operating within the rule of law. The international community, for its part, needs to be better informed about Fiji and its overall situation in order for Fiji’s external development partners to be more compassionate in their understanding about Fiji, and about the deep-rooted problems that affect the country and the people of Fiji.
Fiji has lost enormously in the wake of the successive coups since 1987, as a result of bad governance, and through divisive, ethnic-based politics and policies. The losses of development opportunities have been great. Fiji’s image and reputation has been greatly tarnished, not only within its own communities but in the eyes of the international community as well.
With a deeper understanding and awareness by the people of Fiji of the overall complex situation that Fiji is in, this country can be rebuilt as a nation : to move forward, and to attain the status of a truly democratic, progressive and stable multiracial society.