2 Mar 2012

Fiji regime misses own deadline on constitutional review process

12:58 pm on 2 March 2012

Fiji's military regime has missed its own deadline to launch the constitutional review process.

The interim Prime Minister, Commodore Frank Bainimarama, was due to announce details of the consultation in the fourth week of February.

Megan Whelan reports

At the beginning of the year, Public Emergency Regulations were lifted so discussions on a new constitution, in time for elections in 2014, could begin.

An announcement was delayed because of flooding in January, but Commodore Bainimarama told diplomats last month that consultation would start by the end of February.

The information ministry said Commodore Bainimarama would provide details about the timeframe and methodology of the consultation process.

Repeated requests for information about the process put to the Ministry of Information's Permanent Secretary, Sharon Smith Johns, this week have gone unanswered.

The CEO of the Citizens Constitutional Forum, the Reverend Akuila Yabaki, says it is disappointing the deadline has been missed.

"If there's a vacuum, then it gives us an opportunity to make people aware, that their contributions are vital, and doing some civic education in preparation for it. But this extensive programme should also continue."

But the leader of the Fiji Labour Party Mahendra Chaudhry says now that it is March, he's not surprised.

This has happened in the past, promises has been made about elections and a new constitution, and these haven't been honoured. They've bluffed in the past, and the bluffs continue.

The country's former opposition leader, Mick Beddoes says he's not surprised either, but nor is he worried.

I'm satisfied that in fact there are certain changes that have been occurring, that I consider to be positive. They're small steps, but I consider them to be positive. So I am encouraged by that. And I also know that there is a move to start the consultative, or the constitutional process, and if that is going to be delayed a little, I'm not unnecessarily concerned about it.

The Labour Party's Mahendra Chaudhry says he is also not surprised the Fiji media has not noted the delay, saying despite the lifting of the Public Emergency Regulations, the media does not have full freedom.

That's to be expected from the media here. They are very submissive, very weak, actually. It's very unfortunate that the media here lacks guts.

But Mick Beddoes says reporters are still not sure, with the imposition of the Public Order Act, what is and isn't printable.

You need to have a willing group of people prepared to comment, to have something to report on. And I think that even that is going to take a little time to pick up speed. I expect that gradually that will occur. And of we, say for example, are able to start the constitutional development process soon, I suspect that people will start to make comments.

Mick Beddoes says it is important for people to be able to comment on the constitutional process, if only for the regime to hear what people are thinking.