28 Aug 2013

Fiji's PDP supportive of constitution - but wants to fix flaws

5:24 pm on 28 August 2013

The Fiji People's Democratic Party says the country's new constitution is a step in the right direction, as it sets the groundwork for a democratic election.

But its spokesperson, Nirmal Singh, says the need for a 75 percent parliament and registered voter majority to change the constitution is wrong, as is the denial of collective bargaining for civil servants.

He told Mary Baines the PDP will work to amend those provisions when it is elected to parliament.

NIRMAL SINGH: Fiji needs to get out of this rut, we need to move forward. And I must say, at least the constitution puts things into motion for an election. We recognise that the government is making credible efforts towards the election - the constitutional provision for 'one man, one vote and one value', registering the voting age at 18, removal of racial consideration from the constitution, extending the rights of iTaukei on landownership. These are some of the provisions in the constitution that we are very comfortable with and we are happy about it. So at least some groundwork has been done, and we must proceed towards making sure that peaceful democratic elections are held in 2014 and the power is given back to the people of Fiji. This is the only way we see so far.

MARY BAINES: So what are the provisions that you're not comfortable with?

NS: The specific one that in order to amend the constitution you need to have 75% of the members of parliament voting for it and then you have to have 75% of the registered voters voting for it, which becomes impossible. Which country do you have a turnout of voters with 35% of the voters voting in a general election? So this is something that we are not very comfortable with. The other provisions within the constitution is the law of civil servants, their right for collective bargaining and other fundamental rights. The Essential National Industries Decree, which totally denies workers rights remains, so does the Public Amendment Decree. The rights stated within the constitution have no value or meaning if they cannot be [Indistinct]. We feel that these provisions should not have been incorporated into the constitution, and that is what we are very uncomfortable with at the moment.

MB: And you didn't attend the constitution briefing by the attorney general as a mark of protest, is that right?

NS: Yes. It was surprising that on the eve of releasing the constitution to the people of Fiji the government sent through a truckload of military officers to the [Indistinct] Lautoka. This is intimidation and unacceptable. The military says they were to protect government investment in machinery, but the presence of the military itself on the mill is not appropriate. And this happening on the eve of delivering the constitution I think was very inappropriate, and we did not attend the briefing because of this. On one hand, the government is saying that you have these rights in the new constitution and on the other hand the government was demonstrating how easy it is for us to take those rights away. The constitution is a living document. The future generations and members of the parliament must be allowed to amend the constitution to suit their time. What is suitable for us now the future generations might decide is no longer suitable for them, and they should be allowed to amend the constitution.

MB: So how do you plan to contest these parts of the constitution that you're not happy with?

NS: So we are going in the parliament and fighting the election under this constitution with a clear understanding that when we go into the parliament one of our first major tasks is to ensure that those provisions in the constitution which we feel don't comply with the needs of the people or which are not comfortable with what people want, we'll try to amend those provisions in the constitution.