22 Aug 2013

Fiji's government publishes its constitution

3:52 pm on 22 August 2013

The Fiji government has published its constitution, after months of delays since the release of the draft in March.

There are some obvious changes to the document, particularly in regard to the protection of indigenous land rights, which was a concern voiced strongly by the public.

The government had engaged an independent commission last year but dumped their draft despite it taking into account thousands of submissions.

Johnny Blades spoke to our reporter Alex Perrottet who read the constitution today.

ALEX PERROTTET: The new constitution is the fourth in Fiji's history. It was hoped by many in Fiji last year that they would get a constitution that reflected their concerns, and the 7000-plus submissions from around the country went into a lengthy draft that was ultimately dumped by the regime at the beginning of this year. Yash Ghai, the Kenyan legal academic, had failed to include some of the regime's not-negotiable provisions such as immunity for coup perpetrators. So following that, they handed the task of drafting a new document to the Solicitor-General, and released the draft in March.

JOHNNY BLADES: And how do the documents mainly differ?

AP: Well, of course the Government's draft had all the immunity provisions, protecting perpetrators of all coups since 1987. It also continued to give prominence to the Fiji military, by putting it under the ultimate control of the prime minister. The final document has now moved that under the control of the President, but he appoints the head of the army in consultation with the Government. Critics say the military has been a huge part of the problem with coups and giving that prominence only perpetuates the concept of it being above the law, and it should be moved under the control of the department of defence. The new document also takes a step back towards the Yash Ghai draft in that it recognises indigenous land rights.

JB: Fiji used to have a race-based system. That's obviously gone.

AP: Yes, that's gone. It was gone in the draft. The government used that as a bit of an advertising point for the new constitution. Their emphasis was on one person, one vote, one value. But what's changed since the draft is now it's just one constituency, so you don't have the individual electorates. It's a proportional system. One house of parliament with 50 seats now, instead of 45.

JB: Regarding the public feedback - what sort of voice have the people had since March?

AP: Well, the Government advertised that the public could give feedback any way they like, including by text. But the problem is there was very little accountability and transparency. There was no publication of how many people texted feedback. There were radio programmes with Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama, but always with very favourable hosts who themselves would move dissenting callers on. The government says there were just over 1,000 public submissions, but that compares to the more than 7,000 received in the lengthy consultation process last year. And the Citizens Constitutional Forum says this is very clearly a government constitution, not a people's constitution, and that's what they should call it.