7 Sep 2017

Fiji Constitution Day sparks renewed calls for a review

7:34 pm on 7 September 2017

Fiji's Citizen's Constitutional Forum says there's still much disagreement over the country's constitution.

Fiji constitution

Fiji's 2013 Constitution is the country's fourth. Photo: supplied

Fiji is today marking the introduction of its fourth constitution with a Constitution Day public holiday.

The 2013 Constitution was brought in by the Frank Bainimarama government ahead of elections in 2014 but it remains a controversial document after an earlier draft was dumped.

The forum's chief executive Bulutani Mataitawakilai is urging the government to consider a review of the constitution as many people want to see some changes.

"It is a very sensitive issue because at the moment we have people who are saying bring back the 1997 constitution and we have people who are saying that the 2013 constitution cannot be reviewed.

"So people are still at loggerheads.

"Some people are saying for the two constitutions to be taken to court and for the court to make a decision which one is still valid."

Bulutani Mataitawakilai urged people to read and understand the document at it governed their everyday lives.

He said a constitution should be a living document that must withstand the test of times.

The forum was involved in Fiji-wide consultations in 2012 led by the Kenyan, Yash Ghai, which resulted in the draft constitution.

The 2013 document which followed set up a new electoral system which saw Frank Bainimarama returned to power in elections in 2014, the first since his coup of 2006.

Fiji's president urges Fijians to cherish Constitution

Fiji's president Jioji Konrote has encouraged Fijians to cherish and celebrate the constitution in a speech marking Constitution Day.

Major-General Konrote said the constitution is very clear and courageous and is a blueprint for how a good and decent people can live together.

Fiji's president Major-General Jioji Konrote delivers a speech on Constitution Day, September 2017

Fiji's president Major-General Jioji Konrote delivers a speech on Constitution Day, September 2017 Photo: Supplied

He said it was written by people from all over the country and enshrined fine principles of equality and rights for all.

The president said its guiding principles had helped the government translate Fiji's economic growth and prosperity directly into opportunity for the Fijian people.

"This Constitution was written by people from all over Fiji, who attended sessions to discuss the draft and who made suggestions in person and by letters and email.

"Different institutions representing different sectors made their voices heard. And so did ordinary Fijians, speaking for themselves. Many of you can see the ideas that you put forward in this Constitution, and you should be proud, it is truly a Constitution of the people."

Constitution 'lamented' by Opposition

But the leader of the parliamentary opposition in Fiji Ro Teimumu Kepa said Fiji needed a public discussion on the document and she reiterated calls for a review.

"The Opposition, therefore, views the 2013 Constitution as a transitional measure whose review like the 1990 Constitution is inevitable to restore genuine parliamentary democracy in Fiji," she said.

She said her party SODELPA had grave doubts about the electoral system and a bill or rights "with caveats".

"We lament the loss of customary and group rights and the essence of freedom that was guaranteed to the people of Fiji under the widely consulted 1997 Constitution."

The opposition urged people in Fiji to look at the country's constitutional issues holistically and seek to achieve a constitution that ensured sustainable democracy, human rights, the rule of law and good governance.

Get the RNZ app

for ad-free news and current affairs