19 Mar 2021

Fiji Draft Police Bill withdrawn: PM's move puzzles critics

3:50 pm on 19 March 2021

The Prime Minister pulling the plug on the controversial proposed Police Bill without an official announcement raises more questions than answers, Fiji's Opposition National Federation Party said.

Frank Bainimarama told State-owned media the draft legislation would not reach Parliament because the government wasn't consulted.

Fiji police

Fiji police Photo: Facebook Fiji Police

But NFP President, Pio Tikoduadua, said the prime minister's comments come two weeks after his Defence Minister, Inia Seruiratu, was photographed at the launch of public consultations on the Bill.

The event was also attended by representatives of the New Zealand High Commission and the UN's development agency in Suva.

Tikoduadua claimed everybody knew that everything happened in the government on the prime minister or the attorney-general's command.

The prime minister met with senior police officers this week to discuss the heavy criticism levelled against the proposed Bill.

The draft legislation was expected to replace the Police Act of 1965 and would give police more surveillance powers if passed in parliament.

Consultations on the Bill had also been cancelled as Fijians tried to grasp how the Bill was thrust into the public domain without the government's knowledge.

Former prime minister, Sitiveni Rabuka, said Bainimarama's comments that the Fiji Police Force had acted unilaterally, and that the government had not been consulted before the public discussions began, were 'puzzling'.

Rabuka said Bainimarama missed out on a great opportunity by selecting 'certain media organisations' to inform Fiji he was withdrawing the draft Bill.

Rabuka said the prime minister should have followed protocol and announced his dissatisfaction with the way the draft Bill had been handled via the Department of Information.

"That would have been the normal thing to do because it is a very impactful statement that a lot of people in Fiji rejoice about," the former Opposition leader told the Fiji Times newspaper.

Rabuka said it meant he was putting his foot down as the Chief Executive Officer of Fiji.

"He missed a great opportunity by giving it to a select sector of the media. Before a Bill is taken out to be discussed publicly, it should at least have been to Cabinet. If Cabinet gives it the nod, then it is taken out for consultation.

"Then it comes back to Cabinet with the recommendations for the various changes and goes back to the legal draftsman and then it's presented in Parliament."

Fiji Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama, right, and Minister for Disaster Management Inia Seruiratu.

Fiji Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama, right, and Minister for Disaster Management Inia Seruiratu. Photo: Fiji govt

The Women's Crisis Centre said the government or the Prime Minister's office needed to issue an official statement regarding its stand on the draft Bill.

The centre's co-ordinator, Shamima Ali, said this was necessary because the only information people had was from two media platforms and social media sites.

The Social Democratic Liberal Party said Bainimarama must hold himself accountable following his government's decision to retract all consultations being carried out on the draft Bill

SODELPA leader, Viliame Gavoka, said the government only had itself to blame after allowing the Bill to be introduced to the public in the first place.

Gavoka said it took the Prime Minister two weeks to make public pronouncements against the Bill and 'one wonders how he can discharge duties of his office considering his statement reported by the media that neither the Solicitor-General nor Cabinet endorsed the draft bill'.

"It is of serious concern that a head of government was not even aware of what his Ministers are doing let alone carrying out consultations for a draft Bill that heavily infringes people's fundamental human rights," Gavoka said in a statement.

He said the 'blame game and the someone else's fault syndrome' should end and that the PM be accountable to the people.

Regardless of the decision to retract this Bill, it did not end here, Gavoka said.

"We call on the people to continue to vigourously oppose this draconian Bill until it is terminated for good."