"At 5 pm that same day, I met PM Bainimarama ( I/PM ) in his Office; with MPC [Mahendra Pal Chaudhry] being the only other person in attendance. This meeting lasted over 3 hours." - John Samy
Some Personal Notes
- In early February, 7, Francis [Narayan] and I went to Fiji on a private, personal visit. We spent some time in the West before going to Suva.
- While in Suva, following an early morning jog at Suva Point, I decided to drop by (at about 7am ) to see Mahendra P. Chaudhry ( MPC ), then Minister of Finance in the Interim Govt. ( and who was deposed as Prime Minister by the Speight coup in 2000). I had not seen or talked to MPC for about 12 years. MPC was out in the yard in his garden, cleaning up. We agreed to meet the next morning.
- The next morning, over breakfast at his residence, MPC and I had a discussion over almost three hours. This was a very frank and wide-ranging discussion; and during this, MPC requested me to extend my stay in Fiji to help the IG formulate its Road Map for the Return to Parliamentary Democracy. I said I could not stay on in Fiji but promised to send in my comments/suggestions/inputs for the IG’s Road Map;
- Upon return to Auckland, I worked overnight to put on paper my thoughts/suggestions;. and, on the next day, sent this via email to MPC. These were titled : “ Way Forward Road Map”, WFRM.
- When the IG announced its “ Road Map”on 20 February, 2007, there was nothing in there that I could recognize relative to my WFRM submission.
- I then re-sent my WFRM notes by email to Minister Chaudhry, indicating to him that perhaps he had not received those the first time. A week later, MPC called and over the telephone, shared with me PM Bainimarama’s response to my suggestions/ recommendations in regard to the way forward.
- When Chaudhry called me, he said PM Bainimarama wanted to move forward on the new “ Road Map” proposal I had put up ( Note : at this point, there was no reference to a Peoples Charter initiative ). Moreover, Chaudhry said PM Bainimarama wanted to engage me and pay me for my services; to take this whole thing forward.( see copy of communication with MPC and Bainimarama’s letter, attached ).
- I told Chaudhry that I needed to meet PM Bainimarama first; and that for that purpose, I would pay my own way to Suva; that the issue of hiring and paying me was premature.
- I went to Fiji, at my expense, for a period of 8 days in early March, 07. On arrival in Suva, the first person I met was Ratu Joni Madraiwiwi ( who was Vice President of Fiji and who was removed in the wake of the December, 06 coup). I gave him a copy of the WFRM, and mentioned to him the possibility of the IG moving forward on this. I requested him to consider the possibility of serving as Co-Chair of a National Council should one be constituted.
- At 5 pm that same day, I met PM Bainimarama ( I/PM) in his Office; with MPC being the only other person in attendance. This meeting lasted over 3 hours. After the introductory courtesies, I started by indicating to the I/PM that I did not support the military overthrow of elected governments; that I fully backed the stance taken by me ( ie the NZ ) Government; that in the wake of successive coups since May, 1987, Fiji had been on a path of precipitous decline and stagnation; that the reforms ( ie the “Clean-up Campaign”) that Bainimarama advocated was much needed but that he had no mandate; that he had to and must go to the people of Fiji, and that this be done through an inclusive, consultative and participatory process, ie one that was not fettered with or manipulated by the Military and the IG, to enable the people to become better aware of the overall situation of Fiji, and for them to chart the way forward to resolve Fiji’s deep- rooted problems.
I put to him the idea of Ratu Joni Madraiwiwi serving as Co-Chair should the I/PM decide to go forward with the basic ideas and proposals contained in the WFRM; and I also impressed on him that if he were to set up a National Council, then it would need to be inclusive and broadly representative and include all of his major opponents.
- During that week in March, besides talking to Ratu Joni M. I also coordinated closely with a number of people outside of the Government. They included Profs. Rajesh Chandra and Vijay Naidu, Akuila Yabaki, Radike Qereqeretabua, Suli Siwatibau, Jone Dakuvula. I tried to outreach Wadan Narsey but he inflicted abuse and walked away ! In between all these meetings, which included several more one-on-one sessions with the I/PM, I did further work on the WFRM and developed that into a fuller draft proposal, titled : “ Developing A Better Fiji For All …Through …. A Peoples Charter for Change and Progress”.
- When this draft Proposal was ready, the I/PM asked me to appear before the full the Cabinet, and, upon my suggestion, he agreed that I should also meet with the full Military Council. Both these meetings were held on the same day, at short notice. Also, before departing Suva to return to Auckland, upon my request and after getting the I/PM’s clearance to do so, I met with the NZ High Commissioner ( Michael Green); and gave him a full briefing on what I had been doing in Suva that week. I gave him an advance copy of the Draft Proposal to forward to the authorities in Wellington. Soon after I arrived back in Auckland, received communication from Ratu Joni Madraiwiwi declining any role or involvement on this Peoples Charter initiative.
- I continued to do further work on the draft PC proposal, and went back to Fiji in April, 07 ( with me paying for my expenses). This draft Proposal was then circulated widely, in mid-April 07, to leaders of various national organizations ( a total exceeding 150 ); and also to Heads of Governments (including Aus and NZ ) and International Organizations ( World Bank, ADB, UN, COMSEC,EU ).The I/PM personally signed each of these letters which invited recipients to provide comments and inputs to finalise the Proposal and also to get involved, support and contribute in formulating a Peoples Charter.
- During the balance of 2007, I was in and out of Fiji numerous times, specifically for the purpose of providing assistance to move this initiative forward. For the year ( 2007) as a whole, I did just over ten months of work at no cost to the IG. I met my own expenses ( with supporting in-kind contributions from some friends and well-wishers from Auckland and in Fiji). I politely refused Bainimarama’s offer of remuneration
- In September, 07 ( ie before the formal launching of the PC initiative scheduled for 10 October,07) I formally wrote to the I/PM, seeking his assurances on certain critical preconditions and key principles (see letter of 28 Sep07).
- The above is an annotated outline of how the PCCPP process got underway; and the basis on which I was prepared to put my reputation on the line and to get fully and deeply involved.
- The 45 –Member National Council for Building a Better Fiji ( NCBBF) was appointed by the President of Fiji in late 2007. The leaders of all major political parties and leaders of other representative national level organizations, including the deposed Prime Minister Laisenia Qarase, were invited to become members of the NCBBF. Archbishop Petero Mataca, the head of the Catholic Church and the I/PM were appointed by the President to serve as the two Co-Chairs; and in early January, 2008, I was appointed as Head of the Technical Secretariat of the NCBBF. The first meeting of the NCBBF was held in mid-January, 2008.
- By mid-December, 08, the NCBBF concluded its work and submitted its Report to the President of Fiji, together with the Peoples Charter for Change, Peace and Progress ( PCCPP). Following extensive, nation-wide consultations and outreach, the NCBBF reported to the President that 64% of the adult population of Fiji had embraced and supported the PCCPP.
“In a recent lunch meeting, the architect of the Peoples, Charter, John Samy, told the Ambassador that that he undertook the process thinking it would be helpful to Fiji. As political events have unfolded since the Charter’s launch in August, Samy has lost enthusiasm for the direction of the IG. He expressed disappointment about the intimidation used to get people to endorse the Charter. Samy understands now that the aspirational goals of the Charter) some of which are necessary to take Fiji away from race-based politics) will not be met without returning to the 1997 Constitution and Parliament. Ultimately, it might require a deal among all the parties and it is too soon to tell whether the PPDF can achieve this. Samy said he was looking forward to his return to New Zealand...“Some of Samy’s frustration at the direction the IG has taken undoubtedly stems from encounters with attorney general Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum, who remains close to Bainimarama and is strongly opposed to holding elections in the near term. Fiji’s highest ranking civil servant, Parmesh Chand, reached out to the Ambassador to express concern, both his own and on behalf of others within the IG seeking elections in 2009, about the AG’s influence with Bainimarama. Chand’s view, that the AG has captured the ear of Bainimarama in a negative way, is widely held in Fiji.” US Ambassador Steven McGaan to Washington, Wikileaks, 2008
August 2008, Fiji Sun
The Draft Peoples Charter: $2.4million document for dustbin
By VICTOR LAL
A member of the National Council for Building a Better Fiji had whetted my anticipation to Himalayan heights, making me stay up late into the English night, for he had sent me an advance copy of the draft People’s Charter for Change, Peace and Progress shortly before its official release to the much maligned media, and indirectly, to the Fiji Islanders.
The NCBBF member had, however, attached a grumbling note to the draft copy: “Sorry, this is all they could come up with, despite a budget of $2.4million.” Curiously, he neither defended nor apologised for his own involvement in the preparation of the 38-page post-coup document, which is most likely to end up in the dustbin of history, or as I have recommended, it be placed in a $2.4million “coup museum”.
Now, after a sombre reflection, the NCBBF member says that he is actually shameful of the document and its contents but is too scared to register any dissension. He claims that he had been taken for a ride – in fact, Fiji has been taken for a ride. But let us hope, and without God’s intervention, that the draft charter’s journey will be cut short, and for a variety of compelling reasons.
It is instructive to recall that a member of the NCBBF, Father David Arms, the principle architect of the recommendation for electoral reform, had urged the NCBBF members to take advantage of the military coup, and by extension the absence of parliamentary democracy, and accept his recommendation for the introduction of proportional voting system. Fathers Arms said there was a need to abolish the communal seats as it “is complicated, leads to unfair results and divides the people ethnically”.
He said, “As the military regime was more or less acting outside the Constitution, the NCBBF should take the opportunity to push through the electoral reforms and amend the Constitution, by taking advantage of the military authority and ignoring the legal constitutional requirements for making such changes”. His prayers have been heeded, for the draft charter wants changes to the electoral system.
The charter maintains that the electoral system is one of the ways to ensure sustainable democracy and good and just governance in Fiji. It wants to abolish the communal representation system provided for under the 1997 Constitution and the Electoral Act 1998, and replace this with the use of a common roll system for all future elections.
The NCBBF wants to establish, as it claims, a fair system of voting so that all the interests and wishes of the people of Fiji can be represented in the Parliament as expressed through free, fair and honest elections and for this, we should adopt an Open List Proportional Representation (PR) Electoral and Voting System.
The draft charter proposed to incorporate specific anti-discrimination measures into Fiji’s electoral laws, to ensure no person is discriminated against, by political parties on the grounds of race, religion, gender or circumstance.
It also wants to from remove the multi-party government clause, the mandatory power sharing arrangement as provided for under the Constitution. As well, it proposes lowering the voting age from 21 to 18 years of age, and wants to maintain compulsory registration but calls for the abolition compulsory voting.
The draft charter wants the electoral system removed from the Constitution and enacted as law so that it may be amended and reformed from time to time according to the will of the people. However, it suggests that the fundamental recommendations of non-ethnic voting, equal franchise and Proportional Representation be enshrined in the Constitution. It says Fiji’s electoral system is racially discriminatory and undemocratic.
It adds that the United Nations Convention on Discrimination and the Right to Universal and Equal Suffrage requires each individual vote to be equal in value. The current communal system of representation entrenches inequalities, by not providing one value for one vote, has contributed to the “coup culture”, and the consequent ethnic-based politics that has impeded our national development. The draft charter says it commits the country to a free and fair electoral process, that promotes one people, one nation and one identity.
There is nothing fundamentally wrong with the electoral system, except, maybe, the concept of mandatory power sharing in the Constitution. It is perverse to recommend changes to the electoral system on the basis that the 2006 general election was rigged, or because the party favoured by the military, the Fiji Labour Party, had not won the last general elections.
Yes, the above arguments are not in the draft charter, but one assumes that these arguments featured into the formulation of the final recommendations, based on the post-coup “official investigations” and FLP statements and pronouncements. What went really wrong, leading to the coup, was that the multi-party cabinet was not given time to work out some of the major differences between the different parties, and once the coup took place, the FLP did not stand up to defend human rights, the rule of law, and democracy. Instead, its leader took up a Cabinet position, and only recently claimed that the coup was necessary to “save the economy”.
Meanwhile, as I have consistently critiqued, most of the arguments in the draft charter do not hold up to scrutiny. I will be commenting upon various aspects of the charter later on, but suffice to plead with the nation, we should not be disheartened by the draft charter, for history is on our side, provided the Constitution, as the charter maintains, remains the supreme law of the land. After every coup in Fiji, men and women of good and bad intentions have come out to “Move Fiji Forward”, and the present lot in the NCBBF are no exception. In drafting the Peoples Charter, however, they had the mighty power of the guns behind them, and a cool $2.4millions of the taxpayers’ money.
We must, to use the Churchillian phrase, “Never Surrender” to those who had no mandate from the people to draft the charter. As I have consistently maintained, the military and its shadowy coup backers, had not gone to the people for permission to execute the coup, so they have no right to come to the people for the endorsement of the draft charter. This lot should stand for election and subject their charter to a national referendum.
And, the NCBBF must not, even feebly, dare to invoke the President’s name, to claim legitimacy. Digressing, it is time President Ratu Josefa Iloilo made a weekly appearance on the presidential lawn to address the nation or publicly endorse all future laws and decrees, which the interim regime claims he has endorsed at Government House. He is the people’s President and he must be seen and heard by the people!
The NCBBF’s proposed draft charter is a re-incarnation of the late Professor Asesela Ravuvu’s Constitutional Review Commission, albeit for different reasons, and it should be meted out the same fate, but without the support of the FLP, which was in the forefront of driving a death knell to it. We may recall that Professor Ravuvu was the architect of the racist 1990 Constitution after the 1987 coups. In 1988, he and I had bitterly clashed across the table at the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office seminar on post-coup Fiji in London. Among the participants was Ratu Epeli Nailatikau, who had been deposed as army commander by Sitiveni Rabuka’s coup but had later accepted to go up to London as Fiji’s post-coup high commissioner.
Many of Professor Ravuvu’s views which he was trying to formulate at the London conference later found their way into his 1991 book, Fiji: The Façade of Democracy, and in 2000, he re-surfaced to chair the CRC after the Speight coup. A similar pattern is discernable in the deliberations and papers of the NCBBF members, who want to do “A Ravuvu” after the 2006 coup – to shove their vision of Fiji through the draft Peoples Charter.
In September 2000, the FLP had denounced the composition of the Ravuvu commission charged with “reviewing” the 1997 Constitution. But the judiciary, in the person of Justice Anthony Gates, put a stop to its forward march and imposition on the nation. He later delivered another judgment, which should be a salutary warning to the drafters and backers of the Peoples Charter.
In Jokapeci Koroi & Ors v Commissioner of Inland Revenue & the Attorney-General, Lautoka High Court, Civil Action No 0179/2001L, Justice Gates declared: “Unruly persons are unlikely to seek validation for their usurpations from judges. Nor should the courts give their sanction when application is eventually made under the doctrine of effectiveness, for there is no such force behind it. In this regard, I respectfully differ from [Hans] Kelsen. Judges should expect and anticipate that the usurpers will see them removed. So be it. Judges do not represent the law. The doctrine of effectiveness has no moral underpinning, and judges do no honourable business therefore in according lawfulness to de facto administrations.”
And as I have written elsewhere, the present rulers of Fiji and their shameless apologists are nothing but mere “tenants” of Fiji’s future; they have no right to use and abuse their powers in the name of the people. In the path of the usurpers stands the 1997 Constitution and the Judiciary, and I have no doubt that the judges will choose the Constitution and not the Peoples Charter.
In case, the “People” of Fiji have let down their guard, another New Zealander has appeared on the scene, chosen to take the draft charter to the people. His name is Pat Craddock. The NCBBF chief John Samy, who came down from New Zealand to head the NCBBF, claims that Mr Craddock is the perfect choice as he has previous experience in Fiji. Can Mr Samy tell us how much are the taxpayers paying this man, a former senior audio producer with the USP and later journalism lecturer?
Interestingly, in 2000 Mr Craddock had taken a swipe at Professor Ravuvu’s appointment to head the CRC, pointing out the late professor’s views in the book The Façade of Democracy. He went on to note in the Pacific Media Watch (20 June 2000): “When and if the former Prime Minister (Mahendra Chaudhry) and the other 30 hostages emerge pale-faced but safe from the cells of Parliament, it will only be a short time before they talk loud and often to a waiting world media. I am not sure that guns and threats can silence these and other voices. It looks like being a long, dark and also a noisy night for Fiji.”
Well, when Mr Craddock and his team take the draft Peoples Charter to the people, they should not hesitate to shout back at them, and through them, to the interim regime: “We have had enough of repression and suppression. Tell the regime to take the charter and go to hell. We need election, democracy, rule of law, human right, and bread and butter for our families. And want to see a detailed breakdown of how our $2.4million was spent on preparing this charter.”
The draft Peoples Charter for Change, Peace and Progress belongs to the dustbin of history; for it is a regressive document, prepared by a team of individuals (locals and foreigners) who had no mandate from the People of Fiji. It is time for the Fiji Islanders to really make noises, and their noises must be heard around the world.
If not, Fiji will continue to be plunged into further darkness, by forces who seem to believe that might is right. And that the taxpayers’ money is there for their taking!