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Development In Fiji and The Elections Process

Ratu Epeli Nailatikau  Minister for Foreign Affairs, International Cooperation and Civil Aviation - Speech at the 17th MSG Foreign Ministers Meeting

I wish to thank the Chair for this opportunity to provide our fellow MSG Members with an update on the security and political situation in Fiji.

  1. Fiji is committed to hold a free, fair and transparent democratic election in March 2009. In this regard, the following progress is to be noted:
  2. National census completed ahead of schedule in 2007,
  3. Bureau of Statistics is working towards the mandate of providing the Constitutional Boundaries Commission with provisional populations of eligible voters by enumeration area.
  4. Electoral Commission and Electoral Boundaries Commission have, since the appointment of Commissioners, commenced operations.
  5. Commissions allowed complete independence in the pursuit of their mandated tasks.
  6. The same approach will apply to the Supervisor of Elections and the responsibilities allotted to that office by the Constitution.
  7. The Deputy Supervisor of Elections has been appointed and the Elections Office has now been assigned adequate staff to ensure the smooth and effective running of daily operations.
  8. Two very important requirements that have been and continue to be pursued vigorously and which are close to being fully realized are: 
    a. Appointment of the Supervisor of Elections
    b. Identification and securing of the required technical and financial resources
  9. Continuing dialogue between the EU Troika of resident representatives, comprising the EU Delegate to the Pacific and their counterparts in the Interim Government.
  10. The Chairman of the Electoral Commission and the Deputy Supervisor of Elections are now meeting with the JWG on a continuous basis to brief the latter on the progress of parliamentary election preparatory work.
  11. Donor Coordination Committee (DCC) on the election preparatory work is now meeting continuously to coordinate all assistance offered by countries that have made the commitment to assist Fiji in the upcoming parliamentary election.
  12. Elections Office has been allocated F$3.5 million for voter registration and this process is expected to begin as early as June, 2008.
  13. Fiji’s commitment was communicated and endorsed by the Forum Foreign Affairs Ministers Meeting in Auckland, New Zealand on 26th March, 2008.
  14. Fiji Government is working in close association with the Pacific Islands Forum-Fiji Joint Working Group (JWG) and Elections Donor Coordinating Committee on the donor assistance package for the upcoming election. Consultation between Fiji and EU-Troika on the progress towards parliamentary election is on going.
  15. Fiji is committed to returning to parliamentary democracy by March 2009 and welcomes the current effort by PIFS on the Ministerial Contact Group to monitor Fiji’s Progress towards election.
  16. Consultation is also continuing with the Commonwealth and ACP-EU on the political developments in Fiji. A visit by the ACP Committee of Ambassadors on 12 – 16 May consulted widely with a wide range of political parties, NGOs, church leaders and representatives of the Interim Government. This will be followed by an EU Committee of Ambassadors’ visit on 3 – 6 June.

National Council for Building a Better Fiji (NCBBF)
The NCBBF has been tasked to develop a People’s Charter for Change, Progress and Peace (PCCPP) that has the ultimate objective of rebuilding Fiji into a non-racial, culturally vibrant and united, well-governed and truly democratic nation that seeks progress and prosperity through merit-based equality of opportunity and peace.

This is to be realized through a process of inclusive and wide ranging dialogue on actions and measures to address, in a systematic and comprehensive fashion, the longstanding political, social and economic challenges faced by Fiji. The Charter, which is independent of political influence, will provide a strategic framework for a holistic development by successive future Governments in a way forward towards a better Fiji for all.

On 15th April, 2008, the NCBBF passed the following resolution “Calling a forum in collaboration with the NCBBF to be held by the end of May, 2008 if not earlier, backed by appropriate expertise and resources for key stakeholders in Fiji, including all the political parties, to discuss the steps needed to reform Fiji’s electoral system to conform, inter alia, with the principles enunciated with the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Fiji’s Pacific Forum development partners may be invited to join in the discussion.

It should also be noted, that the PCCPP initiative will not undermine the current commitment to holding parliamentary elections in 2009. His Excellency the President has directed that the PCCPP be handed to him by 10 October, 2008 which is a deadline that is well before the first quarter of 2009, the timeline for the holding of the parliamentary elections.

Rule of Law
The 1997 Constitution remains the Supreme Law of the land and the rule of law continues to be upheld throughout the period covered in this report. In addition, the rights of all individuals, communities and groups continued to be fully respected as enshrined in the Constitution.

Fundamental human rights guaranteed in international law and Fiji’s Constitution remains intact and continues to be observed and respected. Allegations of infringements of human rights are dealt by the court and as of recent; police officers involved in the death of one Tevita Malasebe were jailed and sentenced to life in prison by the court. All other cases concerning allegations of human rights abuse and assault by members of the security authorities are also now before the Courts awaiting trial.

Independence of Judiciary
The Judiciary remains independent and will continue to operate independently from external or, for that matter, any undue influence.

Initial hearings of the court case brought by former Prime Minister Laisenia Qarase against the Interim Government and the State had commenced without any interference on October 4, 2007 and is in progress. Hearings were completed in the first quarter of this year and the High Court is now expected to deliver its judgment.

Despite allegations to the contrary, no party has come forward with or offered the slightest proof that the independence of the judiciary had indeed been compromised. On the contrary, the judiciary remains firmly committed to upholding the rule of law and continues to exercise its powers as enshrined in the Constitution.

Institutional Strengthening

  1. Establishment of FICAC.
  2. Recruitment of High Court judges from abroad.

 

Human Rights and Fundamental Freedom
With regards to all cases of complaints of brutality by the security forces or deprivation of other human rights lodged with the Police authorities, internal investigations are being conducted to ensure that such infringements, if any, will be dealt with appropriately according to law and offenders have been put through the courts and sentenced accordingly.

Media Freedom
The Fiji Government continues to reiterate that it has and always will uphold the freedom of the Media and the freedom of expression. The Interim Government maintains that it has never at any stage planned to gag the media. What it did emphasize continuously however was the need for fair and responsible reporting based on facts and verifiable evidence to prevent racially based insinuations, incitement of the public to engage in violence or riots and ultimately to avert actual or perceived unrest and instability.

On the removal of Mr. Russell Hunter, Editor of the Fiji Sun and Mr. Evan Hannah, the Fiji Times Publisher, it must be emphasized that they were removed on the basis of credible evidence that they had conducted themselves in the manner that were deemed prejudicial to national security. They were removed under the provision of Section 13(2)(g) of the Immigration Act, Cap 89 which states “that a person who, prior to or after entry into the Fiji Islands, as a result of information received from any country, through official or diplomatic channels, or from any other source that the Minister considers reliable, is deemed by the Minister, to be a person who is or has been conducting himself in a manner prejudicial to the peace, defense, public safety, public order, public morality, public health, security or good governance of the Fiji Islands”. The due process of law pertaining to their removal was strictly followed to the letter.

On the issue of the Court Order issued by the High Court intended to stop their removal were not received by the Director of Immigration or any staff of the Department on the day of their departure. For the Court Order to be effective to stop departure, it had to be received and sighted by the Director of Immigration before officials could act on it. Given that this specific requirement was not satisfied to the letter of the law, the Immigration Officials had no other legal obligation but to execute removal proceedings. Court proceedings on the matter are now in progress.

I thank the members for their attention.