A View from the Otherside The Missing NGOs

On Thursday June 22, 2017, the five registered Opposition Political Parties that participated in the 2018 Elections had a briefing for Members of the Diplomatic Corp on their submission to
10 Jul 2017 13:39
A View from the Otherside The Missing NGOs
Jone Dakuvula

On Thursday June 22, 2017, the five registered Opposition Political Parties that participated in the 2018 Elections had a briefing for Members of the Diplomatic Corp on their submission to the Government, the Electoral Commission and the Supervisor of Elections.

These were their desires for changes to the laws, policies and administrative practices that governed the 2014 Elections.

It was their response to the recommendations of the Multinational Observers Group Report (MOG) and the final Report of the Electoral Commission responsible for the 2014 Elections.

It is the first major detailed policies agreement between the five registered Opposition Parties on the way forward towards the 2018 Elections.

They want all the recommendations to be implemented including their own.

I attended this briefing as an invited representative of Pacific Dialogue.


Human rights concerns

Many other non-government organisations (NGOs) concerned with human rights and democracy had been invited (as I noted from the email list of invitees) but most were not there.

They did not come probably because they thought this was an Opposition political parties meeting.

They reflected the over cautions attitude of avoiding or not being seen by the Government and their aid donors as being associated with Opposition Political Parties.

Foreign governments and donors had decided after the 2014 Elections that Parliamentary democracy had been restored, the Government had been elected and Fiji was no longer a pariah state.

Normal relations were restored and the NGOs that did not agree with that assessment about democracy in Fiji were not to be funded anymore, only those NGOs that had the Fijian Government stamp of approval as“moderate” are preferred by the donors.

I think this was the first time since 2014 that the Fiji Diplomatic Corps heard from Opposition political parties their view of the future of the Parliamentary democracy in Fiji.

Their view very simply is that democracy in Fiji has a bleak future. Therefore, it was vital that all recommendations of the MOG Report and the Electoral Commission Reports be implemented if Fiji is to have a genuinely free and fair elections in 2018. They called on foreign embassies to support them in their representation to the Government for electoral reforms.

The Embassies representatives learnt a lot that challenged their respective Governments’ comfortable conclusion about the future of the rule of law and democracy in Fiji.

For this refreshment, some of them expressed appreciation.

Whether this meeting is going to change their governments’ view of Fiji and whether they will support the implementation of the MOG Report that they funded and make strong representation to the Fijian Government is doubtful.

Even though political parties are no longer required to have permits to organise meetings, like this one, non-attendance of significant human rights NGOs reflect the hang over fears, that still pervades the political environment since 2009.


Announcement of abrogation of the

1997 Constitution Decree

That was when the Attorney-General and Minister for Justice Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum published in the Government Gazette the Abrogation of the 1997 Constitution Decree, to be followed by a raft of restrictive and punitive Decrees, including many that governed the conduct of elections in 2014.

I also noted at this meeting that none of the five political party’s leaders who made sharp and sometimes emotional presentations mentioned the Mr Sayed-Khaiyum, the Minister responsible for Elections and who had introduced all of the Decrees and policies that they were objecting to in their submission.

The presentations of SODELPA 2018 Elections Leader Sitiveni Rabuka and the new President of the National Federation Party Pio Tikoduadua were not very emphatic because it was obvious they are still fearful of Mr Sayed-Khaiyum.

The former because he was arrested (that was his main point) last year and he had to spend one night in jail for the sake of lifting the permits for public meetings,and the latter because he was a former Permanent Secretary of Mr Sayed-Khaiyum and was again sidelined as advisor to the Prime Minister even in Parliament, compelling his resignation in 2015.


Elation seeing Shamima Ali at meeting

But it was elation and relief to see the renowned champion of woman’s rights, Shamima Ali, executive director of the Women Crisis Centre, present at this meeting.

Relief because for the last six years Ms Ali had avoided and firmly rejected all invitations from Pacific Dialogue for appointments or meetings.

However, not a word from Ms Ali in response to the five political parties’ leaders call to NGOs to be active and organise forums and workshops on democracy, human rights and free and fair elections.

All five leaders of political parties expressed disappointment that Ambassadors and High Commissioners had not come to attend their briefing and had sent officers lower down the hierarchies.

There is no room to discuss here the 120 important recommendations contained in the five political parties’ submissions.  (For those interested they are available on http://bit.ly/fjElectoralReformsubm; and http://bit.ly/PolCorrespondenceEC).  I hope to focus on some of them in later columns. Suffice to refer only to one here.

The Opposition Parties’ have said in their submission that they want co-operation with the Government in the formation of a bipartisan Electoral Reform Committee to oversee the implementation of the recommendations of the MOG and the EC Reports with assistance from a Commonwealth Secretariat electoral expert and others they are willing to recommend.

They consider this a matter of urgency now because Elections could be held as early as April 2018. The last Electoral Commission had wanted funding to complete this work by the end of 2016, but their terms were terminated, even though the Supervisor of Elections Report 2014 said $16 million of overseas aid funds (out of the $23 million) was still unspent.

The political parties’ submission urged that this fund be spent on the work of their proposed bipartisan Electoral Reform Committee.


Electoral Commissions implementing only eight recommendations from MOG Report

Mohammed Saneem, the Supervisor of Elections, had told the Political Parties at a meeting earlier in June that the Electoral Commissions is implementing only eight of the 38 recommendations of the MOG Report.

All the other 30 recommendations of MOG and those of the last Electoral Commission that required changes to the Elections Decree and related Decrees were being referred to the Parliamentary Committee on Justice, Human Rights and Foreign Affairs, chaired by Ashneel Sudakhar for decision.

It is unfortunate that at their meeting with Mr Saneem and the new Electoral Commission chairman, Suresh Chandra, in early June the five political parties had not asked why these two gentlemen had not advised the Attorney-General on how the electoral reform recommendations could be practically implemented.

And for the Minister to take the matter to Cabinet for approval. The Political Parties appear to have accepted the view of Mr Saneem that he and the Electoral Commission will make the final decision on the fate of their submission.

The Parliamentary Committee to deal with the five political parties submission is merely a recommending committee, not a decision-making one.


‘Buck passing’

There seemed to be a “buck passing” operation going on here perhaps to avoid the implementation of the much-needed electoral reform laws that are restrictive and extremely punitive against the media, international and local observers, ordinary citizens  and the political parties. In a meeting of Pacific Dialogue representatives with Mr Saneem and Suresh Chandra on 13/6/17, Mr Saneem posed what he called a hypothetical question thus: “What if I do not accept the implementation of the MOG recommendations?  Am I not entitled to say No? What could be your response?”

We responded and said that was a decision that only the Government can make, not the Supervisor of Elections.

Mr Chandra hardly said anything.

We asked Mr Saneem why he had not resigned after the Court of Appeal ruled as illegal his decision to oppose the Electoral Commission direction to him before the 2014 Election to disqualify the current Minister of Local Government? No answer from him. Taxpayers are paying for his appeal to Supreme Court

This opinion piece was written before the Electoral Commission and the Supervisor of Elections published in the Fiji Sun their response to the Multinational Observer Group Report and the Political Parties Submissions that they received.

By saying they have accepted 19 of the 38 recommendations of the MOG Report (yet to be proven in the implementation).  Mr Saneem and Mr Chandra have forgotten their constitutional obligation to deliver a genuinely free and fair elections in 2018.

This is a people’s rights under Section 23(2) of the Bill of Rights. They have not justified the few recommendations they accepted as sufficient to deliver free and fair Elections.

The MOG Report did not conclude the 2014 Elections as completely free and fair. That is why they made their 38 recommendations.  Then there were the recommendations of the last Electoral Commission Report of which they have not mentioned.

It was their legal and moral obligation to advise the Government on all the recommendations they received, through the Minister responsible for Elections.

Why did they not do that to show that they are genuinely independent? Claiming they have no jurisdiction is a stupid argument because they have the legal right to advice.

Feedback: maraia.vula@fijisun.com.fj


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