Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Military must back off on charter

AKUILA YABAKI

Monday, October 22, 2007

The National Council for Building a Better Fiji was launched as a historic event, on the date of Fiji's independence.

For the dialogue process for preparing a People's Charter for Change and Progress (Charter) to be successful, all participants need to feel safe to express their views openly and without fear of reprisal.

In order to provide this sense of security, the Citizens' Constitutional Forum (CCF) calls on the interim Government to show respect for freedom of speech.

The Republic of Fiji Military Forces should be making a concerted effort, before the onset of the process, to withdraw from interfering in the free speech and conduct of life of civilians.

Thursday's training of over 100 participants ranging from divisional commissioners, provincial administrators, roko tui, and the military, on the charter process, adequately displays the seriousness of the regime to this commitment.

Sadly, the organisers appear to have omitted the most key stakeholders in this process: These are members of the civil society.

CCF has supported calls for a shared vision to move the country forward, through the concept of building a better Fiji for all through a genuine Charter'.

The training held at the military camp, although involving several stakeholders, should serve as a strong reminder to the interim Government, that it would be very easy for them to impose their views on the Charter', rather than providing an opportunity for it to be created.

In order for the dialogue process for the Charter to be "inclusive" and broadly representative of all ethnic and religious communities in Fiji, it is essential that the military withdraws from trainings on the Charter.

The rest of the stakeholders in Fiji need a similar training, however, this needs to be conducted in a freer space then the military compounds.

If the military wants to be part of the Charter process, then it should allow its roles and activities to be examined by members of the NCBBF.

It should air its views by having one representative on the NCBBF, rather than overtaking the Charter process.

The Charter process must not be mistaken as an opportunity for the military to keep justifying and providing excuses for executing a coup.

For the Charter process to be successful in ending all coups, the military has to be willing to accept criticisms of its actions and re-examine its past activities.

In a true democracy, everybody should be able to air their views, and respect the rights of others. Civil society organisations are the core agents in keeping the Government and the State machineries accountable.

The military, provincial councils, district administrators, are all part of the State machinery.

Where does the Government hope to get genuine success if civil society representatives keep feeling relegated to the fringes?

Can a lead role for military guarantee that all participants will feel safe to express their views openly and without fear of reprisal?

CCF does not believe this is possible, as the military is a coercive force in society.

The proposed "charter" is expected to be independent.

The Government now needs to show how it will achieve this independence in process.

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