Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Legal challenge to test the validity of the draft charter

Legal challenge to test the validity of the draft charter

8/18/2008
The planned tour by the National Council for Building a Better Fiji to all the villages and islands to explain to the people what is in the draft People’s Charter reminds me of the tour that was undertaken by the Citizen’s Constitutional Forum after the 2000 coup to distribute the CCF’s booklet on the 1997 Constitution “Your Constitution, Your Rights”.
The distribution of the CCF’s booklet, in their hundreds, was personally directed by its director of programmes Jone Dakuvula, who resigned from the CCF after the 2006 coup to join the NCBBF secretariat in the preparation of the People’s Charter. He was followed by the executive chairman of the CCF, the Reverend Akuila Yabaki, as a member of the NCBBF, who wants us to read the People’s Charter with an open mind before passing our judgments. An NCBBF member, Adi Finau Tabakaucoro, said their focus was to visit every household, with the Eastern team visiting Lau and the Kadavu group, the two provinces which have expressed support of the charter.
The Fiji Sun has claimed that over $1million of State funds are being spent on the publication of over 500,000 copies of the draft Charter, which are being printed by the government printer. The head of the NCBBF team, John Samy, has denied the claims, saying only 250,000 were being printed in English, Fijian and Hindi.
Meanwhile, the Reverend Yabaki told the nation of the NCBBF’s planned course of action: “The documents will be disseminated to different parts of the country, in people’s hands. And after that the teams will be dispersed to meet with the people and organise numerous meetings in villages and town centres to explain the charter and a consultation will take place.” He said they would distribute leaflets for people to sign their agreement.
The Reverend said objections would also be taken into account to some extent. The public consultation process is expected to end by October 10, on Fiji’s Independence Day, and the report handed to President Ratu Josefa Iloilo.
Cynics and critics will claim that the NCBBF is relying on the CCF’s template in the distribution of the draft charter. Interestingly, Mr Dakuvula had presented a detailed history of the CCF’s distribution of its booklet “Your Constitution, Your Right” in his affidavit of June 2001 in the case of CCF and the President of Fiji in the High Court at Suva. He was responding to the affidavits of the post-2000 coup caretaker Prime Minister Laisenia Qarase, Ratu Meli Bainimarama, the permanent secretary for the Ministry of Fijian Affairs, Asesela Sadole, the acting secretary of the Bose Levu Vakaturaga, and the general secretary of the Methodist Church, the Reverend Laisiasa Ratabacaca.
Mr Dakuvula, in his affidavit, was challenging the statements in the affidavits of the above mentioned persons on the subject of alleged Fijian opposition to the 1997 Constitution. He informed the court that as director of programmes for the CCF, he was personally responsible for co-ordinating its public education initiatives about the 1997 Constitution from September 2000 to the time of his affidavit.
He said that in the last nine months, the CCF team of volunteers, sometimes led by himself, and in other cases led by the other members of the staff of CCF or individuals contracted to lead these teams, had visited cities, towns, villages, and settlements in Viti Levu, Vanua Levu and Koro Islands in Lomaiviti and distributed the CCF’s booklet on the Constitution, and the government education publications on the 1997 Constitution published by the Prime Ministers Office Public Awareness and Education Committee.
These booklets and pamphlets were in English, Fijian and Hindi, and he attached them as evidence to the High Court affidavit. According to Mr Dakuvula, from August 2000 to May 2001, the CCF education team had distributed these publications in approximately 500 villages, settlements, to all ethnic communities, cities, hospitals, wards, offices, factories, hotels, streets, wharves in the following provinces: Tailevu, Rewa, Naitasiri, Serua/Namosi, Nadroga, Ba, Ra, Lomaiviti, Cakaudrove, Macuata, and Bua.
Within this period, he said, the following numbers of booklets and pamphlets had been distributed: “Your Constitution, Your Rights”: English version, 7,000 copies; Fijian version, 20,000 copies, and Hindi version, 10,000 copies. “Undestanding Your Constitution” (Government Publications): 10,000 copies. “Provision for Indigenous Peoples” (Government Publication): English version, 15,000 copies; Hindi version, 7,000 copies; (a) Fijian version, 6,000 copies (Kila Deivaki Na Nomu Lawatu); (b) Fijian version, 5000 copies (Kila Na Nomu Yavu Ni Vakavulewa). “Know Your Rights” pamphlet on Understanding the Human Rights Commission, 6,000 English only copies; and Tape-Recorded Messages (Fijian), 800 tapes.
In these visits to the countryside, Mr Dakuvula said, the CCF teams had numerous opportunities to discuss, especially with indigenous Fijians, the contents of the booklets that they distributed, particularly the provisions on protecting indigenous interests.
“Whenever these teams returned, they reported to me their experiences of what they heard and the responses to what they said. These were noted,” he said, and attached to his affidavit, brief reports of these visits.
Mr Dakuvula had also attached copies of three articles that he had published in the Fiji SUN relating aspects of his personal experiences and impressions of his team visits to villages, schools and settlements in Cakaudrove and Macuata provinces in April 2001. His personal experience, he said, was confirmed by all the CCF education teams in their reports to CCF that the ordinary people of all races that the team met were “ignorant of the 1997 Constitution”.
Hardly anyone, he said, had read it or even seen a copy of it, and in the case of the ordinary indigenous Fijians that he and his education teams discussed the matter with, no one knew of the specific provisions in the 1997 Constitution on indigenous rights and interests and how these were protected.
He said in his affidavit that the CCF education team had also explained to the Fijians in the villages the reasons why the CCF had taken the President Ratu Josefa Iloilo to court and these reasons were clearly understood. “Our teams explained to the Fijian villagers that we were all bound by the Constitution, including the President and the Bose Levu Vakaturaga, and this case was purely an issue of determining the law and should not be regarded as a challenge to the traditional position of the President, Ratu Josefa Iloilo as Tui Vuda, or an insult to him and the Bose Levu Vakaturaga,” he deposed in his affidavit.
He said this explanation was understood and sympathetically received by the ordinary Fijians in the villages. “I was directly involved in these explanations to meetings in Fijian villages in Cakaudrove and Macuata for one week in April this year (2001) and they told us they understood the CCF position.
On 23rd March, 2001 the CCF sought a declaration from the High Court that: the President acted in a manner inconsistent with the Constitution in not summoning Parliament; the dismissal of Prime Minister Chaudhry was also inconsistent with the Constitution and therefore null and void; the dissolution of Parliament by the President was also inconsistent with the Constitution and therefore null and void; Qarase’s Interim Cabinet appointed on 15th March was unconstitutional and therefore null and void.
Mr Dakuvula, while refuting claims in Ratu Meli’s affidavit, noted: “The CCF education team were warmly welcomed in the Fijian villages and the people thanked the CCF profusely for providing them with information about the Constitution. Many said now that they had true information about the Constitution in their own languages, they would be able to ask informed questions of candidates for the general elections, and their provincial council members, about the Constitution. Many said they were not going to be fooled and misled any more about the 1997 Constitution.”
He said the CCF constitution education teams had spoken to over 9,000 indigenous Fijians in groups, or individually, about the Constitution and other issues related to the 2000 coup. One wonders, retrospectively, whether those provinces now objecting to the draft charter are basing their objections because they are acutely aware that the NCBBF has been formed outside the 1997 Constitution, and the President has no mandate to sanction the charter, because his own role in the 2006 coup is presently a subject of legal dispute in the case of Lainea Qarase versus Voreqe Bainimarama in the High Court?
The NCBBF’s draft charter is a ghostly 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, with or without the support of the FLP, which was in the forefront of ringing the death knell of the CRR.
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 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 force their vision of Fiji through the draft Peoples Charter.
In case, the “People of Fiji” have let down their guard, they should demand of Mr Samy to tell them how much is the New Zealander Pat Craddock being paid for his services to promote the Charter. Mr Craddock is 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.”
Indeed! As I have written elsewhere, the present rulers of Fiji and their 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 stand the 1997 Constitution and the judiciary.
In September 2000, the FLP denounced the composition of the Ravuvu commission charged with “reviewing” the 1997 Constitution. The FLP, its president Jokapeci Koroi and party leader Mahendra Chaudhry had filed proceedings in the High Court at Lautoka to injunct Professor Ravuvu, Joe Singh, and Charles Walker and the CCR from proceeding with the commission’s work on the grounds of illegality.
The present acting Chief Justice Anthony Gates injuncted the CCR on 15 June 2001 from holding any further sittings or meetings of the commission or from taking submissions or drawing any further allowances, until further order of the High Court.
I strongly recommend that a legal challenge should be mounted to test the legal validity of the draft People’s Charter for Change, Peace and Progress. Read “Your Constitution, Your Right” for guidance and inspiration.
l The views expressed are those of Victor Lal and not that of the Fiji Sun. E-mail:vloxford@gmail.com

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