Saturday, October 25, 2008

Lawyer questions President's health

Lawyer questions President's health
Saturday, October 25,

CULTURAL reasons are restricting honest discussion of the President's ability to deal with national issues, says Suva lawyer Graham Leung.

The Suva solicitor and former Fiji Law Society president said very few people in Fiji were prepared to speak about the 87-year-old President for cultural reasons and because it wasn't considered polite.

"People cannot talk about his ailing health and capacity to deal with complex legal, constitutional, political and social aspects of matters that arose following the December 2006 coup," Mr Leung said.

But the President's secretary, Rupeni Nacewa, said the comments by Mr Leung were only his opinion.

Mr Nacewa said Ratu Josefa's memory and health were better than his (Mr Nacewa's) own and his age was no barrier in the highest office of the land. "Health wise I am more sickly than Ratu Josefa and his memory is better than mine - he remembers things I don't," he said.

Mr Nacewa said it amazed him how Ratu Josefa, at 87, could still remember vividly the names of students he taught in Class One.

On whether Ratu Josefa, a former primary school teacher, could face the media to clear the air on his health and memory status, Mr Nacewa said: "He'll make a public statement when the need arises but right now there is no need for him to do so."

Mr Nacewa said Ratu Josefa's mandate was being followed by the interim Government and there was no need for him to face the press.

Mr Leung said the High Court decision had given a new lease of life to the myth of constitutional government spread since day one of the coup.

"That it has come from the judiciary must have been cause for celebration at the barracks," Mr Leung told the panel.

"It is a bitter pill for advocates of the rule of law and democratic government in Fiji."

Mr Leung said the recent High Court decision legalising the 2006 coup. would undermine the rule of law and weaken parliamentary democracy and parliamentary institutions rather than strengthen them.

"Justice Anthony Gates' decision is not just weak law but bad law and presents a strained interpretation of the Fiji Constitution and ignores the underlying democratic values that underpin the supreme law of Fiji," Mr Leung told a capacity audience at the Australian National University in Canberra on Tuesday.

The presentation by Mr Leung was part of a panel discussion titled "Courts and Coups: Fiji's October 2008 High Court Judgement in the Qarase Vs Bainimarama Case" - and chaired by the Australian Federal Parliamentary Secretary of Pacific Affairs, Duncan Kerr.

Mr Leung's analysis was backed by the three other panellists - including George Williams, a constitutional lawyer and Anthony Mason Professor at the Faculty of Law at the University of New South Wales, who happened to be the counsel for Chandrika Prasad in the March 2001 Court of Appeal case, a solicitor and research fellow in post conflict reconciliation, Anthony Regan, and political scientist Jonathan Fraenkel, both of the Australian National University.

All four panellists concurred that the Fiji High Court erred in law in interpreting the President's prerogative powers as superseding the Constitution of Fiji.

No comment could be obtained from Justice Gates despite questions sent to his office yesterday.

Interim Attorney-General Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum said he would respond after reading Mr Leung's remarks emailed to his office yesterday.

Call for democratic return stands
Saturday, October 25, 2008-
The interim Government's initiative to proceed with the dialogue process with political parties has been welcomed by most but many still maintain a quick return to a democratic political system.
The United States of America despite welcoming the President's Political Dialogue Forum, believes Fiji needs to return to a democratically elected government as rapidly as possible. "To that end, we have harmonized our approach with that of Fiji's neighbours in the Pacific Islands Forum.
"Consistent with the Forum Chairs call for dialogue and engagement, the United States welcomes any discussion that leads to a practicable agreement on a way forward. "We are encouraged by the announcement of the meeting of political parties on October 27 to discuss an agenda and terms of reference for the proposed Presidents Political Dialogue Forum," a US Embassy spokesman said.
The forum will take place on Monday at the Parliamentary Complex at 9.30am.

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