The decision by the Bainimarama government to formally de-establish the Great Council of Chiefs (GCC) on the eve of constitutional consultations is a concern which challenges the government’s earlier assurances that all Constitutional issues must be openly debated and discussed with the people of Fiji.
“The Citizens’ Constitutional Forum (CCF) believes that all issues, however contentious, should be open to discussion during the Constitution Development Process as this sort of decision-making may make the public feel disaffected and excluded from participating in the Constitution formation, before the process even starts,” says CEO Reverend AkuilaYabaki.
Reverend Yabaki stated that in 2004 a Review Team placed emphasis on the need for the GCC to be independent of Government and suggested that in its existing form the GCC was vulnerable to political manipulation. The CCF shared this concern especially when the High Chiefs allowed themselves to be spokesperson of the Soqosoqo Duavata ni Lewenivanua (SDL) and thereby brought discredit on the Council and the whole chiefly system.
“However, the Constitutional development process now presents an opportunity for the people of Fiji to have their say in reviewing the roles and responsibilities of the GCC, including its composition, whether such an institution is actually necessary in this day and age, what roles can chiefs or a chiefly body play in nation building, and the role it can play to safeguard the interest of all citizens” stresses Reverend Yabaki.
“The role of the GCC was previously enshrined in the Constitution, and is therefore a matter which needs to be put on the table for open discussions before a final decision is made. This is the expected purpose of the Constitution Consultation process,” says Reverend Yabaki.
“Additionally the structure & role of the Presidential authority is also a Constitutional concern, fairly to be debated by the country & its citizens. As Government announced, it is imperative that the people’s voice is reflected in such Constitutional decisions.”
CCF reiterates that the Bainimarama government must desist from ruling by decrees especially if they are determined and drafted without any real due process involving the views of the people and more importantly if they discriminate against citizens or any particular group. This should be paramount in efforts to ensure free and open dialogue in drafting and formulating the Constitution which would take us towards democratic elections.
“Article 21 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states “Everyone has the right to participate in government and free elections” and it is now time for us Fijians to openly exercise this right for a common cause, taking Fiji towards a sustainable constitutional democracy,” stresses Reverend Yabaki.