SODELPA need to ask: where did we go wrong?

All of the opponents of FijiFirst are now scratching their heads hard to work out what went wrong. Most have accepted that Bainimarama received a strong endorsement from the voters. We can complain about restrictions on media, incumbency advantage etc etc, and even imperfections in the voting process, but the general picture is clear.

What we need to think about is why? If I may be permitted to say to my iTaukei brothers and sisters in SODELPA, “I told you so”. The strong vote received by FFP from the Indo-Fijian community reflected their feelings in relation to the common citizenship trumpeted by Bainimarama. It’s true this was declared by Bainimarama without consultation but his election has now given the decision the stamp of approval that cannot be denied.

SODELPA leaders need to ask themselves whether this was the most important issue of the election. Is this what mattered most to them? It seems to have mattered to the overwhelming majority of Indo-Fijians but clearly it did not matter so much to substantial numbers of iTaukei voters.

Now is the time to sort out what matters and what doesn’t matter. The issues that matter most are good governance, transparency in Government decision-making and the rule of law, not the name Fijian.

A Decree like no other

SODELPA is campaigning hard on 17 decrees that affect its iTaukei supporters, all of which have been passed without any consultation and without an elected parliament.

But there is one decree which stands out among all the others. It contains fewer than 1500 words and yet it grants to the person holding the office of Prime Minister sweeping powers over the the property of indigenous landowners.

This is the Land Use Decree which gives the PM the power to “designate land for utliisation under this decree”. Then Section 14 gives the PM the power to make regulations covering anything to do with the decree. It is in effect a power to write new laws.

The Land Use Decree says nothing about how long leases should be (except to impose an upper limit of 99 years) or what rents should be paid or whether landowners need to approve leases the PM sets up when he “designates” land. All of the law laid down for these vital matters is in the Regulations.

The Land Use Regulations are twice as long as the Land Use Decree and the reason for this is not hard to understand. The Land Use Regulations can be changed without the approval of Parliament. Bainimarama says that 60% approval of landowners is needed for him to hand out land but he knows that he has given himself the power to change this without approval of Parliament.

Bainimarama has shown his arrogance in many different ways but taking to himself the power to make laws regarding land is the height of his arrogance.

But it does not end there. The Land Use Decree denies landowners the right of appeal to a court. This short decree devotes 350 of its mere 1500 words to denying the right to appeal a decision in any court or tribunal. Bainimarama has usurped the role of both Parliament and the judiciary.

This decree is like no other. if anyone thinks only iTaukei should worry about this, think again. Bainimarama and Khaiyum will continue to systematically cut back everyone’s rights in order to cement themselves in power. This is what common and equal citizenry means under Bainimarama and Khaiyum.

Is the real issue Praveen Bala?

No-one is surprised that Khaiyum has come out and defended his Mini-Me in defying the independent Electoral Commission but the real source of this problem is the Electoral Decree and the way in which it was created.

The Electoral Decree gives the Electoral Commission 3 days in which to consider any objection to the nomination of a candidate but it also says “the Electoral Commission must arrange to provide a copy of the objection to the candidate whose nomination is being objected to and must provide the candidate with an opportunity to respond to the objection within such time as determined by the Electoral Commission”.

The Electoral Commission is expected to listen carefully to all sides of an issue before making a decision but then it is given no time to do so. The decree says “the Electoral Commission must make a decision on the objection with written reasons, as soon as possible and in any event within 3 days upon receipt of the objection”.

Regime Judge Kamal Kumar rightly blamed the drafters of the decree for the problem.

But what is the magic of 3 days when the issue is credibility? The nomination of Praveen Bala or Parveen Kumar (it makes no difference what you call him) will hang like an albatross around the neck of Bainimarama.

By over-ruling the exercise of the responsibility of the Electoral Commission, Khaiyum’s man is safeguarded, but this is the man facing charges of causing death by dangerous driving. His court case has been put off until after the elections when the compliant court system can deliver the verdict Khaiyum wants.

To all my friends in SODELPA I have a question I think you need to ponder.

I would not be telling you anything if I said that Frank Bainimarama has broad approval in the Indo-Fijian community but the question you have to ask is: what has he done to earn that approval?

It is certainly not this ‘reform’ of the sugar industry. He made himself Minister for Sugar but he’s provided no leadership at all, apart from taking on the chore of jet-setting to ISO meetings. He has brought to the edge of destruction an industry built with the sweat and tears of generations of Indo-Fijians.

So what is the source of the Bainimarama appeal, which has allowed a bumptious, poorly educated thug to have this broad appeal among Indo-Fijians. If I had to single out one thing that’s given him a bit of appeal it would be his decision to call us all Fijian.

It was always confusing trying to explain to people who didn’t know Fiji that only some of our population were ‘Fijian’. We need to face the fact that our unique history as a small island state in the Pacific is not well known in the wide world, so this linguistic anomaly inevitably caused confusion, not to say awkwardness outside Fiji.

The 1987 coup was more than a dispossession of basic democratic rights. It was a time when people did not feel safe, when they didn’t know what would happen next after experiencing a coup that struck like lightning out of a clear blue sky, but the dispossession went beyond that. It was a dispossession of a right to a sense of identity. Bainimarama’s decision on a new national name healed wounds more effectively than any number of apologies from Rabuka.

Bainimarama hit gold with his decision to call us all Fijian, but let’s not give him more credit than is due. His feelings about this are more likely to spring from empathy for the Kai Loma identity rather than empathy for our Indo-Fijian brothers and sisters. Frank has long had a sense of disdain for things ‘native'; he sees himself as a progressive, a town dweller, not come kai colo from the village, he went to Marist, not QVS, he worked his way up through the ranks, he’s an achiever, not an idle Bauan.

SODELPA leaders would be doing their cause a favour by giving thought to the feelings of their fellow Fijians. This is a change for the better which would be better still if it had support from all communities.

One of the first things a reconvened BLV could do is give its blessing to our new national identity and the Party positioned to provide the leadership needed to do this is SODELPA. Ro Teimumu would be acting as a truly national leader if she pledged to take this to the BLV. It would not be right to speak for the BLV but she can speak for herself as someone who wants to lead the whole nation.

Sa dri yani!

Why does the Land Use Decree have Section 15 (1)?

Bainimarama and his A-G  keep telling iTaukei voters they have provided the strongest guarantees yet for their rights as traditional landowners. 
 Anyone who understands the issues knows that this is a lie. Mataqali cannot be deprived of ownership of their land but they can be deprived of all rights that are supposed to go with ownership.  Under the Land Use Decree Bainimarama can order “arrangements” that lease the land for up to 99 years to anyone Bainimarama chooses and on terms and conditions which are left entirely to him.  The rent, the length of the lease and all other provisions are left to Bainimarama if he is PM.
And if landowners think that any decision made by Bainimarama ignores any of their rights under the Constitution, they are blocked from taking their complaint to a court to have justice. Section 15(1) of the Land Use Decree  of 2010 lays down that no court or any other tribunal can question the decisions made by the PM under the Land Use Decree.
If anyone tries to go the court to appeal a decision the Chief Registrar is required to block it.  They don’t even need to rely on the case being allocated to the one of their tame judges. 
Landowners must demand an answer to this question: how can the constitution protect landowners if they cannot take their claims to a court? 
Up to now we haven’t seen the unrestricted power of the Land Use Act used and the reason is not hard to understand. If he uses these powers this side of an election he will certainly lose the iTaukei vote. If he waits until after the election and retains his grip on power he will hope to be able to bully landowners into accepting his power. With landowners at his mercy, he will have the country by the throat.
The Land Use Decree is not easy for the non-lawyer to follow.  It talks about arrangements, not leases, but it leaves everythng in the hands of a dictator.  The one question to ask Bainimarama when he campaigns in your area is: what is Section 15 (1) of the Land Use Decree for?  Ask him to say plainly what it means.  Why are iTaukei landowners denied the right to appeal to a court if they do not think a decision under the Land Use act is fair? 
If the Government wants to acquire freehold land owned by, say, AS-K, the Constitution says he has to be given just  compensation. If he thinks the compensation is not just he can ask a court to look at how the decision was made and change the level of compensation. If iTaukei land is acquired under the Land Use Decree the owners are barred from going to court.
How can we have common and equal citizenry when one groups of the citizens is denied access to courts to protect their rights? 

The question of Sam

The criticism directed at Sam Saumatua raises some interesting questions.

His critics say he is unworthy of SODELPA endorsement because he was willing to serve the regime he now stands in opposition to. Some just say he’s tainted because he’s ex-RFMF.

Most of his critics don’t know him. Like many in the SODELPA line-up he has a record of leadership in his field. Unlike Bainimarama he served with distinction in the field as a real military leader in Lebanon.

People who think he should have simply overthrown Bainimarama have no sense of how the RFMF was scarred by the mutiny in 2000. Like everybody else, RFMF officers could see that Bainimarama had betrayed the clean-up coup with corruption and cronyism of his own. But what could they do without ripping the RFMF apart and plunging the country further into chaos?

How many other RFMF brothers are there who might have done something but held back thinking the time was not right to effect a clean change? If there ever was a right time Roko Ului and Driti certainly didn’t pick it and who knows when of even if RFMF officers could have done anything to remove Bainimarama.

As for serving the regime, how many others have thought they could exercise influence from within, only to find that the regime is a two man-band? The trail of sacked board members and CEOs who tried to have a voice and ending up only on the scrap heap is long and sad.

Now is not the time for SODELPA to start a witch hunt or allow divisions to grow within, just as it is also the time to draw closer and stand shoulder to shoulder with opponents of Fiji First. Democracy has no future if Fiji First is not decisively defeated.

Can the regime learn anything?

On 25 May the Fiji sun published an article titled “HERE COMES THE YOUNG”. It announced the arrival of Roshika Deo, a young politician with a new vision – a champion of human rights and an avowed feminist.

She’s made the effort to learn iTaukei language and was joined by a young iTaukei student from USP who shared her vision for a genuinely race-free Fiji, not the empty rhetoric spouted by Bainimarama since 2006 (but not in 2000 when it counted).

Somewhere between 25th May and 27th may someone in the regime control room decided that Roshika was a threat and her volunteer’s scholarship was cancelled.  Did someone actually read what she’s been saying and whisper in the ear of the PM?

She’s championing the things the regime says it stands for but it’s clear that she rejects the regime’s credentials.  She’s on the side of real democracy, unrestricted freedom of speech, respecting human rights and encouraging free debate. 

She has supported the United Front for Democratic Fiji group and called for mass peaceful protests to condemn the deficiencies in the 2013 constitution.  Bainimarama did not let anyone participate in the drafting of the constitution and now he’s behaving like a dictator when anyone voices dissent. 

The question is: can the regime learn from its mistakes?  Can it at last realise that it will lose votes through persecuting people like Roshika Deo?