19 Jan 2006

Fiji PM predicts further delay of reconciliation and unity bill

7:31 am on 19 January 2006

The Fiji prime minister, Laisenia Qarase, says he cannot guarantee that the controversial reconciliation and unity bill can be passed before the elections this year.

Mr Qarase says its proposed passage will depend on the outcome of further consultations.

His comments come amid continued and widespread opposition to the bill which in its original form was to grant amnesty to those involved in the 2000 coup and erase the criminal records of some offenders.

But changes proposed last month would now require suspects to go through public prosecutors instead of directly to the judiciary.

Mr Qarase says the attorney general's office is studying the amendments and they will come before the cabinet in the next few weeks.

But he says the final reading may be further down the way.

Mr Qarase had discussions about the bill with the military commander, Commodore Frank Bainimarama, at the beginning of the week.

The talks followed last week's alleged attempted mutiny which is being probed by the military and the police.

The director of the Fiji Women's Rights Movement, Virisila Buadromo, says Mr Qarase has clearly taken concerns by the military commander into account...

"...he understands that the concerns that were expressed by civil society and the public were reflected in the report that was handed in by the justice select committee, so I think that the concerns in the meeting that he had with the commander has just compounded it and has made it a lot clearer for him that he needs to take it back to the drawing board."

Virisila Buadromo welcomes the postponement.

We think this is a good thing that the bill may not be debated in the House before the elections because as we've said right from the beginning the bill in its current form actually needs more consultation, we think that it needs to go back to the drawing board.