Fiji's AG eyes new law change after High Court decision
A Fiji High Court decision over the eligibility of a new MP may prompt the Government to usher in another law change.
A High Court decision in Fiji over the eligibility of a new member of Parliament may prompt the Government to usher in another law change.
Mikaele Leawere took up a seat vacated by his Sodelpa colleague, Ratu Viliame Tagivetaua, who died in March.
Fiji's Attorney General lodged an unsuccessful petition, saying Mr Leawere's job as a union official should have disqualified him.
Alex Perrottet reports.
Mr Leawere was the acting General Secretary of the Fiji Teachers Association. He resigned according to the law, to contest last year's election, but he missed out on a seat and went back to his job.
The Attorney General, Aiyaz Sayed Khaiyum, who ushered in the Electoral Decree before Fiji returned to a democracy, says the law prevents Mr Leawere from taking the seat.
He said the court action was necessary to test the law, but the opposition leader, Ro Teimumu Kepa, says his Government wrote the law, and the constitution, and it was a waste of time and resources.
"I think it's very difficult sometimes for him to understand his own legislation, the constitution that they authored and before that the decrees which we all had to abide by. If he has has some conflict with it, you could imagine how other people would maybe have conflict but it was very clear cut for us, that there was really no issue there."
Justice David Alfred dismissed the petition on the grounds that section 24(2) of the Electoral Decree was only valid until the election and that the Constitution doesn't say anything about the ineligibility of a candidate holding public office.
Mr Sayed Khaiyum did not respond to requests for comment, but released a written statement:
The ruling of the High Court opens the door for mixing politics and public offices - two realms which must always remain separate. By law, a candidate for Parliament must step down from any public office he or she holds in order to avoid conflict of interest.
The Electoral Commission's lawyer Bhupendra Patel said Mr Leawere simply returned to his old job after he missed out on a seat in the election, and that is protected by the Bill of Rights that the Government enshrined in its Constitution.
"Their submission that the intention of the electoral decree that once you become a candidate then you cannot go back to your old job contravenes the Bill of Rights, which has an entrenched provision now in Fiji for the first time. It gives a person the right to choose his own vocation, trade, occupation, what have you."
Mr Patel says the wording of the Act should have been clearer if the Government intended prospective new members to keep clear of the public service.
There's no such thing in the Constitution, and therefore section 24 is a misreading of it by the Attorney General. His expectation of what he wanted is certainly not reflected in the wording of the section.
The opposition says it's an embarrassment for Mr Sayed Kahaiyum, who reacted saying he may seek to make an amendment to the Electoral Decree.
He says the precedent it sets would allow all the non-successful FijiFirst candidates to also seek a job in the public service, but Ro Teimumu Kepa says many have already done so.
"It would entail the FijiFirst party as they would need to have some replacement from their list. And some of them are already employed as ours are. So the logic, no one can really understand it."
Mr Leawere says he's happy to remain in Parliament. But any budding politician might have to consider a career change if they are hoping to take advantage of any vacated seats, through future resignations or deaths.
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