17 Feb 2004

Fiji government comes under criticism over plans for changes to the constitution

6:26 am on 17 February 2004

The Fiji Democratic Party has strongly criticised proposals to change the 1997 Constitution, saying it demonstrates the SDL party's lust for power.

The proposed changes would allow elected politicians to be members of key indigenous institutions like the Great Council of Chiefs, the Native Lands Trust Board and the Fijian Affairs Board.

The Democrats leader and chairman of the parliamentary committee which drew up the constitution in the mid-1990s, Filipe Bole, says the full effect of these changes would be to restrict the participation of other indigenous Fijians in these institutions.

Mr Bole says the changes would mean the domination of these institutions by politically appointed Fijians or politicians.

He says the Fiji Democratic Party believes Mr Qarase's SDL-led government wants complete control and power of leadership over all indigenous Fijian institutions.

But, he says the government's desire to dominate the indigenous Fijian community will only bring about greater instability.

The Fijian Political Party, the SVT, says the changes are dangerous because putting politicians in the Great Council of Chiefs will stop it being neutral in its decision making.

The chairman of the Great Council of Chiefs, Ratu Epeli Ganilau, said earlier that politicians should stay away from such bodies because in the past they had brought their political agendas to the meetings.