5 May 2017

Commonwealth rep enthused by Fiji parliament

11:58 am on 5 May 2017

The Commonwealth Parliamentary Association secretary-general says the right steps are being taken in Fiji to instill knowledge about democracy in young people.

The Commonwealth Parliamentary Association secretary-general Akbar Khan speaks ahead of a CPA lecture by Sir Don McKinnon at the New Zealand parliament, 2 May 2017.

The Commonwealth Parliamentary Association secretary-general Akbar Khan speaks ahead of a CPA lecture by Sir Don McKinnon at the New Zealand parliament, 2 May 2017. Photo: Office of the Clerk of the House of Representatives, New Zealand

Akbar Khan was in Fiji last week when he was updated about parliamentary outreach programmes by Fiji's Speaker of the House, Jiko Luveni.

He said Fiji's parliament was working to build a culture of young people who knew about civics and the role of parliament in a democracy.

"And I think they're making some real efforts to engage people, the outreach programmes are excellent, and also to build a culture of democracy. So there are considerable efforts around embedding the importance of civics in children and at school level."

Mr Khan said this brought the importance of governance in terms of the role of parliament into the school curricula.

The Association has been conducting "roadshows" across its member countries to promote parliamentary democracy.

Mr Khan said the participation of young people was critical for the sustainability of democracy in the Pacific and should not be ignored.

Optimism

Having had extensive discussions with local parliamentarians, Mr Khan admitted Fiji's restoration of democracy had experienced some "bumps in the road".

Since the re-shaping of Fiji's parliament in 2014 under a new constitution, proceedings in the house have been strained as the previously military-led regime adjusts to parliamentary politics.

The Geneva-based Inter-Parliamentary Union in late 2016 said that the suspension of three opposition MPs infringed on the members' rights to free speech.

However the government has recently tabled a new Bill proposing penalties for defaming, demeaning or undermining the sanctity of parliament.

Fiji flag flies on the rooftop of parliament

Photo: RNZI/ Sally Round

But Mr Khan remained optimistic that Fiji was on the right path.

"It has been a short time in Fiji since the constitution has been restored and civillian rule has been restored. But I am optimistic that they're on the right path, and I look forward to the embedding of a democratic culture in Fiji."

There to help

The Commonwealth, Mr Khan explained, was constantly engaging and sharing best practice to help small island states and those who are transitioning, in Fiji's case, from military rule to democracy.

"I wouldn't say the Commonwealth should be telling anybody what to do. I like to believe that the Commonwealth as a family stands in solidarity in terms of our values, and we seek to embed those values."

According to Mr Khan, the core value is democracy.

"And there is a wealth, a breadth and depth of expertise in the region and also across our nine regions of the Commonwealth which Fiji and other countries who are moving through transition to democracy can always look to for guidance and advice, and to share what works and what doesn't work."

Listen to interview with Akbar Khan on Dateline Pacific

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