23 Apr 2009

Fears regime has no master plan for Fiji's future

8:59 pm on 23 April 2009

Fiji's National Federation Party says the interim government does not appear to have a master plan for where the country is heading - a situation it describes as frightening.

The Pacific nation has been thrown into political turmoil after Commodore Frank Bainimarama's post-2006 coup government was ruled illegal by the Court of Appeal two weeks ago.

Commodore Bainimarama promised reforms but has refused to hold elections until 2014. He was reinstated as interim prime minister earlier this month under emergency regulations in spite of the court's decision.

Following the ruling President Ratu Josefa Iloiloto revoked the 1997 constitution, dismissed judges and reappointed Commodore Bainimarama as leader. Tough media sanctions for local and international journalists have been imposed.

National Federation Party secretary Pramod Rae told a Radio New Zealand International reporter in Fiji it is important that the constitution is restored, as everything else will flow from that.

He said the regime appeared to be a lost cause, and the situation was "frightening". "We really don't know where this regime is going."

Meanwhile, senior judicial appointments are now expected to be made early next week.

The entire judiciary was dismissed on 3 April. Eight magistrates were re-appointed on 20 April, with only one new name appearing in the line-up, while the appointment of a senior judges has been delayed twice.

A spokesperson for the interim government, Major Neumi Leweni, told a Radio New Zealand International reporter that people have been happy to be appointed and judges will be sworn by Tuesday at the latest.

New Zealand lawyer Christopher Pryde has been re-appointed Solicitor-General of Fiji.

Commission still accepting complaints

Fiji's Human Rights Commission says it is continuing to accept complaints, although it no longer has commissioners to oversee them.

Some other bodies were disbanded when the country's constitution was revoked, including the electoral office and the office of the ombudsman.

The Human Rights Commission had been headed by the ombudsman, but currently has no chairman. However, it is still operating under other laws which are separate from the 1997 constitution and Bill of Rights.

Alleged breaches of human rights can be investigated, but cases can only proceed so far because the complaints process can end up at the High Court, which is now without judges.

News agency not leaving Fiji

Regional news agency Pacnews says it has no plans to shift its base from Fiji after becoming subject to the same censorship as the local media.

Earlier this week, Pacnews was told to take United Nations Security Council comments condemning the situation in Fiji off its news service.

A Radio New Zealand International reporter says at present, Pacnews is choosing not to include any Fiji stories in its news feed that get sent out regularly throughout the day. This means it avoids having a censor come into its office to vet stories concerning Fiji.

Despite the fact it the service is aimed at regional subscribers, Major Leweni, says if it is based in Fiji, it must follow local guidelines.

Pacnews says it will not be forced out by the situation in Fiji but the safety and security of its staff is a priority.

China increases aid

China's increased aid to Fiji since the military coup in 2006 is being scrutinised.

A study by the Lowy Institute in Australia shows China has increased its aid from $1.7 million in 2005, to more than $289 million since Commodore Frank Bainimarama deposed an elected government.

The author of the study, Fergus Hanson, says this can be seen as China supporting the military regime.

He says it also dampens the diplomatic and economic pressure New Zealand and Australia are putting on the military-led government to return to democracy.

Mr Hanson says Australian officials have been talking to Beijing about diverting its aid to other agencies in Fiji.