UPDATE: Chaudhry’s Future in Interim Government Uncertain; Winters Proposes Pacific Court ; Fiji Law Society President Wants New Leaders

By Ryan L. Maness
Impunity Watch Senior Desk Officer, Oceania

SUVA, Fiji — The Fiji military council is reported to be once again calling for the ouster of Fiji’s interim finance minister Mahendra Chaudhry, but no official comment has been released by either the military or the interim government concerning the reasoning.  The speculation rose to the point where rumors were circulated among Fiji’s political circles that Chaudhry had been sacked.  Interim prime minister Frank Bainimarama, however, was clear that the finance minister had not been asked to resign.

Previously Chaudhry was under pressure to leave government due to allegations from the Fiji Times of inconsistencies in his taxes (an interim government investigation cleared him of any wrong doing).  The current tensions are reported to arise regarding differences of opinion regarding a proposed taxation on bottled water.

For more information, please see:

Fiji Times — Military keeps cards close to chest — 26 July 2008

Radio New Zealand International — Speculation in Fiji over Chaudhry’s continued role as interim finance minister — 24 July 2008

Radio New Zealand International — Fiji interim PM says Chaudhry stays despite differences over tax — 24 July 2008

NADI, Fiji — Addressing the Fiji Law Society, former Fiji High Court justice Gerard Winters said that the Pacific should consider creating a Pacific Court to offer legal analysis and hear certain cases.  He said that such a court, which could be based in Vanuatu, would serve as the paramount court for hearing cases arising out of Fiji.  Such a court, he explained, such a court is workable because of the close bonds that exist among Pacific nations.

Professor Brian Opeskin, of the University of the South Pacific, thought that the idea should be encouraged.  “I think this is just another mechanism that can be considered in order to try and make the region a strong one that can ensure the rule of law across the region and to avoid problems of political instability and problems with law and order that we have seen arise from time to time across the region,” he said.  “So the idea of strengthening judicial services including through the court is certainly a good one that needs to be explored.”

Dr. Shaista Shameem, chairperson of the Fiji Human Rights Commission, is not as optimistic that the planned court is workable.  Noting that the idea is about 30 years old, she said that Pacific countries are too legally and socially diverse for such a court to function.  “It [would require] acceptance by member states and at present this seems somewhat remote since there is no common human rights or legal identity or mechanism that everyone can agree with, beyond just New Zealand and its dependencies in the Pacific.”

For more information, please see:
Radio New Zealand International — Academic backs call for Pacific Court — 21 July 2008

Fiji Times — Legal plan ‘now new’ — 20 July 2008

Fijilive — Pacific Court notion revisited — 19 July 2008
SUVA, Fiji — Fiji’s interim Prime Minister has said in recent weeks that the electoral and social reforms needed in Fiji are unlikely to be realized before next March’s election deadline and as such democratic elections will probably not be held as promised.  These comments have sparked controversy from multiple corners, among them the president of the Fiji Law Society, Isireli Fa.  Fa told the Fiji Times that it was “misguided” that electoral reforms were needed before elections could take place.  He went on to stress that any proposed reforms must be imposed by Parliament, not the ruling party, or else any reform would be “illegitimate and [would] bring more problems than it solves.”

Fa also expressed his belief that the Fiji Law Society needs to ensure that the country is governed by the rule of law.  To this end, he wants to see a new cadre of leaders emerge from the next election.  Radio New Zealand International reports that according to Fa the current government is weighed down by the baggage of the colonial period.  He believes that the way forward is for both current groups to refrain from contesting the results of the next election.  “What we should see is new leaders from within the party who could carry the party forward into policies and thinking that’s in line with a multi-racial government and a multi-racial constitution, as opposed to leaders who still hang on to nationalistic principles.”

Fa’s comments have not been well received by the sitting political leaders.  The national leader of the deposed SDL party, Peceli Kinivuwai, said that the rules of citizenship are very clear in the Constitution and that anyone of voting age should be allowed to stand for elections.

For more information, please see
Radio New Zealand International — Fiji Law Society calls for new leaders to emerge — 21 July 2008

Fijilive — Anyone can stand for elections: SDL — 20 July 2008

Fiji Times — Law society pushes for rule of law — 17 July 2008

Author: Impunity Watch Archive