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Wednesday 23 Aug 2017 | 16:26 | SYDNEY
Wednesday 23 Aug 2017 | 16:26 | SYDNEY

A new strategic framework for Fiji?

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1 July 2009 16:06

Fiji’s interim Prime Minister, Commodore Voreqe Bainimarama, gave an address to the nation on 1 July setting out a strategic framework for change for the next five years. Although Fiji’s media is heavily censored by the interim Government, the Fiji Broadcasting Corporation at least has a live streaming facility, so I was able to listen to the speech live right here in my office in Sydney.  

The address was expected to establish a detailed roadmap for reform and a return to democracy in Fiji. But it was essentially a blueprint for economic reforms to entice international financial institutions and donors to re-engage with Fiji, with only vague promises of political reform.

For those sceptical of Bainimarama’s commitment to democracy, the speech offered little to persuade them otherwise. Bainimarama renewed his commitment to hold elections in September 2014 and outlined a new promise – the preparation of a new constitution by September 2013. While this was inevitably the consequence of the abrogation of the 1997 constitution on 10 April this year, it is not clear why he decided public consultations on the drafting of a new constitution cannot commence until September 2012. 

Commodore Bainimarama said the new constitution would derive its impetus from the recommendations of the People’s Charter for Change, Peace and Progress. That document has been in the public domain for at least six months and has already been subjected to a consultative process. It is therefore strange that Fiji’s citizens have to wait another three years for an opportunity to participate in the process of determining their own future. If there are to be public consultations, why not start now? It would have cost the interim Government little and demonstrated to the region and the international community that Fiji was serious about political reform.

Bainimarama’s emphasis on economic reforms and the importance of economic growth to Fiji was a positive development. Despite his optimistic rhetoric about the Fiji economy, he appears to have grasped that Fiji needs external help to stabilise its deteriorating economy. In language clearly aimed at international financial institutions, he promised pro-growth and pro-poor policies: to modernise government infrastructure, reduce expenditure, divest government shares, close non-performing entities, amalgamate departments, outsource to the private sector, rehabilitate roads and reform tax laws.

His encouragement of the private sector to seize the opportunity to engage with the interim Government is constructive. However, he failed to address the fundamental problem that the abrogation of the constitution, the absence of true adherence to the rule of law, the lack of an independent judiciary and media censorship deter rather than attract private investors, no matter how committed the Government is to modernisation.

More worryingly, the lack of any reference in the address to the future role of the military in Fiji was a strong indication that Commodore Bainimarama does not intend that the military retreat from its dominance of government and politics beyond 2014.

This address was an opportunity for Bainimarama to show Fiji and the international community that he could walk and chew gum; to make difficult decisions about economic reform and increase his commitment to accountability by engaging in open discussion about the nation’s political future at the same time. He did not convince.

Photo by Flickr user luigig, used under a Creative Commons license.

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