Government of the Republic of Fiji
Ministry of Foreign Affairs
A Better Fiji through Excellence in Foreign Service
9th March, 2012, Suva, Fiji – Fijian Prime Minister Voreqe Bainimarama announced Fiji’s plan to formulate a new constitution, laying out the basic principles and timetable for the Constitutional Consultation process. The twelve-month process include a civic education programme for Fijians in urban, rural and maritime areas, and will consist of meetings throughout the nation in which all Fijians are urged to actively contribute their ideas. A five-member Constitutional Commission will oversee the process and a Constituent Assembly will discuss, debate and approve the new Constitution. “The consultation process is guided by universally recognized principles and values that are non-negotiable,” Prime Minister Bainimarama said. These principles include: • A common and equal citizenry; • A secular state; • The removal of systemic corruption; • An independent judiciary; • Elimination of discrimination; • Good and transparent governance; • Social justice;• One person, one vote, one value;• The elimination of ethnic voting;• Proportional representation; and• A voting age of 18. During the months of May to July, a civic education programme will be conducted to highlight issues for Fijians to think about before they make their voices heard to the Constitutional Commission. This process will be conducted both in English and in the vernacular languages. From July to September, consultations will take place under the leadership of the Constitutional Commission. Transportation will be provided to Fijians beyond the reach of the public transportation system. The Chairperson of the Constitutional Commission will be Professor Yash Ghai, internationally known constitutional and human rights expert. Two of the three distinguished Fijian members of the Constitutional Commission include: • Taufa Vakatale, the first female Deputy Prime Minister of Fiji; and• Satendra Nandan, Academic writer, former Member of Parliament. The names of the two other members of the Commission will be announced in due course. Upon completion of the consultations, the Commission will draft a constitution by the end of December 2012 and submit it to the Constituent Assembly. The Assembly will consist of representative civil society groups and organizations that are Fijian-registered, including faith-based organizations, relevant institutions, political parties, and Government. The Assembly will debate the draft, making amendments where necessary, and ultimately approve the Constitution before presenting it to His Excellency the President by the end of February 2013. Fiji has democratic elections scheduled for 2014. (A copy of this statement is below) -ENDS-
Ladies and gentlemen, today is a remarkable day in the history of Fiji. The process of formulating Fiji’s new constitution is being launched.
The way Fijians have come together to rebuild, to share, to care during and after the recent floods demonstrates the capacity that we – irrespective of our individual backgrounds, ethnicities, and religions – can work together.
We can study together. We can live together as Fijians. We are one nation. And I ask every Fijian to keep this in mind and not be distracted by petty politics and politicians as we embark upon the constitutional formulation process.
Formulating a new constitution that will be relevant to a new and modern Fiji will require that we unselfishly, patiently, and inclusively complete the process with integrity and honesty.
It must be done properly. When we are done, Fiji will have an enduring blueprint for all Fijians.
Every Fijian who wants to contribute and be forward-looking in the creation of an enlightened constitution will have the opportunity to do so.
For the first time, everyone will have a voice. This is a fundamental part of the constitutional formulation process that cannot be and must not be compromised.
The constitution must be premised on the fundamental values and principles set out in the People’s Charter for Change, which my Government has been advocating and implementing.
These principles and values are universally recognized and aspired to. Therefore, these principles and values are non-negotiable. They are:
• A common and equal citizenry; • A secular state; • The removal of systemic corruption; • An independent judiciary; • Elimination of discrimination; • Good and transparent governance; • Social justice;• One person, one vote, one value;• The elimination of ethnic voting;• Proportional representation; and• A voting age of 18.
In the month of May, we will commence a civic education programme, to last until July.
As stated in the book “Constitution-making and Reform”, published by Interpeace and authored by international experts, to have effective consultations, the public must be well informed of the issues that they need to think about, that they need to address, and that they need to express.
If the public is not educated about the issues to consider, then the process will be useless.
The guide by Interpeace noted that during Fiji’s 1997 consultations, some Fijians were not given enough information and materials to understand the issues they needed to consider for the constitutional process.
Some people did not feel they had a voice, or that their voices would not be heard. There was not enough information available to educate and facilitate a fully participatory consultative process. We cannot allow this to happen again.
We want true consultations. We want to hear from ordinary Fijians, not just the elite or the well connected.
The guide concluded that civic education plays a critical role in ensuring informed public contributions and constructive debate during the constitution-making process. In order to facilitate the civic education programme, from now until April, the Government will collate and print material highlighting issues for all Fijians to think about before they make their voices heard in the consultation process.
To ensure Fijians understand and contribute meaningfully, all informational material will be distributed in urban, rural, and maritime areas—to farmers; to fishermen; to youth; and to women’s organizations. In short, to everyone.
These materials will include the People’s Charter for Change and a list of issues that need to be considered in any constitution-making process.
The kinds of issues that the public should consider in advance of the consultations include, but are not limited to, the following:
• Do we want economic and social rights to be included in the Bill of Rights? In other words, should there be a right to basic housing, to clean drinking water, to basic health services, to electricity?
• What should be the size of Parliament? Should it be reduced from previous numbers?
• How do we attract better quality candidates to Parliament?
• Should we have a Senate? If so, should Senators be elected or selected?
• How should the judiciary be selected?
• Should political parties and their office holders disclose their assets and liabilities?
July – September
Following the civic education process, consultations will commence between the Constitutional Commission and the citizens of Fiji.
This will commence on July 2nd and end on September 30th. It is imperative that all Fijians be given access to the consultation process.
We will accordingly need to ensure, for example, that adequate transportation is provided to citizens—in particular in the rural and maritime areas—to attend the consultation forums and meetings.
The Constitutional Commission, which must be adequately staffed and resourced, will consist of five people: two international experts and three Fijians.
I’m happy to announce that the Chairperson of the Constitutional Commission will be Professor Yash Ghai, internationally renowned constitution and human rights expert.
Two of the three distinguished Fijians who will be members of the Constitutional Commission include:
• Taufa Vakatale, the first female Deputy Prime Minister of Fiji; and• Satendra Nandan, Academic writer, former Member of Parliament.
We intend to announce the names of the last two members in due course.
October – December
From October to the end of December 2012, the Constitutional Commission will collate the public submissions. Based on the Guiding Principles, the Commission will draft a constitution.
The draft constitution will then – in January 2013 – be submitted to a Constituent Assembly.
January – March
The Constituent Assembly will consist of representative civil society groups and organizations that are Fijian-registered, including faith-based organizations, national institutions, political parties, and Government.
The Assembly will consider the draft constitution in an inclusive and transparent process, based on the Guiding Principles.
The rules for the Constituent Assembly, such as quorum, speaking rights, and voting shall be finalized with the assistance of international experts prior to the formation of the Constituent Assembly. We expect to announce the composition of the Constituent Assembly by December of this year.
It should be noted – ladies and gentlemen – that we had a similar constituent assembly only a few years ago in the form of the National Council for Building a Better Fiji.
We hope that all organizations will participate in this Constituent Assembly. Our objective is to hear all Fijian voices.
It is expected that the Constituent Assembly will debate the draft constitution and make amendments if and where necessary.
Once the Constituent Assembly approves the constitution by the end of February 2013, it will then be assented to by His Excellency the President.
My fellow Fijians, the next 12 months is going to be crucial in determining the future of our beloved country.
We must all be forthcoming, actively contribute to, and participate in this process with the view to ensure a better Fiji for all Fijians.
We must put aside any prejudices, any self-interest, and political ambitions.
In doing so, we will ensure peace, prosperity, economic well-being, and a sustained and true democracy for all.
Thank you. Vinaka Vaka levu.
Ministry of Foreign Affairs P. O. Box 2220 Government Buildings Suva, Fiji