Saturday 21 Jul 2018 | 16:06 | SYDNEY
Saturday 21 Jul 2018 | 16:06 | SYDNEY

The Fiji-isation of the Pacific?


Jenny Hayward-Jones


10 May 2010 14:45

The resignations over the last ten days of Tonga’s Attorney-General and Papua New Guinea’s Attorney-General have made me wonder whether there is a 'Fiji-isation' of the Pacific in the air.

Each resignation was related to concerns about governance.  In Tonga's case, Attorney-General John Cauchi (an Australian) resigned because of his serious concerns about government interference in the country's judiciary and breaches of the constitution. 

In Papua New Guinea, Attorney-General Allan Marat (a member of the Government in parliament) was apparently asked by Prime Minister Michael Somare to resign because he had opposed the Government’s 'Maladina Bill'. Critics of this controversial bill argue that it will reduce the powers of the Ombudsman and undermine the integrity of the Ombudsman Commission.

The government of Papua New Guinea is not about to abandon 35 years of parliamentary democracy, and the Tongan King and government are unlikely to back away from promised moves towards greater democracy.  But the actions of both governments in recent weeks have signalled their willingness to undermine accountability and transparency – hardly an advancement of the Forum Principles of Good Leadership and Accountability to which they have committed.

Pacific Island countries would be unlikely to admit that they are looking to Fiji as a model.  But the very fact that Fiji's interim government continues to rule by decree without any overt public opposition or criticism from its neighbours sends a signal to the region that it is possible to subvert democratic principles with few consequences.  Governments looking to limit or avoid public scrutiny will gain confidence from Fiji's experience.  Fiji's decrees may also offer alternative legislative models for governments seeking to exercise greater control over accountability mechanisms.

However, unlike Fiji, PNG has a civil society movement willing to protest the actions of their government and a police force which did not impede a peaceful demonstration.  And although Tonga has not been famous for its free press, critics of the government have been able to express their concerns in public without fear of arrest. 

Perhaps it will be the people - not the governments - of the Pacific that prevent the Fiji-isation of the region.

Photo by Flickr user TreMichLan, used under a Creative Commons licence.