Wednesday 25 May 2022 | 23:07 | SYDNEY
Wednesday 25 May 2022 | 23:07 | SYDNEY

Fiji: One step forward, two steps back


Jenny Hayward-Jones


9 January 2012 12:59

Fiji's Prime Minister last week took a step forward when he lifted the country's Public Emergency Regulations. As the only real progress towards democracy emerging from Suva in recent years, it had to be welcomed. 

But Commodore Bainimarama allowed himself only a few days to bask in the glory of the promise of a new openness in Fiji. On Friday, he announced the 'modernisation' of Fiji's Public Order Act with the Public Order (Amendment) Decree 2012. Bainimarama said this Decree was necessary to 'address terrorism, offenses against public order and safety, racial and religious vilification, hate speech, and economic sabotage.'  It allows the Fiji Government to detain people for breaches of the decree for up to 48 hours and then a further 14 days with the consent of the Minister responsible.

It is too early to know the impact of this new decree or indeed the real impact of the Media Industry Development Decree, both of which appear to be aimed at enshrining in law most of the temporary powers available to the Fiji Government under the Public Emergency Regulations. The proof of Bainimarama's intentions will be in the implementation of the decrees. It is not unusual for governments of developing countries to avoid implementation of laws on their statute books, whether through a lack of will or lack of capacity.

If Bainimarama can encourage a genuine and open consultative process on the new constitution and refrain from arresting, detaining or charging individuals who commit spurious offences under the Media or Public Order Decree, he can still convince the nation that there is a serious prospect of a transition to democracy in Fiji. He might even be able to see that allowing a bit of free speech will not threaten him.

Bainimarama justified the Public Order Decree with references to laws relating to detention for national security purposes in the UK, Singapore, Australia and the US. However, the fact that he felt he could shun the plaudits he won from lifting the Public Emergency Regulations through the new restrictions on freedoms promised by the Public Order Decree suggests he continues to have little regard for the opinion of the international community.

Nevertheless, there are still opportunities for the international community to look past the sins of Fiji's Prime Minister and help the people of Fiji achieve their aspirations for democracy. They do not deserve to be punished for the obduracy of Bainimarama.

Photo by Flickr user Simonds.