Fiji Constitution Commission Chairperson, Professor Yash Ghai gives his address at the opening of a panel discussion on Fiji's Constitution.
Close to 300 people attended the panel discussion on Fiji’s Constitution making at the Multi Purpose Theatre located at the University of the South Pacific's Laucala Campus in Suva.
The discussions, held on 11 September 2012, were jointly conveyed by USP’s School of Government, Development and International Affairs (SGDIA) in the Faculty of Business and Economics and the Fiji Women’s Rights Movement.
Academics and scholars play a critical role as they have the expertise in various areas and can contribute towards providing ideas to the people of Fiji about what could be in the new Constitution.
This view was shared by the Fiji Constitution Commission Chairman, Professor Yash Ghai, while speaking at the opening of a panel discussion on Fiji’s Constitution at USP.
As Fiji prepares to draft its new Constitution and with the consultation process well underway, the Commission continues to receive submissions from people around the country.
While the Commission had received many narratives on peoples’ lives and livelihood issues, Professor Ghai admitted that what they had not received were the broad frameworks within which State and society should operate, the relationship between society and State, and organised groups within society.
“We think your contribution would be very important in providing good structures of the State, relationship of the State to civil society, the role of human rights relating to different communities not only between the State and citizens,” the participants heard.
Professor Ghai also launched the Constitution Commission book titled ‘Listening to the people of Fiji’. He encouraged everyone to read the book and said he hoped the book would be a useful source of information for Fijians as it highlights significant areas that the Constitution will address.
In thanking Professor Ghai for his brief address on the Constitution, the Director of SGDIA, Professor Vijay Naidu emphasized the importance of the Constitution.
“The Constitution is the supreme law of a country and sets out the nature and structure of the state,” he said.
Professor Naidu pointed out that if designed well, the structure of government in governmental processes can effectively contribute in addressing the concerns of the citizens and move a country peacefully towards a more just society.
During the panel discussion, the panelists shared their experiences and views relating to various issues concerning the Constitution-making process. The panelists were Professor Christina Murray, Associate Professor Sandra Tarte, Tura Leewai, Noelene Navulivou, Ashwin Raj, Jope Tarai and Alisi Daurewa. They represented academia, women, youth, Non-Government Organisations, and minorities.
Some of the issues discussed by the panelist included women’s participation in Constitution making process with reference to the South African experience; sustainable democracy; an indigenous young person’s vision for Fiji; alternative approaches to citizenship - on unity and diversity in Fiji; engaging youth; and local government.
The South African experience provided lessons on how the multi-racial women’s movement actively sought positive outcomes for women in the Constitution. The women are also continuing their efforts to ensure that the provisions of the Constitution work for them.
For Fiji, the importance of evolving a culture of democracy that ended the cycle of coups was emphasized, and it appeared that all ethnic groups agreed that there should be no more coups. Some inconsistencies in the 1997 Constitution between equality of citizenship and treating them differently on ethnic basis were highlighted.
Young people’s vision of a peaceful multi-ethnic Fiji and listening to their voices were strongly advocated as was the importance of equitable treatment of all citizens in the spirit of unity in diversity.
It was pointed out that local government system in the country had been rather divisive, and until more direct central government direction since 2007, the iTaukei administration had failed indigenous Fijians living in rural villages. Greater authority and power of representation of Turaga-ni-koro (village headmen/women) was recommended.
A lively discussion ensued with several comments and questions from the floor. Among the topics raised were culture change, the place of youth, indigenous rights, the judiciary, role of politicians, voting age, and women’s representation.
The panelists encouraged active participation of all citizens if positive changes were to be reflected in Fiji’s Constitution.
Twelve constitutional submissions were made following the panel discussion, more than half of these were made by young persons.