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I Can't Sack PM, Says Ratu Mara

SUVA: The Fiji Islands President will not dismiss Prime Minister Mahendra Chaudhry's government despite mounting pressure from the revived Taukei Movement, the Daily Post reports.

In fact, Government House has pointed out that the President, Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara, "does not have the power" to dismiss a democratically elected government.

Apisai Tora, the interim president of the Taukei Movement, had petitioned the President, following a march through Lautoka two weeks ago, asking Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara to dismiss Chaudhry's Coalition Government.

Tora had also wanted Ratu Sir Kamisese to:

* appoint an interim government - minus members of the present government,

* have the 1997 Constitution amended so the reins of government remain in the hands of indigenous Fijians; and;

* that a general election is held after the Constitution is appropriately amended.

Replying to Tora's request, the official secretary at Government House Joseph Browne said: "On the question of the removal of government, I wish to advise as follows:

* His Excellency does not have the power to dismiss a democratically-elected government;

* With a properly elected government in place, His Excellency does not have the legal power to again appoint an interim government;

* Any amendment to the Constitution can only be done in accordance with chapter 15 section 190 - 192 of the Constitution;

* A new election is held after five years as provided for in the Constitution.

In his petition, Tora had expressed disappointment [over the maner in] which Chaudhry's government has governed the country since it came into power last year.

"We are to state that the politics of confrontation, which this government seems to revel in, has never worked anywhere in the past and, because of our strong traditional and cultural values, will never work in Fiji," Tora said.

"This type of politics leads to nothing but chaos.

"For the past 11 months government has continued to deliberately ignore Fijian needs and aspirations," Tora said.

He claimed that Chaudhry continued to decide on every single issue and it appeared that he, personally, directed, managed, and operated the day-to-day running of the government as if it was a privately owned institution.

But Browne pointed out that Chaudhry was at the helm of government and assisted by members of his Cabinet who had been assigned responsibility over clearly defined portfolios.

"Decisions therefore, taken by the Prime Minister, who is the chairman of Cabinet, in fact are the collective decision of Cabinet," Browne said.

Tora had also complained that Chaudhry continued to:

* ignore the decision of the Great Council of Chiefs and the Native Land Trust Board on ALTA leases;

* ignore the landowners before accepting the CDC mahogany deal;

* divide Fijian chiefs and their people over the selection for overseas trips to China, United States and Malaysia; and

* hand out $28,000 re-habilitation grants to predominantly Indian farmers whose leases had expired while ignoring Fijian replacement tenants.

Browne replied, however, that while the GCC expressed sentiments over the plight of the landowners, regarding lease arrangements, the decision of the chiefs was for the NLTB to continue dialogue with government.

He said the Land Use Commission was an issue being discussed between government and the NLTB, the outcome of which would, in due course, be presented to the GCC.

Browne pointed out that the procedure followed in identifying the CDC to harvest, process and market the mahogany forest is similar to that used for the harvesting and marketing of pine.

On the rehabilitation programme, Browne pointed out that it was a policy mooted by government from the beginning and was championed by the former government.

The Coalition Government was carrying on with the programme and implementing some of the decisions taken then.


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