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Constitutional Crisis

Issue No: 592 16 March 2001

The unconstitutional decisions of the President Ratu Josefa Iloilo has thrown Fiji into a deeper political crisis.

Most lawyers, politicians, and prominent citizens as well as the diplomats, have expressed disbelief that the flagrant violation of the law and the Constitution by the President.

The series of acts which culminated in the reappointment of Laisenia Qarase began when the Council of Chiefs decided not to invite the Prime Minister to its meeting. The Prime Minister is an ex-officio member of the Great Council of Chiefs.

Next, the GCC did not consult the Prime Minister in the appointment of the President and the Vice-President. Under the Constitution the GCC must consult with the Prime Minister in appointing the President.

Third, the President claimed he dismissed the elected Prime Minister. This dismissal is against the Constitutional provisions.

Fourth, he appointed another Prime Minister, his nephew Ratu Tevita Momoedonu, again in breach of the Constitution.

Fifth, he accepted the resignation of the newly appointed Prime Minister within 20 hours and accepted his advice of a dissolution of the Parliament.

Sixth, he re-appointed Laisenia Qarase as the Prime Minister, once more in serious breach of the Constitution.

These unconstitutional acts call into question the sincerity of the regime in upholding the Constitution and the law of the land.

It also seriously tarnishes the integrity of the Office of the President, the highest authority in the land. That the President may have been advised wrongly by bureaucrats is another matter of serious concern. It doesn't even take a law graduate to figure out the gross violation of the Constitution by the President. The least which the bureaucrats could have done is to alert the President of the illegality of his planned acts as and when they were made aware of them. And surely they were aware of this. While the law protects civil servants from liability for wrong advice given to decision makers, the fact remains that many of Fiji's governments and decision makers have perished because of the poor quality of advice given by the bureaucrats. In the present case, the office of the Solicitor-General, which looks after the interest of the state, should not have been allowed to be used in the way it was.

What is more disconcerting is the claim by some that the President's speech was actually drafted in the Prime Minister's office. That it was a conspiracy hatched by some of the Qarase regime team and some bureaucrats to keep Fiji away from a constitutional rule, can not be ruled out.

It is even more worrying that the military says it knows of the unconstitutional decisions of the President. By not advising the President, who is the Commander-in-Chief of the army, of the legalities, the military has also failed in its duty to uphold the Constitution and to safeguard the integrity of the Office of the President, and certainly to prevent the Office from being used by unscrupulous politicians and bureaucrats.

The cost to the nation of the decisions made during the past two days, and which are expected to be made today, is immense. It is the final blow to the nation's integrity and image.

END 16 March 2001


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