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Group Criticises Lack Of Information Freedom Law

Civil Society Group Criticises Lack Of Information Freedom Law

SUVA (Pacific Media Watch): Fiji's Citizens Constitutional Forum has criticised an AusAID-funded double media workshop for cabinet ministers and parliamentarians, saying the government needed to be reminded of the urgent need for a Freedom of Information Act in the Pacific country.

Writing in letters to two newspapers today, the Fiji Times and the Daily Post, CCF executive director Rev Akuila Yabaki asked:

"Is this the same agency that funded the Canberra-based Australian law firm that helped in the drafting of the Fiji Constitution some five years ago?"

Yabaki said that "if my conjecture is correct" then perhaps the organisers of the twin two-day workshops "might care to remind Prime Minister Laisenia Qarase and members of the cabinet of the urgent need to pass the Freedom of Information Act as required by the 1997 Constitution, Section 174".

He said the published Prime Minister's speeches "could hardly be regarded as a substitute for free access to government information because too often these are statements designed to defend the government's inaction or misdeeds, including its sheer misdemeanor of not abiding by the Constitution".

Yabaki said the Constitution required a Code of Conduct to be treated with the same degree of urgency as the freedom of information legislation.

He noted that the workshops coincided with the government's creation of a new "media relations" portfolio in the Ministry of Information.

"Such a creation , however new, can only be valid or legal if founded on the Freedom of Information law yet to be passed by Parliament," Yabaki wrote.

"If not, then might I say this government has once again short-changed the citizens of Fiji, and acted somewhat like putting the cart before the horse!"

The workshops are being run by the Pacific Islands Broadcasting Association (PIBA) under the $3 million AusAID Pacific Media Initiative (PMI) project managed from Melbourne.

The first workshop for 17 MPs and five senators concludes today with a second two-day workshop for ministers due to begin tomorrow.

According to the Sun newspaper, PIBA's chairman and Fiji Broadcasting Corporation chief executive officer Sireli Kini said the seminar was "a dream come true" and would be used as a "model" for other countries in the region.

+++niuswire

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