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Coalition Govt News: Judge Throws Out Regime Case

Judge Throws Out Regime Case

Issue No: 108R; 12 October 2000

The High Court has thrown out an interim regime case that a judicial review case filed in Lautoka be transferred to Suva.

Judge Gates delivered his judgment today in which he refused the transfer.

The case involved the appointment by the Chief Justice of a judge. A lawyer in private practice filed for a judicial review against the appointment.

The Chief Justice had directed that the case be transferred to Suva.

Similar directives were given for a Peoples Coalition case filed in Lautoka. The Coalition has challenged the purported abrogation of the 1997 Constitution in the Lautoka High Court. The Chief Justice had written to the Lautoka Court to transfer the case to Suva. This was followed by a memo from the Suva court registry. It is believed that the Chief Justice wanted another judge to hear this case in Suva. The CJ, Justice Tuivaga, together with judges Fatiaki and Scott, were involved in drafting some military decrees. The CJ's action has been criticised by the Law Society of Fiji as well as the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative. The court transfer matter, interpreted as judge shopping, is a blatant interference in the judicial process.

The judgment has been welcomed by the Peoples Coalition as it sets a precedent to the case on the directive to transfer the Peoples Coalition case to Suva.


EU-ACP Condemns Qarase Plan

Issue No: 107; 12 October 2000

The joint ACP-EU Assembly has expressed support for the Peoples Coalition plan for democracy in Fiji.

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Meeting in Brussels, the Assembly allowed Peoples Coalition Government representative, Joeli Kalou to not only speak to the Assembly but also allowed him to speak before the interim regime representative, Foreign Affairs Minister Kaliopate Tavola.

This is a major blow to the Qarase regime which has been claiming that the regime's plan is acceptable to the EU.

Numerous members of the Assembly strongly criticised the Qarase regime and called for a quick restoration of democracy.


"What Law?" - Suva Mayor

Issue No: 105; 12 October 2000

"What law are we talking about?" asked the Lord Mayor of Suva, Mataiasi Ragigia to a TV reporter last night.

Mayoral elections are scheduled for next week in the capital city. Under an agreement reached last year between the three parties which joined hands to contest the municipal elections (SVT-NFP-UGP), it was agreed that the mayorship would be held by the SVT nominee in the first year, and pass on to the NFP nominee in the second year and the UGP nominee for the third year.

When asked whether the SVT will stick to the agreement, Ragigia stated that this was not necessarily so since the events of 19 May and after raised the issue of the law which holds in Fiji. The agreement, he claimed, was made when the 1997 Constitution was still in force. The circumstances had changed since 19 May, and thelaw under which the agreement was made needs to be looked at. He suggested that the SVT might maintain the mayorship.

Ragigia has been implicated by NGO's as an active supporter of the terrorist group. He led a delegation to present a gift (sevusevu) to terrorist George Speight when Speight was in control of the Parliament Complex. Ragigia was implicated in numerous corrupt dealings during his term as Mayor of Suva. An investigation carried out by the Ministry of Local Government in February/March this year found cases of abuse of funds, mismanagement and neglect of responsibility by the Mayor. The Town Clerk, a New Zealander, did not seek renewal of his contract after he found corruption rising under Ragigia's term as Mayor. Last week the Fiji press reported that Ragigia had not paid city rates for two properties he owned in Suva. Two weeks before the terrorist take-over, Ragigia had marched with the Opposition and read a petition which they were to present to the Government. Only recently, after returning from a meeting abroad, Ragigia claimed that a London Councillor had told him that Chaudhry deserved what he got on 19 May. This statement was made a front page story in the Daily Post, whose acting editor is a cousin of Qarase. Subsequent letters from other UK municipal councillors to the Daily Post condemning the article and Ragigia for attributing a statement to an unnamed London Councillor, went unpublished by the Daily Post.


Farmers Should Become Labourers For Landowners: NLTB

Issue No: 106; 12 October 2000

The Native Land Trust Board wants the farmers whose leases are expiring to farm the land for the landowners.

The NLTB's Regional Director for North, Emosi Toga told today's Fiji Times (12 Oct) that the NLTB is prepared to give farmers residential leases on the land they have tilled if they worked on the farms for the landowners. He said that each residential lease would come with an additional ½ acre for subsistence crops. He stated:

"We are not chasing them away or taken them away from cane fields but are offering them residential leases because the landowners want to farm their land".

"They can take up residential lease, at the same time work for the Fijian landowners to pay for the rent."

"They should pave the way for changes, what is wrong with working for Fijian farmers. It was the other way around before and surely they can change".

The NLTB for the first time has come on record of its intentions behind its plans for the past 5 to 6 years. The intention is to create economic conditions whereby tenant farmers would be converted into labourers on land owned by indigenous Fijians. This is tantamount to re-creating the indenture system under which the ethnic Indians were brought to Fiji in the late 1800's.

NLTB's Northern Director, Emosi Toga, had written numerous letters to the papers during the hostage crisis supporting terrorist George Speight's actions and plans. He also was a key personality behind the infamous "Deed of Cession" document circulated by the NLTB General Manager Maika Qarikau while the elected government was held hostage. The document called for landowners to surrender decision making on their land to the Taukei Civilian Government, a term used by George Speight to refer to his government. Qarikau was listed by Speight as his Minister for Lands.


Australia Debates Fiji Developments

Issue No: 104 ; 11 October 2000

The Australian Government has been accused of striking a secret deal with the Qarase regime, effectively endorsing the Qarase plan.

This was revealed by the Australian Opposition Foreign Affairs spokesperson, Laurie Brereton yesterday in the Australian Parliament.

According to an article by Paul Daley in todays (11 Oct) The Age (Australia), Opposition foreign affairs spokesman Laurie Brereton said that despite Australia's public criticism of the overthrow of the legitimately elected government in Fiji, Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer had made a deal with Fiji to extend protection of the country's crippled garment industry. Daley wrote:

"He [Brereton] said the Federal Government had privately told Laisenia Qarase's interim government that Australia would replace a scheme giving preferential access to Australian markets if Mr Qarase agreed to elections in 18 months..

"Outlining the alleged deal in parliament yesterday, Mr Brereton said Australian and Fijian officials were negotiating a successor agreement to the import credit scheme, which had benefited the Fijian garment industry through preferential access to Australian markets."

Brereton accused Australia of giving up on the 1997 Constitution.

Minister Downer, on the other hand, stated that Australia still stood by its initial policy on Fiji.

An earlier letter from Downer's office, dated 4 October, to Sydney's Fiji Times confirmed the Australian position. The letter, by Joe Thwaites, Assistant Secretary, Pacific Island Branch, Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade in Canberra, notes:

a.. Government-to-government cooperation under the Australia-Fiji Trade and Economic Relations Agreement (AFTERA) has been suspended. b.. Most non-humanitarian aid activities have been terminated including all new scholarships and training and a number of public sector projects. This represents a cut of around 30 per cent to Australia's bilateral aid program to Fiji. c.. The next intake of Australian Youth Ambassadors to Fiji, scheduled for last July, has been postponed indefinitely. d.. A number of measures have been taken in Australia's defense relationship. Naval ship visits senior officer visits and joint military exercises have been suspended. A number of Australian defense advisers have also been withdrawn. e.. Australia will encourage the transfer of regional meetings to other countries. f.. Australia will continue to press for an early return to constitutional rule within the framework of the 1997 Constitution and will be watching very closely the path taken by the interim government. Fiji now has a clear choice: return quickly to democracy of forego indefinitely its former place as valued and respected member of the international community.

What is clear is that there are mixed signals coming from the Australian Government, both to the public in Fiji and in Australia, as well as the Qarase regime.

Meanwhile, the Prime Minister in the Peoples Coalition Government, Mahendra Chaudhry will be meeting with Downer tomorrow to discuss the Australian position on Fiji.


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