Fiji Times

SUVA, Fiji (July 12) - Never has a piece of legislation divided Fiji like the Promotion of Reconciliation, Tolerance and Unity Bill.

In a nation already separated by race, politics, religion and class, the Bill has done nothing to promote the very thing it seeks to address - promote unity, reconciliation and tolerance in a country still recovering from the crisis in 2000.

In fact, the Bill has polarized the races even further and driven a wedge between the urban working class community and the isolated and poor rural community.

Since the Bill first surfaced in Parliament this year, the majority of the urban community -- mainly educated and working class people who have easy access to information -- have rejected it.

In the rural areas, the story is the opposite and this is evident in the number of provincial councils that have so far supported this Bill.

This group of people has relied mainly on the Government team that is touring the countryside for information. Their favorable response and the much awaited decision of the Great Council of Chiefs -- is probably the only thing the Government needs to push this Bill forward.

It appears to have ignored the strong opposition and concerns of the Fiji Police Force and the Republic of the Fiji Military Forces.

Any right thinking person can see that the opposition is not personal or petty but is based on fact, analysis and law.

The worries of the Police Commissioner are genuine and very real because the Bill threatens to upset the independence and functions of the force to investigate and prosecute lawbreakers.

The explanation to the people of Bua by the Prime Minister, Laisenia Qarase, that the Bill will end on-going investigations into the coup is lame and ridiculous.

To justify his statement, Qarase says that only 2,500 people have so far been investigated compared to the 20,000 people who were in Parliament. For this reason, a political answer had to be found, hence the Bill.

How very thoughtful of the Prime Minister. Yet his statement has sent very dangerous signals to the nation -- that the Bill will indeed interfere with the functions of the police as the commissioner feared, that he condones the acts in 2000 and that people can commit crimes and get away with it.

The fears of the force and the military that the country will slide into lawlessness and national instability are very real now.

The Prime Minister needs to heed the warning of his advisors. He needs to set aside his personal dislike of the military commander and accept the fact that his Bill has the potential to promote disunity, intolerance and anarchy.

July 13, 2005

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