FIJI COUNCIL OF CHIEFS ENDORSES ‘UNITY’ BILL

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SUVA, Fiji (Fiji Times, July 29) – Fiji’s Great Council of Chiefs endorsed the Promotion of Reconciliation and Unity Bill yesterday but urged the Government to consider the concerns raised by the army and others.

After hearing submissions from the army, the Government and the Concerned Citizens Against the Bill, the council urged the Government to continue its campaign to promote national unity and reconciliation.

Prime Minister Laisenia Qarase said he was pleased with the support of the Council of Chiefs who made a well-informed decision in the best interest of the country.

He said the Government now needed just a simple majority to pass the Bill in the House of Representatives.

"Now we are certain that we have received the overwhelming support of the Fijian people through the provincial councils as well as the GCC,'' he said.

Mr Qarase said there was an ongoing consultation process, an extension of which would be supported by the Government if requested to by the Justice, Law and Order Committee in the House of Representatives.

He said if there were recommendations for amendments to the Bill, the Government would look into them carefully.

Opposition Leader Mahendra Chaudhry said they would fight the Bill to the end.

"The chiefs have failed to address the issue properly and this doesn't augur well for Fiji's future," he said. "There's still the parliamentary and legal process and we'll fight this Bill all the way."

He said the issue was whether the Bill was constitutional or not.

Former Great Council of Chiefs chairman Ratu Epeli Ganilau said it did not make any difference whether the chiefs accepted or rejected the Bill because it would still have to go through the parliamentary process.

"One would have thought that they (chiefs) would have deliberated more thoroughly and asked for more time before deciding on the issue. But we have to respect their decision,'' he said.

The Citizens Constitutional Forum said the decision was expected.

"The process will go on. That's not the end of the battle. The Bill still has to go to Parliament,'' said executive director Reverend Akuila Yabaki. "It seems to me the idea of reconciliation was the deciding factor in them endorsing this Bill but it came as no surprise.''

Fiji Law Society member Tupou Draunidalo said the council would meet today to examine the chief's ruling before issuing a statement.

Army commander Commodore Voreqe Bainimarama declined to comment on the resolution last night. The council was happy that democracy was alive and well in the country, given the extended debate generated on the Bill.

During his submission at the GCC yesterday, Mr Qarase said a lot of misinterpretation had been made during the public debate on the Bill.

He reiterated that the Government was not trying to undermine the independence of the police, the courts and the DPP as well as the Office of the President.

He said this Bill would once and for all put a stop to political coups in Fiji.

July 29, 2005

Fiji Times Online: http://www.fijitimes.com.

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