Fiji Times

SUVA. Fiji (Aug. 30) – Every society dreams of being free and fair. Places where citizens can feel free to live, grow, invest, develop and where all of these can be done fairly.

That's why the comments by Commonwealth Secretary-General Don McKinnon on the Promotion of Reconciliation, Tolerance and Unity Bill are important.

He has rightly said that the Government must take the views of citizens into account when it reviews the contents of the controversial piece of legislation.

Ever since the Government told the people of Fiji that it was tabling legislation that would help grant amnesty to people involved in the turmoil of 2000, the nation has been split on the issue.

No one had really considered that those involved in the mayhem of 2000 would get away scot-free.

That was because everyone had been assured since the interim government headed by Laisenia Qarase sat that justice would be done.

Mr McKinnon is obviously choosing his words very carefully over the Bill.

Yet in a time when the Commonwealth has much bigger issues to deal with Fiji's troubles can seem like a storm in a tea-cup. The country's citizens don't have the right to carry firearms, a situation that has caused many problems in island neighbour Papua New Guinea. It is not plastered all over international television channels with shantytowns being torn down by the Government as is happening in Zimbabwe.

It is not refusing to sign vitally important environmental treaties like Australia is.

Yet Fiji is infamous for its contrasts in politically peaceful times, it is a haven for many families and individuals keen to de-stress or revitalise their zest for life through our tourism facilities.

Yet for two of its 35 years as an adult in the international community, Fiji has been ostracised and frowned upon for overturning democratic principles in the worst possible way – with military coups.

Our recovery as a nation has been nothing short of miraculous or perhaps simply a testament to the desire of people here to just get on with their lives.

Mr McKinnon has delivered a timely reminder to the Government that it is the people who matter most and it is they that must decide what they want for themselves.

Government of the people, for the people and by the people is a catch-cry echoed all over the world by people who champion the words "free" and "fair". Fiji must ensure that it is one of those champions.

August 31, 2005

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