CAUTIOUS OPTIMISM GREETS NEW YEAR IN FIJI

Editorial

FijiSUN

SUVA, Fiji (Jan. 5) – The commander of the Republic of Fiji Military Forces, Commodore Voreqe Bainimarama, has been as good as his word. Yesterday he returned Fiji to civilian rule. All the arguments about the legality of his actions aside, he relinquishes power on a positive note. Fiji has suffered as a result of his actions. People have lost their jobs, their freedoms and in many cases their self respect. Some have been needlessly and viciously tortured. However, Fiji is today in a position to recover lost ground and make significant gains. The excesses committed by the military over the past month can never be condoned but the fact is that its more reasoned actions can lead to an improved Fiji with equality of opportunity for all.

In fact, one suspects that when the history of the 2006 coup is written, it will be much kinder to Commodore Bainimarama than his contemporaries have been. But that is for the future. With the return to civil power, the requirements of the 1997 Constitution that were ignored by the Qarase regime can now be met. These include a code of conduct for leaders, anti-corruption legislation and a Freedom of Information Act that gives people access to all government information that does not impinge on national security. These and other requirements of the constitution were previously shunned. And there is other work to do. The new chairman of the Public Service Commission, Hector Hatch, has the Herculean task of reforming the civil service to make it a service-driven organisation in which the needs of the clients - as opposed to the convenience of the staff and the organisation as a whole - come first.

Equally onerous will be the task of removing racial bias and nepotism in the service and in the Government. Mr Hatch needs and deserves all the support he can get. That the Qarase government tried for six years to reshape the civil service and, in effect, achieved nothing is a measure of the task ahead. In the meantime, the investigations into allegations of vote rigging and corruption should continue. That, after all, was what the coup of 2006 was all about. In fact, they loom large in the commander's 25 stated reasons for doing what he did. The latest (and, one hopes, the last) coup was, however, different from its predecessors. In 1987 and again in 2000, elected Indian-dominated governments were forcibly removed from office by Fijian-dominated groups acting, or so they said, in the indigenous interest. In 2006 we saw an essentially Fijian government acting in the sectional interest of the indigenous people forcibly removed by a Fijian-dominated military acting in the interest of the constitution and fairness for all regardless of race, colour or creed. And the most surprising thing of all is that it might even succeed.

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