SUVA, Fiji (April 30, 2008) - The draft People’s Charter will be ready in August followed by public debate over two months before a referendum in November.

We know that because Minister of Finance Mahendra Chaudhry has said so.

On a publicly funded but un explained visit to his ancestral home in India, Mr. Chaudhry told reporters what the Fiji public had not been permitted to know about the imminent delivery of the charter and its future progress.

But it’s nice to be told.

Many in Fiji had previously thought that the National Council for Building a Better Fiji had set itself an October deadline which was highly unlikely to be met because of the Herculean nature of the task before it. Indeed many including some serving and ex-members of the NCBBF felt the task was well nigh impossible.

So it is reassuring to hear from the co-chair of the council’s key committee that all is well and that the work of the council is in fact ahead of schedule and that the charter will be ready in time, paving the way for a general election next March.

It is also reassuring to discover, as Chaudhry told his Indian audience, that the NCBBF is a body that represents all shades of opinion in Fiji and is quite independent of the Interim Government since so many of us had thought lacked any breadth of community support and was controlled by interim ministers with Chaudhry himself well to the fore.

The reaction of his audience and that of Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh whom Chaudhry was also due to meet is not known but the response at home in Fiji is sure to be one of utter relief that the election is well and truly on track and that we can look forward to better times.

The reaction among our friends neighbors will also be one of relief that Fiji is finally well and truly on the road back to democracy.

Aid partners will be encouraged to return to the negotiating table, travel bans and advisories will be reconsidered while Fiji citizens may yet have access to fruit picking jobs in New Zealand.

So, this time next year Fiji will have a parliament and an elected government that people can criticize openly without having to fear a late night visit from big strange men.

But wait. Could this be the same Mahendra Chaudhry who only very recently expressed the opinion that the People’s Charter had to be in place before an election, while strongly hinting that the election might need to be delayed?

We do not know what has changed his mind but warmly welcome the changing of it. Bring it on, Chaudhry.

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