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End to media censorship and permits close at hand

MELBOURNE, Australia (Radio Australia, Jan. 2, 2012) – The interim government in Fiji says the decision to lift the Public Emergency Regulations from this coming weekend is part of doing what's best for Fiji.

Attorney General Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum says the move is part of a process set in place several years ago with Fiji is now moving ahead of its own time frame in the process of restoring democracy.

The regulations will be lifted to allow a consultation process to take place to draw up a constitution ahead of elections in 2014.

The lifting of the regulations known as "PER" will end censorship of the media and the need to get permits to hold meetings of more than three people.

Presenter: Melanie Arnost

Speaker: Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum, Fiji's Attorney General

KHAIYUM: Under the PER there were certain initial powers that were given to the police and the officers in command, but it should be also noted that it’s very rarely exercised. But in terms of practical application of it, a person who wakes up in the morning and goes to work and watches television and rings on the talkback radio show and makes comments about government or whatever and watches TV that goes on at night, doesn’t make any difference whatsoever, they are allowed to do that or they did do that with the PER still being in place. Obviously things like for example if an organization wanted to have a meeting in its hall or a group of people, then they needed a permit under the Public Emergency Regulations. They are of course will no longer require a permit to have such a meeting.

ARNOST: What you’re saying is that permits for those public meetings they’re no longer going to be needed. Does that include even things for the Methodist Church, so they’ll be allowed to hold meetings other than on Sundays?

KHAIYUM: Look it’s not discriminatory against any group or organization, it’s applicable to everybody. But also let me reiterate to you that there is a complete misconception by the… media, particularly Australian media that the Methodist Church and various other groups weren’t allowed to hold any meetings. They in fact were allowed to hold meetings but they weren’t allowed to hold any conference, the annual conference. But they’ve been holding other meetings. And similarly other organizations have been holding meetings, some of them of course with various permits. So I think that this needs to be understood.

ARNOST: What’s been the general response from the public since the announcement was made?

KHAIYUM: Life goes on, I mean I think you need to understand and you need to be actually here to be able to get an appreciation of what the ground realities have been in Fiji. And frankly it does not make that much of a difference to the average Fijian, because they’ve been going about their daily lives and that doesn’t have a serious … game changer. But the Prime Minister as he announced in his message that one of the reasons why the Public Emergency Regulations are being lifted, is the fact that we are commencing consultations on the formulation of the drafting of the new constitution, the basis of the genesis of this council and the People’s Charter for… progress to allow public consultation and … discussions to take place. Obviously people will need to hold meetings and have meetings and discuss and debate these matters freely. So this is a lead-up to that. We have a timeframe that was announced by the Prime Minister on 1 July 2009, and we are in fact sticking to this timeframe and the various milestones that need to be achieved. As you may know that we’ve recently advertised, receiving expressions of interest from various companies to carry out electronic voter registration for voters. The consultation as far as the timeframe was concerned we’re going to commence in September as announced by the Prime Minister. The consultations will in fact commence in February.

ARNOST: Going back to this announcement and the idea of it, where did the decision to lift the Emergency Regulations come from?

KHAIYUM: Well like I said we have a particular timeframe, we have … to meet, and like I said earlier on the reason why the Emergency Regulations have been lifted as we’ve been saying for the past two years that it will be lifted at some stage, I mean therefore it has been lifted, and the consultation of the constitution will commence.

ARNOST: So not triggered by anything in particular, it was just to stick to the timeline?

KHAIYUM: Absolutely.

ARNOST: The nationwide consultation process that you mentioned, it’s supposed to begin in February. What exactly is that going to involve and who’s going to be spoken to?

KHAIYUM: Well it’s not a question of being spoken to, it’s a question of hearing people’s views as the Prime Minister highlighted in his new year’s message, that we need to put in place a constitution but there are certain fundamentals that came up, people started with change … in fact formulated by the National Council building a better Fiji. You may not know this but back in 08 and 09 we had the National Council for building a better Fiji which was a representation of significant number of NGOs and registered political parties that participated in this process. And from that we had the charter that came out. They sort of … need to be enshrined in any constitution and for example one person, one vote, one value, and that has never been the case in Fiji’s political history or electoral history, more appropriately I should say. We have also had ethnic voting, and the Prime Minister has made it clear that we cannot have ethnic voting, we cannot have a modern nation state by having ethnic voting. When you have a modern nation state you have common and equal citizenry that must have equal status irrespective of one person’s background. There are many political parties in Fiji that still, and many political leaders both the former prime minister and those prior to him who actually based their whole political campaigns and whole political parties on ethnicity. We’re also saying that the new constitution must ensure that the youth must have the right to vote. In Fiji previously only if you’re 21 years of and above could you vote. What we’re saying is that the voting age should be 18, because you have 18 years old who can go and enlist in the army, serve in the police force, pay taxes, be sent to adult prisons, yet they did not have the right to vote. So these are some of the core principles that need to be enshrined. But of course there are many other issues that need to be discussed by the public. For example was the size of parliament previously too big for a small country like ours? Should, for example, the Bill of Rights include social and economic rights, as opposed to only civil and political rights, like South Africa does? But there are a number of issues, should political parties for example declare where they get their donations from? Should their answers be made public? A number of issues that need to be discussed and the public need to obviously be consulted on this, and we need to get their input on this.

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