FIJI CONSTITUTIONAL EDUCATION PROGRAM SET FOR MAY

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Reform commission chair optimistic over timeline

By Timoci Vula

SUVA, Fiji (Fiji Times, March 21, 2012) – The duration of the much-anticipated constitution consultation process that will begin with a civic education program in May is long enough, says Fiji's Constitutional Commission chairperson Professor Yash Pal Ghai.

However, Professor Ghai said this would only be if necessary arrangements were set up speedily, and adequate resources were ensured.

He was responding to queries from this newspaper via electronic mail (e-mail) on Monday on whether the consultation period was sufficient.

"Fijians have been discussing and debating constitutional options for some years now," Professor Ghai told The Fiji Times.

"Many are familiar with the 1997 constitution, and now there will be an opportunity for a national debate on its strength and weakness," he said.

He added that Prime Minister Commodore Voreqe Bainimarama's announcement had systematically set out the sequencing of the process with a reasonable allocation of time to each stage.

[PIR editor’s note: Professor Ghai has recently come under criticism for being appointed chair of the Constitutional Commission over links with current Attorney-General Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum, who was a student of Ghai’s years ago. Ghai has defended his position, saying Fiji "desperately" required a new constitution, and that he "could play a constructive role in this process," which he also did for his home country of Kenya and between PNG and Bougainville.]

In his announcement earlier this month, Commodore Bainimarama said a civic education program would commence in May to last until July.

He said from now until April, the government would collate and print material highlighting issues for all Fijians to think about before making their voices heard in the consultation process.

Following the civic education process, consultations will commence between the Constitutional Commission and the citizens of Fiji on July 2 and end on September 30. From October to the end of December, the Constitutional Commission will collate the public submissions, and based on the guiding principles, the commission will draft a constitution.

Commodore Bainimarama said the draft constitution would then, in January next year, be submitted to a Constituent Assembly.

He said the Constituent Assembly was expected to debate the draft consultation and make amendments if and where necessary.

Once the Constituent Assembly approved the constitution by the end of February next year, it would then be assented to the President Ratu Epeli Nailatikau.

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