AG Admits To Differences In Assented Fiji Constitution

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Sayed-Khaiyum: amendments only tighten up existing provisions

SUVA, Fiji (Fijilive, Sept. 17, 2013) – Fiji’s Attorney General Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum admits there are some differences between the copy of the constitution which was released on 22 August and that which came into effect two weeks ago.

He said the amendments made to the constitution that was assented to by the President Ratu Epeli Nailatikau two weeks ago only served to tighten up the already existing provisions.

One of these included the change in titles of section 28 and section 29 from "Protection of iTaukei, Rotuman and Banaban lands" to Rights of ownership and protection of iTaukei, Rotuman and Banaban lands and from "Protection of rights and interests in land" to "Protection of ownership and interests in land."

Another aspect he said the amended document protected like never before in any constitution is the interest of landowners and tenants which sees an additional three subsections added onto Section 29 to strengthen it.

One of these is subsection four which states that all parliament and cabinet must ensure that the landowners get a fair and equitable return while protecting the land lessees and land tenants capturing "in a much wider sense the provisions in ALTA."

He reiterated that the land provision like every other provision included in the Bill of Rights, are protected, and cannot be challenged by anyone.

"Whatever is in the Bill of Rights, binds the legislature, parliament cannot do anything that goes against this provision.

"The executives, the cabinet, the PM, they cannot do anything that goes against any of these provisions in the Bill.

"The judiciary cannot come up with a ruling that is in conflict to this.

"Any administrative decisions they make must adhere to the Bill of Rights.

"We’ve never had this kind of protection put into the Bill of Rights before.

"Some people talk about the entrenched provisions, that was a law, this is in the Bill of Rights. It’s not a stand alone law; this is encapsulating every single law that was made. Its a lot firmer, a lot more entrenched."

Sayed-Khaiyum also brushed off comments made by some politicians that government could change the constitution by the stroke of a pen.

"No we can’t. We can’t just take out clauses."

Sections 160 and 161, which contain provisions on the amendment of the constitution, state that from 7 September when the constitution was assented to by the president and 31 December, should there be any amendments made, in respect to correcting any inconsistency or errors, the cabinet must obtain a certification from the Supreme Court.

After 31 December, the only way any amendment can be made, as highlighted in section 160, is that if at least three quarters of parliament approves it and then three quarters of the registered voters approve it.

If so, then the president must assent to the change which may be effective immediately or on a prescribed date. Sayed-Khaiyum said the stated provisions for amendment are to ensure the protection of the Bill of Rights.

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