Multi Party Cabinet

Postdate: 4/ 11/ 2004

The Editor Daily Post SUVA

Dear Sir, In his reply to my letter, the CEO in the Prime Minister’s Office, Joji Kotobalavu (DP 13/10/04) has really not given us an enlightening answer to his rhetorical question. In a statement published earlier in your paper, Mr. Kotobalavu challenged the FLP to answer (quote) “what is it in their attitude to the Government’s offer, policies and statements that is compelling the Prime Minister to take the attitude he is taking towards the multiparty government issues?” I said he and Prime Minister Qarase are in a better position to give us that answer.

Mr. Kotobalavu has accused me of trying to mislead the public. About what? The requirement of Section 99 have always been crystal clear. Compelling the parties to go to Court was unnecessary and a waste of taxpayers money and time. What the Courts have done, was politely clarify to Attorney General Bale the practical meaning of the relevant parts of the Constitution, which were obvious to us ordinary citizens. Hence the Courts threw the ball back to Prime Minister Qarase to decide in accordance with the letter and spirit of the Constitution. Mr. Qarase’s response is to propose a huge Cabinet of 36 and offer token humiliating Ministries to the FLP, excluding Chaudhry, Bune and Chand. In other democracies, where multiparty governments are formed, parties negotiate policies and Ministries. It is what is normally expected. Kotobalavu claims that the Prime Minister is under no constitutional obligation to engage in negotiations with the FLP. That is nonsense because the Supreme Court actually said it expected this to happen, not as a matter of legal requirement, but as political common sense. That if a Prime Minister in Fiji genuinely wants to form a multiparty government that will work; he would consult and negotiate on the policies and Ministries. In fact I think the Supreme Court had gone to great lengths in trying to assist the Government to practically implement Section 99 taking into account the Prime Ministers’ desire to be secure in a multiparty government. But the Prime Minister’s approach is not in the spirit of the Supreme Court Judgment.

It will be helpful to this debate if Mr. Kotobalavu can cite a statement from the Judgment of the Supreme Court that supports his contention that the Section 99 excludes the Prime Minister from negotiation before he exercises his power to appoint Cabinet Ministers. I can certainly cite the Court Statement that supports my argument. He has also referred to the inclusion of Fijian Parties in Mr. Chaudhry’s Cabinet in 1999. He does not mention the ironical contrast. Mr. Chaudhry’s Cabinet had more than half who were indigenous Fijians. And they held substantive, not token Ministries. He has also said that SVT excluded itself from the FLP Coalition Ministries in 1999 because of the conditions for participation it asked for. That was the strict hindsight interpretation by the Supreme Court of the correspondence between Mr. Chaudhry and Mr. Rabuka in terms of the legal effect. The Court did not consider the political reality, that the SVT had expected Mr. Chaudhry to discuss and negotiate with them on their acceptance letter. Unfortunately, Mr. Chaudhry did not take that opportunity open to him. It was that decision to exclude the option of negotiation and inclusion of SVT in his Government that has cost this country dearly.

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