The Chairman of Fiji's Constitution Commission, Professor Yash Ghai, says all 600 copies of the draft document were seized from the printer on Saturday the 22nd. He says he was personally abused by the police officer in charge of the operation when he tried to tell them their actions were illegal. The Fiji interim government has so far not responded to the allegations.
Fijian historian and academic at the Australian National University Professor Brij Lal says this once again sends a bad message to the world about what's happening in the Pacific nation.
Fiji's interim government has not responded to the claims made by Professor Ghai
Presenter: Campbell Cooney
Professor Brij Lal, Australian National University
LAL: The first thing to say is that this is a naïve, arrogant and breathtakingly silly effort to try and contain information in this age of the free flow of information. Fiji has this strange habit of shooting itself in the foot at the most inopportune time. The world was coming to believe that finally Fiji might be able to get out of the wilderness that it has been in for the last six or seven years with this draft constitution, and now there's burning of the documents, the humiliation of the man it invited to chair the constitution review process. All of that suggests to me that there is grave doubt about the true intentions of the regime in power. My own sense is that they will not accept any document that does not really enshrine their vision of what Fiji should be like. I'm absolutely convinced that the military will not relinquish power unless it is convinced that it will have this kind of over-arching role as the guardian of the nation. So this incident very unfortunate, unnecessary, counter-productive, I think simply lends credibility to the doubt that people have about the intentions of the regime in power.
COONEY: Now we know of course that copies, electronic and draft copies are available online on a number of various sites, so it is available if people want to see that draft they can get access to it. By burning it or confiscating hard copies of it, I mean who would that cut access off from it? I mean if you can get it online, and I know not everybody in Fiji does have access to online sort of sites, but by getting rid of those draft and hard copies, who can't see it?
LAL: Well I think burning of the document, confiscating the draft is more a symbolic act of defiance more than anything else, because the people who like to read it, like to familiarise themselves with the content of the document will have access to it anyway. The tragedy really is that they talk about Fiji having a free media, and none of this has been reported at all in the print media or the radio and so on. So the vast majority of people who don't have access to internet and so on will simply won't know what has transpired. And so keeping it secret from those people may be on intention of the regime, but really this is now international news, people are reading the document, and so I guess don't know what purpose is being served except really to enforce in people's minds, particularly in Fiji, that the regime will have its own way and will not compromise.
COONEY: Do you question, at times you were very supportive of Professor Ghai's role in the constitutional process and he comes with a lot of background and a lot of experience in that there. I mean what next for this constitutional process? Do you still, you sound like you don't have as much faith as perhaps you might have done a few months ago, am I reading that correctly?
LAL: Well no I certainly had confidence in Professor Ghai's impartiality and his integrity. He's a man of enormous experience and he undertook this assignment in Fiji fully aware of what might happen. The next stage is this Constituent Assembly, and expressions of interest have been solicited by the regime. But what I think is going to happen is they will appoint the Constituent Assembly, it will be a hand-picked Constituent Assembly, and my sense is that they may think of with the draft prepared by the military or the regime here and there, but I just don't have the confidence that this Constituent Assembly will have the kind of independence necessary for it to debate freely the content of the document that they're supposed to approve. So I think again the over-arching narrative that the military and the interim regime want to weave will ultimately triumph despite the paraphernalia of this consultation process.
COONEY: Now looking internationally of course the two countries which have had the very hard-line stance against Fiji have been Australia and New Zealand. That stance seems to have softened to a certain degree in recent months and probably over the past 12 months. Given this do you think that there might be a change or do you think they'll keep going down that path of perhaps softening the way that they've been looking at Fiji?
LAL: Well I think this is a wake-up call. Australia and New Zealand established diplomatic relations trying to encourage the regime to go along the path it said it will go in restoring Fiji to parliamentary democracy and so forth. But I just hope that these countries and indeed the international community will see the reality on the ground as it is, rather than what the regime in Fiji says it is or what Australia and New Zealand would like the situation in Fiji to be. I think that engagement is necessary and it should continue, but there also should be a healthy scepticism about the commitment that the regime makes, to be very clear-eyed about what is actually happening on the ground, rather than hoping for an outcome that might never come.