#header-inner img {margin: 0 auto !important; #header-inner {text-align: Center ;} Fiji Coupfourpointfive: Tributes roll in for a great friend of Fiji, Sir Paul Reeves

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Tributes roll in for a great friend of Fiji, Sir Paul Reeves

UNIFYING FORCE: Sir Paul Reeves.

Sir Paul Reeves: Moderating political morasses in Fiji
By Professor Wadan Narsey

Editor's Note:These are the personal views of Professor Wadan Narsey, not those of his employer, The University of the South Pacific, where he works in the School of Economics

Sir Paul Reeves  (RIP) contributed enormously not just to his Maori community, but also to the wider pakeha community in New Zealand.  That remarkable ability to transcend the ethnic barriers within that country, also saw the international diplomatic community calling on him to help in resolving ethnically divided and strife torn communities in South Africa, Guyana and Fiji.

I write briefly on his service to Fiji, although more will be written by others who have a more intimate knowledge. To understand the difficult political challenges which Sir Paul faced and overcame, one needs to understand the debilitating century-old ethnic politics in Fiji, which eventually also undermined the work that Sir Paul Reeves did.

With Fijian led parties dominating government since independence in 1970, the first Indo-Fijian one (led by Jai Ram Reddy, Timoci Bavadra and Mahendra Chaudhry) was, within one month, deposed by the 1987 Rabuka coup.

The racially biased 1990 Constitution, ensuring perpetual indigenous Fijian control of Parliament) was established with the full support of all the indigenous Fijian institutions, including the Great Council of Chiefs and the Methodist Church.

Bridging the gaps
In the mid-nineties, Paul Reeves was made Chairman of the Commission of Inquiry into a new constitution for Fiji, to supersede the 1990 Constitution. The “Reeves Commission” also had one Fijian representative (Tom Vakatora) chosen by the Rabuka Government, and one Indo-Fijian representative (Dr Brij Lal from ANU), chosen by Jai Ram Reddy.

Tom Vakatora was an experienced civil servant and later Minister in various governments, as well as a Speaker of the House of Representatives in Parliament.  Dr Brij Lal was a historian prolifically documenting the history of Indo-Fijians since their arrival as indentured laborers in Fiji in 1879.

Sir Paul Reeves therefore had the unenviable task of balancing what appeared then to be irreconcilable points of view. Outsiders who had observed very strong Maori 
expressions of support for the Rabuka Government may have even thought that Paul Reeves, a Maori, might sway towards the indigenous Fijian points of view.

But what Sir Paul Reeves and his colleagues achieved was astonishing, in bringing together sharply opposing views into a consensus Report that was generally accepted and used as a basis for the 1997 Constitution,  passed by both Houses in Parliament.

While there were some important modifications by the 1998 Parliament (of which I was then a member), they in no way altered the real substance of the Reeves Report contributions to the 1997 Constitution.

That a consensus Report was written at all, was a credit to Sir Paul and the mutual rapport he had with Tom Vakatora  and Brij Lal, enabling all three Commissioners to come to a middle ground acceptable to the Fijian and Indo-Fijian parties, following widespread consultation with ordinary Fiji citizens through the length and breadth of Fiji.

That the Report was accepted in the House of Representatives was due to the enormous work done in building a historical partnership between Jai Ram Reddy (who took along NFP with him, despite the misgivings of many of his colleagues) and Sitiveni Rabuka (who took along SVT likewise, and is currently maligned by both Indo-Fijians and indigenous Fijians). This partnership gave hope to Sir Paul Reeves about the future of Fiji.

That the 1997 Constitution was passed by the Upper House was due to the leadership of Rabuka who overcame much opposition from the provinces who doubted the value of any power-sharing with Indo-Fijian leaders, but developed respect for Jai Ram Reddy who was the first Indo-Fijian leader to address the Great Council of Chiefs.

Small weaknesses
The only criticism I had of the Reeves Report (voiced in the Fiji Times of 1 and 2 November 1996, “The Reeves Report: sound principles but weak advice on the electoral system”) was that the Alternative Vote system, for all its benefits, was not suitable for Fiji.  I thought (in addition to other criticisms) that it would marginalise small parties, while strengthening the large extremist parties.  Sadly, these fears were all realized in the elections in 1999, 2001 and 2006.

Some quibbled about the lack of “one man one vote” but the Reeves Commission recommended an adequate blend of “Open” seats which were effectively “one man one vote” constituencies) and “Communal” seats (to reassure the major ethnic groups). The Fiji Parliament in the end decided on more Communal Seats but still left 25 Open seats (out of 71).  (The behavior of voters in these Open seats was no different from their behavior in the communal seats.)

It was quite spurious of the claim by 2006 coup supporters (such as the Fiji Labour Party in 2007), that the 1997 Constitution was racist because all the seats were not “one man one vote” (the same allegation continues to be made by Bainimarama today).

Even the Alternative Vote system was not a draw-back to sound parliamentary governance, as the 1998 Parliament had approved a power-sharing element which was not in the Reeves Report - a multi-Party provision which ensured that all parties with at least 10 percent of the seats, must be invited to join Cabinet.

Political one-upmanship
It was a tragedy (and probably a historical turning point for Fiji) that the Fiji Labour Party, having won the majority of seats in the 1999 elections, chose to exclude the Fijian SVT from Cabinet.

That decision undid all the good work that had been done by Paul Reeves and his Commission, and all the generous compromises that Rabuka and the Fijian politicians had made in accepting the 1997 Constitution, which ironically lost them control of Parliament.   

It was not surprising that most Fijian politicians felt a sense of betrayal over the 1997 Constitution.  The 2000 coup took place, with an inhuman prolonged hostage crisis suffered by Chaudhry and his colleagues.

Bainimarama ended the hostage crisis, but rather than reinstalling Chaudhry’s Government, appointed an interim Qarase Regime. The 2001 elections took place and was won by Qarase’s newly formed SDL Party.

The 1999 decision by the Fiji Labour Party to exclude the major Fijian party (SVT) was then reciprocated in a “tit-for-tat” measure by Qarase and SDL which offered FLP minor ministerial positions, understandably rejected by the FLP.

However, after the 2006 elections, Qarase and SDL offered good ministerial positions to the Fiji Labour Party which accepted them, but with their Leader (Chaudhry) choosing strangely to not just remain out of Cabinet, but also trying to become Leader of the Opposition.

It was this 9 month old multi-party SDL/FLP government, that was beginning to work reasonably well, which was deposed by the Bainimarama coup of December 2006 - not as claimed simplistically by coup supporters,  a “Qarase government”.

Soon after the 2006 Bainimarama coup, to the shock of international observers, Chaudhry and his Fiji Labour Party joined Bainimarama’s Military Regime, and thereby also obtained widespread support from the Indo-Fijian community and religious organisations.  But Chaudhry was sacked by Bainimarama after a year in unknown circumstances.

The other Military Regime Ministers and important post holders have been drawn from a Fijian  Party (National Alliance Party of Fiji), which won not a single seat in the 2006 elections (but which included former Military commanders) and very strangely, some leading supporters of both the 1987 and 2000 coups. (The story of who exactly from the army were involved in the 2000 coup, is only now slowly unravelling).

Sir Paul tried again
Ten years later, after the 2006 coup, Sir Paul Reeves was called upon, as a Special Representative of the Commonwealth Secretary General, to try to convince Bainimarama to return Fiji to democratic rule, even after the April 2009 abrogation of the Constitution. 

He failed, but not for want of trying, several times. 

Sir Paul Reeves’ apparent failure in Fiji will not in any way reflect badly on his efforts. Any current failure is more a sad reflection on the poor calibre of some politicians who have sacrificed the public good for personal interests at critical times in Fiji’s history.

That may also be said of the current set of Military Ministers who turned down the very moderate proposals by Sir Paul Reeves in 2009, in order to continue to rule Fiji by Military Decrees, a Public Emergency Decree renewed monthly (when there is not a hint of public emergency) and draconian Media Censorship.

The test of time
It will be an interesting test of time, to see whether the alleged abrogation of the 1997 Constitution by an army with the authority of guns, will last when the voters of Fiji eventually have the freedom to elect their own Parliament and decide which constitution they want, using the authority of their votes.

I suspect that the  1997 Constitution, which embodies the work of Sir Paul Reeves and his Constitution Commission colleagues, and the co-operative politicians of that era (Rabuka and Reddy), will one day rise like a Phoenix from the ashes, to vindicate the moderating work of a decent man, who has always seen beyond ethnic differences, to the common humanity of all.

FAREWELLED: Sir Paul Reeves.
The NFP Party and Brij Lal have also paid tribute to Reeves:

The National Federation Party is deeply saddened to learn of the untimely death of former New Zealand Governor-General Sir Paul Reeves. Sir Paul will be best remembered for chairing the Constitution Review Commission (CRC) from 1995 to 1997, which led to the formulation of the 1997 Constitution. The three-member CRC, famously known as the Reeves Commission, produced a comprehensive review report aptly titled “Towards a United Future”, and more than 90% of the recommendations were drafted into the 1997 Constitution. For his role Sir Paul was bestowed with the Companion of the Order of Fiji (CF) by the then President the late Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara. The 1997 Constitution, acclaimed internationally as one of the three best constitutions, was abrogated on 10th April, 2009 by the military backed regime.
The NFP, that played the leading role in the Constitution’s formulation through its then leader Jai Ram Reddy, had always found Sir Paul as an embodiment of wisdom who possessed a vast reservoir of goodwill.
Given prominent role in the review process and experience in resolving political differences through consensus building and dialogue, Sir Paul was appointed by the Commonwealth Secretary-General as his Special Representative to Fiji following the military coup in December 2006. But his efforts to find a peaceful and negotiated solution to the crisis was thwarted by the non-cooperative agenda of the regime.
But Sir Paul still believed that a solution to end Fiji’s prolonged crisis was achievable and that the provisions of the 1997 Constitution would still be significant in future following an end to the crisis. Those who genuinely believe in meaningful dialogue, politics of cooperation instead of confrontation, inclusiveness, democracy and constitutional governance are poorer for Sir Paul’s passing.
Pramod Rae
General Secretary

Dr Brij Lal: “Sir Paul Reeves was a very fine leader, compassionate, humane, of impeccable integrity, confident in himself to allow the discussion of divergent views in the  Commission. It was to his immense credit that coming in as Chair when he did, when the country was bitterly divided and floundering, he was able to win the respect and trust of all the major leaders. He kept the Commission on even keel. No matter what the provocation, he never lost his balance and perspective. To his last days, he was proud of his Fiji work. He wrote to me on 31 July, just a few weeks before he died, 'Our work in Fiji was among the most satisfying that I have done and some time it will have its day. We were a seemingly incongruous team but we did great things.' In his passing, Fiji has lost a truly great friend who had at heart the interests of the country and all its people.”

Uncaptioned pictures: From centre of page down are Jai Ram Reddy, Timoci Bavadra, Ratu Kamisese Mara, Sir Paul with Anglican colleagues, and Brij Lal.


Jaya Chand said...

Allegations of Fiji Government interference in prosecutions
Fiji's Parliament House in Suva. Madhawa Tenakoonis alleging the government interfered in prosecutions by the Federal Independent Commission Against Corruption. [Reuters]

AUDIO from Pacific Beat
Political interference in Fiji prosecutions alleged
Created: Tue, 16 Aug 18:23:27 UTC+1000 2011

AUDIO from Pacific Beat
Fiji AG denies political interference in prosecutions
Created: Tue, 16 Aug 18:23:27 UTC+1000 2011
Bruce Hill

Last Updated: 4 minutes ago

A former senior staffer with the Fiji Independent Commission Against Corruption says people in the country have been prosecuted for political reasons.

Madhawa Tenakoon held a senior position with FICAC but was dismissed by the military regime along with two other senior colleagues.

He says the government was directing certain investigations, when there was no basis or no jurisdiction for the Commission to do so.

Mr Tenakoon says there's no rule of law and no democracy in Fiji while the military is running the legal system.

The Sri Lankan lawyer told Radio Australia's Pacific Beat he originally accepted the job of prosecutor because he was told he'd be taking on a pioneering role in the fight against corruption in Fiji.

He says after about six months in the job he realised there was government interference in pursuing some cases and ignoring others.

Fiji's Attorney General has rejected the claims.

Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum says Mr Tenakoon was sacked for poor-performance.

The Attorney General says the United Nations is quite happy with the progress being made with Fiji's anti-corruption legislation.

Meanwhile, one of the people pursued by the Independent Commission Against Corruption, Imrana Jalal, says she hopes to file a malicious prosecution case based on what Madhawa Tenakoon has alleged.

Anonymous said...

Mr Narsey...good writeup. However was multiparty cabinet Jai Ram Reddy's recommendation or GCC's gift to the citizens of Fiji?

As for FLP not having SVT in cabinet...your story is incorrect as Ema Drauvesi confirmed that SVT did not want to be invited in cabinet, hence they were making unworkable demand so they can stay away as opposition.

And why was that a turning point when majority party that won was FAP as it was the Fijians who knew before the elections who was alligning with who, so they made the choice of their preferred govt by their tactical voting.

PANU FAP and VLV together had much more votes so the peoples power did not mean that the constitution was meant for NFP and SVT's convenience and not peoples choice!

You must be NFP...but good work on Sir Reeves and the rest.

Anonymous said...

great loss for fiji and nz.
his soul may rest in peace.
he was a peace maker.
god bless his family.

Anit Singh said...

We remember and acknowledge the tireless efforts, personal sacrifices and intellectual / professional contributions of Sir Reeves which resulted in the 1997 Constitution, a gift of hope which ‘we the people of Fiji’ bestowed upon ourselves with noble aspirations of unity, peace and love and love as one people and one nation.
May Sir Reeves rest in peace – for the 1997 CONSTITUTION LIVES.

Justice said...

Annonymous at 6.55pm - understand history before babbling away. The 1997 Constitution mandates power sharing amongst parties that have won 10% or more seats in the House of Representatives. SVT won 38% of votes - by far the biggest chunk of Fijian voters but was defeated on preferences. Its 8 seats constituted more than 10% of seats of the 71 member House of Reps. VLV won only 3 seats but was offered 2 Cabinet portfolios - Poseci and Adi Koila. Did it come out of FLP's share of portfolios as required by the Constitution? And who were the coup makers - wasn't it VLV, FAP and PANU together with a MP of SVT who won a by-election after Rabuka resigned his seat following his election as GCC Chairman?

Look before you leap.

Anonymous said...

Good try Narsey, trying to legitimize a SVT/NFP marriage of convenience document. Hopefully it will stay where it is right now, ie, with NFP and SVT, away from the house of parliament in the wilderness. Thanks for that late Ratu Iloilo.

Mr. Vodafone Digicel said...

The author says: "It was quite spurious of the claim by 2006 coup supporters (such as the Fiji Labour Party in 2007), that the 1997 Constitution was racist because all the seats were not “one man one vote” (the same allegation continues to be made by Bainimarama today)."

It's quite mischievous of him to try to twist the English language to suit his ends. The fact of the matter is that any seat that is allocated to a specific race is by definition racist.

If I say that this seat is for itaukei, that one for indo-fijians, and that third one for all the others, then it is a choice based on race and therefore..... RACIST.

I am not arguing about whether allocating seats in this way is good or bad.... just about this authors attempt to twist language. If we want a parliament based on race, then fine, no problem with that, but don't try and call it something it is not... it is by definition, a racist parliament.

Anonymous said...

I would like to thank God for Sir Reeves life. Good men are a rarity nowadays. Too often we condemn actions of those who have wronged us and too little has been devoted into thanking those who have helped and who have tried to help us. Sir Reeves is truly a man with honour and integrity. He had helped many who had sought his advice and assistance which have benefited so many others. We may feel that what he did for our country failed us but at least the gentleman tried. I believe we are hard people to please and therefore I don’t blame Sir Reeves for causing what we felt as failure. We failed ourselves.

This blog had not been acknowledged as much as other blogs posted on this website. Is it because we love to hear bad news and hate to acknowledge the many good out there?

I salute Sir John Reeves. Sir, you have dedicated your life to humanity, you were committed to your obligation and you have demonstrated what it truly means to serve.

Thank you Jesus for blessing us with Sir Reeves.

Rest in Peace Sir.

Anonymous said...

Mr Vodafone, take your point. But where there are demagraphic apart cultures and needs, parliament has been seen that cannot make policies that suits both major racial groups. For this reason to ensure there are enough number of MP's in thehouse to come up with mixed compromised national policies, hence votes by costituency / race. Within that race based constituency there is one man one vote.

When they go into parliament they are suppose to make national policies and not racial based on their nominating group.

Parliament is not the place once entered, to promote race based policies, but rather race based nominees to parliament as to who will serve their interest best.

If all seats are open, then there is no need for 72 seats. We can do with 14 Provincial boundaries, no matter what the size of each boundary, and have only 14 open seats. So we can have a parliament with 14 members. Will take many portfolios like Frank and Aias Or will we then say this is racist because it is serving by province so racist to....will never win!

Anonymous said...

Anon at 9.40 yOU are right we have not been forthcomigng about Paul Reeves contribution. Possibly we are too caught up in fighting this government we have forgotten to give thanks where we should

Anonymous said...

Ni sa moce Sir Reeves. May you rest in peace.

Thank you Professor Warden for highlighting the fact that had Voreqe and his shadow supporters not committed treason in 2006, the multi party cabinet would have worked well to the betterment of Fiji today and into the future.

To the few anonymous who think that the 1997 constitution is racist, I am sorry to say that your opinions were taken into account in the referendum but the majority of the peace and loving people of Fiji from all races decided that this is the best constitution that has ever been produced. I understand your feelings but for the good of ALL some important decisions are hard to stomach. What have you got to offer you bunch of sower grapes!

Bai said...

Sir Paul,words can not express what a great statesman you are.You even went out of your way to preach what you teach and that is to love one another as you tried to do creating a new and a likeable constitution in Fiji.
I sympathise with your family for your loss but hope to see you in Eternity.
God Bless your family.