NZ criticised over Fiji Police Bill

This is republished with permission

A former Fiji government advisor has criticised New Zealand’s involvement in the controversial Draft Police Bill in Fiji.

Fiji PM Frank Bainimarama with New Zealand's Jacinda Ardern in London, 2018
Fiji PM Frank Bainimarama with New Zealand’s Jacinda Ardern in London, 2018 Photo: Supplied

The draft legislation would give police greater surveillance powers if passed in Parliament.

Police can secretly monitor and record communications of people they suspect are about to commit a crime or have committed one, the Bill states.

The law also allows police to recruit an informer or anyone else who can provide information in relation to an investigation.

Another part of the draft bill drawing attention is where it forbids officers from joining a union and it would be unlawful for them to go on strike or to take any other type of industrial action.

The proposal, currently under public consultation, is expected to replace the 1965 Police Act.

Since its launch in Suva last week, attended by officials from the New Zealand High Commission, the draft bill had come under intense scrutiny from civil society groups and Opposition parties.

New Zealand confirmed it was funding the consultation process and the government maintained it had done nothing wrong.

But Auckland-based Shailendra Raju, a former advisor the late Fiji prime minister Laisenia Qarase, said NZ could not use its donor status as an excuse to support the ‘draconian’ draft Bill which could turn Fiji into a police state.

Raju condemned Wellington’s move.

“The record of the Fiji government has shown there has never been any consultation where feedback from it has been taken onboard. Just look at what happened to the constitutional process: a draft was drawn up and yet the government brought about its own constitution and that has been imposed on the people.

“What we find objectionable is New Zealand giving support in terms of funding to the public consultation which is not going to bring about any change to the form the bill as it has been written and which will be imposed on the people of Fiji.”

Raju said it was foolish to think the consultations would do any public good or that it would take into account objections to the bill.

Raju called on New Zealand to withdraw its funding and recall the high commissioner to “ask him what’s going on”.

He said Wellington should be aware of what is contained in the bill.

Shailendra Raju
Shailendra Raju Photo: Supplied

NZ pushes for consultation

New Zealand said while it was funding the consultations, it did not have a hand in drafting the proposed Bill.

The High Commissioner to Fiji, Jonathan Curr, took to social media to counter claims that Wellington drafted a bill to give increased powers to Fiji’s often corrupt police force.

Amid intense criticism on Facebook, Curr took to Twitter: “NZ is engaged in a 4-year strengthening programme with @fijipoliceforce, partnering with @UNDP_Pacific & @nzpolice to improve policing, and support Fiji to meet international human rights obligations.”

In a second tweet, Curr said a component of the aid programme was to support public consultations on the Draft Police Bill 2020: “NZ has not been involved in drafting or developing the Bill.”

And in a third tweet he said: “Such an important piece of legislation needs to be consulted with Fiji’s citizens. This is an opportunity for the community to influence the final shape of the Bill, and to express concerns & provide feedback.”

NZ Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern signed off the deal during her visit to Fiji in February, 2020.

In a statement, a spokesperson from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade said New Zealand was working with the UN’s development agency (UNDP) to strengthen programmes in Fiji’s Police Force.

The ministry said increasing transparency around rule of law systems is one of its key objectives in supporting the consultation process.

“This is why we, along with other agencies, are supporting work to ensure the Bill is widely consulted with Fiji’s citizens to encourage open discussion and a diversity of views.

“This is an opportunity for the community to express concerns and provide feedback to help shape the final Bill.”

New Zealand is spending $US5.4 million over four years to improve the Fiji Police Force which, since the 2006 Bainimarama coup, had been under military control.

Fiji lawyer and politician Tupou Draunidalo supported New Zealand’s insistence on consultations, saying they were useful.

Draunidalo posted on Facebook that if New Zealand did not sponsor the consultations, Fiji would ‘get the bill in its raw form through s.51 standing orders (as is normal) with one-hour debate.

“So what NZ is sponsoring (to allow every Fijian a say in the Bill, not even just the parliamentarians) is highly commendable for current and future governance infrastructure.”

Jonathan Curr.
Jonathan Curr. Photo: MFAT

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