The Charter and accountability of John Samy and Archbishop Mataca
6 April 2013
The reputations of John Samy and Archbishop Mataca have taken a heavy beating from prodemocracy advocates, over the Regime’s use of the Charter in justifying the 2006 coup.
But a November 2011 letter to Commodore Bainimarama suggests that critics (including myself) may have been too harsh in their judgment of Mataca and Samy.
The People’s Charter was formulated under the chairmanship of Commodore Bainimarama and Archbishop Petero Mataca, who presented the final product to the people of Fiji.
The intellectual driving force was John Samy, an internationally respected former ADB functionary, and former Fiji senior civil servant victimized and driven out during the 1987 military coup in Fiji.
The People’s Charter and its “Pillars” of development have for six years been heavily used by the Bainimarama Regime as their primary public justification for their continued hold on government and “constitutional reform”.
While the first clause of the Charter stated that the people of Fiji would abide by and strengthen the 1997 Constitution, it was purportedly abrogated following the 2009 Court of Appeal judgment against Bainimarama.
Mataca and Samy have made no public statement on the Regime’s widespread abuse of all the praiseworthy principles espoused in the Charter or even on the purported abrogation of the 1997 Constitution.
Their silence has been interpreted by critics as a fraud on the hundreds of thousands of Fiji people who were led to support the Charter, believing that the Regime would abide by the 1997 Constitution as clearly stated in the Charter.
But it is now clear that John Samy and Archbishop Mataca did speak out on the Regime’s abuse of the Charter principles, in a 17 November 2011 letter to Bainimarama, not previously made public.
The letter also goes a long way towards redeeming the reputations of these two individuals who clearly held strongly enough to the principles of their Charter to protest in no uncertain terms, when the Regime refused to abide by the principles of the Charter they had themselves helped formulate and approve.
This letter (coming to me via anonymous channels) raises for public debate the very neglected principle of accountability of leaders to the people of Fiji, for their past actions.
The recommendations made by Samy and Archbishop Mataca are still of relevance to the problems that Fiji faces today, and have greater weight coming from previous Regime supporters.
[Wherever the letter mentions “the principles of the Charter”, you can equally substitute the “principles of the 1997 Constitution”.]
Contents of the Letter
This is a summary of the contents of the letter, using their own words wherever appropriate, and critical statements numbered by me, for emphasis
John Samy and Archbishop Mataca pointed out that in March 2007, the following had been impressed (presumably by John Samy) on Bainimarama, his Cabinet Ministers and the Ministry Council:
1. that the Interim Government (including Fiji’s Military) did not have the legitimacy or the mandate from the people of Fiji to undertake any of the major reforms desperately needed;
2. that the IG’s Roadmap was being imposed on the people of Fiji undemocratically;
3. that it was not clear what the IG was seeking to achieve through the “Clean Up” campaign;
4. that for sustainable democratic governance, the widest possible cross-section of the Fiji public must be meaningfully involved.
It was in this context that the Regime agreed to the National Council for Building a Better Fiji (NCBBF) processes to be led by John Samy, the People’s Charter was formulated, and, eventually “approved by 64% of the adult population of Fiji”.
Samy and Mataca pointed out that they had repeatedly emphasized to the Regime that the purpose of the Peoples Charter was
5. not to replace the Constitution but to strengthen it;
6. to respect and safeguard human rights and fundamental freedoms of individuals and groups, safeguarded by adherence to the rule of law and our respect for human dignity, and
7. to hold responsible and accountable those who hold positions of leadership in communities, organizations, and at the national level.
However, with great disappointment, Mataca and Samy informed Bainimarama that since 2009
8. “a number of actions taken by the IG have signaled that it has drifted away from the spirit and key principles of the Peoples Charter, that it has betrayed the people of Fiji on its most solemn promises”.
The most significant of such disappointing signals was the
9. abrogation of the 1997 Constitution in April 2009
10. the Public Emergency Regulations, originally meant to be temporary but which has been in place for more than two years
11. restrictions on the media
12. restrictions on peoples’ basic freedoms and rights, such as those of free speech and assembly
Samy and Mataca noted
13. “the current environment in Fiji is highly controlled and it has instilled a growing sense of fear amongst the populace… more widely perceived as being repressive”.
Instead of being transparent and accountable in its governance, the IG has
14. “adopted a strong-fisted, unilateralist approach which has been increasingly alienating the very people who could be playing an active role in building broad-based consensus”.
Serious issues of transparency, accountability and overall governance have been emerging, such as
15. a few Cabinet Ministers (especially Bainimarama and the Attorney General) holding multiple portfolios
16. rumors that both were being paid exorbitant salaries, not through the Minister of Finance but a close relative of the AG, through a high-fees based contractual arrangement
17. the militarization of key institutions of the State.
These, Samy and Mataca pointed out, had fuelled the growing perception that
18. “you, your Ministers and the Military Council are now enjoying power and the benefits associated with it so much that you will not relinquish it voluntarily; that power has corrupted you all”.
19. the IG’s handling of the FNPF issues and
20. the imposition of the Essential Industries Decree, without following the due consultation processes, had called into question whose agenda for change the IG is now pursuing, especially as they violate the key principles contained in the People’s Charter.
21. Previous supporters of the IG were “becoming increasingly disillusioned” with a “growing feeling of betrayed by you and the IG”; that instead of practicing transparent and accountable governance, you have adopted the “might-of-the-military” approach to ruling Fiji.
John Samy and Archbishop Mataca outlined very specific and useful recommendations for the way forward to elections in September 2014 (still of relevance today):
22. formulation of the new Constitution to be “independent and at arms length of the Government and the Military through nation-wide consultations”
23. the Constitution be adopted through a credible and legitimate process that would include a national referendum
24. the PER be immediately lifted
25. the total number of Ministers be increased from the current 9 to 13 to ensure a more balanced allocation of portfolio responsibilities
26. demilitarization the key institutions of the State
27. realignment of the role of Fiji’s Military to end the cycle of coups in Fiji
The Samy/Mataca letter attached a Special Supplementary Statement that Commodore Bainimarama could read out during his 2012 Budget Address.
But Regime did not listen
The proposals that John Samy and Archbishop Mataca advocated, were not followed.
Word from several people in the know suggest that Commodore Bainimarama had agreed personally to the proposals from John Samy, but changed his mind the next day, presumably under the influence of his advisers.
Since the Samy/Mataca letter in November 2011, a lot more water has flowed under the bridge.
The Regime’s own appointed Yash Ghai Commission (which John Samy also facilitated) had its Report rejected on spurious grounds, except for select little bits (there was also serious fallout on one of the Commission’s executive staff, who Samy had convinced to take the appointment).
The people’s Constituent Assembly to discuss the Draft Constitution was dispensed with on equally spurious grounds.
The Regime has devised its own Bainimarama/Khaiyum Constitution (BKC), which, following comments from the Fiji public, will be finalized by the Regime, “assented to” by the President, and “displayed” to the Fiji public, in a charade of popular participation.
A former elected Prime Minister has been jailed over charges of abuse of office committed twenty years and involving minor sums (judgment being appealed), while the Regime’s Draft Constitution demands total immunity for the Regime from 2000 to 2014.
Media censorship continues unabated, with all disagreement with the Regime’s constitution writing process blacked out from the media, while the Regime has full and free rein with all its views, including attacks on the critics (who are not reported).
These events (and more besides), contradicting the principles of the Charter, would have caused even more angst to Samy and Mataca, and a longer letter of complaint, if written today.
Lessons in accountability?
The John Samy/Archbishop Mataca letter goes a long way towards redeeming their respective reputations.
Yet true accountability, which the Charter holds dear, should be not just to the Regime, but to the Fiji public, many of whom (in Fiji and abroad) were influenced towards supporting the Regime, by the obvious public stature of these two individuals.
Archbishop Mataca’s participation in this honest letter can also be a starting point for reconciliation between the Catholic and the Methodist Church which has been very unfairly treated by the Bainimarama Regime.
Of course, one should not just focus on Samy and Mataca, but ask about the accountability of the rest of the social leaders who took part in the NCBBF exercise- including other religious leaders, unionists, politicians and academics.
(Don’t bother asking one Hindu leader who told me that the Charter did not contain any commitment to the 1997 Constitution- his firm also made a lot of money out of the printing of the NCBBF documents).
Accountability over Yash Ghai exercise
The Samy/Mataca letter also has a salutary lesson for those who took part in the Yash Ghai Constitution exercise.
As was pointed out at the meeting at the FTA Hall, a women NGO representative passionately complained how she and here colleagues had encouraged hundreds of submissions from rural women, for the Yash Ghai Commission. So also did thousands of others who took the Regime’s word that they wanted a genuine “People’s Constitution”.
They were all disappointed when the Ghai Draft was summarily rejected.
Like Samy and Mataca with the Charter, members of the Yash Ghai Commission (Professor Ghai, Professor Murray, Dr Satendra Nandan, Ms Taufa Vakatale and Ms Penny Moore, the last three also staunch Regime supporters), have also been led up the garden path.
All these five Commission members should make their views known, not just to the Regime, but to the Fiji public from whom they elicited and received seven thousand submissions in their formulation of their Draft People’s Constitution.
Not just their personal reputations, but genuine accountability to the Fiji public and Fiji’s constitutional history, require that.
Last, the Regime’s treatment of John Samy and Archbishop Mataca, the Yash Ghai Commission and many others (Kevin Barr, the unionists etc), is a harsh lesson for well-intentioned individuals who venture into the brave world of nation-building, based on fundamentally illegal foundations.
Professor Wadan Narsey