27 February 2015: Oral Submission to the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and Defence on the Review of the UN Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (UNCAT)

ORAL SUBMISSION TO STANDING COMMITTEE ON FOREIGN AFFAIRS AND DEFENCE ON THE REVIEW OF THE UN CONVENTION AGAINST TORTURE AND OTHER CRUEL, INHUMAN OR DEGRADING TREATMENT OR PUNISHMENT (UNCAT)
27 February 2015

Who We Are: The National Federation Party
The National Federation Party (NFP) is the political the party with the longest record of service to Fiji and we proudly celebrated our 50th anniversary last year. We were born before Fiji became Independent and we have been part of the journey of modernizing Fiji since then. During this time, the NFP has always been the champion of principled policies and change for the betterment of all.

The NFP has always believed in the inherent power of our society’s diversity, including the rich cultural heritage of our indigenous people. During the past 50 years of the party’s existence, we have continuously promoted multiculturalism as the cornerstone of a peaceful community and we will not waver from continuing to strengthen the social cohesion between our ethnic groups.

The NFP has, is and will continue to stick to its enduring values of freedom for our people; democracy and good governance; and humility and understanding of the unique nature of our society. We believe in an open and accountable government. Our vision for Fiji is one where people have the freedom to earn a decent living, the freedom to question the government, and freedom from fear and oppression. We are committed to Fiji.

The Review of the United Nations Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment or UN CAT
The intention of the Government to review and hopefully ratify the UNCAT is commendable yet we remain cautious about the sincerity of these intentions if Fiji’s profiling on the global arena by way of the stated idea that Fiji intends to become elected into the Human Rights Council in 2016, is a motivating factor. This Convention is about The People. Our People. Our Voters. Our Taxpayers – and the absolute and unwavering upholding of their inherent human dignity to safeguard against Excesses of the State. The inherent rights of Our People to be free from torture cannot be exploited to merely “tick boxes” in Geneva as was heard in the parliamentary sitting of 09 February 2015.

The National Federation Party of Fiji will only encourage and advocate Fiji’s ratification of this important treaty IF the Government is as committed and consistent as it is in its 2013 Constitution where the Freedom of Our People to remain free from cruel and degrading treatment is as absolute as it is on the constitutional document on which it is inscribed; and therefore Fiji’s ratification must be as absolute with absolutely no reservations.

Furthermore, it is not uncommon for international treaties to be ratified and yet domestic applications of it are not in step with the bold intent at the global level. For such a treaty as UNCAT and with all the heinous torture crimes against humanity (as section 87 of the Crimes Decree 2009 now cites it) committed by the State especially from the past coups reaching as far back as 1987 up until 2006, we respectfully implore upon this Committee that should ratification take place, to invoke Standing Orders 110 (e) and maintain a watchful eye over the implementation of the Treaty so that Article 19(1) of UNCAT is holistic and concise within the obligatory first year reporting period and that appropriate State funding is guaranteed to ensure that the periodic 4 year reporting obligations are embedded as part of a national paradigm shift.

It is our understanding based on the submission of the Solicitor General of 24 February 2015 to this honourable Standing Committee that there appears to be little appetite to adopt Articles 21 and 22 of this treaty. The resistance to Articles 21 and 22 where one State Party can report another State Party’s non-adherence to UNCAT appear to be unfounded because Article 30 provides for negotiation, arbitration and ultimately dispute resolution to the International Court of Justice between State Parties. Fiji’s international standing can only be enhanced and Fiji can only be considered sincere in its protection of human rights by the international community if it allows itself to defend itself on the global arena, that process is in itself a valuable “check and balance” against what should be robust national measures that must be adopted immediately and preferably within the first year reporting time-frame. Again, we respectfully remind this Honourable Standing Committee of Bipartisan Legislators that this Convention is ultimately about The People and the absolute and unwavering upholding of their inherent human dignity to safeguard against Excesses of the State. This Convention is not about what is convenient for The State and as Legislators we humbly submit that what is best for Our Citizens should be the ultimate lens that this Standing Committee then makes its recommendations on, for adoption in Parliament.

In terms of national alignment of laws and policies to UNCAT we respectfully bring to this Committee’s attention that “The Limitation of Liabilities for Prescribed Political Events Decree 2010” (decree 18 of 2010) goes against the principles of this Treaty. Under the Decree no compensation is payable by the State to anyone for damages or injury as a result of the political events prescribed in the Decree.

Furthermore, Section 172 (5) of the Constitution prohibits persons whose human rights have been violated before 21st August 2013 from complaining about such acts to the Human Rights and Anti Discrimination Commission.

These are but a few of the legal inconsistencies that NFP has identified. All limitations should be removed if Fiji is indeed sincere about ratification of UNCAT and upholding its commitment to it from the get go.

The Human Rights and Anti-Discrimination Commission
The Fiji Human Rights Commission, now known as the Human Rights and Anti-Discrimination Commission that is provided for in section 45 of the 2013 Constitution appears to have a “public perception” problem. These perceptions are not unfounded given its perceived role in acquiescence of the 2006 coup. That is not to say that this constitutional body should be completely discounted altogether. This body has a valuable role and State funds have been diverted towards this entity. As the constitutional guardian of human rights in Fiji, it is imperative that the Constitutional Offices Commission be convened as a matter of priority so that key appointments of the Human Rights and Anti-Discrimination Commission proper are made and that it can be enabled to do what it is constitutionally mandated to as per section 45, particularly in relation to torture.

We again respectfully urge this Honourable Standing Committee to invoke Standing Orders 110 (e) and maintain a watchful eye over the implementation of the Treaty should Fiji ratify, where the convening of the Constitutional Offices Commission and the appointments to the Human Rights and Anti-Discrimination Commissioners are made without delay in order to do justice to the sincerity of the intent to ratifying this Convention.

A Citizens Forum
It is our understanding that various calls from previous submissions have been made in support of a completely non-state and citizens-controlled body that spans across interest groups and religious entities that can look into the issue of torture at a national level.

The NFP believes it is worth investigating whether such a body can be organised that is completely devoid of any State influence where ordinary citizens can receive, table and discuss torture related issues. It must be noted that the definition of torture as the UNCAT lays out in Article 1 includes “severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental” which is intentionally inflicted on a person etc – and within the wide ambit of the treaty definition is the need to made for it to be made relevant and meaningful at a national level.

Where torture is concerned and the wide ambit of its definition, it cannot be left to the State or State funded entities alone to receive, table and deliberate on national issues related to Torture and a citizens forum with an “ear to the ground” capacity is as critical as it is necessary. The practical mechanics of how this could work and the possible synergies of it, are in our humble opinion, best left to this Honourable Standing Committee to investigate and draw from practices from other parts of the world, as part of its invocation of Standing Orders 110 (e) and the Committee’s maintenance of a watchful eye over the implementation of the Treaty, should Fiji ratify.

It is even possible that such a Citizens Forum can be linked in parallel to, and synchronously with this Parliamentary Standing Committee so that appropriate legislative amendments and policies are looked into thereby ensuring that this Committee is well equipped with real-time perspectives from Citizen’s concerns.

Truth, Reconciliation and Healing
There appears to be an agreement that because of parliamentary democracy there is a need to move forward. The NFP can only be convinced of the sincerity of parliamentary democracy and forward movement if other draconian measures like the Media Decree, the Essential National Industries (Employment) Decree and others are repealed.

However, where torture in Fiji is concerned there are too many deep and festering wounds of Our People out there from as far back as the coups of 1987 up until 2006, to conveniently ignore or worse forget simply because Fiji intends to ratify this Convention.

Part of moving forward is also learning from the past and we respectfully implore upon this Standing Committee that in moving forward, it must also seek to rebuild and heal the nation, whether by way of a Truth, Reconciliation process or some other appropriate mechanism. It is necessary to have a national conversation and as uncomfortable and confronting as it may be, the outpouring of these wounds must be permitted in order for healing to then begin.

The NFP would support such a move that is inclusive and earnest.

Honourable Members We Thank You.

23 February 2015: Government Must Change TV Licensing and Advertising Policy

February 23, 2015

Media Release

Government Must Change TV Licensing and Advertising Policy

Government’s decision to grant Fiji Television 6 months operating license each time upon the expiry of the license as well as exclusively advertise in the The Fiji Sun violates Sections 26 and 32 of the 2013 Constitution in respect of those employed at Fiji TV and The Fiji Times.

These are the Right to equality and freedom from discrimination (Section 26) and the Right to economic participation. We strongly believe the rights of both the Fiji TV and the Fiji Times as organisations are also violated as both are locally owned. This is totally against Government’s professed principle of equal citizenry which it says is the cornerstone of the 2013 Constitution.

Exclusivity
Ultimately, the right of the people is suppressed in terms of denial of access to information, especially those who do not subscribe to or buy the Fiji Sun. The rights breached are Section 17(a) (Freedom of speech, expression and publication – freedom to seek, receive and impart information, knowledge and ideas) and Section 25 (Access to information).

It results in the people who predominantly buy only a single newspaper (either Fiji Times or Fiji Sun), being denied information resulting in the breach of basic rights such as the right to work and economic participation, to name a few, being denied access to these advertisements. This is unacceptable.

There is no legitimate reason to deny the Fiji Times and its employees income as well as its readers information. With the exception of the Fijian Elections Office, which sometimes advertises in both newspapers, Government and statutory organisations solely advertise in the Fiji Sub. This was a policy adopted by the military government after what it claimed was Fiji Times anti-regime stance.

We now have parliamentary democracy. If anything, tenders are called for any service required by Government. We are sure this was never done and still has not been done. But for the sake of fairness, impartiality and dissemination of information in the widest possible manner, it is imperative that both newspapers are given advertisements for publication. Government is not anyone’s personal property and to use taxpayers funds for the corporate benefit of one newspaper and in the process denying people fair access to information is scandalous.

Fiji TV License
Similarly, Government’s policy to grant only 6 months operating license to Fiji Television raises more questions about Government’s interference in employment issues as well as the blatant disregard and violation of constitutional rights, employment and natural justice.

Again, there can be no justification by Government to grant Fiji TV an operating licence of 6 months only.

Last December was not the first time that the Board of Fiji TV was forced to unjustifiably remove their employees or transfer them based on a Government directive. In early 2010 two senior staff were transferred from the newsroom. In 2013, a veteran sports journalist was terminated even after providing a written apology to the Fiji Sports Council CEO.

Early last year another senior journalist who was the victim of a sideways transfer four years ago was asked to take leave of absence in the hope that Fiji TV’s license was going to be renewed for longer than 6 months. This did not happen.

Similarly last December the CEO and Head of Content of Fiji TV were sacked.

Fiji TV Board Acting Chairman Iowane Naiveli’s public statement in the aftermath of the sacking as reported by the media said, “(Fiji TV) Board discussed changes in management to ensure Government starts giving Fiji TV licence to operate longer than 6 months. We need Fiji TV to survive. Once the company survives, employment of its staff survives, so does their salaries”.

Despite this, Fiji TV was once again issued a six-month license. On the other hand, FBC TV enjoys a long-term licence and rightly so.

A long-term license gives employees security of employment. It provides investors confidence and generates revenue through negotiation of long term advertising contracts. It also sends a very wrong signal to potential investors.

A 6-month licence is like living on borrowed time. It binds Fiji TV to the shackles of practising censorship in news coverage for the fear of their licence not being renewed. Government is therefore holding Fiji TV to ransom.

If Government genuinely believes in equal citizenry, it should immediately discard its policy of exclusivity as far as its newspaper advertising is concerned and also grants Fiji Television a long-term operating licence.

04 February 2015: Referendum need on proposed flag change issue

February 4, 2015

MEDIA RELEASE

Referendum need on proposed flag change issue

A Referendum and not views sought through social media is needed for changes proposed to our national symbol, the Fiji Flag, as mooted by the Prime Minister Honourable Voreqe Bainimarama.

An issue of national importance, especially when it involves an issue that has become an indelible part of our history, symbolizing transition from 96 years of Colonial Rule to full Independence 45 years ago, must involve the entire population of Fiji, including their elected representatives.

And this can only be done through a free, fair and credible Referendum, as done in other countries, notably our neighbours New Zealand and Australia. Any other method would be regarding as tinkering with our flag that has become the most famous symbol of Fiji, especially prominently featuring during our triumphant moments.

The PM describes certain symbols of our flag as remnants of our colonial past. Indeed when one looks at our institutions, names of our major roads and streets, they are named in honour of colonial rulers, administrators and monarchs. Aren’t these remnants of Colonialism, if PM’s logic is given credibility?

Further, this government still attaches our Indo Fijian community to colonial history. The preamble describes Indians as descendants of indentured labourers from British India. What nonsense.

This is insulting. India was a British Colony, So was Fiji and many other countries under the rule of the British Empire. Therefore the preamble basically describes Indo-Fijians as British Indians!

If anything has to be changed, then it is the preamble that is injurious to the Indo-Fijian community because it is reminder of our Girmit and not the choice of our forefathers who chose to make Fiji their only home after completion of the indenture period in 1916.

Changing the preamble and resolving matters of national concern like reviewing and revoking decrees to give credibility to the Constitution’s Bill of Rights, agreeing to a bi-partisan approach to find solutions to resuscitate the sugar industry and reducing the escalating cost of living should be the priority of Government instead of focusing on what is a side-show,

Biman Prasad
Leader

 

31 January 2015: Resolutions of NFP Working Committee

January 31, 2015
MEDIA RELEASE

RESOLUTIONS OF NFP WORKING COMMITTEE

The National Federation Party’s Working Committee, which met at Hotel San Bruno, Nadi, today (Saturday 31st January 2015), has unanimously adopted the following resolutions: –

1. Parliamentary Office Resourcing

The Working Committee endorsed the decision taken by the Party Leader to reject the new formula pertaining to the allocation of parliamentary staffing and resources by the Secretary-General based on a directive by the Attorney General and Minister for Finance via his letter of 24th December 2014, as stated in a Government press release on the issue.

The Committee described it as illogical the formula of $15,000 per MP in the allocation of resources, leaving the NFP with 3 MPs and a paltry sum of $45,000 per annum.

The Committee noted that on 14th October 2014, when approving the staffing compliment of 4 for the NFP, the Secretary General said the positions would be advertised but this was not done and the resources slashed without notice.

The Committee further noted the 3 MPs need parliamentary staff support given their important roles in Opposition and therefore, this formula was not based on any fundamental principle.

The Committee rejected the allocation of $45,000 and endorsed the Party Leader’s efforts to secure funding initially allocated on 14th October 2014, is restored by the Secretary-General to Parliament.

2. Special Cane Payment

The Working Committee condemned the refusal of the Fiji Sugar Corporation to advance a Special Cane Payment of $5 per tonne to cane farmers to help them equip their children for the new school year and start preparations for the new season.

The Committee also described as deplorable, the lack of action by the Prime Minister and Minister for Sugar in failing to direct FSC to make the Special Cane Payment. The Committee described as inhumane, the decision to ask farmers to apply for a soft loan from the Sugar Cane Growers Fund to meet the expenses of their children.

The least expected of the State, which had no financial obligations in this matter but was morally obligated to alleviate the financial hardship of cane farmers, was to facilitate the payment.

The Committee regards the non payment of this Special Payment as treating farmers like beasts of burden despite they being the economic mainstay of the economy for more than a 100 years. The Committee resolved that the PM direct the FSC to make the Special Cane Payment to bring relief to farmers as they are genuinely in need of assistance.

3. Parliamentary Select Committee on Sugar

The Working Committee noted with concern the imminent decline of the Sugar Industry with the withdrawal of the European Union Sugar production quotas from 30th September 2917.

The Committee recalled the loss of the $350 million grant from the EU earmarked for the sugar industry due to the military coup of December 2006. The Committee noted that the injection of the grant over a 7 year period until 2013 would have boosted cane production to over 4 million tonnes and sugar production to over 400,000 tonnes, thereby enabling farmers to mitigate the adverse effects of price reduction by increasing production.

The Committee noted that 70% of a little over 13,000 active cane growers produce an average of 150 tonnes of cane annually, resulting in their gross income of $13,350 at $89 per tonne (last season’s payment), well below the tax threshold of $16,000.

Furthermore, the Committee noted that this money is paid over a period of 15 months, leaving farmers in debt. The net income therefore of 70% of farmers producing an average of 150 tonnes of cane annually was $6,600, $9400 below the tax threshold of $16,000.

The Committee noted that despite the so-called reforms and injection of funds in the last 8 years, the Bainimarama regime has failed to restore the industry to its glory days.

The Committee resolved that the Prime Minister agree to the establishment of a parliamentary select committee on sugar to address concerns in the sugar industry.

4. Repeal of the Media Decree

The Working Committee believes Fiji’s future as a social, economic and politically stable nation cannot be guaranteed unless freedom of expression is expressed through a free, fair and credible media.

The Committee noted the media industry in this country has been under siege since the military coup of December 2006. For more than 5 years, especially after the abrogation of the 1997 Constitution on 10th April 2009, have been turbulent and devastating for the media industry and media organisations.

The Committee recalled Article 19 of Universal Declaration of Human Rights states, “Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression. This right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through the media regardless of frontiers”.

This freedom and right is reposed in the people, which the State and politicians must respect at all times.

The Committee noted the Media Industry Development Decree is regressive and suppresses Media Freedom because it imposes restrictions and prescribes heavy penalties.

Every international organisation of repute has expressed concern about the regressive and draconian provisions of the MIDA Decree. The latest was the United Nations Human Rights Commission late last year.

The Committee resolved that Government must through Parliament repeal the Media Industry Development Decree because we believe the media should not be regulated by the State or any Government.

Genuine democracy, equal citizenry, freedom of expression, accountability and transparency, which are ethics being paraded by Government, can only be achieved through a free, fair, credible, unfettered and non-regulated media.

5. Constitution Review and Repeal of Decrees

The Working Committee noted that Decrees impinge the Bill of Rights or Chapter 2 of the Constitution, notably the Political Parties (Registration, Conduct, Funding & Disclosures) Decree, Electoral Decree and Essential National Industries (Employment) Decree.

The Committee noted that in December the Minister for Labour told Parliament that work would start on reviewing the ENI Decree which curtails the rights of workers and trade unions but so far no work had started.

The Committee noted Section 173 of the Constitution which allows Parliament to amend or repeal Decrees but at the same time makes the Constitution subservient to the Decrees.

The Committee found this to be regressive and unacceptable and inconsistent with United Nations Conventions, which Fiji has ratified.

The Committee resolved that to give true meaning to the Constitution and its intent as espoused by the Bainimarama Government through the non-negotiable principles, a bi-partisan parliamentary committee be established to look at reviewing the Decrees and the Constitution.

———–
FOR INFORMATION OR CLARIFICATION PLEASE CALL NFP LEADER HON BIMAN PRASAD ON 9923989

 

Media Release: Parliament No Longer Independent

14 January 2015
The Parliament of Fiji, which is the highest Court of the Land, is no longer independent after its Secretary-General was directed by the Attorney General and Minister For Finance on how to allocate funding with respect to staff and resources of political party offices.

On 30th December 2014, with only a 10 minutes notification, the Office of the Secretary General informed our parliamentary office that the S-G Mrs Viniana Namosimalua and the Deputy S-G wanted to meet the Party Leader or any other NFP MP.

During their meeting with me and my office Senior Administration Officer, Mrs Namosimalua stated she had just received a letter from the Attorney General directing her on how to allocate resources to Parliamentary party offices, namely to allocate funding on the basis of $10,000 per MP.

Based on that formula, she said the NFP with 3 MPs would receive $30,000 annually and the money would be deposited directly to the Party’s account ad used to recruit staff, who would not be paid by the Legislature from 1st January.

I told her this was unconstitutional and to put the proposal in writing and to also furnish us a copy of the Attorney General’s letter.

On 30th December the S-G wrote to us outlining the funding proposal of $10,000 per MP and also stated that our staff would be made redundant. But she failed to state that she had been directed to do so by the A-G.

We responded to her letter on 6th January rejecting the proposal. We also requested that she release the Attorney General’s letter. We pointed out that her office was independent and above any influence from anyone under Section 79(7) (8) of the Constitution. And Section 79(10) of the Constitution empowered her to effectively and independently exercise her powers.

Under the proposal outlined in her letter of 30th December the allocation was as follows: –
Fiji First (32 MPs): $320,000
SODELA (15MPs): $150,000
NFP (3MPs): $30,000

On 8th January Mrs Namosimalua wrote back to us increasing the amount to $15,000 per MP thereby allocating us $45,000. Fiji First allocation increased by $160,000 to $480,000 and SODELA’s allocation was $225,000.

We replied to her letter on 9th January rejecting the allocation and reminded her that when allocating staff to our office, she said the appointments would be for a period of 3 months and then the positions would be advertised.

We also told her that the allocation of resources should not be solely based on size of parties but a minimum threshold – that is on fundamental principles and parliamentary duties.

While Mrs Namosimalua is yet to respond to our letter, she went ahead and revoked the appointments of our staff.

We find the S-G’s proposal illogical, unconstitutional. If the Secretary –General allows herself to be directed by the Attorney-General, then it is direct interference in the work of Parliament and renders meaningless her powers under Section 79 of the Constitution.

It is obvious that the Attorney General is hell-bent to render us as an ineffective parliamentary party.

We once gain call upon the Secretary-General to release the letter from the Attorney General in the name of transparency. This goes against every fibre of democratic norms.

When we say the S-G’s action is unconstitutional, we base it on Section 79 where it is her role to appoint, terminate or discipline staff. She cannot delegate this role to anyone else, in this case to political parties. She is directly responsible for administering funding and is answerable only to the Speaker, not to any Minister or anyone else.

This matter is unprecedented. We have been the longest parliamentary party in Fiji’s history since Independence 44 years ago, except in 1999, 2006 and for 4 years after the 2001 elections.

We understand and know fully well the basis on which political party offices in parliament are resourced, especially Opposition parties. Since the start of Parliament last October, we have been at the benevolence of SODELPA who have kindly allowed the three MPs and our staff to use the Opposition Leader’s Office facilities. As a parliamentary party, we are entitled to a separate fully equipped office. We were assured by the Secretary-General that we would be provided one but that has failed to materialize.

This has now become a matter for our Party and we will have a Party’s Working Committee meeting at the end of this month to inform our delegates of the attempt to stifle our role and for the Party to take a decision on this matter of critical importance.

Biman Prasad
Leader

Encl:
1. 30th December letter by S-G
2. NFP’s Reply to S-G’s 30th December letter
3. S-G’s letter of 8th January 2015
4. NFP’s Reply to S-G’s 8th January letter
5. Revocation of appointments by S-G

Opposition questions FNU changes – Fiji One News

15 hours ago

By: Dreu Vukailagi

The Opposition Office has labelled the exit of Fiji National University Vice Chancellor Dr Ganesh Chand as unfortunate and unwarranted.

Opposition whip, Isoa Tikoca says this latest incident involving a public official raises more questions.

The change in leadership at the Fiji National University that was announced by the Minister of Education, Dr Mahendra Reddy yesterday questioned by the members of the Opposition.

At a press conference today, Opposition whip, Isoa Tikoca labelled the change as injustice.

“The unexplained and forced removal of Dr Chand is a direct assault on academic freedom at the University. Academic freedom is a fundamental principle upon which universities operate. This is a blunt attempt to kill academic freedom and lawful dissent in the country,” said Opposition Whip, Isoa Tikoca.

There also wanted clarification on why former Acting Permanent Secretary for Education resigned.

“The issue of Mrs Basundra Kumar’s removal as Acting Permanent Secretary for Education and her suspension also smacks of interference by the Education Minister.

This has eventually led to Mrs Kumar tendering her resignation under duress. Once again this issue is embroiled in controversy and all fingers are pointing towards Dr Mahendra Reddy in the absence of any genuine validation for the action from both the Education Minister and the Public Service Commission,” Tikoca said.

Opposition member, Dr Biman Prasad says that those who have been replaced need to be given the opportunity to tell their story. “Basically what we are saying and calling upon the government is to observe the principal of natural justice, follow procedure, give the people who are concern the right and opportunity to defend themselves so that the due process is followed,” said Opposition Member, Dr Biman Prasad.

Prasad questions removal – Fiji Times Online

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

THE recent removal of now-former vice-chancellor of the Fiji National University, Dr Ganesh Chand, has not been received well by members of the Opposition, who claim the removal is the result of Government interference.

At a press conference in Suva yesterday, chief Opposition whip Ratu Isoa Tikoca and National Federation Party leader Professor Biman Prasad questioned the forced removal of Dr Chand and the suspension of acting permanent secretary for Education, Basundra Kumar.

“The forced removal of Fiji National University vice-chancellor Dr Ganesh Chand and the suspension of acting permanent secretary for Education Basundra Kumar raises more questions about Government’s interference in employment issues, as well as the blatant disregard and violation of constitutional rights, employment and natural justice,” Ratu Isoa said.

“The removal of Dr Chand and the suspension of Mrs Kumar come soon after the forced removal of two Fiji Television executives and the absence of any response to the Opposition’s statement that their sacking was due to Government interference.

“In the case of Dr Chand’s removal as FNU vice-chancellor, it is quite apparent that his forced exit has nothing to do with the university’s strategic plan and future direction as claimed by Education Minister and FNU Council Chair Dr Mahendra Reddy,” Ratu Isoa claimed.

Ratu Isoa went on to say that Dr Chand’s unexplained and forced removal was a “direct assault on academic freedom” at the university.

“Academic freedom is a fundamental principle upon which universities operate. This is a blatant attempt to kill academic freedom and lawful dissent in the country.”

Ratu Isoa and Prof Prasad also said Mrs Kumar’s sudden removal was somewhat controversial.

“The issue of Mrs Basundra Kumar’s removal as acting permanent secretary for Education and her suspension also smacks of interference by the Education Minister. This has eventually led to Mrs Kumar tendering her resignation under duress,” they claimed.

Several attempts to obtain comments from Education Minister Dr Reddy on the matter yesterday were unsuccessful.