Mr. Ashwin Raj, Chairperson of Media Industry Development Authority
Mr. Vasu Mohan, IFES
Mr. Stanley Simpson, from the Fiji Media Association
Facilitators of the workshop from IFES
Distinguished personnel from the media.
Bula Vinaka and goodmorning to you all.
Ladies and Gentlemen, the Fijian Elections Office and the Media Industry Development Authority have collaborated to bring to Fiji this International training for media on elections that is run by International Foundation for Election Systems [IFES in short]. This media workshop has been conducted by IFES in various countries previously and I am sure it will have relevance and applicability to Fiji.
Ladies and Gentlemen, as the election management body, the FEO’s main interest lies in providing the voter with the most accurate electoral information free from politicization and bias. The voter deserves to receive information that has factual backing and can be subjected to verification.
In 2014, MIDA had conducted a training on election reporting for the media. During the 2014 General Election, the media was excellent. Media organizations took care and responsibility to ensure that voters are provided the most accurate information relating to the process.
Ladies and Gentlemen, recently Fiji received a visit from the UN Commissioner on Human Rights. I have received a copy of a statement he made before left in which he made some UN type remark on the FEO. I was surprised that this person chose to make conclusions about the Fijian Elections Office without meeting us. We also were not asked to provide any information in writing to help him understand the FEO.
I am hoping that this information helps the media to understand the legal platform for elections in Fiji:
- The Electoral Commission
The Electoral Commission is a Constitutional Office established under section 75 of the Constitution. The Electoral Commission is required to oversee the conduct of elections in Fiji in accordance with the legal framework in place. The Electoral Commission makes its own operating procedures. In various electoral procedures, the Electoral Commission is the final decision maker.
- The Fijian Elections Office
The Fijian Elections Office is an independent election management body responsible for the conduct of General Elections and other elections in accordance with the legal framework. The Fijian Elections Office is the Office of the Supervisor of Elections and is situated at 59 High Street, Toorak, Suva. The Fijian Elections Office has 60 core staff and employs upto 400 part-time staff during elections.
As per section 6 of the Electoral Act, the Supervisor of Elections has complete independence to determine the composition of the Fijian Elections Office. The Supervisor of Elections has the authority to determine the remuneration, the terms and conditions of employment and the recruitment procedure as well as the disciplinary processes at the Fijian Elections Office.
It is a requirement under section 7 that the Supervisor must conduct his duties and exercise his powers in an impartial manner and in accordance with the law. Section 8 of the Electoral Act further guarantees that in the performance of his or her functions and the exercise of his or her powers, the Supervisor is not subject to the direction or control by any person, except that he or she must comply with the directions or instructions that the Electoral Commission gives him or her concerning the performance of his or her functions; and a decision of a court of law exercising its jurisdiction in relation to a question on whether he or she has performed the functions or exercised the powers in accordance with the Constitution and the law, or whether he or she should or should not perform those functions or exercise those powers.
Section 9 of the Electoral Act further requires that the Fijian Elections Office shall be an independent office which must be properly staffed and equipped to perform its duties and functions in accordance with the Constitution and this Act, with such organisational structure, key positions and authorities, as approved by the Supervisor. The Fijian Elections Office has full autonomy to open as many sub-offices as it may require.
Section 11(4) of the Electoral Act has established for the very first time that the state and local government officials must not be appointed as heads of divisional or district electoral sub offices. The law very clearly requires all state agencies to provide the Fijian Elections Office with the necessary support to facilitate an election. It makes it very clear that in providing the support, these agencies must rely on their own budgetary support rather than the Fijian Elections Office.
Section 13 of the Electoral Act has very clearly outlined the impartiality and non-partisanship framework. It states that the members of the Electoral Commission, the Supervisor, and all election officials, including employees, agents and contractors of the Fijian Elections Office, must conduct their duties and functions and exercise their powers with utmost impartiality, in compliance with the law and the Constitution, and without regard to any political or personal factor. Section 13(2) states that the members of the Electoral Commission, the Supervisor, and all election officials, including employees, agents and contractors of the Fijian Elections Office, are not entitled to undertake any political or campaign activities at any time during the period of their appointment, employment or contract with the Electoral Commission or the Fijian Elections Office. The legal framework specifically requires that election officials must refrain from any decision that would raise a conflict of interest.
Section 15 of the Electoral Act has explicitly required that Parliament allocate sufficient financial resources from the State budget for the timely and effective performance of the functions and powers of the Fijian Elections Office. The budget submission mechanism is based on the election cycle approach that is widely considered as an election best practice. Section 16 of the Act empowers the Supervisor of Elections by granting him complete control on the procurements and usage of the budget of the Fijian Elections Office. The legal framework has allowed the Fijian Elections Office to establish its own procurement system suitable for election related activities.
The Electoral Act, in section 17, establishes an electoral complaints handling procedure that permits the electoral system to deal with election related complaints. This is another election good practice as it ensure election related complaints, some of which may be technical in nature, are dealt with expeditiously.
- Protection of Offices under the Constitution
The Electoral Commission and the Supervisor of Elections are Constitutional institutions. The Supervisor of Elections is required to comply with the directions of the Electoral Commission. The tenure of office for Electoral Commissioners is 3 years and the Supervisor of Election can be appointed for a term of upto 5 years as provided under section 135 of the Constitution.
Section 136 of the Constitution protects office holders from persecution through protection of the remuneration. According to section 136, salaries of persons holding such offices can only be reduced as part of general austerity reduction similarly applicable to all offices of the State.
The Constitution also protects office holders from arbitrary loss of office. Section 137 of the Constitution requires that an independent office of enquiry is setup. The minimum membership of this tribunal is 3 and it is a requirement that out of the 3 members, one has to be qualified to be appointed a Judge. The tribunal is required to provide a report to the President with its recommendation.
- The 2014 General Election
The Fijian Elections Office conducted the 2014 General Election under the current legal framework. The Multinational Observer Group Report on the 2014 General Election found that the legal framework in Fiji was sufficient for the conduct of credible and legitimate elections in Fiji. [Page 7]
The Multinational Observer Group also found that the Electoral Commission and the FEO were competent, professional and committed in performing their duties. [Page 9] It was also found that the Funding regulations for political parties were within the range of common international practices. In 2014, there were no instances where applications for accreditation by the media were refused. At page 21 of the Report the Multinational Observer Group found that the recruitment process of election time staff “appears to have been open and merit-based, and included literacy and numeracy tests, police checks, and a requirement to be non-partisan. This process was broadly consistent with international best practice.”
The Multinational Observer Group “noted the admirable effort by the FEO to reach out to voters in geographically isolated areas and through door-to-door awareness activities in informal settlements.” [page 22] Observers reported that “polling stations were generally well organized and operated efficiently. Observers commended polling staff on their professionalism and flexibility in problem-solving.”
It is noteworthy to highlight the conclusion of the Multinational Observer Group in its report which states “The FEO and election workers were competent, professional and committed in performing their duties, sometimes under challenging circumstances.
- Regional and International involvement of the Fijian Elections Office
The Fijian Elections Office has full autonomy to expand its capacities through collaboration and partnership agreements with international and regional organizations. Since the 2014 General Election, the Fijian Elections Office has participated in election observation missions in Tonga (2017), Papua New Guinea (2017), Vanuatu (2016) and the Supervisor of Elections was lead the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat Election Observer Mission to the General Election for the Autonomous Region of Bougainville in 2015.
The Fijian Elections Office co-hosted that first ever Pacific Regional Dialogue on Disabilities in 2016 in partnership with International Foundation for Election Systems (IFES) and the Pacific Islands Australia and New Zealand Electoral Administrators Network. This Dialogue was the first of its kind in the region which created a platform for discussions relating to disability and elections between senior management of Election Management bodies and representatives of disability organizations.
The Fijian Elections Office holds executive/ advisory positions in the Commonwealth Electoral Network, the Pacific Islands Australia and New Zealand Electoral Administrators Network and is an executive board member for the Oceania region in the Association of World Electoral Bodies (AWEB), which has total membership of 106 election management bodies from around the world.
Since its establishment, the Fijian Elections Office has executed Memorandum of Understanding for mutual collaboration and capacity development with the Australian Electoral Commission, New Zealand Electoral Commission, Indian Electoral Commission, Indonesian Electoral Commission, Central Elections Commission of the Russian Federation and the National Election Commission of Korea.
Ladies and Gentlemen, here we have a classic case of a flyby where the maker of the statement fell victim to bias, probably politically influenced statements to be drawn by some as the ultimate conclusion on the matter. We have already seen how the unsubstantiated statement is being made a political football and being tossed around.
Ladies and Gentlemen, this incident also shows how important it is to do thorough research. This is an election year and I am sure you will come across event more controversial statements. I would urge that the people of Fiji who are the key stakeholder and the ultimate beneficiaries of the electoral process have a right to the most accurate information.
On behalf of the Electoral Commission and my colleagues at the FEO, I would like to wish you all the very best for this training. We hope the workshop has value in promoting better practices in your field of work and builds capacity in dealing with reporting on elections.