Methodist clergy in Fiji are frustrated that the removal of a repressive law requiring permits for religious meetings has been replaced by a more permanent decree by the country’s interim military regime.
Leaders of Fiji’s 2,000 Methodist congregations were thrilled when Prime Minister Commodore Voreqe ‘Frank’ Bainimarama announced on New Year’s Day that the Public Emergency Regulations (PER), which in 2009 granted the police and military extensive powers, would be lifted by Jan. 7.
Clergy believed meeting permits would no longer be required. But they were disappointed when a new and permanent law ― a revised Public Order Act ― subsequently replicated the PER, requiring churches to apply for permits at community police posts.
“When the actual thing came, it was almost a cut and paste thing,” Methodist Assistant General-Secretary Reverend Tevita Banivanua told the Sydney Morning Herald. “I had hoped that the lifting of the PER would have encouraged us to believe in government. But we have lost trust.”
Banivanua wants the military to see the Methodist Church as a “friend and not a threat;” to work with the church rather than against it, rather than requesting permits with conditions attached. “Why are we being singled out? If we do not know, we cannot do anything. We are ready to work with the government.”
This week the military permitted the church in the capital of Suva to apply for permits on behalf of ministers in provinces such as Lau, who would otherwise have to spend hundreds of dollars hiring a boat to travel to the nearest police post.
The church is planning its annual conference in August, subject to a granted permit ― the first since the government cancelled conferences in 2009.
Bainimarama has invited Fijians to participate next month in consultations for a new constitution. He also announced that the first democratic national election since his 2006 coup would be held by September 2014.