Yet again: method, not just the cause [The Fiji Times, January 2007]
The coups of 1987, 2000 and now 2006, have left our people deeply divided, with many changing legal sides.
No government ever established a commission of inquiry into the events of 1987 and 2000. Nor into our national financial disasters like the National Bank of Fiji, the 1998 Commodity Development Fund scam, and the recent Agricultural Scam.
Our vital institutions of parliamentary democracy, the Great Council of Chiefs, the military, police and judiciary have all been found wanting, but no one has ever taken responsibility.
We sweep our problems under the carpet, where they fester, and rear their ugly heads again and again.
And using “the cause” as justification, different leaders adopt illegal methods, whose costs will ultimately fall on tax-payers, as always.
“Democracy” and “Equity”
Look at how our people have been divided (and changed positions) on the principle of “democracy” following the coups of 1987, 2000 and 2006.
Today’s “pro-democracy” supporters are of two kinds. A group of NGOs and individuals have consistently opposed all the coups (1987, 2000 or 2006) on principle. But also today, there is a large group who had accepted the coups of 1987 and 2000, but oppose that of 2006, because “their government” is now deposed.
And today’s pro-coup supporters are also of two kinds. A large group are pleased that a government which was sympathetic to the 2000 coups against “their government”, is now getting its “just rewards”.
But there is also a powerful group who support the 2006 coup, arguing that democracy is not acceptable if it does not ensure equity for all: they accuse the democratically elected SDL Government of discriminating against Indo-Fijians: in civil service and education scholarships; indifference to expiring land leases, sacrilege against Indo-Fijian temples, violent robberies in Indo-Fijian homes; and tolerance of racist comments by Fijian politicians and Ministers. They argue that the SDL government even ignored the needs of the Fijian poor, while fostering the Fijian elites through companies like the Fijian Holdings Limited.
These criticisms are understandable as is the anger and hurt of those who suffered the consequences of the 1987 and 2000 coups. But they cannot legalise and justify the coup of 2006 and subsequent illegal events.
The 2006 coup and constitutionality
On5 December 2006, the Commander of the RFMF assumed executive authority by deposing the President (Ratu Iloilo) and the Vice President (Ratu Joni Madraiwiwi).
He terminated the SDL-led multi-party Government (which included FLP Ministers), as well as all Members of the House of Representatives and Senate.
The Commander then appointed a new President (who happens to be the same Ratu Iloilo), who in turn appointed the Commander as Interim Prime Minister and Minister of Home Affairs, and other Ministers.
It is difficult to see how this Interim Administration can be considered to be still operating under the 1997 Constitution, when all current authority and appointments have emanated from the Commander of the RFMF. The current administration is effectively a “military junta”.
The Military Administration is also terminating legally binding contracts without going through the due processes of law, and they are implementing fundamental changes in public policies (some possibly for the good).
The military now state that “interim administration” may be there for five years or longer, “until they have cleaned up”.
The military is creating a huge moral dilemma for law-abidingFijicitizens.
If this Military Administration implements sound public policy, it may encourage investment, economic growth and recovery. The poor may benefit more than before, as may even ordinary Fijians.
But these possible positive effects will not change the basic illegality of the current administration, and the dangerous precedent that is being set.
Authority only from guns
The ability and effective authority of the military to remove the democratically elected government and appoint a Military Administration comes only from the guns that they hold.
Today, the guns are in the hands of Bainimarama and his senior officers. Tomorrow the guns may be in other less responsible hands.
Most RFMF soldiers have been disciplined during the 2006 coup. But a few soldiers have already and needlessly abused the human rights of some citizens. Even minor violence is addictive and contagious and further desensitizes the perpetrators.
If a detainee resists the violation of his human rights, soldiers can easily lapse into serious brutality. One person has already died in military custody, and more may suffer.
So why are we in this mess currently, with ordinarily decent citizens justifying and supporting a military coup?
One major explanation is that governments and leaders have refused to confront the truth about 1987 and 2000, publicly acknowledge their specific mistakes, and ensure justice for those wronged. And now also with 2006.
No truth about 1987
In 1987, when Rabuka implemented two coups, there was abuse of human rights: houses burnt, people terrorized, citizens abducted, tortured, and put into cells for their pro-democracy views.
Coup supporters alleged that democracy was a “foreign flower” that would allow an Indo-Fijian dominated government to trample on the rights of indigenous Fijians.
Rabuka is blamed for starting the coup culture. But, like George Speight, he was initially just the implementer.
Who were the real instigators of the 1987 coups? No government has initiated a public inquiry into the 1987 events, while the “common knowledge” is that the Fijian political leaders, the GCC, the military, and the police, all supported it.
The 1987 coup plot then changed. Commoner Rabuka refused to go back to the barracks, and took over the leadership of the Fijian people and the SVT, to the dismay of some high chiefs. Rabuka also pushed through the 1997 Constitution (including provisions for a multi-party government).
So in the 1999 elections, the same chiefs who Rabuka had antagonized, undermined him and the SVT, by setting up a new party which split the Fijian votes, allowing a Fiji Labour Party victory.
President Ratu Mara ensured that Chaudhry became the first democratically elected Indo-Fijian Prime Minister. Rabuka and the SVT, the largest Fijian party, were excluded from the multi-party Government, for whatever reasons.
Ironically, both Ratu Mara and Rabuka came to be seen by Fijian ethno-nationalists as “traitors to the Fijian cause”.
The 2000 coups and mutiny
Again in 2000, with no proof, the agitators alleged that the democratically elected FLP government was unfair to indigenous Fijians, while favouring Indo-Fijians.
Using the “Fijian cause” as justification, the FLP government was brutally removed by a few CRW soldiers and some civilians, with the support of prominent Fijians. Speight, originally a mere spokesman, took over the leadership when the real leaders failed to show up. Who were they?
Again, the coup plot changed (the public does not know why). Speight and his obvious collaborators were arrested, convicted and jailed, without revealing the real leaders.
Why did the military and the GCC choose not to re-establish the FLP Government, but a mostly Fijian Interim Administration headed by Qarase? The public does not know.
President Ratu Mara, who had stated at the height of the crisis that Chaudhry could not return as Prime Minister, was himself deposed.
Then CRW soldiers tried to kill the Commander and instigate a mutiny, a crime that struck at the heart of military discipline and integrity. Innocent loyal soldiers were killed. CRW soldiers (some possibly innocent) were also killed, probably in the military’s attempt to get at the instigators of the mutiny.
Some persons were brought to trial, but prosecutions were hampered when the SDL Government refused to renew the contract of the active Deputy Director of Public Prosecutions.
A few were convicted, but some quickly set free. Some coup-related persons were appointed by the SDL Government into Ministerial and ambassadorial positions. Some SDL nominations to embassies abroad were rejected by the host Governments. And some were not convicted, supposedly because of insufficient evidence.
Who were behind the 2000 coups? Who were behind the army mutiny? Were the two linked?
The SDL Government refused to initiate an inquiry into the 2000 coups and mutiny.
Instead they tried to pass a “Reconciliation” Bill whose key component was an amnesty provision for those convicted of coup-related crimes. A measure deeply opposed by the military and many members of the public. Was the SDL Government pro-coup and pro-mutiny? The public does not know.
Perhaps the military knows facts about the 2000 coups and mutiny, and events since then that the public do not know. But the rumors continue to fester and mislead our people.
A Commission of Truth, Justice and Resolution
At the beginning of this crisis, a group of NGOs and individuals requested the President to establish a binding Commission of Truth, Justice and Resolution to clarify the truthregarding the coups of 1987 and 2000, and the CRW mutiny of 2000; and clarify the post-2000 events leading to the 2006 coup.
The Commission would comprise knowledgeable and reputable citizens, with full powers to obtain all relevant evidence, hear witnesses in public or in confidence, seek legal and other opinion.; and make fair judgment on the part played by our institutions, groups and individuals, and ensure justice for all.
The Commission would also make recommendations on all the military’s concerns, as well as any other recommendations it sees fit, to ensure that there is an end to the cycle of coups. Such a Commission would go beyond just a Corruption Commission.
Are our leaders amongst the political parties, the GCC, judiciary, military, police and the religious groups courageous enough to bring out the truth about 1987, 2000 and 2006, if necessary admit to mistakes, and subject themselves to the judgment and mercy of our laws and people?
Committed citizens ofFiji will keep trying to rebuildFijiin whatever way they morally can. Contrary to Archbishop Mataca’s views, they do not need to join any “boat”.
ButFijiwould be better off if our people were indeed all rowing the “same boat” in an agreed upon direction, stabilized by a solid keel of truth and justice for all.
And if there was consensus amongst the passengers- our major ethnic groups and political parties- for the lawful way forward, without guns.