Choosing between the Military and the Rule of Law. Part I. 21 August 2014
Choosing between the Military and the Rule of Law. Part I. 21 August 2014
OR “The betrayal of Indo-Fijian political integrity”
OR “The loss of Indo-Fijian political innocence”.
OR “Ripe for Truth and Reconciliation Commission”.
Professor Wadan Narsey
The media is projecting the September 2014 Elections as a “normal” election in which competing parties are to be compared by their respective policies and benefits that they have given or promise to give to voters.
All elections do have such elements, but historians will remember this election more so for the choice that voters are going to make between parties that stand for the “rule of law” and trust, and a military backed party that has shown no respect for the rule of law, keeping promises and trusting the people.
This article is addressed more towards Indo-Fijian voters who will effectively be making another decision: will they choose parties which believe in good race relations and the respect for the indigenous Fijian people and leaders (whoever they are)
will they follow Indo-Fijian leaders who for largely selfish reasons, have given their unprincipled support for eight years to an illegal unelected military government which shrewdly offers Indo-Fijians a few benefits just a year prior to elections, embellished by massive propaganda about equal citizenry, while deliberately ignoring the previous eight years of Bainimarama’s rule?
The questions raised here applied equally to the majority of indigenous Fijians in the coups of 1987 and 2000 when they also followed leaders who lost their commitment to legality, just as they applied to Europeans, kailoma, Rotumans, and Chinese citizens, then and today.
The elephant in the room is the Republic of Fiji Military Forces- can they be trusted by either Indo-Fijians or indigenous Fijians to abide by the rule of law, when their history since 1987 indicates totally the opposite, and willingness to accept reducing social legitimacy of their immunity?
To make it easier for readers, I have broken this long article it into two parts.
Part I Bainimarama’s illegality and broken promises
The shaky historical record of RFMF and Bainimarama
Part II Indo-Fijians going into a political cul-de-sac
The betrayal of political integrity by Indo-Fijian leaders
Will Indo-Fijian voters blindly follow their leaders?
The future is Fijian
Some hope for a “Truth and Reconciliation Commission”?
Rajendra Prasad’s recent Fiji Sun article (30 July 2014), while superficial in its contents, nevertheless had a pertinent concluding question “Will this election be won on deceit and lies or will it be won on truth and understanding?”
Unfortunately, it is not clear from the Bainimarama-controlled media which parties are the sources of deceit and lies, and which are the ones calling for truth and understanding.
If the opinion polls are anything to go by, a significant proportion of Indo-Fijians are gravitating towards Bainimarama’s military-led Fiji First Party, apparently believing his slogans that “we are all Fijians” and that “we are all equal”.
They, and also many indigenous Fijians and other ethnic groups, are also understandably pleased with some positive policies such as the freeing up of education and the building of infrastructure such as roads and water (even if they do not comprehend the costs).
For academics who have long struggled against the discrimination that Indo-Fijians have faced in Fiji and the Pacific, Bainimarama’s slogans of racial equality should also be music to our ears, but unfortunately what will not go away, is Bainimarama’s consistent record of illegality and broken promises.
Will Indo-Fijian voters put their faith in Bainimarama’s Fiji First Party whose real power base is the Republic of Fiji Military Forces, or will they put their faith in the other people-based political parties such as SODELPA, NFP, FLP, PDP and others?
Whatever the outcome in September, there is perverse light at the end of the tunnel that with all ethnic and religious groups having supported coups at one time or another since 1987 and no “innocent side” left, a future Truth and Reconciliation Commission has greater chances of success than the last aborted one by the Qarase government.
Part I Bainimarama’s illegality, poor governance and broken promises
These are the uncomfortable facts about Bainimarama and his government, which Indo-Fijian leaders have the onerous social responsibility to educate their voters about:
- Bainimarama was originally in support of the 2000 coup (detailed below for the ignorant)
- Bainimarama’s refusal to have an inquiry into the subsequent 2000 mutiny against him;
- his removal of all senior RFMF officers who opposed his plans to remove Qarase’s government, between 2003 and 2006;
- his false justification for the 2006 coup, still unproven eight years later;
- his betrayal of his international promise to hold elections in 2009 (resulting in a loss of $300 million of EU aid, suspension from Forum Secretariat and the Commonwealth, and ruptured relations with traditional donors Australia and NZ)
- his issue of a large number of decrees that fundamentally undermine the legitimate rights of workers and trade unions
- His issue of decrees that restrict the basic human rights of freedom of speech and assembly, and freedom of the media
- his use of decrees to prevent the judiciary from hearing legitimate calls for justice, such as the pensioners’ case against the illegal reduction of their pensions
- his betrayal of the work of his own NCBBF and the People’s Charter
- his betrayal of his own Yash Ghai Commission and Constituent Assembly;
- his unilateral imposition of the 2013 Constitution;
- the total unaccountability on government finances and refusal to release the Auditor General Reports since 2007, as well as other important reports on the FNPF;
- his dictatorial destruction of indigenous Fijian institutions which have been legitimate parts of our last lawful 1997 Constitution, and which have evolved over a hundred years through peaceful political dialogue
- His undermining of Fiji’s commitment to the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples
- his blatant use of taxpayers’ funds right up to polling day to buy votes;
- his refusal to keep most promises he has made over the last seven years;
- his gross misuse of tax-payer funds to pay American propaganda company Qorvis, to put a gloss on his image, indicating the inability of the Ministry of Information to make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear.
- his total control of the media which have effectively become his propaganda arms
- his blatant nepotism in appointing family members to high positions and differential treatment of convicted family members and those perceived as his opponents.
I elaborate a few of these below for those whose memory does not stretch back fourteen years, and for those who have not bothered to read material which is already on the web, such as the military’s own Evans Board of Inquiry Report (Evans BOIR).
The shaky record of the RFMF and Bainimarama
Many Indo-Fijians believe Bainimarama’s frequent claim that he desires racial equality for Indo-Fijians and an essential part of that story is his claim that in 2000 he saved Indo-Fijians from the anarchy posed by George Speight and the ethno-nationalists, who had the support of the Great Council of Chiefs and the Methodist Church.
Who knows, perhaps Bainimarama IS today a genuinely reformed leader, believing in multiracialism, the equality of all ethnic communities, and perhaps his view is also shared by his senior army officers.
Yes, in the end he did apprehend George Speight and those of his group who were left “holding the coup baby” when the real leaders failed to front up, and he did imprison those who “took false oaths” during the coup and those who planned the mutiny.
But the evidence in the Evans BOIR also indicate are that Bainimarama’s role and views at the beginning of the 2000 coup were totally the opposite, and his views then were also shared by most senior RFMF officers, who are unlikely to have changed today.
Bainimarama’s role at the beginning of the coup
The Fiji public (and Bainimarama supporters like Thakur Ranjit Singh, Rajendra Prasad and Satendra Nandan) should ask why there has never been a public inquiry into the 2000 coup, incorrectly and deceitfully labeled as the “George Speight coup”, nor into the horrendous mutiny that same year when eight soldiers lost their lives.
But there is enough evidence in the RFMF’s Evans BOIR (all thousand pages of it), available on the Internet here and here, to indicate that Bainimarama initially supported the 2000 coup and the “Fijian cause”. (I referred to this material previously in my submission to the Yash Ghai Commission of Inquiry available here).
The Evans Board of Inquiry, chaired by Lt. Col. Jackson Evans and also including Major (now Brigadier) Aziz Mohammed (who should know these facts), was tasked with inquiring into the CRW Unit’s takeover of Parliament on the 19 May 2000.
While many senior witnesses were evasive, the evidence of Lt. Col. Viliame Seruvakula (on pp. 937-949 of the BOIR) was totally credible, corroborated by several other witnesses, indicating that:
- Bainimarama was told by his intelligence unit more than six months in advance that senior army officers, Fijian politicians, high chiefs (some named) and Methodist leaders were plotting the coup at several private houses (BOIR, pp 938-939). He did nothing to stop it.
- Bainimarama was personally told by Seruvakula the exact date of the coup a week before, but he chose to go to Norway on some trivial matter leaving his subordinates to “deal with it” (just as former commander Ratu Epeli Nailatikau did, prior to the 1987 coup).
- Seruvakula named the leader of the CRW soldiers in parliament as Ligairi, who Bainimarama personally brought out of retirement: Ligairi moved freely in and out of army HQ even while holding the Chaudhry Government hostage in Parliament.
- The Evans BOIR concluded that the CRW Unit and many senior army officers had the understanding that the “army was supporting the takeover, by the logistic and administrative support given” with arms, ammunition and rations flowing into parliament, while the CRW soldiers’ salaries were also continued. Col. Tarakinikini, Lt. Col. Samu Raduva and Baleinamau were named by Seruvakula as sympathetic to the coup, and he informed the BOIR that his intelligence reports to the RFMF hierarchy were being leaked to the coup makers.
- Then in the middle of the hostage crisis, Speight’s group put out a gazette that Colonel Vatu would be the new RFMF Commander and Lt. Col. Tarakinikini would be the new Chief of Staff (I suspect this was the turning point for Bainimarama).
- Seruvakula gave evidence that while he saw the coup as treason against the state, a number of senior army officers were “sitting on the fence”, waiting to see which group won, and some were even countermanding his attempts to place blockades which could have ended the hostage crisis much sooner (BOIR, pp. 947-948).
What is public knowledge is that Bainimarama (with the support of former RFMF Commanders), instead of protecting their Commander-in-chief and President as their military oaths required them to, asked Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara to “step aside”, then he claimed to have abrogated the Constitution and taken Executive Authority (until Justice Gates ruled otherwise), and he tried even then to become the Prime Minister (until dissuaded by some officers).
Bainimarama was the only senior RFMF officer who refused to be interviewed by the Evan Board of Inquiry. Other senior military officers who appeared before the Evans Board of Inquiry, were clearly evasive and gave minimal information, when they knew much more.
The uncomfortable conclusion from the above facts is that Bainimarama, most of his senior officers, and many prominent civilians not prosecuted to this day (but some clearly named in the Evans BOIR) fully supported the 2000 coup at the beginning, even if Bainimarama changed afterwards.
It is also pertinent that when the hostage crisis was ended by Bainimarama, he did not return the lawfully elected Chaudhry Government to power, but appointed Qarase as Prime Minister of a completely indigenous Fijian government
Also on record are public statements by senior RFMF officers who opposed Bainimarama’s plans between 2003 and 2006 to remove the Qarase Government, that throw light on the December 2006 coup, which took place just when Bainimarama about to be charged by the police under Police Commissioner Andrew Hughes, for a number of alleged serious offenses.
The public silence of many former senior military officers and many indigenous Fijian politicians on the 2006 coup is disappointing, but not surprising given their collaboration in the 2000 and for some, even the 1987 coups, and some are also prominent supporters of SDL/SODELPA.
Given Bainimarama’s allegedly anti-coup stance today, Satendra Nandan, Rajendra Prasad and Thakur Ranjit Singh and our intrepid journalists from Fiji Sun and FBC need to ask why Bainimarama has included in his government for the last eight years, perennial coup supporters, like Inoke Kubuabola, Filipe Bole and Isikeli Mataitga.
The 2006 coup on false grounds
While Bainimarama claimed the 2006 coup was to eliminate widespread corruption and electoral fraud, eight years later he has produced no evidence of either.
Central to the 2006 coup was the takeover of the judiciary by Justice Anthony Gates, following the irregular chairmanship of the Judicial Services Commission by Nazhat Shameem who subsequently offered her legal services to the Bainimarama Government.
There then followed judicial decisions by the High Court (Gate, Byrne and Pathik) which justified dubious decisions by President Iloilo, legitimating Bainimarama’s government for three years.
But when the illegality of the 2006 coup was confirmed by the superior 2009 Court of Appeal judgment, Bainimarama purported to abrogate the 1997 Constitution and pressed on regardless with full support from his collaborators.
The betrayal of the NCBBF
An extremely astute ex-post justification of the 2006 coup was the setting up of the National Council for Building a Better Fiji (NCBBF), the brainchild of NZ citizen and former ADB operative, John Samy resulting in the “Charter Charade”.
The former Archbishop of the Catholic Church (the late Petero Mataca) full of hope for the future, co-chaired the NCBBF with Bainimarama, and attracted many other Catholics including two prominent white priests (both foreign citizens), into serving the Bainimarama Government initiatives and boards, giving the coup more local and international credibility.
The NCBBF’s main output, the People’s Charter and alleged Roadmap for Fiji, stated that the 1997 Constitution was its foundation and would be strengthened. It was taken around the country by army personnel and supposedly signed by more than 450 thousand Fiji citizens, a virtual referendum, the last attempt by Bainimarama at popular approval.
But in 2009, when the Court of Appeal ruled against him, Bainimarama, having already dumped Mahendra Chaudhry for reasons never publicly clarified, dumped the 1997 Constitution, as well as John Samy and Mataca, the two of whom futilely complained (read here) but went away quietly without any statement to the Fiji public whose faith they effectively betrayed.
The betrayal of the Yash Ghai Commission
In 2011, Bainimarama set up his hand-picked Yash Ghai Commission which inquired throughout Fiji with great fanfare and at great cost, obtaining submissions from thousands of people in good faith.
The Draft Constitution was supposed to be discussed and popularly approved by a Constituent Assembly to be set up by Bainimarama himself.
Despite the Ghai Draft Constitution satisfying all the restrictive decrees including the provision of immunity, Bainimarama unceremoniously dumped it, as well as the Constituent Assembly, for no good reasons.
That rejection clearly indicated his lack of trust in the people, but the rejection we understand better today (read here), especially Bainimarama’s unwillingness to acknowledge fault before being granted immunity, his desire to continue wielding total state power and manage the September elections while dispensing taxpayers’ funds, right up to elections day.
The Yash Ghai Commission members also went away quietly without any accountability to the Fiji public, while one member who is an Australian citizen continues his propaganda for the Bainimarama Government, blithely unconcerned at the total breach of faith with the Ghai Commission of which he was a member.
The historical record of RFMF willingness to commit treason
While many politicians are praising the statement by the current RFMF Commander (Brig. Gen. Mosese Tikoitoga) that he will respect whatever is the outcome of the September 2014 Elections, the RFMF’s actual track record since 1987 is not on his side and he has a mountain to climb if he is to restore the RFMF to its pre-1987 record of ethical professionalism.
Since 1987, the military hierarchy of the RFMF, including all Fijian former Commanders have a 100 percent record of collaboration in coups, albeit for changing reasons.
The public has never been informed of any proactive resignation of any senior army or naval officer on the grounds that he was unwilling to follow his/her Commander into illegality.
Bainimarama managed to conduct the coups of 2006 and 2009 and remain in power, because of the continued support of his senior army and naval officers who control the army and navy.
Since 2006, all senior military officers have received substantial material benefits through appointments to high positions and rapid promotions, making a mockery of Bainimarama’s original promise that no military personnel (including himself) would benefit from his coup.
Several military officers and current ministers are also standing for elections, making a mockery of Bainimarama’s original promise that none of his Interim Ministers (or himself) would ever stand for elections.
When treason is committed so often, it also means that the entire extended family of the military officers- their wives, brothers, sisters, parents, uncles and aunts, their adult children, all went along with treason, as did most of the Fijian community, including the Great Council of Chiefs and the Methodist Church in 1987 and 2000.
In 1987 and 2000, the military genie was let out of the bottle by the Fijian political elite and social leaders, ostensibly for the “Fijian cause”.
But the military have now done coups in 2006 and 2009 against the Fijian political elite, largely for self-interest.
Will the military genie now go back into the bottle, given that they care less and less about who gives them immunity?
The reducing popular legitimacy of immunity clauses
Anyone in the RFMF with legal common sense should be worried about the reducing “social legitimacy of immunity” for coup makers and collaborators since 1987, and refusal to trust the people:
- The first coup-maker (Rabuka) was given immunity in the 1997 Constitution unanimously approved and legitimated by the elected Fiji Parliament;
- the front-man for the 2000 coup (George Speight) also demanded and was given immunity, which was withdrawn by Bainimarama supposedly because some conditions not met;
- Bainimarama was given conditional immunity in the Ghai Draft Constitution which would have been approved by a People’s Constituent Assembly (set up by himself), but even this semblance of popular approval and lawful exit strategy if the constitution was approved by the next parliament was rejected by Bainimarama, perhaps on others’ dubious advice, but ultimately his responsibility.
- Today, the Bainimarama Government has totally dispensed with popular approval and unwisely given themselves total immunity from 2000 to the elections in 2014, by unilaterally imposing the 2013 Constitution on the country.
The irony should not be lost on the Fiji pubic that there has been no immunity for political opponents like Qarase and Chaudhry and targeted businessmen and supporters of Qarase and Chaudhry.
The Fijian in Bainimarama
Indo-Fijians still have the illusion that the 2000 coup was all about the removal of the Indo-Fijian government of Chaudhry.
Few realize that it was also a playing out of powerful Fijian confederacy politics in which “mainland” Bauan and Cakaudrove chiefs got rid of a Lauan President, even if he happened to be the father-in-law of two former RFMF Commanders who threw their lot in with Bainimarama, for whatever reason.
Despite Bainimarama suppressing the Great Council of Chiefs, he has used prominent chiefs at every opportunity for his own objectives, as indicated clearly by his use of two high chiefs as robotic Presidents to sign his numerous decrees.
While Bainimarama (and Khaiyum) decreed that the Fijian “SDL” name would not be allowed and was eventually replaced by an English name (SODELPA), Bainimarama himself uses the Fijian language when speaking publicly to his RFMF solders, as well as to all the Fijian voters he is now courting.
The military everywhere abide by seniority of rank yet when Bainimarama appointed his successor as Commander of RFMF, he strangely bypassed the second-ranked Brigadier Aziz and chose the lower ranked Colonel Mosese Tikoitoga.
Was it that Bainimarama did not trust his army officers to follow an Indo-Fijian commander, or was it that Aziz’s rank of Brigadier was not on merit, or other reasons? None of the possible answers are reassuring.
What is clear however and disturbing, is that the loud clarion call for multi-racialism and racial equality is coming only from Rear Admiral (Ret) Bainimarama, with virtually no other military officer or minister in his government (apart from Khaiyum) clearly identifiable with this message.
I suspect that the rank and file of the RFMF (99% indigenous Fijian) are unlikely to have any strong commitment to multiracialism and equality of all races, and they are likely to vote in line with the bulk of the indigenous Fijian population.
99% of the RFMF are also Christians who go to church every Sunday and regularly take part in Fijian protocol that embraces the role of the church, chiefs and vanua in their lives.
It may appear trivial, but Bainimarama’s own family faithfully acknowledges Fijian protocol as at the recent reguregu at the home of Meli Bainimarama (Ambassador in Malaysia), held for his brother, the late Timoci Bainimarama (former Government Statistician and occasional work colleague of mine).
I was bemused to observe that at least one sevusevu acceptance speech by the Bainimarama family, acknowledged the symbolic leader of the land and vanua, Roko Tui Dreketi, who incidentally happens to be Ro Temumu Kepa, Leader of SODELPA, and opponent of Bainimarama in the September elections.
Ultimately however, despite the daily prominence of a few ego-laden Indo-Fijians supporting Bainimarama, Bainimarama’s government is still largely Fijian, with the power base being Fijian army leaders and civil servants, rather than the old Fijian political elite.
Part II explains why Indo-Fijian leaders who support Bainimarama are probably aware of the above worrying facts about the RFMF, but are betraying their long history of political integrity, largely for short-sighted self-interest. The question for the September 2014 elections is whether ordinary Indo-Fijian voters will blindly follow them into this political cul-de-sac?