Thursday, June 12, 2008

Putting an end to the coup culture

Putting an end to the coup culture - 6/11/2008

We know for now that the National Council for Building a Better Fiji is preparing the draft People’s Charter. In a radio interview on Tuesday night, former police officer Kisoko Cagituevei confirmed that the NCBF team is preparing the draft Charter. The response was not to the expectation of the NCBBF but it’s happy with the many submissions it had received.
It is also a fact that many had withdrawn their support because they firmly believe there was no need for the Charter as the legal charter Fiji has at the moment is the 1997 Constitution. Mr Cagituevei reassured the listeners the constitution is still the supreme law of the nation. However, he failed to tell the listeners how will the charter be made part of the constitution. Despite of all the strong oppositions, the NCBBF was mindful it had to work on a timeframe and it had to be met. At this rate, the draft should be ready by October.
One of the questions raised by a listener is on the move by the military backed interim government to end Fiji’s coup culture. In reply Mr Cagituevei said a team is currently working on this and the charter would put an end to the coup culture. Some people have said there would be no coup in Fiji if there was no military.
Should the military be scrapped?
I can say that here in Fiji we need the military. We now have a coup culture because of the existence of the military. The coups in 1987, 2000 and 2006 were carried out by the military. According to ousted Opposition Leader Mick Beddoes there is no ‘coup culture’ in Fiji.
However we just have a serious lack of professionalism in our military, which is why they are easily influenced into overthrowing elected governments in 1987, 2000 and now 2006. “If we want to be honest and frank about the root cause of coups, then central to that will be the need to ask the one question that no one is asking,” Mr Beddoes said “Why do we need or how can we afford to maintain a military that costs the taxpayers of this country $80 plus million a year and whose contribution to our post independence development has been four coups, setting us back 10 years with each coup, costing us billions of dollars in lost income and opportunity, causing the loss of thousands of jobs each time they pull one off and creating a high level of stress and hardship for the
citizens of Fiji, in the name of some ‘misguided cause?” .
“Answer this question honestly and without malice or anger, and we can move closer to developing a revised structure that will help us improve the level of professionalism and discipline in our forces and with it the ability to reject any overtures by disgruntled politicians and trouble makers to replace the ballot box, with bullets.” It is a fact that we once had a proud military, whose international standing was second to none. But it has lost its way since 1987 and it needs to regain its former position of honor and pride among its own people first, before expanding its reach internationally.
It needs to regain its former glory with its people first, so all those service men and women who made the ultimate sacrifice, did not die in vain. Australian based local academic who is also a drafter of the 1997 Constitution Dr Brij Lal
Said: “We have to accept the reality that the military is here to stay.” “How to engage them in the governance of the country is an important challenge.
“Perhaps they could be invited as observers on the various sector committees of particular concern to them so that they are able to observe the process of decision making from the start rather than be at the receiving end of decisions which affect their lives. “There are a number of countries around the world where this is done. This is not the perfect democratic solution, but it is a practical one in the circumstances. Pretending that the military does not exist will not solve anything.”
It is a fact that we really need our military, but its role must be clearly defined.
There was a great confusion about the real role of the military as enshrined under the 1997 Constitution. The confusion has arisen because of the difference in interpretation of section 112 of the constitution between the military and the ousted Laisenia Qarase government. According to ousted Prime Minister Qarase the RFMF had misinterpreted section 112 of the 1997 Constitution. Section 112 of the 1997 Constitution specifically states the RFMF has no role in the running of the government. The argument from the RFMF is that section 112 (1) of the Constitution which states:
“The military forces called the Republic of Fiji Military Forces established by the Constitution of 1990 continues in existence.” Their interpretation is that section 94 (1) establishes the RFMF and it is only proper that Section 94 (3) automatically comes into existence because it defines its role. Section 94 (3) states - “It shall be the overall responsibility of the Republic of Fiji Military Forces to ensure all the time is the security, defence and well-being of Fiji and its people.” Surely there is some merit that section 112 (1) of the 1997 Constitution incorporates section 94 (1) and (3) of the 1990 Constitution. We must be mindful of the fact that section 120(2) of the constitution confers original jurisdiction of the High Court in any matter arising under the constitution or involving its interpretation.
It is a fact we really need a clear and defined role of the military clearly stipulated for the public to see. We’re so confused with the interpretations by the lawyers of both sides and it was sad the matter was about to be referred to the High Court when the bloodless coup happened. Mr Beddoes’ preference is for a shift of emphasis in our military from its current responsibility to that of Maritime Surveillance. “After all, we are a maritime nation and our 300 islands are scattered over the vast Pacific, and many of our people remain on isolated islands and the ocean plays a big part in our daily life.
“We should beef up our patrol vessels and establish bases in Lau, Taveuni, Levuka, Labasa, Taveuni, Yasawa, Lautoka and Suva, and expand the role to include surveillance of our 200 mile economic zone and with vessels and personnel located at key centers around Fiji, they can respond more rapidly to any sea or air emergencies.” He said government must retrain the bulk of our army, to handle Coast Guard and surveillance type work, and set up each base with about 50 personnel. The balance of the military be retired and set up as ‘special’ interna-tional peacekeepers, and which ever country seeks a contingent from Fiji, they supply the arms, packs, vehicles etc and they are rotated on an ongoing basis, but as International Peace Keepers
“I think this type of shift can create a more useful role for our disciplined forces in our society, which is more relevant to our needs while providing income opportunities as peacekeepers on an ongoing basis.” While the NCBBF is still working on the draft People’s Charter, it is now public knowledge, the military will be the guardian of the Charter. It will be very interesting to see the role of the military enshrined in the charter. However, with the military to still play an active role in the country, we must not forget members were involved in the illegal removal of a democratically elected government and the act is treasonous. It is a fact they want immunity and the proof is that promulgation had already been made by the President on the matter. However, this promulgation can be challenged in court.
With the current political situation we’re in at the moment, Dr Lal has a suggestion on immunity. “The procedure could be as follows. As a part of the consensus to lead the country forward, an independent, inclusive forum, which is genuinely autonomous and impartial, enjoys the confidence of all the principal stakeholders, could look at the immunity issue. If they decide, through consensus, that immunity be given. a provision to that effect could be inserted into the constitution by agreement. That will be the constitutional way out.
Some conditions could be attached to the immunity, but that will be a matter for negotiation.” It is a fact that granting granting immunity could be considered unfair to those in the past who have suffered the consequences for their action.
But the situation is different now. The military is in control. The future of parliamentary democracy in Fiji is at stake. The immunity is a risky option, but as a matter of practical politics, it should be considered. And after that, serious thought should be given to what role the military should play in a democratic set up. Do we need a military of the size that we have?
These are all matters for negotiation and discussion. But the urgent matter is to reassure the military that there will be no retribution and that some way will be found to involved the military in national decision making.

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