Saturday, November 18, 2006

The commander and his advisers

At a joint conference on professional ethics attended by special advisers to military commanders at Springfield, Virgnia, in January 1999 Dr Michael O Wheeler (Strategic Group) said: “The decisions reached by commanders and the positions they adopt may or may not be influenced by what they hear. Special advisers should have a healthy perspective on this matter. Presumably, however, commanders retain the types of special advisers because they value their opinions and the information they provide which, even when not accepted, may help them sharpen the commanders’ own thinking, focus comprehensively as well as in great detail on the important considerations, and inform judgments on critical issues. The advisers, while not responsible for the final decisions, have a special responsibility to offer advice as carefully and soundly as possible.”

The conflict between the Government and the Republic of Fiji Military Forces is directly linked to the advice given to the commander, Commodore Voreqe Bainimarama. The Minister for Home Affairs, Josefa Vosanibola, speaking in support of the 2007 Budget said in parliament: “The Government sees the impasse and the stand off as arising directly from the continuing assertion of the commander, founded as the Government believes on erroneous advice, that the army has an extensive role to play in the political life of the nation.”

“The assertion of such role by the commander threatens to undermine the rule of law, as do the continuing threats by the commander against the democratically elected government.”The continuous outburst from the camp against the Government raises the question of the quality and qualification of the advisers to the commander. I am not degrading those advisers.I know the advisers to the commander are well qualified and have experience. However, I believe they should do a lot of research before preparing the final draft of advice for the commander. For the advice given to him on the role of the military is the cause of the entire problem. Let us have a look at the role of the military as outlined by the solicitor general Nainendra Singh, one of the legal advisers to the Government, early this year.

“The establishment of the Republic of the Fiji Military Forces is outlined in section 112 of the Constitution. Section 112(1) states that the RFMF as established by the Constitution of 1990 continues in existence. The 1990 Constitution outlined in section 94 the military’s establishment, the appointment of the commander, and the fact that the military has the overall responsibility to ensure the security, defence and well being of Fiji and its people at all times. Much controversy surrounds the interpretation of section 112(1) and whether this section can be construed to mean that section 94 is incorporated into section 112. “Of course, the short answer is that section 94 of the 1990 Constitution has been repealed in its entirety. Therefore essentially, section 94 is not incorporated into section 112 of the 1997 Constitution.

“The provision “….Military Forces established by the Constitution of 1990” could be interpreted as `the retention of the armed forces as an institution’. “Moreover, the provision for the existence of the RFMF lies in Acts of Parliament, and not in the Constitution [as per section 112(4) of the 1997 Constitution].” The commander’s advisers think otherwise.

Because of the advice given to him, the Commander had continuously issued statements against the Government that have threatened the stability of the nation. The Minister of Home Affairs says it has already had disastrous consequences in terms of the international perception of Fiji and in respect of the tourism industry and the economy, which have continued to deteriorate as a consequence of the stand off.

In the tourism industry, as confirmed by the Minister responsible, Tomasi Vuetilovoni, there is a 40 per cent reduction in new bookings. “We run the risk of new bookings virtually drying up, leaving 2007 as one of the worst ever for Fiji tourism - quite a turn around from our target of becoming a billion dollar industry in 2007,” Mr Vuetilovoni told parliament while supporting the 2007 Budget. “Air Pacific, which is already experiencing challenges highlighted earlier, will limp more badly from the 40 per cent reduction in bookings. Forty nine percent or so of foreign exchange contributed by tourism will drastically reduced. The employment of some 45,000 people becomes jeopardised. The millions of dollars of huge investments we have been experiencing are at risk.”

This is another negative impact of the advice given to the commander.Another piece of questionable advice is contained in the documents handed to the Prime Minister. The demands include that the Police Commissioner Andrew Hughes be removed, all the government members involved in the 2000 coup be removed, the Police Tactical Response Team be disbanded and the Reconciliation, Qoliqoli and Land Claims Tribunal Bills be dropped. Did the advisers look at the legal implications of these demands, especially the ones that involve the police? Did they seek advice from outside? Did they feel they were correctly advising the commander to make such demands on the Prime Minister? Did they know that the office of the Commissioner of Police is a constitutional office?

The demands are outside the constitution and surely the Prime Minister is fully aware of this.
On the removal of all government members involved in the 2000 coup, why? The people referred to by the military had been investigated and cleared. Time and again, the military has been harping about some in parliament who were imprisoned for their involvement in 2000, but regained their seat after the releaseAdvisers should be mindful of the fact that the constitution clearly states that an MP who has been sentenced to more than 12 months in prison loses his right to vote and consequently his place in the House of Representatives. Less than 12 months, they did not lose their seatThe two involved here are Ratu Naiqama Lalabalavu and Ratu Josefa Dimuri.

In the debate on the 2006 Budget on November 19, 2005 the Turaga Bale and Tui Cakau said as prisoner number LB3205, he did not regret his actions in assembling with his people of Cakaudrove at the army’s Sukanaivalu Barracks during the 2000 upheavals. “I will live with it without regret or shame because I do not only believe, but I know, I know, I know that what I did then was right because if I did not do anything, then part of my people, who were soldiers at Sukanaivalu Barracks would have been dead,” said Ratu Naiqama. The paramount chief had served his sentence and is now free.

Other advice given to the commander that he can just walk into the Prime Minister’s office and ask him to step aside and for the military to take over is laughable. Did the advisers tell the commander of the legal repercussions of such a move? These advisers are actually working out a ploy for the removal of their own boss through legal means where the blame will not be theirs but the Government’s.The commander should be reminded that his enemies are not outside but within.The commander has worked hard through the ranks to occupy the highest office of the RFMF.

In 2000 his leadership was tested, but his advisers at that time helped him to save the nation and the institution. They have all gone.The advisers should be mindful of the fact that the commander must have a knowledge of, and appreciation for, the legal aspects of the conduct of operations. The commander must be reminded by the advisers that breaches of the law during operations at even the lowest level have the potential to be placed under public scrutiny.They should be reminded that in the modern political and legal environment in which military forces are required to operate the military commander is confronted with an increasing number of legal issues that can affect the successful completion of the military mission.


  1. Given that the Commanders advisers may in fact be supplying him with incorrect advise,does that suggest that the Commander could consequently justify his own actions in implementing the coup , on the basis of that ill advise . Would / could that effectively save him from being charged with treason etc ?

  2. Surely Commander has brains and has ultimate responsibility. Advisors advise, they do not decide. That is for Commander so he bears final responsibility.