PACIFIC ISLANDS REPORT
Pacific Islands Development Program/East-West Center
DETERIORATING SITUATION IN FIJI ALARMS REGION
By Tupuola Terry Tavita.
We could imagine that several commanders in the vast military forces of Papua New Guinea – and to a lesser extent Solomon Islands and Vanuatu and even Tonga – are now eyeing developments in Fiji closely.
No doubt it is giving leaders like Sir Michael Somare some sleepless nights. If it could happen in Fiji, why not other Pacific countries with armies of their own?
What is particularly worrying is the ease by which the Fiji military wrested power from civilian government in December of 2006.
Since, coup leader Commodore Frank Bainimarama has gone about completely dismantling the wheels of democratic governance, constitutional government, the civil service, the rule of law and media freedom in his country. Militarising the public service by instituting top army brass in key government positions.
There are also now reports that the regime is bumping up its intelligence with technical help from outside. Tapping phones, monitoring internet usage and staking out suspected dissenters. They’re spying and profiling ordinary people – a state practice common in Nazi Germany and at the height of Communist Russia.
The crackdown on the media and what can be reported is quite disturbing.
Newsrooms are now occupied territory. There is no more independent media in Fiji. The Fiji Times – long the bastion of public opinion and the benchmark for independent news reporting in the region– now publishes only what the military wants you to read.
Last week, Commodore Frank Bainimarama – through the military-controlled Fiji Broadcasting Corporation Limited – invited Pacific leaders to the four-member Melanesian Spearhead Group, set to meet in Nadi next month.
An official invitation, reportedly, has yet to be received by our (Samoa’s) Prime Minister’s office.
But it raises the question, what exactly is Fiji’s role in the MSG? And what authority does the commodore have to invite elected leaders and convene leaders’ meetings?
Already suspended from the Pacific Islands Forum, should not Fiji under the Bainimarama regime also be given its marching orders from the MSG?
This column understands that several Melanesian leaders are uncomfortable – and have quietly conveyed their discomfort to other Pacific leaders – with Bainimarama’s actions and his blatant exploitation of the Melanesian Spearhead name.
Especially – as we also understand – the MSG was borne out of the Forum in 1993. It was established only to facilitate trade and contact between Melanesian countries.
But Bainimarama’s intentions are quite clear. He is soliciting support – and some legitimacy – from Pacific Islands neighbours while Fiji continues to be isolated from the international community. It is also a knee jerk reaction to tough trade, diplomatic and travel sanctions imposed by New Zealand and Australia who continue to be critical of the military junta. Put simply, Bainimarama’s looking for friends.
Just last week Bainimarama issued a broadside on Forum Secretary General Tuiloma Neroni Slade accusing the former International Criminal Court judge of misreporting to Forum leaders of the "real situation" in Fiji. He also accuses Tuiloma of conspiring to relocate Forum headquarters out of Suva.
An unassuming man, Tuiloma has not responded to the Commodore’s comments. But we would vouch that he is the last person in the Pacific whose integrity can ever be questioned. Especially by the likes of coup-leader Commodore Frank Bainimarama.
The general understanding is that the headquarters should be moved from Suva as the core principles why the Forum was set up are no longer practiced under the military regime there. It has nothing to with Tuiloma.
If Bainimarama wants the Forum headquarters to remain in Suva then he must step down, hold free and fair elections, and return the army to the barracks. That’s what the world’s been telling him the last four years.
In other news, American Samoa governor Togiola Tulafono is in full support of Samoa’s criticism of the military government in Fiji.
"Commodore Bainimarama should leave government and return Fiji to democratic governance," said Togiola in a recent interview with this publication.
The Fiji military, the governor said, should be disbanded and instead, set up state military policing – which is the practice in the U.S.
"I think having state authorities is the only way you can have a balance in military power.
"That a single person does not have a stranglehold on military power."
The governor’s views on Fiji are in complete contrast to that of congressman Faleomavaega Eni Hunkin who favours a softly-softly approach to the military regime there.
The congressman – who has met twice with the Commodore in Suva – wants more ‘understanding’ of the the "unique political situation" in Fiji.
Samoa’s Prime Minister Tuilaepa however, has been blunt on his views of the coup-installed regime. Particularly of militarisation of the public service, the crackdown on the media, the disbanding of Parliament and the Commodore’s dismissal of the judiciary. And Bainimarama installing himself as Prime Minister.
Tupuola Terry Tavita is editor of the Samoan government newspaper Savali.
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