Days before the coup Bainimarama was “due to be arrested”: Deposed minister
11/3/2008… This is the second part of VICTOR LAL’s article
The deposed Minister for Home Affairs and Immigration, Josefa Bole Vosanibola, in his sworn affidavit of 29 March 2007, claimed that he was advised by the Fiji Police that Commodore Frank Bainimarama was due to be arrested for offences relating to his constant threats to take over the SDL-FLP multi-party government of Laisenia Qarase. Vosanibola claimed that before the 2006 coup he had also advised Bainimarama be sent on leave with full pay to enable the Commodore to undergo trauma counselling but his advice was not acted on by Government House.
As I have indicated in the previous instalments, if one were to do a thorough critique of the recent High Court judgment, one has to have the evidence of the ousted government, which is woefully lacking in the judgment. What we do have is the following as explained by the High Court in Qarase and Others v Bainimiarama and Others, which notes the following sequence of events.
According to the Fiji High Court, for the previous 18 months or so onwards prior to 5th December 2006, the military and the Government of the day were descending into a relationship of increasing ill will and conflict. Matters grew worse following the formation of the new Government in May 2006. Public and private exchanges between the Commander of the RFMF on the one hand and the Prime Minister on the other were both hostile and acrimonious.
In late October 2006 the RFMF issued a confidential paper with a series of requests to the Government of Mr Qarase. In the paper the RFMF requested a “public declaration by the Government that the events of 2000 was illegal.”
There had been a civilian coup in Fiji in 2000. The military wanted the Ministry of Reconciliation to undertake an education programme to inform the public of this fact, and the removal from public office of all those who were involved and implicated. It wanted this education so that the people would respect the rule of law and understand the standard of leadership required of future leaders.
The army wanted the withdrawal of 3 bills, the Reconciliation Tolerance and Unity Bill, the Qoliqoli Bill and the Land Tribunal Bill. It stated the bills were unconstitutional, controversial and extremist in nature, and would “not bring forth peace and stability that we seek as a young nation.” It was said the bill had the potential to create conflicts in the indigenous race. The bills were “deviously constructed to capture the minds of the Fijians that it is ideal for them. In reality, it is a quest to buy votes for political expediency and supremacy.”
It wanted the investigation against the Commander completely withdrawn. The investigations by the Commissioner of Police were viewed as an attempt to weaken the institution, and continuation of the May 19th 2000 plot by rebels in turn continued by the SDL Government.
It sought the termination of the contract of the Commissioner of Police, Mr Andrew Hughes. It claimed Mr Hughes had compromised his position under political pressure. Foreign influences had been at work. “His office is no longer neutral and impartial in handling state affairs. Hughes unfortunately played a part” it said “in the strategic plan to remove the Commander RFMF in his absence.”
It alleged that Hughes was “the front of the Australian Government in its ground strategy of neo-colonialism, weakening the RFMF and (had) the potential to cause instability in Fiji.” The RFMF sought his immediate removal, so as to restore trust and co-operation between the RFMF and the Police.
It sought reconsideration of the arming of the Police Tactical Response Unit. This was considered an unhealthy development where Rules of Engagement would not be clear. It was stated this was another instance of foreign influence, along with Australian police uniforms, all said to be part of the Australian strategy of total domination over the country.
The Army said there was to be no foreign military or police intervention, and pointed out that it was a clear violation of independence and sovereignty. The RFMF was intact and strong. The Foreign Minister’s statement adopting the Biketawa Declaration was an option neither advised nor acceptable. It was rather a catalyst to instability. The RFMF sought the removal of the commercial arm of the Native Land Trust Board. The NLTB must focus on its core functions and secure the medium and long term stability of land leases.
There were long standing issues the RFMF had with the Ministry of Home Affairs which were neither responded to nor addressed. These concerned force structure, non-payment of allowances [JE8], Ration allowances, promotions, and the development of operational relationships with other forces.
Finally the RFMF stated the greatest threat to Fiji’s national and economic security was “lack of good governance under the present cloak of democracy.” It was quite wrong to blame long standing economic woes on the military’s stand off with Government. “Under that cloak, corruption and abuse of office, economic downturn and uncontrolled debts, foreign influence and discriminatory policies are becoming the order of the day. These have slowly destroyed the nation and enslaved the people and the country to a poor state.”
On Friday 27th October 2006 the Prime Minister indicated the Government would not resign. On 3rd November 2006 the Commissioner of Police announced that the Commander would be investigated for sedition.
Efforts were made through the Great Council of Chiefs to try to resolve the impasse. A meeting was also organized to take place in Wellington, New Zealand on 29th November 2006 between the Prime Minister and the Commander. They met as arranged. On Saturday 2nd December 2006 a meeting took place in Suva between the President, the Vice-President, the Commander, and later between the Vice-President and the Prime Minister. Meanwhile on the same day Foreign Ministers of the Pacific Islands Forum met in Sydney.
In the early evening of Monday 4th December 2006 the Prime Minister came by car to attend the President. Eventually he came away from the front gates of Government House without seeing him. On the Prime Minister’s view he was treated discourteously by the soldiers on duty. By the morning of Tuesday 5th December 2006 the RFMF had taken control of the streets of Suva. The Commander assumed executive authority of the State. The High Court went on to cite at length Bainimarama’s takeover speech and the actions of the Great Council of Chiefs.
But Vosanibola, in his affidavit, painted a very different state of affairs. He said that as a result of escalating indications towards the end of 2006 that Bainimarama had virtually committed himself and the RFMF to take over Government almost at any cost, he was left as the Minister responsible with no option but to recommend and advice the President under section 112(2) of the Constitution to discipline Bainimarama by suspending him while investigations into his seditious statements and threats were fully, fairly and properly investigated. “The President approved this course of action but reportedly countermanded it under pressure from Bainimarama,” Vosanibola said.
In the same affidavit he respectably placed on record that his, “Ministry firmly believed throughout that given the moody, arrogant and disrespectful attitude exhibited by Bainimarama could have been controlled and the takeover of Government avoided through a firm decision by the President to discipline Bainimarama effectively, including the various sanctions we had recommended ranging from sending him on leave with full pay for trauma counselling, suspension, termination of contract or dismissal”.
Vosanibola deponed that based on all information and advice he received during his term as Minister for Home Affairs and Immigration of the Qarase Government, he was and (still am) firmly of the view that without Bainimarama’s leadership there would have been no coup in Fiji, and it was not necessary to overthrow a lawfully elected Government for the purpose of remedying what he was aggrieved about. “I therefore conclude that Bainimarama already had a fixation from as early as 2002 which simply gathered intensity in later years to take over the Qarase Government when he considered that the time was right and there was in his mind a good excuse to do so,” Vosanibola said.
From the point of view of order and security in the nation in the weeks leading up to the coup, Vosanibola said there was relative peace and calm in the country, and the only threat to national security and instability in Fiji was the fixation in the minds of Bainimarama himself and some of his followers in the RFMF that they must take over Government. I was also advised by the Police that he (Bainimarama) was due to be arrested for offences relating to his constant threats to take over Government”.
According to Vosanibola’s affidavit, his own assessment based on all information which were made available to him upon assuming office as the Minister responsible for the disciplined forces (the RFMF and the Police Force), he concluded that the difficulties which developed between the RFMF and the Government up to the end of 2004 focused on a handful of issues which gained increasing intensity and notoriety as the media progressively orchestrated them with the willing participation of Bainimarama as military commander.
The deposed Home Affairs Minister summarized these issues as including the following: (a) Bainimarama had invited and strongly supported Qarase to lead the Caretaker Civilian Government after he (Bainimarama) had purported to abrogate the 1997 Constitution on 29 May 2000 and had assumed executive authority by requiring the then President to “step aside”. For this reasons Bainimarama has since frequently publicly claimed responsibility for bringing stability to the nation following George Speight’s attempted coup of 19 May 200 (the Speight coup) and, consequently, for bringing Qarase’s government into existence.
(b) Bainimarama has therefore also often claimed publicly and in the media that the Qarase Government owed him (Bainimarama) its existence. Bainimarama’s public outbursts therefore often focused on his expectations that the Qarase Government will not do anything that Bainimarama and those who support him in the leadership of the RFMF did not agree with or like.
(c) Following the attempt on his life in the attempted mutiny at the Suva military camp on 2nd November, 2000 by his own Counter-revolution Warfare Unit (CRW) rebel soldiers (the QEB mutiny), Bainimarama publicly declared his commitment to bring all those implicated in the George Speight attempted coup and the QEB mutiny to justice. Bainimarama’s frequent outbursts regarding this commitment became so intense that many began to interpret his public statements thereon as amounting to an obsession for revenge instead of just pursuing justice.
(d) Bainimarama’s public statements began to show his frustration over his claim of slow progress in the investigations, prosecution and trial of those implicated in the Speight Coup. The investigation and trial of soldiers implicated in the attempted mutinies were being conducted by and controlled under military law before general court martial.
(e) On 1 March 2001 the Fiji Court of appeal declared in its judgment in the case of Chandrika Prasad v Attorney-General that the 1997 Constitutio had not been validly abrogated by Bainimarama’s intervention of 29 May 2000.
(f) In the political chaos which followed this ruling, and after considering all legal and constitutional options available for taking Fiji back to normalcy and constitutional democracy, the President preferred to formally dissolve Parliament so that a general election could be held later in 2001.
(g) Bainimarama’s public statements during that period showed his strong opposition against the return to power of the Chaudhry-led FLP Government which he regarded as a serious threat to national security, and he advocated his firm support for the immediate holding of the general elections as the best way forward for the restoration of democracy to and for Fiji.
(h) In the political campaigns and preparations for the general elections that followed, Bainimarama’s public statements could barely camouflage his disappointment that Qarase’s political party supporters included persons who were publicly implicated in the staging of the Speight Coup, despite public explanations that only those disqualified under the Constitution can be forced out of active politics by way of participation in parliamentary elections.
(i) It appeared from his public statements thereafter that this was the principal issue which marked the origin of Bainimarama’s diminishing confidence in and support for Qarase and the Qarase Government, that is to say, on the ground that the SDL-led Qarase Government appeared supportive of those implicated in the Speight Coup. Bainimarama’s public outbursts and opposition against Qarase’s SDL government in the years to follow appeared to revolve around this central issue.
(j) As highlighted in the media coverage, Bainimarama’s concerns and opposition of the Qarase Government varied over time depending on issues which attracted his attention, but they especially included the following:
(i) his belief that the Qarase Government was planning to remove him from the position of Commander when his contract was due to expire in early 2004, because he was an obstacle to the speedy completion of the investigations, prosecution and trial of those implicated in the 2000 coup, and he constantly ignored the Police explanations that their investigations were progressing well within the parameters of evidence made available to them by the public and without any interference whatsoever from Government;
(ii) his belief and allegation that the Qarase Government was interfering with police investigations into and the prosecution and trial of those implicated in the Speight Coup; and this was illustrated by his threat made to the Cabinet Subcommittee on National Security (NSC) at one of its meetings in April 2003 that Bainimarama intended to “come down and complete what he started in 2000”, if Government interfered with these investigations, prosecutions and trial of those implicated in the Speight Coup:
(iii) his refusal to respect or heed the decision made by the President to reduce the severity of penalties imposed on soldiers convicted of mutiny and other related offences at the Labasa Military Camp (the Labasa mutiny) shortly after the Speight Coup, after the President considered, on advice from the then Minister for Home Affairs, that these sentences appeared grossly incompatible with sentences earlier meted out by the Military Court Martial for soldiers convicted of identical offences during the QEB mutiny:
(iv) his outburst against Government in relation to the surcharge actions taken against him by the Minister of Finance for unauthorised excessive expenditure by the RFMF under his control;
(v) his outbursts against Government’s delay in ratifying the Immunity Decree he initially promulgated in 2000, under his assumed executive authority to grant immunity to loyal soldiers in relation to their actions which may otherwise amount to criminal or civil wrongs during and following the Speight Coup;
(vi) his outbursts against the Government’s proposal to introduce a legislation for the promotion of reconciliation, tolerance and unity amongst victims and victimizers in the Speight Coup, because he believed that this was an attempt to free or frustrate the conviction of those implicated or those already imprsion[ed] in connection with that coup;
(vii) his outburst against the Government proposal to introduce a legislation to confer on qoliqoli owners the proprietary interests in land within their customary fishing (qoliqoli) areas;
(viii) his outbursts against the Government proposal to introduce legislation for the purpose of inquiring into long-standing claims by native landowners of their original ownership of native land which they lost through alleged fraudulent or dubious means;
(ix) his action in marginalizing or forcing out the RFMF some senior military officers who did not support and had advised him against the constitutionality and legality of his constant threats and plan to take over a lawfully elected government, including the Qarase Government;
(x) his firm belief bordering on an obsession that the Qarase Government must be removed, unless it submitted to his various demands;
(xi) his public outbursts against the investigation of himself or soldiers in the RFMF who were accused of criminal conduct outside the boundaries of carrying out lawful military orders;
Bainimarama’s outbursts, Vosanibola claimed, as point (k) then became more aggressive against Government regarding certain political politicise of the Government which he disagreed with, despite wide local and international condemnation of his deliberately involving the RFMF in politics and Government policies. Vosanibola continued: He (Bainimarama) was frequently quoted as reminding the Government and the nation for bringing stability to the nation following the Speight Coup, and for bringing the Qarase Government into existence. He therefore frequently threatened that he would “take out” Government, if he wishes and views were ignored by Government.
(l) Bainimarama’s outbursts then shifted to his open criticisms of Government policies, including administrative policies concerning the Miliatry as well as some political policies of Government.
(m) Bainimarama also constantly ignored Government’s invitation to discuss these issues and areas of discontent with his Minister or the Ministry instead of in the media, and he openly refused to comply with directions issued to him by his Minister, the Prime Minister and even the Vice President in this regard. He also publicly declared that he did not recognize the Minister’s power of control over him or the RFMF.
(n) Bainimarama then started accusing the Qarase Government for being generally corrupt and incompetent and that he intended to take it over.
Vosanibola then deponed that the Government’s reaction to Bainimarama’s outbursts, both privately to him and in response to media claims, was based on the following:
(i) that neither the RFMF nor its leadership has any role in the formulation of administrative and political policies of any Government and that Bainimarama’s public criticisms of these were very misconceived and highly improper;
(ii) that Bainimarama’s continuing insubordinate conduct and open defiance against his Minister, the Prime Minister and the Vice President were constitutionally inexcusable and contrary not only to law, but also to official protocol and to plain cultural decency:
(iii) that Bainimarama’s publicly announced threats to take over Government were completely unjustified, irrational and harmful to Fiji’s political and socio-economic stability and economic development and growth, and attracted severe condemnation from various sectors of the local public as well as the international community, because he was free to follow proper channels of airing his grievances against Government through established lawful channels employed by all other organs of government;
(iv) that Bainimarama’s continuing allegations that the Government was interfering with and delaying the investigations of those implicated in the events of 2000, despite assurances to the contrary by the Commissioner of Police that this was wholly incorrect, baseless and unjustified, was misconceived as explained by a Government Statement issued at the end of 2003 and attached hereto and marked Annexure JBV2:
(v) that Bainimarama’s repeated claims that he put this Government in power, and by implication, he could and would also take it out of power, if it does not perform in accordance with his expectations represented a very serious misconception, since the Government was voted into power instead by the people through general elections held in accordance with the Constitution an the Electoral Act (PS. In the earlier part of his affidavit Vosanibola had disputed charges of vote-rigging etc, pointing to the report of the Australian Electoral Commission and the fact that, it was a matter of public record that only two election petitions for alleged irregularities were filed by the FLP arising out of the 2006 general elections and one was dismissed and the other was withdrawn);
(vi) that his threats to take over Government if it did not withdraw certain legislative proposals it was pursuing through constitutional processes in Parliament and wide consultations among members of the public, were totally contrary to and inconsistent with the requirements of the Constitution and the rule of law and democracy in Fiji:
(vii) that his frequent allegations about alleged corruption within Government were already one of the main concerns of the Qarase Government which constantly issued warnings and notices to both public officials and members of the private sector alike that all allegations of this kind ought to be reported to the Police at once for investigations and prosecution according to law; and,
(viii) that his public outbursts and threats to take over Government was causing serious social, economic and political instability in Fiji and was increasingly becoming the most recognized serious threat to national security in the country.
Vosanibola than commented on efforts to control, and improve, relations with the RFMF and its leadership. He said pursuant to Prime Minister Qarase’s directive to strive to improve relations between Government and the leadership of the RFMF, and given the nature of these strained relations which had developed between the two organs of state in the immediate past three years, he planned to actively promote dialogue between the leadership of the RFMF on the one hand and the leadership of Government on the other through his Ministry and, where and when necessary and possible, with the assistance of the Prime Minister and the Vice President, Ratu Joni Madraiwiwi.
Vosanibola said on 12 January 2005, he invited Bainimarama to his office for their first meeting in his capacity as the new Minister for Homer Affairs and Immigration. “We discussed the need for improving our working relations in the context of our complimentary roles for the security and the maintenance of law and order in Fiji, and the need to meet regularly to discuss issues through official channels instead of through the media. We also agreed that both the Minister of Finance and I would visit the Military camp and facilities with other available Ministers for an understanding of the conditions under which the soldiers worked, and with a view to facilitating improvements through as much financial and other assistance as may be possible within government’s budgetary constraints,” said Vosanibola.
He said subsequently he visited the premises of the RFMF’s Strategic Command Centre at Berkley Crescent at least twice in 2005, and the main military camps at Nabua at least three times after his initial meeting with Bainimarama in early January 2005. On two separate occasions Vosanibola was accompanied by other Ministers. “Bainimarama did not visit me or requested any meeting with me regarding any of his complaints against Government or my Ministry except on one occasion in 2005 when he was part of a joint military and police team which made presentations to me against the Government’s proposed Promotion of Reconciliation, Tolerance and Unity Bill,” said Vosanibola.
He said despite his determination to improve working relations with the RFMF leadership and Bainimarama in particular, he (Vosanibola) quickly realized that both the Qarase Government and him as the responsible Minister were faced with a virtually insurmountable task because it increasingly appeared to the Government, to the National Security Council and to him that “Bainimarama was virtually committed to his mission to take over Government when he could find the right excuse and the right time to do it”.
Moreover, despite Vosanibola’s initial polite and later stern reminders to Bainimarama to refrain from aking public outbursts on matters he ought to first discuss with him as his Minister and/or his Ministry, “Bainimarama continued with his hostile and often arrogant public outbursts and confrontational posturing against the Qarase Government”. Vosanibola gave a long list of issues which he claimed gave rise to this hostile pattern or which Bainimarama allegedly picked on as justification for his public and media outbursts which included, among many others, his concerns of plans to remove or suspend him form the office of Commander of RFMF; his fury over being reported to Police and over Police investigations against him regarding his seditious statements against Government etc, etc.
Vosanibola argued that the manner in which Bainimarama was reacting to these events and issues through his public outbursts convinced “me, and in turn the National Security Council, that Government’s responsibility would be more about finding an effective way of avoiding Bainimarama’s determined efforts to take over Government”. This was when, Vosanibola said he concluded that further dialogue with Bainimarama would be pointless as “he was only interested in this Government submitting to his demands”. According to Vosanibola, “increasingly, during late 2005 and 2006, Bainimarama and his loyal followers within the RFMF were no longer camouflaging their threats to take over Government”. “They started issuing non-negotiable demands to the Prime Minister. These demands were deliberately designed with the knowledge that Government would not be able to comply with them lawfully; and this was to give Bainimarama the excuse to take over Government on the ground that these demands were not met”, he said.
As a result of these developments, as deposed to in the Qarase Affidavit, the Prime Minister and Vosanibola sought a meeting with the President and the Vice President to discuss what appeared to them to be the only way in which “Bainimarama’s obsession to overthrow the Government was to discipline him”. Vosanibola said his earlier advice to establish a Commission of Inquiry into the impasse arising out of these difficulties with the RFMF and its leadership was “stopped by the President on what we believe was the result of pressure from Bainimarama” and “my subsequent advice to send Bainimarama on leave with full pay to enable him to undergo trauma and counselling was not acted on b Government House”.
According to Vosanibola, it had also been the firm belief of his Home Affairs Ministry and him that the firm decision we anticipated from Government House did not come as the President and the Vice President constantly preferred a ‘softer approach’.” Vosanibola concluded by claiming that he was also advised by the Police that Bainimarama was due to be arrested for offences relating to his (Bainimarama’s) constant threats to take voter the Qarase Government.
How did the Government House react to the Vosanibola-Qarase-Bainimarama standoff? And why did two men feel the full brunt and fury of the military after the 5 December 2006 coup: one was thrown out of Fiji and the other was bundled out of the Government House.
To be continued…
Vinaka to blogger Freedom Fighter for posting this. We know its late in the day but it has been a rather hectic Monday for everyone.
The discussion floor is now open bloggers so go for it and dissect Victor Lal’s article to your heart’s content but please keep it relevant and reasonable.