Fiji Prime Minister Laisenia Qarase

News Release

Address to the Nation
Suva, Fiji
November 1, 2006

FIJI PRIME MINISTER ADDRESSES NATION

Good evening my fellow citizens.

I address you this evening about events involving the Republic of Fiji Military Forces that are causing so much anxiety, uncertainty, and fear in our land. This is related specifically to public threats by the Commander of the Army to overthrow the elected Government of Fiji.

This is the Government I was given the mandate to lead in the May General Election.

I can affirm that the Police are continuing their investigations into the threats by the Commander. I expect that the Army will respect the authority of the Police and will fully cooperate in these investigations.

Now, over the past few months, I have exercised great patience in my attitude to the various statements by the Commander, condemning the Government for a whole variety of reasons.

Following developments yesterday and renewed threats as reported in the media, I called meetings this morning of the National Security Council and the Multi-Party Cabinet, comprising SDL and Fiji Labour Party Ministers.

I now wish to explain the actions we are taking.

To begin with, let me take you back to a meeting convened earlier this year by His Excellency the Vice President, in his capacity as Acting President. I attended that meeting along with the Commander of the RFMF. Its purpose was to create a positive and open atmosphere for dialogue on issues of concern raised by the Military. I readily agreed to this because I have always favoured this approach to solving problems. It is consistent with the good-faith principles called for by our Constitution for settling differences.

There was also agreement that the Commander would not make public statements without clearing them first with the Prime Minister. I met with the Commander under these arrangements. The problem that immediately arose was he expected me to virtually follow his orders.

As Head of a democratically elected Government I could not do that.

It wasn’t long before the Commander again began to go public, in breach of the agreement he had reached with the Acting President and me.

To justify this, he attempted to argue that the Army had a broad mandate to ensure the well being of Fiji and its people. This, he claimed, had been transferred to the 1997 Constitution from the 1990 document.

The prevailing view among legal experts, however, is that the Commander’s interpretation is wrong.

Our present Constitution legitimises the existence of the RFMF, but not the broadened responsibilities given to it in the 1990 Constitution. In other words, the constitutional and statutory authority of the RFMF is strictly confined to maintaining and safeguarding national security within a democracy.

The Cabinet, therefore, decided to seek clarification from the Supreme Court on the role of the Military. This was a reasonable position to take, given the circumstances. It also reflected our desire for a conclusive legal finding. The Constitution allows for this procedure.

The Minister of Home Affairs was asked to consult with the RFMF to establish joint terms of reference for the approach to the Supreme Court.

The Army did not respond.

And then, in view of the Commander’s continuing verbal attacks on the Government, the Cabinet decided it would go ahead with its proposal for a legal opinion from the Supreme Court. It, therefore, asked His Excellency the President to refer the issue to the Court, in accordance with the Constitution.

For the Government and the RFMF, the sensible course was to await the clarification by the Court.

Unfortunately, instead of doing this, the Commander and the Army have launched a campaign of threats to force the Government to resign.

The Police, as I have said, have now started an independent inquiry into the Commander’s threats to remove the lawfully elected Government of Fiji.

The Commander makes many untruthful allegations against the Government. He regularly expresses unsubstantiated accusations about widespread corruption. My position on this is very clear. The Government has taken a strong stand against corruption. Draft legislation to combat this is being prepared. In the meantime, the law enforcement authorities must be allowed to do their duty when allegations are made. Those making allegations against the Government must provide evidence to the Police.

When they do not do this there is a suspicion that these accusations are just a cover for a deeper agenda to overthrow a democratically-elected Government.

We must ask whether the Commander is being used or influenced by unscrupulous people opposed to certain items of legislation introduced by the Government. Is the Commander being manipulated by those with a certain political agenda?

If this is so, those involved are acting to serve their own purposes.

I declare emphatically that there is absolutely no question of me resigning in response to the current situation, or of my Government stepping down.

We have the constitutional authority and the support of the people to rule now and for the next five years.

Ladies and gentlemen, the Army is an important institution in Fiji. It is an agency of the State which has won international respect and acclaim for its service to international peacekeeping.

Whoever is Commander should be ever vigilant in protecting its integrity and reputation, and ensuring it follows the rule of law.

It should be a matter of serious concern to us all that officers who have stood for the professional values of loyalty and legality, are being pushed aside and relieved of their appointments.

Now let me repeat, that the Government I lead was legitimately elected in May this year.

I was constitutionally appointed to form a Government by the President, acting in his own judgement.

His Excellency determined that I had the confidence of the House of Representatives. That confidence remains. It enabled me to appoint Fiji’s first Multi-Party Cabinet, comprising elected representatives of Fiji’s main communities. The Multi-Party Cabinet, as the executive arm of Government, is proceeding with an agenda that reflects the wishes of all the people of Fiji.

Members of the Cabinet together contributed to a new Strategic Development Plan that was recently endorsed at a National Economic Summit. The Plan provides a clear course and targets for Fiji’s growth in the next five years.

On Friday we will be announcing our 2007 Budget setting out our spending priorities and goals for the country in the next 12 months.

These policy and development initiatives are what we were elected to do. As part of the Government’s response to current events, I have today, with the authority of Cabinet, requested the Minister for Fijian Affairs Lands and Provincial Development, to consult with the Chairperson of the Great Council of Chiefs on convening a special meeting of the GCC next week.

It is crucially important for us to seek the advice of the GCC because the legislative measures the Commander says he is opposed to are being undertaken with the specific authorisation of the Council.

Furthermore, the GCC is a repository of chiefly wisdom and authority. I am sure you all agree there is a role for it in assisting to resolve the current crisis.

In 1987 and 2000 it demonstrated its ability to deal with the fundamental issues of peace and stability.

I give you now the same undertaking I have given to His Excellency the President. I have informed His Excellency that I am ready to engage in further discussions with the Commander on the issues that are of on-going concern to the Military. I will take part in such dialogue with an open mind, with a view to finding resolutions that serve the best interests of Fiji.

Having said, that I must also stress that the Army is under the control and authority of the elected Government.

The rule of law must prevail. No one is above the law, or has the right to interfere with the legal processes.

Fiji has previously experienced the tragedy and turmoil of illegal armed intervention in the business of the State. The last time this happened was in 2000.

One factor of compelling importance for the people of Fiji to be aware of, is that the international environment today is totally different from what it was in 1987 and 2000. The international community is now more proactive in protecting democratic governments when the rule of law and constitutionality are threatened or overturned. Our international friends are already coming out very strongly in support of the maintenance of democracy and constitutional rule in Fiji.

I have today received messages from the Governments of Australia, NZ and the United States. They too have expressed strong support for our elected Government. They have called on the Military to respect democracy and the rule of law. They are urging the Military to confine themselves to their proper role in a democracy.

If the Army fails to do this there will be dire consequences for Fiji. For a start, our tourism industry, our biggest direct employer and earner of foreign exchange, would be severely damaged. Thousands of jobs would be lost and ordinary people would suffer.

Following the crisis of 2000, the members of the Pacific Island Forum adopted the Biketawa Declaration. This Declaration provides the mandate for intervention by member governments at the invitation of the lawful authority in a Forum country affected by crisis.

Let me issue a warning, as well, that if the democratically elected Government of Fiji is overthrown, there is every likelihood this would severely prejudice the continued participation by Fiji in international peacekeeping operations.

I very much hope, then, that those in the Military, will keep in mind the catastrophic consequences of the threats that are being made against the elected Government of the people of Fiji.

I remain confident that sound judgement and wisdom will prevail about the overriding importance of the rule of law. I call on the churches and people to pray for our country.

Let us show the world that we have the ability and the will to solve our internal difficulties, as we have done before.

God bless you all, and God bless Fiji.

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