Bainimarama vs. Kotobalavu – Who is Right?

Postdate: 24/ 03/ 2004

(Published in the Daily Post 23/03/04)

Joji Kotobalavu’s statement in response to Commander Frank Bainimarama’s description of him as a “threat to national security and “power hungry” DP22/03/04) has again exposed the rift that remains between the FMF and the Government. There are parts of Mr. Kotobalavu’s statement that need to be critically reviewed in historical context if we are to understand why the Commander has made this dramatic criticism of him. First of all, Mr. Kotobalavu was obviously behind the attempt by the officials of the Ministry of Home Affairs not to reappoint the Commander for reasons that Mr. Kotobalavu himself needs to explain to the public. Commander Bainimarama has said Mr. Kotobalavu and officials in the Ministry of Home Affairs have been pursuing a “political agenda”. It was this apparent bureaucrat’s conspiracy that caused the rift between the FMF Commander and the Government. Commander Bainimarama had made clear publicly in June 2003 that he wanted to serve another five years. Had Kotobalavu, Waqanisau and his Deputies respected this expression, there would have been no rift with the Government. Obviously advisers of the Government such as Mr. Kotobalavu wanted a new Commander who would play to their Agenda for the granting of pardons to the soldiers who had overthrown the elected government and mutinied against the Commander. That would have made it easier for the President to grant pardons to politicians and others non-soldiers who had instigated the Coup. They have failed on this front and now Mr. Kotobalavu calls on the Commander to change his attitude and work with him. For what I wonder! Last year Kotobalavu and Attorney General Qoriniasi Bale were responsible for giving wrong legal advice to President Ratu Josefa Iloilo, that he had the legal power outside of the Constitution to grant pardons to soldiers. This was apparently part of a twin campaign by members of the Assembly of Christian Churches, led by Ratu Epeli Kanaimawi, to have reconciliation between the soldiers who broke the law, the Commander and the victims, so that the Court Martials could be stopped. This also failed because Commander Bainimarama went directly to Government House and advised the President not to accept the Attorney General’s legally wrong advice. But now, Kotobalavu with his unprofessional and personal sense of political loyalty allegedly has recommended that Ratu Kanaimawi be appointed Fiji’s representative at the United Nations. Mr. Kotobalavu seems to have been responsible for other recommendations for Ambassadorial appointments that have rewarded people for their controversial activities during the events of 2000.

These appointments were Ratu Tevita Momoedonu to Japan, Isikia Savua to the UN, Ratu Inoke Kubuabola to Papua New Guinea and Jeremaia Waqanisau to China. He was also (as reported in the newspapers) behind the attempt to persuade Frank Bainimarama to accept a diplomatic posting in 2002, which he refused. Commander Bainimarama has legitimate grounds to be upset with officials such as Kotobalavu who attempt to hide behind the skirts of politicians whilst trying to scheme, conspire and give advice for actions that breach the law and the norms of professional civil service conduct. In his correspondence with the CCF, Mr. Kotobalavu had accused CCF of being “too legalistic” and inflexible in arguing for upholding of the Constitution and the practical implications of the Judgments of our Courts. It is symptomatic of the attitude and beliefs that inform his advice to those in power, that when the Constitution and what the words of the law mean in spirit and practice are inconvenient to those who hold political power, then the law should be ignored. This is well exemplified by his advice to Prime Minister Qarase to offer 14 token “Ministries” with no responsibilities to the Fiji Labour Party. He is partly responsible for the continuation of Constitutional litigations on issues that should not be settled by the Courts but by political leaders, through negotiation and agreement.

Mr. Kotobalavu also referred to his visit to see the Commander in 2000 after the seizure of the Parliament, to advise him about the Affirmative Action Plan for Fijians and Rotumans that the Interim Government would introduce. Mr. Kotobalavu should have known that the Interim Government had no legal authority to introduce new Policies, like an elected Government, for this is not the role of an Interim Government. What Mr. Kotobalavu neglects to say was that his presentation to the Commander and his officers made significant modifications to the Nine Point Plan of the SVT Government. These basically amounted to bribery of Fijians – the free distribution of farm implements and the like to Fijian and Rotumans who had supported George Speight’s actions. These were the ideas of Kotobalavu and some other unknown civil servants responsible for drawing up the Affirmative Action policies platform of the Interim Government. These policies were ruled illegal by the Court of Appeal in the Chandrika Prasad case. His advice on the illegal affirmative action programmes led directly to unlawful spending of $16 million by the Ministry of Agriculture on free distribution of boats, engines, farm implements etc to voters during the General Election campaign of the SDL Party in 2001. The Police need to investigate Kotobalavu and other officials of the PM’s Office and the PSC for their role in the formulation and implementation of this illegal scheme. Mr. Kotobalavu also said he was asked by the FMF to prepare a roadmap back to Parliamentary democracy. His advice is certainly not the one that the country has followed with the support of the international community. His roadmap was for the Interim Government to stay in power illegally for at least three years, draft a new Constitution to be decreed and then have a General Election under a totally communal Electoral System. This after he had been a “champion” of the 1997 Constitution when he was adviser to Prime Minister Rabuka from 1993 to 1999. Mr. Kotobalavu defines his responsibility as one to ensure unity and harmony amongst all arms of the Government, including the Military. He does not recognize that his advice and actions, were often lacking in the observance of Good Governance principles and legality.

They also smacked of political opportunism, as Bainimarama has observed, and have in practice caused divisions and massive corruption in Government. Mr. Kotobalavu has called on the Commander to account to the public why he had abrogated the Constitution and supported the removal of President Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara. Bainimarama has pointed out (DP 22/03/04) that Kotobalavu had personally expressed his support to him for his actions. He seems to have convenient memory lapses. He is the last person in Government to call for such accountability given his key role in disastrous events for which he has not been held accountable. In any case, Mr. Kotobalavu should read the Commander’s affidavit in the Chandrika Prasad case in which he has explained the reasons for his decisions. The Court of Appeal did accept his explanation as important evidence that assisted the Court in reaching the conclusions to uphold the 1997 Constitution as still alive and effective. Commander Bainimarama publicly accepted the ruling of the Courts whereas in contrast, Joji Kotobalavu was actively involved in advising the Interim Government on how to evade the implementation of the Chandrika Prasad judgment. He was probably behind the Prime Minister’s insincere Statement read out by Ratu Epeli Nailatikau in the Court of Appeal promising that the Interim Government would comply with the Court Judgment. Mr. Kotobalavu says “The PM had asked me to come back to his office to help him return Fiji to democracy”. He always makes the point that he was asked and did not seek the position of head of the Prime Minister’s Office. Well, there was another option open to him, to have declined the invitation. (There is a former employee at the PM’s Office that I know and he knows that declined the invitation in June 2000). Kotobalavu did not because he believes he is so indispensable. “Power hungry” is the word according to Bainimarama. Mr. Kotobalavu has even challenged Bainimarama to make a submission to the Public Service Commission to terminate his contract. Obviously, he can say this with confidence because he knows that the Public Services Commission does not have the guts to do that.

It is not for Bainimarama to ask the PSC but rather for Kotobalavu to decide if there are any good reasons why he should remain in that position. Is he going to say again now that the Prime Minister wants him to stay?

Rev. Akuila Yabaki CCF Executive Director

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