Fiji's new military commander will uphold constitution
The new head of Fiji's military insists that he intends to stay out of politics and concentrate on upholding the country's new constitution.
Fiji's new military commander claims that the major responsibility of his forces is to uphold the country's new constitution which he says entails there is no need for another coup
Brigadier-General Mosese Tikoitoga has been promoted to head the Republic of Fiji Military Forces to replace Commodore Frank Bainimarama, who is stepping down to contest the elections.
After taking up the role yesterday in a formal handover ceremony in Suva, Brigadier Tikoitoga spoke to Johnny Blades about the role of the military and how he will go about maintaining it.
MOSESE TIKOITOGA: At the moment we have our hands full in ensuring that we continue to maintain and sustain the different operations that we have: in our middle east peacekeeping operations, we also have observer units in the Sinai and Lebanon; and of course our domestic responsibilities which includes rural development work by the engineers. Having said that though, it's a big responsibility and one that will require commitment for maintenance and sustainment.
JOHNNY BLADES: Talking of responsibilities, you've got this responsibility, as laid out in the new constitution of Fiji, that the military must ensure at all times the security, defence and wellbeing of Fiji, and how do you propose to follow that and stay free from politics?
MT: Yes. That's the intention, the commander RFMF appointment, as you know it's very well documented in our constitution. The mere fact that the Prime Minister has given away the portfolio of the RFMF... because he has reached that stage where he believes that the RFMF is to be independent from government. But it is the military's responsibility to support the government of the day, and at the moment the government is the Bainimarama government and we'll support it. And when elections come, we'll support the democratically elected government that comes into power.
JB: Are you confident you'll be able to unite the force over whatever divisions have emerged?
MT: The Fiji military forces have never had divisions within its ranks. We've always had unity in our responsibilities. What happened in 2000 was most unfortunate but that was influenced by outside forces. But after that, we have continued to be a very united, cohesive force. And I have no doubts at all in my mind that it will stay that way.
JB: A lot of senior figures seem to have left (the RFMF) to take up different positions or have left altogether from the Fiji framework, how does that leave the calibre of the personnel in the RFMF?
MT: Yes, we've lost a lot of officers that have resigned to take up civilian roles within government but we've continued to produce our own officers. We run our military colleges and ensure that we get a good supply of young officers coming up. And we've managed to continue to provide leadership for such an organisation. It's not a concern for us, it's normal in an organisation like ours. People will come and exit either in their mid-career or at the end of their career, but whatever exit that they take, there are also people that we continue to bring in to take over their places. So the military is not poorer because of the people that are leaving.
JB: The trust within the rank and file is good at the moment, or will you need to restore that?
MT: We as a military force have had changes in command in our services. Our soldiers go to the middle east... we have three services, Iraq, Sinai and Syria. Soldiers go and they adopt to a new kind of command. Then they come back and they adjust themselves, then they go to another theatre, they re-adjust themselves. So over the years, the Fiji military forces have become very capable to adapt and adopt new types of command that they serve under. And I have no doubt the same view would be had by the soldiers as we change the command of the RFMF.
JB: Will the military force have to adapt to a new post-election period, to be in a new democratic environment after this planned election?
MT:The force is doing what it's told to do. And our task is very well documented in the constitution. We have been doing that over the years. Although there's been a lot of criticism, the force remains a professional force and it knows its responsibilities and sincerely there's no adjustment that needs to be made, but once an elected government comes into power, the RFMF's responsibility will just fall into place and take over the task it's been given under the constitution.
JB: And will the military be ready to step in again, depending on the outcome of the election later in the year?
MT: No. The military's major responsibility is now to protect the constitution. I think we have a good constitution in place that will give every Fijian an equal citizenry. And when that happens there should not be any segment of society that feels that they need to do something different. And the RFMF will support that constitution. And under that constitution there is no thinking of going back to the coups. I think we've gone past that era and we're not revisiting it.
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