Former Fiji police chief speaks out about military concerns
Fiji's former police commissioner says repeated interference by the military was one of the reasons for his resignation.
Fiji's former police commissioner, Ben Groenewald, says repeated interference by the military was one of the reasons he resigned.
Fiji has replaced the South African retiree with the military's land force commander Brigadier General Sitiveni Qiliho, in an acting capacity.
Ben Groenewald told Alex Perrotet the military interference started when the military made a civilian arrest last year.
BEN GROENEWALD: When I heard about this I made a public statement that I would not tolerate any intervention or interference in peace time policing. I was called in by my minister and he and the then commander of the military was not satisfied by my press statement. And I informed them the reason why I made the press statement and we came to an agreement that in future if there are any interference or any issue with the military, the act makes provisions for a call-out and then the commissioner of police can then call-out them for assistance. Now that did not happen because at a later stage there was an instance where a warrant was issued for arrest of a person. My police officers were denied access and I had a discussion with the then commander and we again reached an agreement of how we will deal with these issues in the future. Now the last straw that broke the camel's back was in fact the Pita Matairavula issue this year, earlier, where the DPP had decided to charge three police officers and two military officers for sexual assault on the Youtube victim. I announced the arrest in a meeting with the prime minister, the minister and the acting commander of the military during a meeting, and the next morning when we were looking for Pita we could not find him and later on we found out that he was harboured at the military camp. We made numerous calls, in fact I made calls to all of them. I spoke to the legal officer, he said to me he could do nothing. Now if the legal officer knows that it is illegal and he says he can't make decisions then there is nothing else than obstructing the course of justice.
ALEX PERROTTET: I guess you took your concerns to the government. Did you speak to the minister of police?
BG: I called the minister twice in this specific incident and he did nothing about it.
AP: Regarding what's happened since your departure with the military taking in, well I think it happened actually before you left, the military taking in the three police officers who have been charged in relation to that brutality video. The reasons given were that the police had abandoned and left out in the cold these officers. What do you make of the military's actions there?
BG: The fact that they were taken in by the military, according to me, is unconstitutional. I don't think that whilst you are awaiting trial for a serious criminal offence, and I think that if we look into the regulations of the military I think that the appointment of these three men were unconstitutional or against the military act or regulations. But I cannot say anything about it, I think that is the prerogative of the military to do, I do not agree with that, I think it's unconstitutional.
AP: I mean some are saying that the taking in of those accused and charged police officers, who haven't faced trial yet, by the military, in a sense, tars the reputations of the rest of the soldiers, many of whom are shipped overseas for peacekeeping duties. Do you think it affects Fiji's reputation?
BG: I would not like to comment on that. We will see what is the effect of these people. As indicated it was the prerogative of the military to make that decision. They made the decision, whether it's right or wrong I cannot say.
AP: The acting police commissioner is now the land force commander, Sitiveni Qiliho. What is your reaction to that appointment?
BG: Alex I'm a firm believer of the fundamental principles of policing that was laid down by Sir Robert Peel, when he established the the British Metropolitan Police in 1829, and where he says that the functions of policing must be left to specialised police officers and not the military. And I'm a firm believer of that. At the moment when you mix these functions that, to me, it can become chaos.
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