Defence Minister Timoci Natuva’s statement in today’s Fiji Times that “militarization of the Fiji Police force is impossible” is the worst insult he could have heaped upon himself.
No one has any doubts that the military has been in control of the Police ever since the 2006 takeover.
Between 2006 and 2014, the Force was headed by two senior military officers – Esala Teleni and Iowane Naivalarua. Last year Ben Groenewald was recruited to give a semblance of civility prior to the elections but was booted out when he resisted military interference in the affairs of the police.
When Navalarua left in 2013, Asst Commissioner Ravi Narayan was appointed acting Commissioner until the position was substantively filled some months later. One wonders why the same was not followed this time around with one of the Assistant Commissioners taking charge?
Well placed sources say that both the PM and AG feel insecure in the current environment and have, therefore, taken precautions by firing Groenewald and installing one of their own as Commissioner whom they can control, use and discard as was the case with Teleni and Naivalarua.
The authority to decide appointments to independent constitutional offices was fixed by the imposed 2013 Constitution which placed the Constitutional Offices Commission under the PM’s charge with the AG by his side. Thus, appointments to all independent constitutional offices are now decided by the PM.
Bainimarama’s game plan all along has been that the military must exercise oversight and control over the Police and the Prisons. If this is not politicization/militarization what else is it, Mr Natuva?
Equally preposterous is the claim by Acting Commissioner of Police Sitiveni Qiliho that “the Police cannot work in isolation and will always use the RFMF to address issues such as drug raids, bomb threats and to prevent escape of criminals”.
Police working in isolation is not the issue here, Mr Qiliho. It is whether they should be under military control. Moreover, skills required for conducting drug raids, or handling bomb threats, or prison escapes are not the sole monopoly of the military. The Police force has demonstrated its skills in such work for many years now and with good results.
It is for the Police to decide whether to call for the Army’s help if the situation so warrants and not for the military to interfere in its work. Is not a well trained and equipped police officer just as good as his military counterpart?
Regrettably, the Police have been victims of two military-imposed Commissioners for 7 of the last 9 years during which the Force was deprived of visionary leadership – the first ran it like a missionary camp while the other derided its officers and men alike at every opportunity.
There is little reason to believe that Qiliho will turn things around. His involvement in recruiting into the military a number of suspended police officers charged with serious criminal offences of assault, indecent assault and rape, raise concerns whether such a person should be appointed to lead our Police Force.
The reputation of the RFMF is in tatters today because of the misdeeds of its senior officers and commanders in recent years, including the PM, who have manipulated it for their own personal ends.
Sadly, it no longer commands the respect and confidence it once enjoyed.
It would be a real tragedy to see our Police Force follow the same path.