'Peter Firkins's Ideas on What to Do with the Military
By 2020 the Fiji Military should be a ceremonial force only.An opinion piece by Peter Firkin
In the future no immunities.
Let’s look into the future when Fiji has a new constitution and new democratically elected government and concentrate on how we stop a recurrence of the repeated cycle of military coups.
There will be no elections without handing out immunities to all those who have committed crimes in the process of removing an elected government. Why would you give up control if you were then arrested and jailed?
These immunities have become accepted as part of the “normal method” of ending a coup and would have been factored into the thinking of all the various coup perpetrators. Apologising and seeking forgiveness is built into our heritage and is accepted in Fiji as a normal part of daily living.
This must end in relation to coups. A stable democracy requires a subservient obedient military under the direction of an elected government.
The new constitution must specifically ban the issuing of any immunity for any activity that undermines the democratic government.
How does a civilian government protect itself from its military?
The current coup will not be the last unless there is a radical change in attitudes towards the democratic “rights” of Fiji’s citizens by the military.
Unless action is taken the new constitution will be no more secure than the old one from military whim and abrogation.
As the military has been involved in all the previous coups then how do we protect ourselves from those with military authority and weapons?
How do we bring the military back to its correct position as subservient to the government of the day?
Do we need the military?
Do we need a military and what size army does a country of 800,000 people need?
Fiji has a larger army than Papua New Guinea that has a population of 7,000,000.
Fiji is unlikely to be attacked from an external country and our wide geographic area and 330 islands make it indefensible to our traditional infantry type ill equipped army. We have neither the air force nor the type of navy required to take on any of our major neighbours. There is no current or potential threat to the nation of Fiji
Why does it exist?
Peacekeeping is often cited as a reason with remittances from overseas soldiers a significant foreign exchange earner for the country. The remittances however do not compare well with the overall cost of maintaining a standing army of 3,500 active soldiers and 6,000 reservists. The drain on the countries budget cannot be justified by remittances.
So why does it exist? Border protection could be handled by a ready reaction force of less than 100 military trained officers operating under the jurisdiction of the Police Commissioner.
Any new constitution must not enshrine the Fiji Military Forces as the defender of the people. With no external threat the only potential use of this force is against the civilian population.
The recent activities by the armies of Syria. Egypt and Libya against their civilian population and the reaction of the international community show this is not an acceptable use of military force.
So what do we do with a force of 3500 trained soldiers?
I suggest we wind them down.
Stop recruiting and retrain those with other skills.
Offer a paid redundancy to all soldiers. Our standing army cost us in excess of $35,000 per soldier per annum to maintain. Offering all soldiers a year’s salary as a redundancy payment should be a start.
The military engineers should be made into a State Owned Enterprise or a Shareholding Cooperative to contract road and civil engineering projects. If necessary these projects should be subsidized by the government until the commercial skills are developed. By 2020 all subsidies should be removed with a fully commercial unit remaining.
The navy should be converted into a Coast Guard with emphasis on protecting our fisheries and our Exclusive Economic Zone as this becomes more important with the development of undersea mining.
Private companies in Fiji should be given a subsidy to recruit active soldiers into the workforce.
The Australian, New Zealand and British armed forces should be encouraged to select from the current standing army in our country.
There should be a plan in place to reduce our military to a ceremonial status by a suggested date of 2020.
Al of the above should release the majority of the estimated $129 million dollars currently drained each year from the economy by the military.
This is sufficient to service all of our current overseas debt.