In an exclusive face-to-face interview with Islands Business magazine at the office of the Commander of the Republic of Fiji Military Forces inside the Queen Elizabeth Barracks in Suva, Brig-Gen Tikoitoga said the 2013 Constitution the government of Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama passed in September 2013 holds the key to breaking the country’s coup cycle.
“Our job is to protect the constitution – coups or no coups these issues are enshrined in the constitution,” said Tikoitoga.
“If people throw out the current constitution as some political leaders are suggesting then they have thrown out the chance of avoiding coups.
“That will be the answer to the security questions people tend to ask.”
According to the new RFMF Commander, the military under his leadership will respect the result of the upcoming general elections.
He said this the RFMF would do because that is what is demanded of them under the 2013 Constitution.
“Our job is to defend the constitution and our role is provided for in the constitution.
“Whatever the result (of the elections), our role will be to support the government of the day and whatever government the people choose.
“It’s not our choice, and we base our choice on the will of the people.
“If the people have willed in a new government, it’s our responsibility as a law abiding institution to abide by the will of the people under this constitution.”
Brig-Gen Tikoitoga was appointed commander at the recommendation of his predecessor, Commodore now promoted Rear Admiral (retired) Bainimarama. Until his appointment, Tikoitoga was a colonel and held the position of Land Force Commander of the RFMF. He is a career soldier having joined as a private in 1981. He earned his commission as an officer seven years later and has attended staff colleges in Australia and India and holds double degrees in masters in management in defence studies and a master of philosophy in defence and strategic studies.
Bainimarama had announced late last year he would retire from the military to pursue a new career in politics. He has announced his proposed political party name and would reveal his manifesto before the country’s general elections scheduled on17 September, 2014.
Asked by Islands Business on whether he shared the political ambitions of his predecessor and that of two other military commanders before that, Brig-Gen Tikoitoga remained non-committal.
“The focus for me is to me to remain in the cocoon of the commander so I cannot have any other thoughts but that,” he said.
“I can’t focus elsewhere – it’s a huge task so I cannot be double minded – so my main focus which is the requirement of my appointment is to do the work of a commander.”
The Muani villager from the island of Kadavu said Fiji’s light infantry army is amongst ‘the most low tech but high skilled’ in the world and were able to adapt to any situation they were thrown in.
“You can opt for high technology to equip your troops but for that you will need specialised people and your focus becomes very limited.
“But a low tech one is more realistic for Fiji particularly in the work we are doing.
“That’s been one of the success stories of the Republic of Fiji Military Forces.
“We can go anywhere and adapt to any situation and do any job compared to high tech armies that can’t go everywhere because they are specialised and highly reliant on technology.”
Brig-Gen Tikoitoga said a case in point were Fijian soldiers currently serving with the United Nations Disengagement Observer Force between the Syrian and Israeli borders in the Golan Heights.
“We have never tried skiing but now we have videos of our soldiers in proper skiing gear skiing down the hills doing patrols in the Golan Heights.
“That’s the adaptability of the Fijian soldiers put them anywhere in any situation with the right equipment and training, they learn quick and they can do the job and do it well.”
He said however the problem in Fiji was our troops were not appreciated enough at home compared to other parts of the world.
His message to his troops as they embarked on a new era under his command was to continue the good work they were doing.
“Soldiers adept to whatever leadership they are given and have gone through that over the years.
“They work under a different command in Fiji then go to the Middle East and work under someone else so they need to adept according to the wishes of the commander.
“Hence the soldiers make the changes according to the commander.”
On his thoughts about the legacy of his predecessor, Brig-Gen Tikoitoga said the welfare of soldiers was of utmost important to Rear Admiral (retired) Bainimarama.
“He knew that unless and until their family is financially secure you can’t expect them to perform to the best of their abilities because lives are at stake especially when they are in areas of operations.
“Better armies get better pay – for instance the Australian army is one of the highest paid armies in the world and they appreciate the work their people do.”
“So we are no different and Bainimarama believed that soldiers need to get their rightful dues for the type of work they do.
“We do subject our soldiers to a lot of operation risk and they need to be compensated.”