Thursday, August 20, 2009

‘JM SAGA’- Gaining a Loss

Once upon a time in the history of Solomon Islands, the JM saga was the sweetest talk among the people. JM or 'Julian Moti' was the name most spoken and written about in every radio, newspaper and internet news sites in Solomon Islands, Australia and regional media. This was the period when the person bearing the name, JM, was appointed and served as the Attorney-General of Solomon Islands.

In Canberra, JM was the worst enemy, the most wanted man. Details of his past and present years in life were analysed, scrutinised and explained in relation to his strengths and mostly weaknesses. All aspects of his life were put under the x-ray. Standing out of all these were the child sex crimes he allegedly committed in Vanuatu in late 90s, which according to media reports were thrown out of court, as the presiding magistrate ruled that he had no case to answer. A Fijian-born Australian citizen, JM had spent most of his time prior to his appointment as Attorney – General of Solomon Islands travelling in and out of that Australia. All these time he was unnoticed and ignored by Australiand authorities. His appointment as Attorney – General however ignited Canberra's interest on JM. Australian claimed that it has found new evidence of the case and the media reported that the Vanuatu magistrate who heard the case against JM had been bribed by JM to dismiss the case in exchange for JM's paying for the magistrate to study at the University of Western Sydney. The report cited university records and evidence obtained by the Australian Federal Police in September 2004. His appointment as Solomon Islands Attorney-General by the Sogavare-led Grand Coalition for Change Government (GCCG) therefore was heavily criticised by Canberra, and a mad media campaign was launched against this government decision. On several occasions, the then Australian Foreign Affairs Minister, Hon. Alexander Downer even wrote open letters to the Solomon Islands media, explanation Canberra's stand on the matter.

Among the Forum Island states, JM was the common denominator of their rows. Because of JM Melanesian solidarity was tested. Papua New Guinea's (PNG) Grand Chief and Prime Minister, Sir Michael Somare was implicated in a 'Delta Force-like' airlift of JM from PNG, where he was being released on bail and was awaiting court on charges relating to breach of PNG's immigration laws. He was dropped at an isolated Munda Airstrip by the PNG Defence Force Plane that airlifted him to Solomon Islands. Both Prime Ministers of PNG and Solomon Islands immediately denied involvement in the 'airlift'. Vanuatu was also dragged into the JM saga as the child sex charges, which Canberra now has new evidences to put to retrial under its own laws, were committed there. Through the Pacific Islands Forum, Fiji and the islands of the region were involved in the saga as the Forum, then chaired by the Prime Minister of Samoa, strongly criticised Solomon Island's boycott of the Forum Meetings in 2007. The Solomon Islands Prime Minister, Manasseh Sogavare decided not to attend the Forum Meeting in protest of what he sees as "heavy Australian influence on the sovereign affairs of an independent state" of Solomon Islands relating to the MJ saga.

Sogavare's own course of actions and decisions in relation to the JM saga, himself being a personal friend of JM, may have cost him his grip of power and common political support within his coalition government and among the people. Many members of his government expressed displeasure in his decision to boycott the forum meeting in Apia and on how he has handled the JM saga. The Prime Minister's Office was raided by police, led by members of the Participating Police Force under RAMSI and the office fax machine was confisticated to seek evidence of the Prime Minister's involvement in the 'airlift'. The Minister of Immigration was also arrested and questioned for his role in the matter. For Canberra a shift in the political 'status quo' in Solomon Islands and a change of government was the greatest wish at that time. They must have been wishing too hard- but with little measurable collateral such as the expulsion of their High Commissioner- as in December, 2007 this wish was granted. The GCCG was removed from office on the floor of parliament through a motion of no confidence, moved by the current Prime Minister, making it to be the first no confidence motion to succeed in the history of Solomon Islands.

I can still clearly recall that day, it was the second Thursday of December 2007 and JM as the Attorney-General was also in parliamentary attendance. A very unwavering individual, despite the obvious shift in numbers to his disadvantage, the then Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare was quite content to see it through to the end and defied the practice in Solomon Islands whereby Prime Ministers tend to resign on the floor of parliament in the eve of a motion of no confidence they were certain to lose. The motion was passed and it was obvious that the outcome of the no confidence vote was a shock to JM. That day unlike any other, he remained in parliament hours after it was adjourned, basically I guessed just to allow time for him to really come to terms with the reality of the situation. He was laughing but his face showed it all that it was indeed not the best day of his entire life. That day, Thursday 13th December 2007, marked the beginning of the end in the sweetness of the name "Julian Moti" in the taste of the media in Solomon Islands and in Australian and regional media.

Not long after the current Coalition for National Unity and Rural Advancement (CNURA) government took office JM was deported to Australia to face justice. For me personally, that was the last time I have ever heard of the JM saga.

While the outcome of his case is nothing of a concern at all to me, my uneasiness lies on the current silence of the media on the case. Why the sudden lose of interest? Mind you, I am not saying that the media has stopped reporting on the issue. What I am saying is that it is evident that there has been significant loss of interest on the case. This turn of events is quite disappointing because for me the JM saga has just reached its most interesting segment. This is where the media has been trying to justify or show otherwise; the outcome being that the alleged culprit is finally put to justice or whether the conspiracy that many commentators have sought to believe will be proven to be true- Canberra hated JM because of his strong criticisms of Australian foreign policy and did not want him to be the Attorney-General General of a 'fragile, weak neighbour'.

On reflection, the JM saga has indeed tested the potency of many aspects of regionalism in the region, exposing weaknesses and reinforcing strengths. It has contributed to the fall of a sovereign government and to an extent reemphasised Australia's neo-colonialist 'police state' approach to foreign policy and regionalism in the region.

1 comment:

  1. For coverage of the current court proceedings, see the WSWS:

    Australian court hears Julian Moti’s challenge to “politically motivated” prosecution

    Australian court told witnesses were threatened in Julian Moti case