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Remarks by Hon Professor Biman Prasad
Chairman – Public Accounts Committee/NFP Leader
Tabling of PAC Report for the years 2007-2009 of
The Auditor General’s Reports
In Parliament on Monday 11th May 2015
(Please Check Against Delivery)
I rise to table the first Public Accounts Committee report of the new Fiji Parliament.
But before I do that Madam Speaker please allow me to Congratulate and say a Big Thank You, Vinaka Vaka Levu and Dhanyavaad to our National Sevens team that has done our nation immensely proud and has qualified for the Rio Summer Olympics. Our first Summer Olympic Medal and by the Grace of God a Gold – beckons and we must unite as a nation to provide every support possible towards the mission of our sevens team.
Not only that Madam Speaker, the team described as innovators of Sevens by rugby commentators convincingly won the Glasgow 7’s early this morning – hosted in Scotland known as the Inventors of 7’s. And I am hopeful that when we gather here next Monday, we will celebrate the crowning of Fiji as the World 7’s Series Champions after the completion of the London 7’s.
Madam Speaker – the tabling of the Report is the start of clearing a backlog of over twenty outstanding reports from the independent Audit Office since 2007.
All these reports, including this one, will test our new systems of accountability. As hard as going over past corruption and past financial mismanagement is, we should not forget that this is the actual point of parliamentary democracy. There is no easy way around this fact other than making sure we comprehensively deal with all the issues raised by the Auditor-General over the past decade, in the most transparent way possible. And that is exactly what the Public Accounts Committee has attempted to do with this first report, released for public viewing today.
I would like to thank Deputy Chair Singh and all committee members, for the positive input and support that came from both Government and non-Government MP’s. This bi-partisanship has been important, and the House should take confidence that the thirty-two (32) recommendations in this first report were unanimous.
Madam Speaker, I also thank the Auditor-Generals office, the Ministry of Finance officials, and the many other representatives of agency’s that were called before the committee to answer public questions during the PAC hearings in January 2015. In most cases, this was done in a diligent manner and answers were given as best they could. This was appreciated by the Committee.
And I also give the thanks of the Committee to the PAC Secretariat, for their ongoing efficiency. It is both acknowledged and appreciated.
Madam Speaker, I invite all parliamentary colleagues, and interested Fijians, to take a little time to read this 36-page report, and to reflect upon it.
Its’ two primary recommendations are to Fiji’s Independent Commission Against Corruption (FICAC) to get on with the job of investigating and resolving all past corruption allegations made by the Auditor-General from 2007 until 2009, and to the Ministry of Finance to work much harder in addressing 29 systemic failures within the wider public service.
As the country makes a welcome return to parliamentary democracy, this report shines a light on poor past practice, past corruption, and past system failures. In 2015, this should provide further evidence to the community of Fiji of just how much work remains for us all as we seek the desired goal of ‘best practice’ government.
The committee looks forward to the current Governments response within the standing order requirements of sixty days. We do hope their response is delivered with the same good faith with which this first PAC report was written.
It is the lot of politicians to use some of our time to spread the message/s of concern to the community and that in turn, we hope keeps the electorate relatively informed.
Speaking engagements like this one help in this regard.
I was somewhat given the privilege and freedom to speak on and discuss my views on the progress of our democracy thus far and the road ahead.
That is a very broad topic indeed and I will not pretend to cover everything in the few minutes that I have.
I will however focus on a few big headings, that will no doubt be expanded upon at other speaking engagements by me and/or other commentators and politicians.
I will start by saying that the NFP party leader delivered a very good speech not too long ago about some of those headings.
I encourage you all to have a read, it is posted on the NFP facebook page and we can make copies available.
In that speech Prof. Biman Prasad discusses the current state of our economy and democratic governance.
Regarding the latter, he identified various decrees and the 2013 Constitution as obstructions to the functioning of a fully democratic government.
He then said again what all reasonable and well informed people in Fiji know – bipartisan talks and agreements between the political parties in parliament – to make amendments to those laws is the key to returning our democracy to a properly functioning one.
On this note, Prof. Prasad has also recommended the concept of a GNU, government of national unity a fe times in the life of this parliament.
And we have made it clear that this is not self serving for the NFP. We do not thereby seek a seat in Cabinet. We will be content to sit in the back benches so long as we can assist the two big parties to form government to move Fiji forward.
That is the foundation for long term and sustainable social, economic and political progress.
Apart from those matters that the Prof. discussed, I want to briefly discuss today the fabric of our system of governance in the context of our coup culture over the last thirty years.
For those who may have been deliberately under a bushel during the election campaign – I made that coup culture the theme of my campaign.
I sincerely believe ladies and gentlemen and I know that many right thinking people agree that if we do not have a proper national discussion about the causes and, effects of this affliction on the fabric of our governance then we are only setting ourselves up for more coups.
And that will not be beneficial to anyone.
So moving forward in our brave new democracy, I will briefly discuss some of the causes and effects of the coup culture in Fiji.
One of the things that always stands out to me is our lack of discussion, questioning or rebellion at various public policy acts and actors.
We are very much led by the strong man or woman that asserts himself/herself. We like to go with the flow.
We hide our disagreement and hurt until flash point which in this country has been a military takeover at various intervals over the last thirty years.
Wouldn’t it be smarter to lobby governments for peaceful discussions?
Much of this will fall on small to big business that have the means to do or support the lobbying by activists.
Take the Qoliqoli and Reconciliation bills before the last coup – would we have had a different course had many more lobbyists taken the time and expense to approach the government to discuss the issues out peacefully and not let things fester until the next flashpoint?
If not, what about the takeover itself in 2006.. would we have had a different course if many more citizens protested and spoken out to disagree with what was happening?
After all, they can’t take too many people to the camp. Certainly not every one of us citizens of this country.
What about taking part in the Usurper’s administration? Or the Charter process?
Not just 2006 but 1987 and 2000 as well.
Why do we feel the need to take part and use the excuse of peace to give the Usurper sustenance?
Why can’t we ignore them and watch them crumble?
Wouldn’t that send a better message to the military camp so that other enthusiastic soldiers get all of the right messages ie. Obey the elected government.
While we’re here, we Fijians of all ethnicity are also good at delegating. We like to have others fight our battles for us. Whether it be our regional neighbours or the multilateral bodies, anyone but us.
The hand out mentality and free, free, free of domestic pork barreling has gone too far.
Unfortunately for us, freedom is not free. We have to do these things for ourselves. Primarily. Everyone else can tag on later.
Another issue we need to consider, moving forward is the ‘winner takes all’ style of political leadership which afflicts a few leaders. No names.
Not just current but it was present in the past too.
What is so hard about hearing what your opponent has to say? Surely we can’t know everything.
Granted, our political contests are so partisan and hard fought that it’s hard to soften quickly or at all. We are human.
But we need to be more vocal as citizens to disagree with that style of leadership which only hardens hearts and makes progress very difficult let alone peace.
Call your leader, or a relative or friend that knows him or her. Fiji is so small. We are all related through kin, work, school, children or something.
Express that view to your leader. Ask him or her to give the benefit of the doubt now and again.
Separation of powers doctrine and independent offices – This also needs work ladies and gentlemen.
We need to voice our concerns wherever we can.
In parliament, in the offices, businesses, out in the street – that these institutions and offices like the military and civil service – yes they should give fearless advice to the elected government but at the end of the day – they take their orders from the elected government.
And right now, that is the elected Fiji First government.
Independent constitutional offices and their heads need to jealously guard their independence so that they properly carry out their functions.
I have very briefly touched on three big headings ladies and gentlemen that require all of our hard work to move forward and rebuild our democracy.
All of our effort is required and this gathering has people with a lot of influence in high places, please use it gently and with a good heart for the greater good.
I believe that the interventions of persons like yourselves who are not the primary partisan political combatants will be very useful in this process. It may be easier for our opponents to hear hard messages from you.
This is a long hard road after another coup period, the longest period this time of eight years from 2006.
Every time we have a coup the issues I have highlighted get more pronounced. Our governance systems and processes break down even more into smaller pieces and rebuilding gets harder.
But we need to start somewhere and I encourage you all to do this for our beautiful Fiji. Our children and grandchildren will thank us for it.
Tupou Draunidalo, MP
The Fijian Elections Office and the Electoral Commission must implement the recommendations of the Multinational Observer Group (MOG) contained in its final report on the 2014 general elections.
The recommendations by the MOG has vindicated the position taken by the National Federation Party when we last week, in calling for the release of the report, emphasized the importance of the report and its recommendations to be incorporated in any strategic planning undertaken by the Elections Office as part of preparations for the next general elections scheduled in 2018.
This is after Government brings before Parliament, the Media Industry Development Decree, Political Parties (Registration, Conduct, Funding & Disclosures) Decree and the Electoral Decree, to make the necessary changes as recommended by the MOG to make the next elections credible.
The recommendations contained in the 53-page report are credible and highlights the difficulties and frustrations faced by the political parties, candidates, the media and non-governmental organisation’s (NGO’s).
The MOG rightly noted that harsh penalties in the Media Industry Development Decree prevented most media outlets from effectively reporting on election issues. The contents of the report on Media Environment, Media Industry Development Decree and Media Industry Development Authority (MIDA) show the ineffectiveness of MIDA.
The MOG rightly recommended the need for regulation as well as an independent institution to prevent and adjudicate om media bias thus ensuring a level-playing field amongst election participants, as well as a review of penalties in the Media Decree.
The fact that the MOG has recommended for an independent institution proves MIDA’s lack of neutrality because it is a body appointed by Government. A free, fair, credible and unfettered media industry in Fiji is rendered meaningless if MIDA continues to exist.
Political Parties Decree
The MOG report also highlights the need for amendment to the Political Parties (Registration, Conduct, Funding & Disclosures) Decree. It rightly points out that the broad definition of a public office holder excludes a large number of citizens from freely participating in the political process. Furthermore the report notes the prohibition on trade union officials from being members of political parties, is a limitation on political freedom.
The MOG has recommended for requirements to be reduced for political party registration as well as allow public office holders and trade union officials to be political party members. This has been the case throughout our Independent history. It is ludicrous to disallow trade unionists from becoming members of political parties. On the other hand, two unsuccessful Fiji First candidates were re-appointed to key positions including a top position in the RFMF. This is unacceptable.
The MOG has recommended changes to the Electoral Decree. Most importantly, the MOG notes that the absence of political party identification from the ballot paper and National Candidates List was unusual – the lack of any names, symbols and photographs on the ballot paper. The MOG also observed that voters were prohibited from bringing “how-to-vote” pamphlets into polling stations and anyone caught breaching this provision faced a hefty fine of $50,000 or imprisonment of a term up to 10 years, or both.
Furthermore, NGO’s were denied the right to be election observers. The MOG has recommended for this to change to ensure credibility of the election process; symbols and names of candidates to be included on the ballot paper and the National Candidates List; penalties for election related offences to be reviewed in accordance with international standards and practice; and that Government should review and finalise all existing electoral laws and regulations well in advance of the next election.
If Government truly believes in common and equal citizenry and the protection of fundamental rights and freedoms, it should have no hesitation in accepting the recommendations of the MOG, which observed the elections in strict compliance with Government’s Terms of Reference.
The onus is now on Government to inform the nation whether or not it will accept and implement the recommendations of the Multinational Observer Group to ensure the next general elections are credible, without any perceived or real fear of suppression of fundamental rights and freedoms.
Roko Tupou Draunidalo
Don’t be Belligerent
Prime Minister Voreqe Bainimarama should stop being belligerent and participate in the Pacific Islands Forum in Papua New Guinea.
The PM should stop dictating terms to the Forum to force out Australia and New Zealand out of the 16-member organization that has existed for 44 years. He deliberately ignores the fact that both our neighbours are founding members of the Forum along with Fiji.
And Fiji’s importance in the Forum is cemented by the fact that the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat has been domiciled in Suva for many years.
It is abundantly clear that the PM wants new members in the Forum who obviously befriended Fiji after the coup. These countries were not Forum members but dialogue partners. Australia and New Zealand, like the European Union and the United States, adopted a stance in conformity to their democratic ideals by suspending direct Aid to Fiji.
But they continued to assist Fiji in terms of empowerment of Non-Governmental Organisations, funding development projects through NGO’s, donations during natural disasters in 2009 and 2012 and contributing funding towards the work of the Constitution Commission in 2012 led by Professor Yash Ghai.
Most importantly, Australia and New Zealand are our closest allies. One does not ditch long-standing friends to include new ones. Both nations are our long-term trading partners. Australia is our principal export destination and in 2013, Fiji’s exports amount to 13.6% of total exports worth $250 million.
Australia and New Zealand are our two biggest sources of tourists. An average of 50% of our total number of tourists are Australians while New Zealanders make up 16% of our tourist market.
With a combined GDP of more than 1.6 trillion US Dollars, Australia and New Zealand will remain significant economic partners in the future. We should concentrate on deeper and more meaningful regional integration, which includes Australia and New Zealand.
Furthermore, millions of dollars come in the form of remittances to Fiji from former Fiji citizens, contributing significantly to our economy. The majority of our migrant population live in these two countries.
The PM should know he is swimming against a tide of overwhelming opinion amongst Forum member nations who cherish and value Australia and New Zealand’s partnership.
Government should build bridges instead of destroying existing ones. This is the cornerstone of democracy and diplomacy.
Hon Dr Biman Prasad