Friday, March 07, 2008

The right move to make

Thursday, March 06,

THE Military Council's advice that interim Finance Minister Mahendra Chaudhry step aside to allow an investigation into his tax affairs is a step in the right direction.

After more than 12 months of talking about transparency and accountability, we see a practical step in this area.

There can be no other way to sort out this matter once and for all.

The issue of Mr Chaudhry's taxes has been a thorn in the side of the interim administration for some time.

In fact, it has caused an injury that has started to fester and brought into question the credibility of the entire regime.

We stated this on February 23 when we named Mr Chaudhry as the minister who was at the centre of the income tax issue which was being discussed across the nation.

The military council's advice is a welcome move and will be seen as an attempt to restore credibility to the regime.

It must also be seen as a bid by officers to keep the mission of the military and the interim administration on track.

Accountability and transparency can only become part of the lives of the ordinary people if they believe and see that their leaders are living by the principles which they espouse.

Even the most simple person will be able to identify leaders who demand one set of rules for the people and another for themselves.

In order for the military to convince the people that it is adamant about introducing transparency it has called on interim Prime Minister, Commodore Voreqe Bainimarama, to ask Mr Chaudhry to step aside.

In this, the officers who make up the council are beyond approach.

Their advice if it is followed has the potential to stabilise a situation which was fast spiralling out of control.

Much will depend on how Commodore Bainimarama acts on the advice he has received.

But the matter should never have come to this.

In most countries, any minister who is even slightly implicated in matters of taxes or receiving money from unnamed sources would step aside to save his colleagues any undue embarrassment.

This has not happened in the case of Mr Chaudhry.

While we applaud the action of the Military Council, we must stress that any investigation must be conducted by an independent tribunal with no links to the military, the Fiji Labour Party or Mr Chaudhry.

The terms of reference of the tribunal and its finding must be made public.

Only then, will be all be able to say that this issue has reached a transparent end.

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