Saturday, March 21, 2009

A-G's report on Voreqe's Pay must be made public

A-G's report must be made public
Saturday, March 21, 2009

WHEN it comes to accountability, the Constitution of this nation is very clear, spelling out in an entire chapter the rules that guide the way for the State.

Within that Chapter 11, there are five parts dealing specifically with accountability: Code of Conduct, Ombudsman, Auditor-General, Gene-ral provisions relating to certain constitutional offices and Freedom of Information.

The first part obliges Parliament under section 156 (3) to draft a law to "implement more fully the conduct rules" which apply to, among others, the President, Vice-President, Mini-sters, and those who hold statutory appointments or governing or executive positions in such bodies.

The fifth part, under section 174, obliges Parliament to "enact a law to give members of the public rights of access to official documents of the Government and its agencies".

Neither of these laws has been passed since the Constitution (Amen-dment) Act 1997 came into force on July 25, 1997.

This leaves three other parts in Chapter 11 that deal specifically with accountability.

Of these, the Ombudsman and the Auditor-General are offices set up to deal with holding the State accountable. But there is a clear distinction between them – the Ombudsman is not allowed to investigate actions of ministers, judges or conditions surrounding the removal or appointment of a person to public office.

So this leaves the Auditor-General to hold the State accountable over how it handles public accounts, money, property and transactions.

At least once a year, the Auditor-General has to tell Parliament whether transactions involving public money or property are in line with the Constitution and used "to the purpose for which it was authorised".

To do this, the Constitution authorises the Auditor-General to access "all records, books, vouchers, stores or other government property in the possession or control of any person or authority".

It's clear then that anyone authorised to use public funds or property must submit to the independent scrutiny of the Auditor-General.

It's also clear that his report must be laid before the House. If the Constitution did not want the public to see that report, restrictions would have been put on public access to the document. But by insisting it be laid before the House, it's clear that report must come into the public domain.

The interim government insists the Constitution is alive and well. If so, the Auditor-General's report must then be put into the public domain.

In the absence of Parliament, this report is the only possible accountability mechanism for the people.

An eight-page sanitised media release is not good enough.

The Constitution dictates that the whole report reach the public domain.

And the people of Fiji deserve no less than that.

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