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EDITORIAL COMMENT December 15, 1999

ABOUT DOCUMENTS DESTROYED

Something is seriously wrong when a Cabinet minister can walk into a government department and order that official documents be destroyed.

The situation is made worse when civil servants comply with the orders and then proceed to carry them out.

When Home Affairs Minister Jioji Uluinakauvadra ordered the destruction of Fiji Intelligence Service files he erred in more ways than one.

The service comes under the direction of the Prime Minister's Office and Mr. Uluinakauvadra had no business issuing directives to its operatives.

There is also the fact that all State documents must be kept by the National Archives.

No matter how distasteful certain records are to members of the public there are rules which must be followed when it comes to disposal.

Under normal circumstances the files believed to contain information on Cabinet ministers and government members of Parliament should have been sent to the archives.

An accompanying letter could have ordered that the files be sealed and not made public for a specified period.

This would have been within the law.

However, neither the intelligence service nor the archives are in Mr. Uluinakauvadra's portfolio.

But the minister is not the only person who must shoulder responsibility for his actions.

Obviously the senior civil servant at the Fiji Intelligence Service should have told Mr. Uluinakauvadra to leave the department alone.

This officer should have directed the minister to the correct ministry and ensured that the correct procedure was followed.

In the absence of any comment from the ministries the public is left to wonder whether the minister knew what he was doing was wrong.

And was he at any stage warned by civil servants to desist?

If he was warned why did he disregard the information?

Cynics will say Mr. Uluinakauvadra acted only on orders from above.

Already this minister has refused to divulge information on an investigation into the army.

His excuse was that this was done to protect himself and prominent families.

As an elected official he must tell the people what papers were destroyed.

And he must say on whose orders if any he acted.

For additional reports from the Fiji Times, go to PACIFIC ISLANDS REPORT News/Information Links: Newspapers/Fiji Times

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