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By Margaret Wise

SUVA, Fiji Islands (January 14, 2000 – Fiji Times)---Prime Minister Mahendra Chaudhry's 25 ministers will cost taxpayers F$ 1,506,972 a year in salaries alone.

(NOTE: F$ 1.9608 = US$ 1.00 on January 14, 2000)

This is the biggest ministerial team with the largest salary bill ever appointed since the Alliance took office in 1972.

Taxpayers will pay almost F$200,000 more than what was paid to ministers just before the Labour government took over.

They would have paid an additional F$259,840 annually if Mr. Chaudhry had given the four portfolios he holds to other members of Parliament.

Secretary to Cabinet Bal Ram did not respond to telephone calls to his office yesterday.

If the team is maintained for a five-year term, taxpayers will fork out F$7,534,860 for salaries.

This does not include perks and housing allowances of up to F$15,000 per year or the free use of telephones and fully furnished homes.

Cabinet ministers are entitled to entertainment allowances totaling more than F$100,000.

There are 22 ministerial portfolios, four held by Mr. Chaudhry and seven assistant ministers.

"Mr. Chaudhry said he is saving the country about F$100,000 by holding multiple portfolios, but at the same time he has created seven new positions, as compared to the previous government,'' Opposition leader Ratu Inoke Kubuabola said.

"So, in fact, there is no real saving.''

The three portfolios held by Mr. Chaudhry were previously the responsibility of other ministers.

Public Enterprises was previously the responsibility of the Trade Minister, Information was looked after by the Minister for Communication while the Sugar Industry came under the Agriculture Minister.

"The question that needs to be answered is why did he find it necessary to remove those responsibilities from his ministers?'' Ratu Inoke said.

Mr. Chaudhry's travel budget has increased as he is using the F$15,000 allocation to the three new ministries and the Finance Ministry.

This is in addition to the F$150,000 travel budget provided for the Prime Minister.

He is also using the F$10,000 small community contributions allocated to each of the five ministries.

Former Prime Minister Sitiveni Rabuka initially had a 25-member Cabinet when he first took office but he reduced the number of full ministers from 18 to 12 after the 1994 snap elections. The ministers were, however, on a lower salary range.

Mr. Rabuka's 22-member team just before the elections -- 18 full ministers and four assistant ministers -- received the same salaries as the current Cabinet.

The salaries are: Prime Minister F$87,361; Deputy PM F$70,561; Attorney-General F$67,202; Ministers F$64,960; and Assistant ministers F$43,121.

The smallest Cabinet line up was by the Bavadra government in 1987 when 12 full ministers and two assistants were appointed.

After the 1977 elections, the Alliance government was made up of 12 Cabinet ministers and seven ministers of State. This arrangement was changed after the 1982 elections when 15 full ministers and three ministers of State were appointed.

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

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