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By Margaret Wise

SUVA, Fiji Islands (January 20, 2000 – Fiji Times)---Prime Minister Mahendra Chaudhry has come under fire for levying a FJ$ 50 (US$ 25.81) fee on members of the business community who want an audience with him.

And two political parties have called on Mr. Chaudhry to reconsider charges placed on the "Meet the Prime Minister'' fundraiser, saying it was unethical and was tantamount to abuse of office.

The function, similar to a businessmen's dinner held in the West last weekend, has been organized by the Fiji Labour Party and is scheduled for next Thursday.

Also under attack is the Fiji Employers Federation, whose members have questioned its position in becoming "a selling agent for the FLP function.''

The federation sent circulars to its 203 members, saying tickets were limited and members should register themselves (with FEF) early if they wanted to attend the function.

According to the invitation card, those who attended would have an opportunity to formally meet the PM and "hear and discuss affairs of the nation.''

Mr. Chaudhry did not answer questions faxed to his office yesterday.

But federation chief executive Ken Roberts said the circular was sent because the function provided an opportunity for the business community to meet Mr. Chaudhry.

"Yes, some members say they should not pay because they should be able to meet the PM without any brass razoo (any form of payment). But we sent the circular because we are looking at the opportunity,'' Mr. Roberts said.

"There has been very few opportunities from the time the new government took over for members to meet the PM, and here we have been told you can ask questions too.''

However, Suva businessman Ikbal Jannif said the blame should not be with either the PM or the Labour Party.

"The question that should be asked is whether the FEF, whose membership is of business people who support different political parties, should have allowed itself to become a selling agent for the FLP dinner,'' Mr. Jannif said.

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

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