DOUBLE STANDARD FOR ACCUSED FIJI OFFICIALS?

Editorial

FijiSUN

SUVA, Fiji (Sept. 29) – There needs to be a thorough investigation into how the Minister for Multi-Ethnic affairs, George Shiu Raj, traveled overseas in economy class while the Government paid for a business class ticket. It happened twice.

The public would also like to know how it came to pass that his driver was part of the official delegation during a trip to India.

On the matter of the airline tickets, we are told that Mr Shiu Raj has repaid the money and that the auditor general was told of this. Then it is strange indeed that the auditor-general’s report does not take this into account.

If in fact the maneuver was an attempt to defraud the Government of the difference between the two fares, the repayment would be a mitigating factor. But it would not make the minister any less guilty.

It is interesting to note the different approach taken in the case of the chief executive officer in the Ministry of Labor, Brian Singh. Accused of identical offences, Mr Singh was promptly reported to the police and is now under investigation.

In the case of Mr Shiu Raj, however, nothing has been done. And it’s entirely likely that nothing will be done. But the public will smell a very large rat here. The Government has prided itself on setting high standards for civil servants. It should now expect equal standards of its ministers.

Of course, Mr Shiu Raj may be innocent of any wrongdoing, but the public will want all possible reassurances that this is indeed the case.

And these can only be provided by a thorough and public inquiry into the sequence of events that led to the auditor general’s adverse report.

In fact, such an inquiry is needed to allow the minister an opportunity to explain to the public what he did and why he did it. It would at the very least clear the cloud over his name left by the auditor’s report.

Expect political grandstanding on this when the Public Accounts Committee convenes next week – but at the same time in the interest of transparency and accountability the public has a right to know the complete truth.

Denials are just not enough.

September 29, 2004

FijiSUN: http://www.sun.com.fj/

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