BAINIMARAMA QUESTIONS FIJI GOVERNMENT SURCHARGE

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SUVA, Fiji (Fiji Times, Feb. 3) - The Prime Minister's Office might have to consider personal security options for Laisenia Qarase after Fiji Military Forces commander, Commodore Voreqe Bainimarama, threatened to withdraw his officers from government security duty last week unless a surcharge against him is dropped.

The chief executive in the PM's Office, Jioji Kotobalavu, said last night his office was concerned about the call Bainimarama placed to the office threatening to withdraw security if the surcharge against him was not dropped.

"He (Commodore Bainimarama) had told one of our senior officers that he would withdraw security if the surcharge against him by the Finance Ministry was not dropped," he said. "If that is the case, then we will have to ask the police to provide security so that we do not have to put up with such petulant behavior.

"We respect his position as army commander but this type of behavior does not reflect well on him, given that this is the second time he has done it."

Last night, Bainimarama said from New Zealand that he was being surcharged for exceeding his budget in 2003 to pay for expenses, including the salaries of soldiers in the prime minister’s entourage.

"I raised my concerns with (Sakeasi) Ditoka since the soldiers there are paid by the army and not the PM's Office," he said. "I had told him to prepare his answer on the surcharge when we discuss security when I return."

Commodore Bainimarama confirmed that officers in the finance section of the military were under investigation for busting the 2003 Budget by $3million (US$1.8 million).

"It would not be fair to name those being investigated as the inquiry is still going on," he said.

The over expenditure was highlighted in the Auditor-General's report last year.

The report said the military over-spent by buying personal equipment worth $3.3 million against a budget of $118,176 (US$71,000).

Unitex and Lotus Garments Limited were given contracts to supply military uniforms and equipment.

After cross checking with Unitex and Lotus Garments, the report said none of the orders made in 2003 were supplied.

Also that the army had paid Unitex $93,470 (US$56,000) on November 12, 2003 for 7,190 cotton drill red shorts.

Five days later, the AG said the army paid another $90,672 (US$54,000) for 7,556 round neck green T-shirts. Only 2,808 were received. The other 4,778 were never received, the AG's report said.

February 4, 2005

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