FIJI GIVES MISSING MAYOR TIME TO RETURN

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SUVA, Fiji (Fiji Times, Feb. 23) - Lautoka cannot have a new mayor for nine weeks because of a clause in the Sports Government Act.

The comments came as the Fiji Labor Party called for council members to vote in a new mayor to run the office.

[Last month, a warrant was issued for the arrest of the mayor of Fiji’s western city of Lautoka. Radio Fiji reported that the Lautoka magistrate’s court issued the warrant after Rajendra Gounder failed to turn up January 16 to answer to a charge of common assault, damaging property and using abusive language.

The Labour Party mayor allegedly assaulted a Lautoka City Council contractor and his wife in a park in August last year.

Gounder’s lawyer told the court his client was overseas.

The magistrate agreed to a prosecution request to issue a warrant for Gounder’s arrest as soon as he sets foot in Fiji and adjourned the case.

The minister for local government dismissed Gounder as Mayor last year but he clung on to the position after using council funds to obtain an injunction.

He was subsequently under investigation for abusing council funds.]

However, acting town clerk Rajendra Pratap said the council could not elect a new mayor because it must follow the Sports Government Act.

"Under Cap 125 section 16 of the Act, a councilor ceases to be a member of the council if he fails to attend three consecutive council meetings," he said. "If he applies to extend his leave or attends a meeting he will remain a councilor."

Gounder has nine weeks to decide whether or not to return to Lautoka.

He was on leave from December 6 to January 31 but did not return.

Pratap said they had not heard from Gounder or his relatives.

The mayor is believed to have spent his vacation in Australia with his wife and two children.

February 24, 2005

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