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By Semesa Madigi

SUVA, Fiji (FijiSUN, Mar. 1) - The Fiji government is owed more than $228 million (US$139 million) in tax and other payments and yesterday the Public Accounts Committee lashed out at the failure to collect it in full.

The committee is unhappy over the lack of explanation from the various departments on laxity in recovering the money. Committee chairman Poseci Bune said this sum was owed to the State last year and he hit out at the lack of explanation from ministries on why this money was not accounted for.

He said Fiji Island Revenue and Customs Authority was owed $164 million (US$100 million) in Value Added Tax arrears while the Public Works Department was unable to collect $24 million (US$14 million) in water rates last year alone.

FIRCA chief executive officer Sila Kotobalavu was not available for comment. Bune said there were other ministries such as Agriculture that failed to collect fees and charges last year for reasons that would be sought during face-to-face interviews with accounting officials of the various ministries and departments this week.

Agriculture minister Ilaitia Tuisese and his CEO Luke Ratuvuki could not be reached for comment. The Finance Ministry appeared before the committee yesterday when discussions continued on measures to control overspending. Acting finance chief executive officer Shiri Chand and other ministry officials were present during discussions.

"We will also be looking at the operation expenditure by larger ministries like education, health, the military and more on the Public Works and Energy," he said. "There’s obviously a lack of right people to manage the department and direct it in the right path and for bigger ministries it is very hard to control since they have a lot more people with authority on the use of tax payers’ money," said Bune.

Meanwhile, Public Works minister Savenaca Draunidalo said the $24 million arrears was not news to him. He explained that part of the problem in recovery measures was the slow transition to privatization in the water section.

He said the department would try to recover at least $3 million (US$1.8 million) from the arrears this year.

Draunidalo said the ministry would work on efficiency levels and track down those who owed this large sum. "It’s an old problem which I’m aware of but rest assured measures are in place to address it," he said.

March 2, 2005


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