CHAUDHRY CHIDES MINISTER FOR CENSORSHIP ATTEMPT

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SUVA, Fiji (Fiji Times, May 4) – Fiji opposition leader Mahendra Chaudhry yesterday chided a cabinet minister who instructed him not to contact police or military officials without his clearance, saying he doesn’t understand the basic freedoms of democracy.

Chaudhry was responding to a letter of March 29 sent by Home Affairs Minister Josefa Vosanibola titled "Correspondence And Information Requests From You To The Commissioner Of Police And The Commander Of The Fiji Military Forces".

The letter said, "All correspondence and requests are to be routed through myself and not addressed directly to the Commissioner or the Commander.

"This will avoid any future misunderstandings or potential political compromise of the offices of the Commissioner and the Commander, or of my role as Minister responsible for both offices."

Chaudhry said any member of the public has the right to speak directly to the disciplinary services over matters of concern.

He said Vosanibola must be naive to think he needed to go through his office for matters he wished to raise with the two chiefs of the disciplinary services.

"Minister, not only does a politician have that privilege but, in a democratic society, ordinary members of the public must also have the right to an audience with any civil servant, irrespective of status or rank, in respect of matters which concern them that is fairly basic, Sir!" Chaudhry said in a letter of response to Vosanibola.

But Chaudhry said he was not a civil servant and was not bound by civil service rules. "As an elected representative of the people, and more so as the Leader of the Opposition, I have personal access to both the commissioner and the commander on legitimate official business and I must thank them for their willingness to co-operate," Chaudhry said.

Commissioner Andrew Hughes said he would abide by the "clear" instructions of Vosanibola.

Military spokesman Captain Neumi Leweni said Chaudhry had raised issues of national importance.

Vosanibola was in Vanua Levu yesterday and could not be reached for comment.

May 5, 2005

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