HUMAN RIGHTS OFFICIAL RILES FIJI GOVERNMENT

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SUVA, Fiji (Fiji Times, March 30) - The Fiji government has accused the director of the Human Rights Commission, Dr. Shaista Shameem, of having a political agenda.

This was after she asked the State for details of an investigative report on its affirmative action program.

The chief executive in the Fiji Prime Minister's Office, Jioji Kotobalavu, condemned the stance taken by the commission concerning the report.

"The government does not get told by Shaista Shameem when to reply," Kotobalavu said. "That is a matter for the government to decide. It is its prerogative. It is certainly not being reasonable for Shameem to expect the government to reply within a week.

"The question that should be put to the Fiji Human Rights Commission director is why is she lobbying through the media for government to hurry up with its response. Has she got a political agenda to pursue?"

The commission had asked a consultant to investigate the validity of the government's affirmative action program after receiving complaints from members of the public. The commission gave the government the results of the investigation on March 16 and wanted a reply from them no later than March 25. Kotobalavu said the report only contained the views of the investigator alone.

He said the investigator did not bother to consult other sources or his office, which co-ordinates all affirmative action programs.

Shameem said the March 25 deadline was given by the consultant because the State was given a number of opportunities during the whole year the investigation was carried out to comment on the observations of the investigations. She said the government's response was needed because it would be included in the report.

She said if the State did not reply, then this would also be included in the report.

Shameem said the commission would consider its next course of action once the government responded to the report. Kotobalavu said the government gave an interim reply to the commission yesterday, asking that the report be handled by the government that would be elected during the May general election. Kotobalavu said he had met the commission chairman Walter Rigamoto, who he said agreed with the points he raised yesterday with Shameem. However, the government and the commission did not want to disclose the contents of the report.

Shameem said the commission would wait for the government's reply before it could make the report public.

Shameem had written to Opposition leader Mahendra Chaudhry informing him of the developments so far.

Mr. Chaudhry confirmed he received a letter from the commission yesterday.

March 31, 2006

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