CHAUDHRY ACCUSES AUDITOR OF SHELVING REPORTS

SUVA. Fiji (Fiji Times, Jan. 15) – A war of words broke out between Interim Finance Minister Mahendra Chaudhry and Auditor-General Eroni Vatuloka yesterday over damning reports against members of the ousted Soqosoqo Duavata ni Lewenivanua Government and two members of Fiji Labour Party, which are believed to have been shelved.

Mr Chaudhry has promised to take to Cabinet tomorrow a set of recommendations calling for an investigation into discrepancies in the Auditor-General's Office because the reports, dating back to 2005, were not tabled in Parliament.

Mr Chaudhry said he had been aware for eight months that some findings from the Auditor- General's Reports in 2005 had not been tabled in Parliament.

But, Mr Vatuloka defended his stand, saying such reports, which included anomalies in overseas travel by State chief executive officers, and discrepancies in funding for projects by the Multi-Ethnic Affairs Ministry needed to be substantiated before being released.

"We have heaps of reports that are under ongoing investigations. No reports have been shelved," Mr Vatuloka said. If I'm not satisfied with the contents of the findings, and if it lacks hard evidence, it won't stand in a court of law. However, I am aware that there are people in my office who are working behind my back to prejudice the seriousness of findings we have. For the record, I do not fear anyone and my independence is not in question."

Mr Chaudhry labelled that as "rubbish", accusing Mr Vatuloka of playing politics.

"There is enough evidence in those reports. I have reason to believe the reports were shelved because the contents compromised the ousted Soqosoqo Duavata ni Lewenivanua Government. You will remember that the Auditor-General was summoned by Laisenia Qarase when he was Prime Minister, where he was talked to. Thereafter, a general slacking from the Auditor- General was evident," Mr Chaudhry said, accusing Mr Vatuloka of being selective in his reports.

Two reports obtained by The Fiji Times show there were no travel guidelines for State CEOs overseas travel, enabling them to capitalise on loopholes without telling the Public Service Commission in time.

One report said the Minor Tenders Board in a Flying Minute in September 2002 approved the purchase of three return tickets from Nadi to Geneva for an Inter-Parliamentary Union meeting.

The trip for then Speaker of the House Ratu Epeli Nailatikau, backbencher Filimoni Banuve and former FLP backbencher Vijay Singh cost taxpayers $26,187. Former Secretary-General Mary Chapman joined the contingent at an additional $8729 without the approval of the Minor Tenders Board or an explanation for the last minute inclusion.

The report highlights the need for State ministries and departments to file supporting documents for official trips overseas, after it was discovered organisations funded air fares and per diem allowances for MPs.

Former MPs cited in such instances include ex-SDL Cabinet member Mataiasi Ragigia, ousted Commerce Minister Tomasi Vuetilovoni, Isireli Leweniqila who at the time of the report was Sports Minister, Simione Kaitani, who was then Information Minister, Solomone Naivalu as Health Minister and then Public Enterprise Minister Irami Matairavula. The report cited breach of an agreement the Government had with Air Pacific Fiji Limited on all overseas travel services for civil servants.

Included in this were former Home Affairs Minister Joketani Cokanasiga, Mr Naivalu and Agriculture CEO Luke Ratuvuki, who travelled Qantas Airways for business purposes.

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