SUVA, Fiji (Fijilive, Mar 22) – Corruption exists in Fiji because there is an acute shortage of honest, credible and ethical leaders in Fiji, University of Fiji vice chancellor Dr Rajeshwar Chandra says.

He says that the average citizens regard most leaders as being dishonest and corrupt.

"They see that the big leaders have got away with corrupt behaviour and they think that if it is alright for national leaders, it is alright from them as well. So a culture of widespread corruption has developed in Fiji."

Speaking at the Transparency International Fiji - anti corruption symposium, he pointed out that leaders have not given due priority to dealing with corruption in Fiji, saying that there was no anti corruption unit until now.

Dr Chandra also noted that governments have not put in place a Code of Conduct Bill so that it is clearer to all concerned what behaviour will not be condoned.

"Moreover, corruption is not seen as a serious crime yet and something that hurts all people."

He says if the public knew for instance that the $240 million or so that Fiji lost due to corruption and incompetence at the National Bank of Fiji, have deprived them of scholarships, medicine, hospitals or roads, then they might have a greater sense of outrage at what was perpetuated at the NBF.

Dr Chandra also said that the media is not investigative enough about corruption, and that a more investigative media and an environment that encourages this kind of investigative journalism will reduce corruption.

He also pointed out that the right of access to information is not too strong yet in Fiji and that if information was more readily available, then corrupt people might be more careful about offering or accepting bribes.

"We lack a culture of people complaining against poor services and corruption.

"We do not have a culture of whistle blowers who are protected when they blow the whistle."

He feels that too much bureaucracy encourages corruption and that if there was a smaller and leaner government, then people will not have to cross so many hurdles to get things done - and therefore have less opportunity or reason to pay bribes.

Dr Chandra also noted that incompetent people are appointed to senior positions because of ethnic, nepotistic or other non-performance, non-merit criteria.

"These people then hire inappropriate people, including cronies and relatives and reduce the speed and quality of services.

"As a consequence, many people use bribes and other incentives to get their services they are entitled to within a reasonable period."

Dr Chandra also believes that there is a lack of resources for governance institutions, especially for the judiciary, the DPP and office of the auditor general, and that if these did their work properly, then people would be caught and abuses highlighted for the public.

In addition, he pointed out that there was incompetent and ineffective people on boards of large and important organisations.

"The emerging case of the Fiji National Provident Fund is a good example.

"If the previous board was competent, then the publicised abuses would not have occurred."

He says board members need to be competent and technically competent in the particular field to understand what is happening and to scrutinise operations carefully.

Dr Chandra maintains that board members should be held accountable for their actions and should be sued in the case of large losses by the public for negligence and complicity.

He said it is time that Fiji made a concerted effort to reduce corruption and improve governance on a sustainable basis; that there was a need to have effective monitoring systems and institutions, and that there was a need to punish corrupt people severely to discourage others from engaging in corruption.

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