Finance Minister failed to report income


SUVA, Fiji (Feb. 25, 2008) – The Fiji Islands Revenue and Customs authority had no need to seek the source of interim finance minister Mahendra Chaudhry’s bank deposits in Australia, as was suggested by a media organisation yesterday.

As Victor Lal’s report today makes clear, FIRCA knew precisely where and how the money was collected.

It also knew that Mr Chaudhry had failed to lodge tax returns as required by law.

It knew he did not at first disclose the existence of these funds as is also required.

The Fiji Independent Commission Against Corruption possessed the same knowledge as early as September last year after this newspaper began publishing details of the minister’s tax situation the previous month.

It did nothing, claiming (after much prompting) that it lacked tax expertise and would leave any investigation to FIRCA - which comes under Mr Chaudhry’s portfolio as finance minister.

Interestingly enough, FICAC experienced no shortage of tax expertise when it demanded the tax records of ousted chief justice Daniel Fatiaki.

It seems that FIRCA did, in fact, commence an investigation of some sort. But it was halted shortly after the coup of December, 2006.

Quite why that was done is far from clear.

There now needs to be a proper, credible and searching inquiry not only into Mr Chaudhry’s behaviour but into FIRCA itself and how some taxpayers were treated so differently from others.

It should examine the presence, if any, of political appointees in high positions within the organisation and its relationship with the line minister.

FIRCA, as the body responsible for the collection of the people’s money, should be an organisation completely independent of outside influences. There is now evidence that this independence has been compromised.

FIRCA also needs to be seen to be independent of all political or even governmental influence as far as its treatment of taxpayers is concerned. There is reason to believe that this also has been compromised in recent times.

There are many dedicated, skilled and experienced people working for FIRCA and it is in their interest also that the air be cleared so that they can go about their work without fear or favour.

The Interim Government faces many challenges. But FIRCA goes to the very heart of public integrity and governance.

A searching FIRCA inquiry should be given priority.

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