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Fiji government foots $18,700 bill for Suva meeting

SUVA. Fiji (Fiji Times, June 30, 2008) – Taxpayers paid FJ$28,000 [US$18,735] in fuel costs to bring the people of Lau to attend the provincial council meeting in Suva and will pay another $28,000 to return them to their homes.

Two government vessels were despatched to the Lau group last week to bring 230 members to attend the Lau Provincial Council at Nasova, Suva on Wednesday and Thursday last week.

Government Shipping Services said they paid around $28,000 for fuel alone for the Iloilovatu and the Dausoko to go to the Lau group and bring the members to Suva.

A similar sum of money is expected to be spent on the returning members when they leave on Friday. The Lau provincial Council meeting is held twice a year.

Director Government Shipping Captain Seci Waqa said he needed to straighten the record after reports surfaced that the Ministry of Indigenous Affairs had paid to bring the provincial council members to attend the meeting in Suva.

"Not a single cent," he said when asked whether Indigenous Affairs had paid for the trip. We have a budget allocation of $900,000 this year. We have spent next month's budget. It's been a tough year and a very busy one too."

Captain Waqa said it would have been cheaper for government to charter a commercial vessel to bring in the delegates. He said they acted on instructions to provide free passage for islanders travelling from the maritime zone. He pointed out that free passage was not only for the Lau provincial meeting.

Capt Waqa said they did the same for Kadavu, Yasawa (for Ba Provincial Council), Lomaiviti and Cakaudrove, all of whom held meetings earlier this year.

Capt Waqa said the Iloilovatu used four and a half tonnes of diesel fuel daily on the two-and-a-half day trip to Lau.

The Dausoko picked up around 50 members from Moala, Matuku and Totoya while the Iloilovatu picked up 180 members from the other islands in Lau.

Capt Waqa said the Dausoko used one-and-half tonnes of fuel a day.

He said fuel and a few miscellaneous items associated with the Dausoko trip amounted to $8000 a trip.

When we approached the newly elected chairman of the Lau Provincial Council, Ratu Tevita Uluilakeba, for a comment on this issue last week, he confirmed that delegates from the islands were picked up by the Iloilovatu.

He said the cost of transporting delegates to Suva for the meeting was met by the Indigenous Affairs Ministry.

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