Fiji Times

SUVA, Fiji (Jan. 7, 2009) – The latest move by the interim administration to criminalise the leakage of State information is reprehensible and hypoctricial.

This regime came to power two years ago claiming it would champion accountability and transparency and put an end to widespread corruption.

Where are those promises now?

By giving greater powers to an organisation like the Fiji Independent Commission Against Corruption, the interim rulers have basically created a self-serving secret police organisation to crush its detractors.

Under the Public Service Commission Act, civil servants are prevented from passing on information to people outside their immediate sphere of employment.

The Official Secrets Act also makes provisions for penalties incurred by civil servants who divulge information to the public.

Indeed it is common for most companies to have such rules of employment and to ensure that they are followed by employees.

Banks, for example, can summarily dismiss workers who divulge account details to anyone other than the owner of the funds in question.

These are reasonable steps to take against employees. But to criminalise the leaking of government information is both dramatic as it is overkill.

If a civil servant breaches the rules of employment, the machinery exists for that person to be discipline, dismissed or both.

Giving FICAC the powers to launch a criminal investigation into such actions does only one thing - it shows that this interim regime is concerned about its actions and has no wish to be transparent.

If whistleblowers within the Government system cannot be protected, how will the system be held accountable to the taxpayers?

The latest action appears to be support by the current administration to encourage secrecy within the Civil Service. This will only lead to greater corruption within a branch of the State already riddled by the disease.

If this regime supports transparency and accountability, it will provide protection for whistleblowers who can provide a system of checks and balances which otherwise do not exist.

If the regime truly believes in transparency and accountability, it will make all interim ministers and civil servants sign a register which lists their properties, bank accounts and investments.

And it will ensure that legislation is in place to allow the public and the media free access to all government information except matters of national security.

Matters of national security, however, must be clearly defined so they cannot be used as a shield behind which officials may hide.

We call on the interim Cabinet to review its stand on FICAC immediately.

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