Fiji Public Accounts Committee Explores Misuse Of Public Funds

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Prasad intends to summon officials; immunity provision doesn’t apply

By Nasik Swami

SUVA, Fiji (Fiji Times, Nov. 11, 2014) – Fiji’s Public Accounts Committee has the power to summon those implicated in any misuse of public funds to appear before the committee and provide evidence.

And committee chair Professor Biman Prasad has made it clear that the immunity provisions in the 2013 Constitution does not prevent it from summoning anyone covered by immunity to give evidence and provide documentation in relation to the findings in the Auditor-General's reports from 2007 to 2013.

However, Prof Prasad said summoning these public officers did not mean they were implicated in irregularities the committee found.

The vocal economist and Opposition member said he noted "widespread abuse" and "disregard" of financial procedures for various ministries as highlighted by the Auditor-General in his reports for the past seven years.

"Chapter 10 or Sections 155 to 158 of the Constitution prescribe irrevocable immunity for those executors of the military coup of 1987 (immunity continues from 1990 and 1997 constitutions), and for events leading up to and the execution of the "civilian" coup of May 2000, mutiny of November 2000 and the military coup of December 2006. Simultaneously, the Limitation of Liability for Prescribed Political Events Decree of 2010 also continues in existence," he said.

Prof Prasad said the immunity excludes those convicted by the Court or Tribunal for the coup of May 2000 and the mutiny of November 2000.

"The Immunity prescribed in the Constitution does not apply to "any act or omission" that constitutes an offence under Sections 133 to 146, 148 to 236, 288 to 351, 356 to 361, 364 to 374 and 377 to 386 of the Crimes Decree 2009.

"Some of these sections in the Crimes Decree describe offences relating to abuse of powers, and corruption."

He said PAC, like other parliamentary standing committees, has the same powers as those of the High Court, according to the Parliamentary Standing Orders (112)(2).

Prof Prasad said Section 112 of the Standing Orders clearly defines a Standing Committee has the power to:

"Section 112 (h) of the Standing Orders enforces section 91(3) of the Constitution in compelling the attendance of a Minister to testify or to produce documents or other materials.

He said Section 91(3) of the Constitution states "a minister must appear before Parliament or a Committee of Parliament, when required, and answer any questions concerning a matter for which the minister is responsible".

PAC's meeting in Parliament tomorrow is open for the members of the public.

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