The recent report by the Auditor General on the Accounts and Finances of the Government once again confirm that the Qarase government is incapable of managing public funds.
The report highlights what the FLP has been saying since the first day Mr. Qarase took over government: that Mr Qarase and his team have no respect for established rules. regulations and procedures for spending public money and accounting for it.
The report highlights abuses and scams in almost every department of the government. Starting from the very top – in the PM’s office – abuses and scams are found in the police department, government’s trust fund accounts, Social Welfare Ministry, Multi-ethnic Affairs, Regional Development, Finance Ministry, Health Ministry, Immigration Department, Education Ministry… and the list goes on.
Of great concern is the fact that serious questions of abuse of funds have been labelled at the Prime Minister Mr. Qarase himself. That over $54,000 of small grants funds disbursed by Mr. Qarase do not have proper records shows the degree of negligence prevalent in the highest elected office in the country. But the public can expect no better if public funds are willy-nilly used to buy political support through donations made from taxpayers’ funds.
The Prime Minister’s office, as well as the offices of the Ministers of Social Welfare, Multi-ethnic Affairs, and Regional Development are well-known for distributing public funds to purchase political support.
This is outrageous. It has set a very dangerous precedent in Fiji. Buying political support is anti-democratic and a typical example of bad governance which has plagued numerous third world nations. It also exposes the lack of courage of the senior civil servants in advising the Ministers’ against this practice. It also shows that civil servants in certain sections of the government have been totally politicized. The peak of this was seen in the Agriculture Department scam.
Then, there are cases involving a private company Vinod Patel & Co Ltd. It is a well-known fact that Mr. Qarase is very close to the principals of this company. That this company was given a tender for a sum much higher than the cheapest bid, raises questions on whether the influence of Mr. Qarase was used by this company to secure the tender. In addition, this company has been cited for breach of immigration laws in employing an accountant from India. It is well known that some local companies have been hiring accountants from India while our own accountants are going without jobs. Why would a government allow this state of affairs to continue is open to speculation. Some years ago, the same company was involved in a customs scam.
The abuse of public funds creates fundamental problems in Fiji.
First, it takes away much needed money from more useful and pressing areas of need. The revelation of the millions of dollars squandered in such abuses come only hours after the Prime Minister made a passionate speech about poverty eradication. Over the years, well over $100m of funds have been squandered by the Qarase regime. Interestingly, the Welfare minister estimates that only with $96m would Fiji be able to get rid of the problem of poverty once and for all. If that were so, the funds abused by the Qarase government would have been sufficient to eliminate poverty in the country!
Second, the cancer of abuse has seeped right through the government machinery. When junior offices see Ministers and senior civil servants abusing public funds, and when they see them continuing to prosper, junior offices also start abusing public funds. Corruption and nepotism thrive in such an environment.
It is no exaggeration that under the SDL and Qarase leadership, the fundamentals of government and governance have been destroyed. Institutions which the previous governments built over decades, and institutions which proved to be most useful in ensuring good governance, have been seriously undermined and threatened by the callous and mercenary attitude of the Prime Minister.
The abuses undermine the confidence which the people have in the institution of government. This confidence is vital for a nation to prosper. These institutions will take a long time to be reconstructed.
Third, the abuses undermine investor and consumer confidence in the country. When massive cases of abuse and corruption are noticed by potential investors, they lose confidence in the government’s ability to provide a level playing field in the country. Financial abuse and corruption is a cost to business. This further diminishes investor confidence in the country.
Fourth, the economy suffers from the abuse. When financial abuse abounds, much needed growth areas are neglected by the government. This, coupled with the excessive costs on the taxpayers to maintain a non-accountable government, and the declining in investor confidence, places a huge hurdle for economic growth.
Fifth, the continuing abuse under the Qarase regime shows that its own ministers, the Finance Minister in particular, have miserably failed to live up to the expectations of the public.
It is the responsibility of the Finance Ministry to ensure that financial abuse is nipped in the bud. Yet, during the past 3 years, Fiji has seen rising incidence of financial abuse. One can conclude that either the Minister is a party to the abuses and the scams, or that he is plainly incapable of doing his job satisfactorily.
It is indeed sad that the good work done by the Office of the Auditor-General tends to go to waste because the Minister for Finance has failed to ensure that established rules, regulations and procedures are followed strictly by officials and Ministers.
Fiji needs to rid itself of financial abuse, corruption, nepotism and bad governance if it wants to prosper. Unfortunately, the continuing cases of abuse show that this government is least concerned with the abuse of public funds. The people no longer have any confidence in the Qarase regime to manage public money. They no longer have any trust in this government’s ability to handle public money. This message comes out loud and clear from the report of the Auditor General.
Finance Spokesperson – FLP