With $12.5 million of tax payers’ funds involved in the project, it should have kept close audit on financial expenditure, insisting on accountability and transparency throughout.
Fiji Labour Party hopes that all those implicated in the Lagilagi Housing Estate saga will be thoroughly investigated and duly prosecuted now that the findings of an investigation has found evidence of gross financial mismanagement and malfeasance by the project administrators.
And that families who had paid for units they did not get, are refunded their monies. Inquiry report shows there were 70 such families.
Housing Minister Premila Kumar has finally come public on the investigation report by the Fijian Competition and Consumer Commission which was handed to her two months ago.
Labour has repeatedly called on the government to accept responsibility for the scandal at the new housing estate after numerous low income earners complained that they had paid money for units but did not get any.
We said that government must ensure that these applicants get their refunds.
Work at the project jointly funded by government and the Peoples Community Network came to a halt mid last year when the PCN ran out of funds, claiming that it was awaiting funding promised by government. FCCC was forced to investigate the matter after receiving a high number of public complaints.
The FCCC inquiry report has not been made public but Minister Kumar said the huge 635-page report “found anomalies pertaining to governance, risk management and numerous financial issues including improper record keeping of finances, unauthorized alterations to receipts, suspicious unexplained transactions in PCN staff personal accounts …and unaudited financial statements”.
She said loans given to PCN staff members from the project account were not accounted for. She also revealed, something that Labour had already queried, that a number of people who did not qualify for the low income housing, were given units.
She says government will now take over the project and that the matter has been handed over to the Police Fraud Unit for investigation and possible prosecution.
PCN Director Samu Saumatua declined to comment on the report today saying that the matter was still under investigation by the Police.
While Minister Kumar’s statements are reassuring, we urge her to give priority to the 70 applicants from low income families who had paid for units they did not get. It is not fair to keep these families waiting indefinitely as Police investigation into the 370 complaints could take months, if not years.
Finally, we believe government must take a fair measure of blame for the scandal. With $12.5 million of tax payers’ funds involved in the project, it should have kept close audit on financial expenditure, insisting on accountability and transparency throughout.
It is all very well for Minister Kumar to now issue self-righteous statements that “government will not tolerate any abuse of funds, especially when it was given to build low cost housing for Fijians…”
She has threatened “to file charges against the director(s) and board members of PCN for any unethical practices found to be in breach of the relevant laws”.
Well Minister Kumar: wasn’t government found sleeping on the job? Maybe not under your watch but that of former Minister for Housing, Praveen Kumar!
So how about holding the former Minister and his officials also accountable for failure to do their job?