Fiji Labour Party calls for a thorough investigation into the controversy surrounding the reconstruction of schools damaged by Cyclone Winston two years ago.
“Attorney General and Education Minister Aiyaz Khaiyum speaks around the subject but has not told us yet in plain English how many of the 225 schools reportedly damaged by the cyclone have been fully repaired and are safe to be used as classrooms, and how many are still undergoing repairs or awaiting construction.
“It is not acceptable that two years after the cyclone, children are still being taught in tents or makeshift shelters,” said Labour Leader Mahendra Chaudhry.
“There is a lot of controversy surrounding the handing out of contracts for the reconstruction of damaged schools. For instance, how come hardware merchants who do not own construction companies were awarded tenders for construction?” Mr Chaudhry asked.
These hardware companies were given a number of schools each to rehabilitate. They in turn allocated the jobs to sub-contractors. In some instances we are told, sub contractors have not completed jobs allocated to them because they are not being paid for the work by the primary contractors ie the hardware companies.
“We know of construction companies who registered expressions of interest for the school rehabilitation projects but were bypassed for the hardware merchants. Mr Khaiyum needs to explain to the people of Fiji what criteria were used to award tenders to these non-construction companies many of whom are known major financiers of the Fiji First Party?” Mr Chaudhry said.
Labour does not accept the explanation by the PM and AG that delays in reconstruction are because schools are being rebuilt to stronger standards.
“It certainly should not take more than two years to strengthen the building structures,” Mr Chaudhry said.
“There is definitely something fishy here. There has been a worrying lack of transparency and accountability in government’s handling of the entire cyclone rehabilitation project.
For instance, millions of dollars were raised or received through donations for the Prime Minister’s Disaster Relief Trust Fund from both local and overseas donors. An appeal launched by the United Nations alone brought in close to $80 million.
“Government has not provided audited accounts of these moneys in the Trust Fund. A lot of questions are being asked and people deserve honest answers,” Mr Chaudhry said.