The Fiji Labour Party is disappointed and dismayed at the decision of the Chief Magistrate to release the Passport to allow overseas travel by Sports Minister Isireli Leweniqila.
According to the media reports, Mr Leweniqila has been asked by the court to surrender his passport on his return from South Africa. This is a curious decision. If the passport can be uplifted and then surrendered on the Minister’s return, one may well ask the rhetorical question – what was the purpose of taking the passport in the first instance.
The ease with which the court has released the passport is of much concern. Is this the standard and the precedent for all such accused persons, or was Mr Leweniqila accorded special consideration because he is a cabinet minister.
This is the perplexing question that is going through the minds of all law-abiding citizens of Fiji, and the international community that is following the Law and Order situation in Fiji with much interest.
The release of the passport incident clearly indicates the need for the holders of public office to stand down from the public office whilst the courts are trying them.
There is wisdom in the longstanding convention, which requires all holders of public offices when charged with criminal offences, to stand down from their respective offices until the final determination of their cases by the courts. One recent example of the working of such convention is exhibited by the Australian Governor-General who has stepped down from his position temporarily to facilitate investigations of certain allegations made against him.
Mr Lewniqila, by not following this convention and stepping down is undermining the public confidence in the judicial system of Fiji. He must have presented a dilemma to the magistrate. On the one hand, the magistrate was faced with the task of permitting the affairs of the state to proceed without any hindrance, and on the other, to adjudicate on the matter of the application of an accused person.
It is precisely this kind of embarrassment that the convention tries to address and avoid, and therefore, Mr Leweniqila will do much for the due process of law and the respect for law and order generally by following the convention and stepping down whilst his case is before the Law Courts.
Hon. Senator Anand Singh
FLP Spokesperson, Justice, Law & Order