The controversy over the super-salaries of the Prime Minister and the Attorney General has been ongoing since mid-2010. Until now, the regime has chosen not to comment on these reports.
On 23 August 2010, the Fiji Labour Party posted a story on its website calling on the regime to comment on the authenticity of reports that the salaries of Cabinet ministers and a legal consultant hired by the regime were paid by the accounting firm of BDO (Aliz).
The story noted that since March/April that year, the Cabinet payroll was not handled by the Treasury but had been contracted out to BDO, a private accounting firm managed by Nur Bano, aunt to Aiyaz Khaiyum, the Attorney General.
Our inquires had revealed that tenders or expressions of interest for the contract had not been advertised. The FLP article ran as follows:
“According to information published on the internet interim Prime Minister Commodore Voreqe Bainimarama receives an annual salary of $267,000 while the interim Attorney General receives $336,000.
These are super salaries: no former Prime Minister or Attorney General has been paid anywhere near these figures. Salaries and allowances of PMs and Ministers were governed by determinations made by the Parliamentary Salaries Commission and ranged from $115,000 plus State housing for the PM to $96,000 including housing allowance, for the Attorney General/Ministers.
It will be recalled that Commodore Bainimarama had made it explicitly clear in 2007 that he, as well as all Ministers (including the AG), would receive only ONE salary irrespective of the number of portfolios they held. We believe that such is the case with all other Ministers who receive much, much less compared to the interim PM and the AG.
Interestingly, the Executive Authority of Fiji Decree No.2, 2009 states at Section 9 that:
“A Minister is entitled to remuneration and allowances that were applicable before the 10th day of April 2009, provided that the President may by Decree amend, vary or replace the remuneration or allowance payable to a Minister.”
We have not seen any Decree which has altered, amended or varied the above provision.
The tax payer and the people of Fiji are entitled to know the truth. All public officials, including the Prime Minister and Ministers, must be paid through the Treasury, at rates approved by law and in a transparent manner.
After all, there has been much rhetoric on transparency and accountability by the High Command of the interim government.
The administration must now clarify whether the reports are true. ”
A couple of weeks later on 8 September 2010, the FLP received a letter from the Information Ministry noting that FLP was posting stories on its website calculated to “undermine government generally or bring disrepute to particular government officials. It ordered that all media releases to go on our website must henceforth be approved by Minfo before publication.
FLP refused to be intimidated or to send its releases to Minfo for prior approval.
Then on 13 September another notice signed by Sharon Smith-Johns ordered that “the speculative and defamatory press release titled “Accountability for Ministerial Payrolls be removed”.
FLP would not do so and Minfo tried without success to shut down the FLP website. The saga dragged on for almost a year, finally involving even Solicitor General Christopher Pryde, but eventually the regime backed off.
The point we would like to make is that as early as August 2010, the FLP had asked the regime to clarify reports about Cabinet salaries being abnormally high and handled privately by the accounting firm of Nur Bano.
Until now, the regime had refused to comment. The Attorney General said this week that Cabinet salaries are handled by the Finance Ministry not by a private contractor and that they were not politicians and therefore did not have to disclose their salaries and assets.
So much for accountability and transparency from the AG and his PM – obviously in the AG’s books the law is not equal for everyone!
Our inquiries, however show that the Treasury has not handled Cabinet pays since early 2010… that it is handled by the Prime Minister’s Office and is processed by the accounting firm of Nur Bano.
Stories posted on the blogs claim that Bainimarama and Khaiyum are each drawing salaries in excess of $700k pa.
One must ask how much is each of them putting away in his FNPF account. At $700K pa the contribution would be $56k per employee and a like sum as employer contribution – it comes to a whopping $112k per annum – not bad considering that all existing pensioners had to take a cut of 50% in their pensions to keep the FNPF afloat according to the regime’s reformists!
As for Aunty Nur Bano, her nexus with the regime goes deeper than just helping to keep their salaries secret.
In August 2010 she was given a $500,000 (half a million dollar) consultancy to look into the restructuring of Rewa Dairy, without tenders or expressions of interest being called for by the Ministry of Commerce, the line Minister being her nephew, Aiyaz Khaiyum (FLP website 5 August 2010).
This was done despite objections from the then PS Commerce who advised against the flouting of the tender procedures.
There have been reports of Ms Bano’s accounting firm being involved in other consultancy projects for the regime.