The Auditor General’s report (Front page Fiji Times today) is just the tip of the iceberg as far as the complete saga of the regime’s Cabinet salaries are concerned.
Firstly, it is now clear that the Ministers of the regime illegally approved huge pay increases for themselves, in contravention of Decree 2 of 2009.
Secondly, the nation still does not know the actual pays of each of the Ministers from January 2010 to September 2014. The Prime Minister’s Office is not releasing any details on Cabinet pays for this period.
Thirdly, there are no answers as to why in January 2010 the responsibility for Cabinet pays was moved to a private accounting firm with close connections to the Attorney General, and away from the Treasury. This in itself was a breach of Public Service convention as well as the principles of accountability and transparency.
The move from the Finance Ministry was done surreptitiously and, ostensibly, with intent to keep the salary hikes secret from the people for fear of being exposed as self-serving hypocrites who had promised at the time of the takeover of government in 2006 that no one involved would personally benefit from it.
The AG’s report is incomplete in providing the total and complete salary structure of the regime’s Ministers since 2009. But it indicates that in 2013, at least, Voreqe Bainimarama was on a basic pay of $278,000 plus, another minister received 185,000 while the rest of the members of the Cabinet collected between $130,000 – $150,000 a year in basic pay.
This is way above what Cabinet Ministers were paid prior to April 2009 while Mr Bainimarama as prime minister was receiving more than double the salary of a prime minister which pre-2009 was $115,000 a year.
Decree 2 of 2009, the Executive Authority of Fiji Decree (Section 9) states very clearly 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 allowances payable to a Minister.
Now, we know for a fact that no decree to amend Cabinet salaries has been gazetted since Decree 2 of 2009. and therefore, the pay raise they gave themselves remains illegal.
It was not until 3 October 2014, just three days before the first parliamentary sitting following the general elections that a decree appeared out of the blue providing for the determination of remuneration of the President, the Prime Minister, other ministers, assistant ministers and Members of Parliament etc.
But the effective date of the decree was the date of its publication ie 3 October 2014 – it has no retrospective effect.
The fact remains that the salary hikes they took for themselves by moving the payments from the Treasury to the private accounting firm of the Attorney General’s aunt from 1st January 2010, remains illegal and must be pursued in parliament.
The refusal of the PM’s office to divulge the details must not be accepted by the Finance Ministry.
The Fiji Labour Party has been questioning the secrecy surrounding Cabinet pays since August 2010 on its website.. We have repeatedly since then called on both the Prime Minister and the Attorney General to disclose their true salaries.
They did not respond. Instead, a month later, the Ministry of Information began moves, albeit unsuccessfully, to force the FLP to remove the story from its website and threatened to shut down the website should we not comply with the order.
This conflict lasted for a year as FLP stood its ground and eventually the regime gave in. But they refused to disclose any information on their salaries.
Following the registration of Fiji First Party, the PM stated his base pay at $278.750 which is the figure mentioned in the AG’s report for 2013.
But why is he not releasing details of his salary for 2010, 2011 and 2012?