The people of Fiji may soon get to know details of the ministerial pay scam which we first exposed on our website story of 23 August 2010.
The scam operated between 2010 and 2013 when, under instructions from the Prime Minister’s office, payment of salaries to ministers was moved out of the Finance Ministry and handed over to the private accounting firm of Dr. Nur Bano Ali, maternal aunt to the Attorney General.
Appearing yesterday before the Public Accounts Committee, now dealing with the
Auditor-General’s report for 2010, Acting Permanent Secretary for Finance confirmed
that instructions to transfer the funds were given in writing by the Prime Minister’s Office.
The Auditor General commented on the matter in his 2010 report revealing subsequently that his office was unable to obtain details and acquittals for the payment from the Ministry of Finance and the Prime Minister’s Office.
It has now surfaced that attempts over the years by the Finance Ministry and the Auditor General’s office to obtain the details and acquittals were repeatedly ignored by the Prime Minister’s Office.
Reliable sources suggest that the scam was specifically designed to give the PM and the Attorney General huge salary hikes without disclosing it to the public. At the time, these two held multiple ministerial portfolios between themselves, raking in close to three-quarters of a million each – more than six (6) times what they were paid earlier. .
The Public Accounts Committee has directed the Finance Ministry to produce the relevant documents at its next sitting.
The questions are:
• Why is the Prime Minister’s Office not releasing the documents which are required in discharge of a substantial sum of public money ($1.8m), more so when the Prime Minister himself is alleged to have benefited from it?
• Has the PM instructed that the documents not be released?
• The PM is long on lecturing others on accountability, honesty, transparency etc – should he not practice it himself?
Many will want to know who conceived this despicable game of greed and cheat: just who they ASK … yea, you got it right!
FLP exposed the pay scandal in 2010
Fiji Labour Party exposed the scandal concerning the mystery Bainimrama/Khaiyum pay package in August 2010 – at a time when the media was under severe censorship and most political parties had been subdued by the Public Emergency Regulations.
Our story ran on our website on 23 August 2010 asking the regime to confirm reports that payment of ministerial salaries had been moved from the Finance Ministry to a private accounting firm in Suva with close links to the Attorney General.
We questioned the secrecy surrounding Cabinet pays when in the past the salaries of the Prime Minister and his Cabinet ministers had always been in the public domain.
FLP was threatened under the PER for running the story. We were told by the Information Ministry to remove the story about ministerial pays as well as others that were critical of the regime. Our website would be forcibly closed down, should we refuse to do so.
We were also told that in line with the instructions to frontline media outlets, we would also henceforth have to submit all stories concerning the regime to the Information Ministry for scrutiny and approval.
Well, we refused to concede. The controversy raged for a while with Labour Leader Mahendra Chaudhry being summoned to the Info Ministry for questioning. When we refused to cave in to the government’s demands, the Ministry referred the matter to the Solicitor General’s office.
We referred our case to our solicitors. The matter lapsed after that. However, FLP continued to raise questions about the secrecy surrounding the ministerial salaries and the impropriety of transferring the payments from the Treasury to a private accounting firm. There was absolute silence on the issue from the regime for several years.
Sometime late in 2013, in preparation for the 2014 general elections, the payment of cabinet salaries was moved back to the Treasury. Bainimarama’s first response to questions on his pay packet was made in Rotuma in May 2014 in response to campaign claims by SODELPA that he was receiving a pay package of more than a $1m.
In line with the Political Parties Disclosure Decree, Bainimarama disclosed his salary at $278,750. FLP then asked him to show audited accounts of his salary from 2010 to 2013. Once again, there has been no response from the PM.
We reproduce below our first story exposing the scandal:
Accountability for Ministerial payrolls
[posted 23 Aug 2010,1515]
Fiji Labour Party calls on the interim government to comment on the authenticity of reports that salaries of Cabinet Ministers and a legal consultant hired by the government are paid through the accounting firm of BDO (Aliz).
There have been reports recently that ministers were not paid through the Treasury since March/April this year. Instead, their payroll was contracted out to BDO (Aliz) which is managed by Dr. Nur Bano Ali who is related (aunt) to the interim Attorney General, Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum.
Our inquiries revealed that tenders or expressions of interest for the work were not advertised.
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.
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.
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.