OPINION BY LEBA SENI NABOU - The "FICAC" Factor
As published in the Fiji Times - Saturday 1 October 2022
If there is any organisation in Fiji that hangs over Opposition parties like the sword of damocles, it is FICAC.
Better known to us all as the "Fiji Independent Commission Against Corruption", its role and function as a 2007 decree made lawful through the "consolidation" of laws in Parliament in 2016, was obviously intended to do exactly all this.
This is not news to us. NFP Members in Parliament have already laid much of this out in hansard records.
But it is critical to understand the genesis of this entity, and performance so far, especially for the incoming new Government that intends to steer our soon-to-be 52 year old nation, back on an even keel.
In 2007, and hot on the heels of the then military commander's (now the FFP Party Leader) crusade after his 2006 illegal takeover, fueled by an ethos of "Integrity, Consistency and Transparency (Na Dina, Dodonu kei na Savasava), a decree was bought in to supposedly eradicate corruption from public offices. It was, after all, the thrust of the public narrative used to justify the 2006 coup.
Under the leadership of the then Deputy Commissioner, Mr George Langman, was interviewed in the Fiji Sun in 2009 and stated that FICAC's performance since its 2007 establishment, "has investigated 42 cases and charged 54 people."
NFP President Hon Pio Tikoduadua questioned FICAC's efficiency on 24 March 2021 in Parliament during the debate on its 2016-2017 Annual Report. He referred to a miserly 0.2% success rate of FICAC convictions, against the number of complaints received and suggested that these low numbers could be because many complaints lodged, may have been frivolous and baseless.
Hon Pio was referencing the latest statistics on the FICAC website landing page, where out of a total of 67,417 complaints received; 1,570 cases were investigated; 366 individuals were charged; and 115 individuals were convicted.
Then (and oddly so), on 05 August 2010 the Fiji Sun features another story where the FFP General Secretary and Attorney General confirmed that the then FICAC boss, Colonel George Langman would soon be posted back to the Republic of Fiji Military Forces to facilitate rural development works.
As he is also responsible for FICAC according to section 5(5) of the Act, the Fiji Sun captures him detailing the following: "There’s a requirement for Colonel Langman to go back to the RFMF since he is the only qualified engineer who has had offshore senior staff training course experience,” Mr Sayed-Khaiyum said.
He said that in the next few months the People’s Republic of China will be giving $5 million worth of construction equipment to the Republic of Fiji Military Forces Engineering Corp.
“This is to be used in rural development and so obviously there is a need for very senior people to be able to run the engineers corp.”
Mr Langman however continued to stay on in FICAC.
But it is not until 2014 when taxpayers footing the bills for FICAC's operations, begin to see some returns on their taxes through the 2014 Annual Report tabled in Parliament in 2015.
FICAC during the 2014 Election Year
Mr Langman in the 2014 Annual Report, upholds section 17 of the FICAC Act relating to the tabling of Annual Reports, which says:
(1) The Commissioner must submit a copy of the Commission’s annual report to the President and Minister within 3 months after the end of the financial year.
(2) The Minister must, as soon as reasonably practicable, cause a copy of the annual report to be laid before Parliament.
In Mr Langman's introductory remarks presenting the 2014 Annual Report, he said right at the outset:
"Foremost, the Commission was put to test for the first time during the September 2014 National Elections to investigate elements of breaches under the Electoral Decree No 11 of 2014. The electoral offences that were referred to the Commission were carefully analyzed before an investigation was carried out. Cases of Electoral breaches taken to Court received successful convictions earlier than expected and these were achieved through our high level of skills and efficiency."
It is within the pages of the 2014 Annual Report that we can see the nature of some of these FICAC complaints relating to elections:
• Election Office: Complaint against officers for fabricating quotations for dismantling work -- Insufficient evidence to institute criminal proceedings.
• Complaint lodged by Elections Office against Citizen Constitutional Forum (CCF) -- Insufficient evidence to institute criminal proceedings.
• Laisenia Qarase’s speech/comments on ballot numbers 135 & 136 and making reference of it in the Holy Quran -- Insufficient evidence to institute criminal proceedings.
• Elections Office complaint against Vasemaca Bau who voted at the Women’s Correctional Center on 12 of September 2014 -- Case closed as evidence confirmed the Accused did not breach of Section 82 (2) (d) of the Electoral Decree.
• Election Office complaint against Election Candidate, Roshika Deo -- Insufficient evidence to institute criminal proceedings.
FICAC in 2015
In FICAC's 2015 Annual Report, a handful of more offences related to electoral laws were listed:
• Breach of the Electoral Decree 2014 by an employer -- Insufficient evidence to institute criminal proceedings.
• False Declaration against the Attorney General -- Insufficient evidence to institute criminal proceedings.
• Complaint against Special Administrator Lautoka City Council for colluding with the SDL Party -- Insufficient evidence to institute criminal proceedings.
FICAC in 2016-2017
In FICAC's Annual Report for August 2016 to 31 July 2017 by Mr Langman, there were only a few cases related to electoral laws listed.
Page 12 details the following:
Case against the Minister for Education for bribery and undue influence under the Electoral Act (Dr Mahendra Reddy).
Page 17 lists a complaint against a SODELPA party member for not declaring his liabilities -- Insufficient evidence to institute criminal proceedings.
Dr Reddy's case as of a Fiji Sun report of 15 May 2018, highlighted that FICAC would be seeking a retrial after the Magistrates Court acquitted Hon Dr Mahendra Reddy.
In that same Fiji Sun report, Mr Davenesh Sharma who was Hon Dr Reddy's lawyer is reported to have told the court the following: "Mr Sharma submitted that people had the right to choose who they wanted to go into Government.
He said one could change their political allegiance today, tomorrow and the next day, however he questioned if this would change a person’s vote during election."
High Court Justice Vincent Perera dismissed the appeal made by FICAC against Hon Dr Mahendra Reddy, on 22 June 2018.
FICAC in 2018
The year 2018 heralded Fiji's second election, post coup of 2006. There were also headline FICAC cases for alleged electoral breaches.
No Annual Reports for FICAC were ever tabled in Parliament for the years 2018 to 2021, despite section 17 of its law requiring these key transparency and accountability requirements, for the taxpaying public.
The only public information on electoral offences given by FICAC in 2018, prior to the November elections was reported in the Fiji Times of 23 October 2018:
"The Fiji Independent Commission Against Corruption (FICAC) has warned the public, political parties and their candidates that they will come down hard on anyone found to have breached any campaign rules under the Electoral Act.
FICAC manager investigations Isireli Tagicaki said FICAC was mandated under Section 18 of the Act as the investigation and prosecution arm of the Fijian Elections Office."
FICAC in 2022
On 24 April 2022, the Fiji Sun reported that Mr Rashmi Aslam had been appointed the first ever Commissioner of FICAC by His Excellency the President, Ratu Wiliame Katonivere.
Mr Aslam was previously appointed Acting Deputy Commissioner in April 2020 upon the retirement of Mr Langman.
To date a number of political parties have been referred to FICAC. In that surely, it is not too much to expect basic professional and legal courtesies such as:
1/ Has the individual or group alleged of electoral breaches been informed that they been referrred to FICAC in a timely manner, and have they been fully informed of the precise breaches?
2/ Have taxpayers been told, and regularly updated on the status of FICAC (electoral) cases so that their political rights (to vote) are respected -- from complaint, to investigation, to prosecution OR to case closure?
3/ Is FICAC penalty driven only, or is self-compliance for (electoral) corruption prevention, not a priority?
Our people who pay for all Regulators and Parliamentarians, suffer through dry taps, no electricity, shackling food plus service bills, while weighed down by so much financial burden, deserve nothing less than to see fairness in action.
We continue to be overwhelmed by their voices telling us, that they await their day of reckoning at the polling booth.
Leba Seni Nabou is the general secretary of the National Federation Party. The views here are her’s and not necessarily shared by this newspaper.
#NFPintheNews - As published in the Fiji Times - Saturday 1 October 2022