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REPLY: Raj Responds To Prasad Claims

REPLY: Raj Responds To Prasad Claims
Human Rights and Anti-Discrimination Commission director Ashwin Raj.
September 08
18:33 2017

The following is the Fiji Human Rights and Anti-Discrimination Commission director Ashwin Raj’s response to the National Federation Party leader Biman Prasad on Special Audit Limitation.

In an interview with The Fiji Times on September 2,  2017 the leader of the NFP has made several spurious claims pertaining to Section 72 of Finance Instructions 2010 and the audit of independent institutions in a feeble attempt to gain political mileage by deliberately distorting what the law actually says and duping members of the public which needs correction.

Furthermore, the Commission is equally compelled to issue a statement given that the Fiji Times made no effort to ensure balanced reporting by seeking the views of the independent institutions implicated in the report.

Biman Prasad claims that an amendment to Section 72 of the Finance Instructions 2010 in effect limits the authority of the Permanent Secretary for Economy in authorising audits. Anyone who reads Section 72 of the Finance Instructions 2010 will be able to differentiate the role of the Auditor General from the “Internal Audit” mechanisms of the Ministry of Economy stipulated under Part 13 of the Finance Instructions even in its amended form.

The amended section 72 of the Finance Instructions states “Notwithstanding the provisions of this instruction, the Permanent Secretary responsible for Finance must not authorise the audit of an independent office under this instruction unless the audit has been requested in writing by the responsible authority for the independent office”.

This amendment is consistent with Section 45 (7) of the Fijian Constitution pertaining to the Human Rights and Anti-Discrimination Commission which expressly provides that:

In the performance of its functions or the exercise of its authority and powers, the Commission shall be independent and shall not be subject to the direction or control of any person or authority, except by a court of law or as otherwise prescribed by written law”. 

Furthermore Section 45 (12) provides that the Commission shall have control of its own budget and finances as approved by Parliament.

Quite contrary to the insinuations made by Biman Prasad, this amendment to the Finance Instructions in fact strengthens the independence including the financial and administrative autonomy of independent institutions such as the Human Rights and Anti-Discrimination Commission from any interference from the State. This as matter of fact is an important amendment in ensuring that the laws pertaining to the governance of the national human rights commission are Paris Principles compliant.

Does the amendment to the Finance Instructions mean that the Human Rights and Anti-Discrimination Commission cannot be subjected to an audit? The answer is an unequivocal no precisely because section 16 (2) of the Human Rights and Anti-Discrimination Commission Act requires that “the accounts of the Commission must be audited by the Auditor-General”.

It is therefore not an ‘expectation of request’ as claimed by Biman Prasad but rather an obligation on part of the Director of the Human Rights and Anti-Discrimination Commission to ensure that the Commission financials are audited by the Auditor General while ensuring that the Commissions independence and integrity is maintained.

The Commission, on the March 28, 2017, presented itself before the Public Accounts Committee to clarify issues raised by the Auditor General in his 2014 report.

There were no anomalies highlighted by the Auditor General in the operations audit of the Commission. Furthermore, the Commission gave an undertaking to the Public Accounts Committee that it will procure the services of an independent accounting firm to produce financial statements dating back to 2008 when the Commission had no leadership.

It is public knowledge that the Constitutional Offices Commission appointed a Chairperson and Human Rights Commissioners in 2015 and a Director was appointed by the Board in 2016.

These financials will then be forwarded to the Office of the Auditor General for audit. The Public Accounts Committee recorded no objection to the Commission’s proposed way forward in furnishing the Auditor General with the necessary financials for an independent audit.

These might be politically desperate times for Biman Prasad and the National Federation Party but I am requesting him to please conduct himself with integrity and not mislead the public.


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