FICAC: Do we need such an institution

Written By : CHARLOTTE PETERS. The Fiji Independent Commission Against Corruption (FICAC) is an independent, powerful investigative body set up to investigate, detain, arrest and prosecute offenders of corruption. The
06 Jun 2008 12:00

Written By : CHARLOTTE PETERS. The Fiji Independent Commission Against Corruption (FICAC) is an independent, powerful investigative body set up to investigate, detain, arrest and prosecute offenders of corruption. The commission was set up by the interim government to counter corruption in the country and to date many have been charged including prominent figures.
The interim government in establishing the commission hoped it would look into the widespread instances of corruption in government, the private sector and improve standards of living.
Interim Prime Minister Commodore Voreqe Bainimarama said corruption has been eating away in Fiji for too long and in too many high and low places. He said it destroyed honesty and integrity in public office and elsewhere adding it should be stopped. The prime minister said the widespread instances of corruption both in government and the private sector denied ordinary citizens of this country the opportunities for fair play and improved standards of living.
The rich, powerful and deceitful he said oppressed the chances of the poor and downtrodden to come out of poverty and also the young and talented denied the opportunity to excel and be successful.
“The interim government is committed to ridding our beloved nation of corruption and creating fair and equal opportunities for all to aspire for an honest and dignified lifestyle,” said Cdre Bainimarama.
To date the commission has executed raids, investigated government departments and statutory bodies and have charged certain individuals for charges related to abuse of office and corruption.
It carrying out its role the commission has come under fire for its incompetence particularly the manner in which it has laid charges and not being able to successfully prosecute a single case. Attacks and criticism directed at the commission have many questioning whether Fiji needs such a commission.
One of the critics is Suva lawyer Rajendra Chaudhry who was recently discharged by the Magistrates Court for charges instituted against him and a colleague by the commission. He said the commission should be re- named Fiji Incompetent Commission Against Corruption because they do not know their job.
According to Mr Chaudhry the commission in dealing with his case acted in a very arrogant and unprofessionally manner.
“They do not have the basic investigative skills and they seem to think they’re a law to themselves. If they charge somebody and that somebody is guilty, everyone is innocent until roved guilty in the court of law,” said Mr Chaudhry.
He said the commission was borrowed from a Hong Kong legislation and ICAC a well respected institution, very sophisticated, targeted in its approach with the necessary skill, resources and manpower was set up in 1974, to look at police corruption and had branched out to other areas today.
“Obviously, Fiji does not have that level of expertise, and that is why FICAC has not been able to successfully prosecute a single case,” he said.
Mr Chaudhry also criticized the staff of the commission describing them as totally incompetent and “they don’t know their work.”
“They do not know the legislation, they do not know the criminal procedure code, they do not know the constitution provisions as applied to the persons that are being questioned and charged. These are the basics and these people don’t seem to know.”
He said the commission needed competent and qualified people. There was a need he said for an expatriate commissioner, a deputy commissioner who is a retired judge or equivalent, a strong pool of lawyers who would look at the evidence brought to them and make an assessment of the value of the charges that when charging somebody the evidence supported the charge.
“We need qualified and competent people that are dedicated and don’t have any agenda.
“When you look at FICAC, all they have done is charge people. You just look at Mr Laisenia Qarase, Mr Weleilakeba, Mr Patel these people were all linked to the old government.
“They charge me to try and appear to be a balancing act. The thing is-you only charge people when you have the evidence and whether it can be taken to court. They have not done that. They are incapable of doing that.”
Mr Chaudhry said one does not set up institution which impede on people and against people’s basic human rights and the constitution.
Furthermore he said the commission was not capable of eradicating corruption as they do not have the people and expertise and we need an anti corruption body which was rightfully the place of the police and the DPP.
“Police can do the investigating work and then forward it to the office of the DPP. This is what happens now in criminal cases. Compile the evidence and seek the DPP’s opinion.”
Prominent figures that have been charged to date include deposed prime minister Lasenia Qarase, Motibhai group chief executive Mahendra Patel, Fijian Holdings chief executive Sitiveni Weleilakeba, former Post Fiji managing director Peni Mau and general manager marketing Vinesh Kumar, former Airports Fiji Limited chief executive Ratu Sakiusa Tuisolia, former Commissioner Northern Misieli Naivalu, Magistrate Sunil Kumar and former Commissioner Central Inoke Devo.
With the prosecution of one case which resulted in a discharge, others charged by the commission have challenged its legality. Mr Devo has made an application in the courts challenging the legality of the commission and another prominent lawyer Devanesh Sharma said the issue regarding the illegality of the commission was clear. He said in Fiji all prosecutions were dealt with by the DPP and private investigators did not play that role.
Fijian Teachers Association president Tevita Koroi said to date the establishment of the commission by the current regime remain questionable. “Its legality let alone its operation by which it appears to have selectively handled cases,” said Mr Koroi. He said questions such as resources continue to cloud the minds of many as to why we need such a body when there were already established institutions within the law to handle prosecution matters.
“Such resources could be better utilised if the office of the DPP were to
be strengthened instead of recreating a near duplicate institution,” he said.
Former Labour Minister and unionist Kenneth Zinck said the commission should be disbanded as soon as possible describing it not only incompetent but useless.
He said the commission was an illegal institution and was a waste of taxpayers money. “The sooner FICAC is disbanded the better it is for everyone because they are bleeding the country dry,” said Mr Zinck. Mr Zinck said all investigation should be left to the police and the DPP.
Interim Attorney General Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum said the fact the commission was established is a success itself saying there was a need for such an institution to be able to tackle white collar crime.
He said the fact that prominent figures who held top positions some years ago have been investigated and charged was quite liberating.
“People can now actually say the top brass can also be charged. There is no political interference, no political influence – everybody is equal before the law,” said Mr Sayed-Khaiyum.
Finally he added there was an institution where the ordinary men and women could lodge their complaints.

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