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Rigorous Debate Over Code Of Conduct Bill

“It is our submission that if officers have to declare their interests, income, assets and liabilities than this would create duplicity and waste time and resources because the Commission can access this information from FRCS, and the Fijian Elections Office.
06 Feb 2019 10:11
Rigorous Debate Over Code Of Conduct Bill
From left, SODELPA MP Ratu Suliano Matanitobua, parliamentary standing committee on Justice, Law and Human Rights chairperson Alvick Maharaj, Fijian Competition and Consumer Commission CEO Joel Abraham, FijiFirst MPs Vijendra Prakash and Rohit Sharma at a Parliament Committee Room on February 5, 2019.

The Water Authority of Fiji (WAF) has called for the removal of Part 6 of the Code of Conduct Bill, which requires public office holders to declare their income, assets, other interests and liabilities.

The topic was up for rigorous debate yesterday as WAF made submissions before the Standing Committee on Justice, Law and Human Rights on the Code of Conduct Bill, Bill No. 33 of 2018.

Part 6 of the Bill sets out a provision for declaration of income, assets, and other interests and liabilities in Fiji or abroad relating to the Public Office Holder, the Public Office Holder’s Spouse, De Facto spouse and children.

WAF Acting Manager Legal Department Akosita Matakaca, during her submission, said: “Public Office holders would have normally updated the Fiji Revenue and Customs Service (FRCS) of their income and assets and liabilities for relevant tax to be deducted.

“Our members of Parliament and candidates for election would have to abide by the declaration on income and assets as per the electoral degree.

“It is our submission that if officers have to declare their interests, income, assets and liabilities than this would create duplicity and waste time and resources because the Commission can access this information from FRCS, and the Fijian Elections Office.

“Now we are submitting if Part 6 of the Bill be removed because this would waste more time and resources in creating an-other commission whose roles are already covered under authorities such as FRCS and other prosecuting and investigating bodies,” said Ms Matakaca.

Standing Committee on Justice, Law and Human Rights chairperson Alvick Maharaj questioned WAF on their submission, which he said contradicted their earlier statements.

In regards to improving WAF’s internal code of conduct policies Ms Matakaca had said earlier: “Currently WAF is the talk of the media, we have people being prosecuted for certain corrupt activities that is why internally we want to work on our policies.”

In light of this Mr Maharaj asked: “You have said that people are being prosecuted at WAF yet you are asking us to repeal Part 6 of this Bill.

“As you have said yourself people are getting prosecuted because of corrupt practices and this Bill is actually coming in force to ensure that these corrupt practices are removed from our ministries and authorities and you asking to remove Part 6 where the declaration of income and assets are stated.”

Legal Officer for WAF Vilisoni Tuicolo, in his response, said their suggestion was for the removal of declaration of assets, income and liabilities only, not the Code of Conduct Bill entirely.

WAF’s submission also suggested the establishment of a time frame for complaints regarding breach of conducts by a public office holder.

“Section 12 of the Bill stipulates some conditions which the commission will consider when investigating a complaint,” said Ms Matakaca.

“One of them is the time factor referring to the delay in time of the actual breach to the time of lodging the report.

“The delay does not have a stipulated time frame, thus is open to interpretation; it can be a month, a year or three years.”

Their submission suggested for a time frame to be given which can be interpreted when considering the delay in reporting conditions.

“For example, any reports of breach should be reported within six months from the time of the officers breaching the code of conduct and any reports lodged after 6 months will not be investigated,” she added.

Edited by Epineri Vula

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