NEWS

Premila Kumar: Corrupt Practices In Elected Municipal Councils

Kumar also highlighted in her statement that the reason people struggled to find parking in Suva every morning was because the council had sold off the Stewart Street car park and Greig Street car park.
03 Apr 2019 10:15
Premila Kumar: Corrupt Practices In Elected Municipal Councils
Opposition Leader in Parliament Sitiveni Rabuka, Opposition Members of Parliament Peceli Waqairatu. (front) Photo: Ronald Kumar

Minister for Local Government Premila Kumar has set the record straight that municipal elections will not precede Government’s attempts to rid the municipal councils of corrupt practices.

During her Ministerial statement in Parliament yesterday, Mrs Kumar said by calling for municipal elections to be held by October this year, the Opposition was calling for a return to corruption and inefficient development.

She discussed at length, the incidences of corrupt practices that were happening in municipal councils under the leadership of elected councillors between 1972 and 2008, until the Government stepped in to appoint its own town/city Special Administrators and council members.

Corrupt practices in Municipal councils under elected councillors:

  • The Suva City Council sold six residential properties, where one property was purchased by a councillor;
  • Prime foreshore land was also sold off by councillors with zero consideration given to the land’s future value and potential, and now that land is owned by the Carpenters Group;
  • Savusavu Town Council had sold off six lots of prime foreshore land to a councilor’s wife and friends and relatives;
  • Labasa Town Council constructed a swimming pool by taking a loan of $400,000 financed through special rates charged to ratepayers. Later this swimming pool was leased to a former Mayor and also the Director of a hotel next to the swimming pool for 25 years at $1000 per annum for the first 10 years followed by $500 increase after every five years;
  • Funds were expended on public works without accountability; contracts were given to favored members of the council and their family and friends while large debts were racking up
  • Nasinu Town Council also sold land to councillors and business people connected to councillors, and the subdivision was financially mismanaged;
  • Sigatoka Town Council also mismanaged grants given for subdivision of land for the relocation of the market and bus terminal; and
  • Labasa Town Council supported by self-interest lost a prime piece of land in Naiyaca given for the purpose of market and bus stand relocation.

Mrs Kumar said when the Government carried out a review of the councils by an independent committee in 2008; it found that some municipal councils were kept smaller than others out of fear that political control would be lost.

She said the ministry had made progress to improve municipal council operations since the Government stepped in.

“One of the key areas that all municipal councils faced difficulty in was with the maintenance and upkeep of roads, including streetlights and footpaths,” she said.

“From 2012, road asset management was taken over by the Fiji Roads Authority and the results are only obvious.

“The Government has also contributed significantly to support municipal councils in upgrading municipal markets, public parks, and sports/recreation ven- ues including stadiums.”

Project includes contribution towards the development of:

  • Nausori market and bus stand;
  • Laqere municipal market;
  • Suva’s Albert Park;
  • Tikaram Park at Lami;
  • Sigatoka riverbank development;
  • Namaka municipal market redevelopment;
  • swimming pools, a synthetic athletics track and indoor sports facility for Lautoka;
  • Govind Park redevelopment in Ba; lGarvey Park redevelopment in Tavua;
  • Rakiraki municipal market;
  • Levuka foreshore wall upgrade and
  • old market site upgrade; and
  • Savusavu municipal market and Ganilau Park upgrades.

Mrs Kumar said capital investment on municipal assets over the last ten years stands at $130.6m, the majority of which has been provided by Government.

Parking Issues in Suva:

Minister Kumar also highlighted in her statement that the reason people struggled to find parking in Suva every morning was because the council had sold off the Stewart Street car park and Greig Street car park.

Going forward:

“Years of pettiness, factionalism and a lack of strategic focus and vision have left Municipal Councils in a poor state and it will take time to fix this as it requires a paradigm shift,” Mrs Kumar said.

“My ministry will continue with the reforms to put a better system of governance in municipalities based on global best practice to ensure ratepayers get better returns. We cannot rely on the flawed election system that was introduced in 1972.

“Without these reforms in place, we would undermine the progress that this Government has made when it comes to better servicing our municipalities.”

Meanwhile, a motion to hold local government elections before October 19 was defeated in Parliament.

Edited by Susana Tuilau

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