Case Against the Divisional Forestry Officer Northern

Media Team   |   31 Mar 2009

Investigation into an allegation that the Divisional Forestry Officer Northern had delayed payment of outstanding royalties owed to Mataqali Tibitibi, Mataqali Vitina and the Government of Fiji.  He did this without the authority of the Conservator of Forest, thereby causing prejudice to the rights of the said Mataqalis and Government of Fiji.

The officer was charged for Abuse of Office and appeared before the Labasa Magistrates Court on 2nd December 2008.  On the day of his arraignment he pleaded guilty to the five counts of Abuse of Office.

The matter was adjourned to 16th December 2008 for sentencing however on this date, the accused chose to change his plea.  Then on 29th July 2009, after his trial, Magistrate Anare Tuilevuka made a ruling stating that the prosecution had proven its case beyond reasonable doubt and found the accused guilty.  On 30th July 2010, in sentencing Noa Vakacegu, Magistrate Tulevuka fined him $1,500, of which $1,300 is to be forfeited to FICAC as prosecution costs and that the accused be granted leave to make payment through fortnightly installments of $50.00.

On 21st April 2010, FICAC filed an appeal to contest the sentence of a $1,500 fine.  FICAC submitted that even though the Respondent (NoaVakacegu) was found guilty and convicted by the Magistrates Court, he has been reinstated in the Public Service and holds an even higher position than before the conviction.  FICAC submitted that the main ground of the appeal was the fact that only a fine was imposed on the accused.  At the same time as this appeal, the respondent had also filed a cross appeal.

The Appeal hearing took place in the Suva High Court on 9th February 2011.  The defence relied on filed written submissions.  FICAC drew the courts attention to the irregularities of the ruling of the learned Magistrate who had presided over the initial case. FICAC invited the Judge to  invoke the  powers vested in the court in respect of  appellate jurisdiction  and to pass a new sentence  quashing the  sentence passed by the Magistrate which contained irregularities.  FICAC submitted that a deterrent sentence was more appropriate.

On 3rd May 2011, Justice Thurairaja noted the differences in the copies submitted by the Magistrate and noted that he did not impose a default sentence.  He then ordered that the accused pay a fine of $400.00 on each count ($2000.00 in total) which he had to pay by 5th August 2011.  In default of the payment, Vakacegu will be sent to prison for 7 months.