News

Corruption, Society & The Law

Media Team   |   30 Mar 2009

Honoured Guests, ladies and gentlemen,

Introduction

It is a pleasure to participate in the 9th Attorney-General's Conference. For the initiative to set up the Fiji Independent Commission Against Corruption, my thanks especially goes to the Attorney-General for his commitment to ensure the successful promulgation of the FICAC and subsequent amendments to the promulgation thus reinforcing the legal parameters of FICAC operations.

FICAC translates His Excellency, the President of Fiji's mandate into practice. An extract of the Mandate reads; "eradicate systematic corruption by including the setting up of an anti-corruption unit...."

In the launching of FICAC, the Honourable Prime Minister said in his opening speech; quote "it will be a powerful, fully resourced, independent investigative body, having new and significantly 2

enhanced legal powers of surveillance in order to successfully investigate, arrest, detain and prosecute offenders of corruption".. unquote.

My speech today will focus on FICAC operations, its legislations and the challenges that have often been raised by a few.

Background

The founding of FICAC is a demonstration of Fiji's eagerness to put corrupt officials and greedy business leaders behind bars.

Since the establishment of the Commission, it has received over 1,000 complaints of which 300 has been identified as corruption and bribery related cases which falls under our promulgation and will be investigated by FICAC. Corruption in the civil services has long been recognised as a fact. The country's inability to collect taxes, monitor the effective management of resources has resulted in the ‘personalization’ of the Government and its services. The emergence of using government services and resources for personal uses and gain are the key complaints received by FICAC.

There is an expectation from society that people who have attained certain levels in government can be approached to acquire wealth. These officials who have reached certain level in government are prone to engage in corruption to meet these expectations and make it easy for high-ranking public officials to 3

engage in corrupt practices with impunity. Bad governance itself is a root cause of corruption. Nevertheless, corruption does occur at all levels of Government, even amongst those that are properly compensated. Closely connected to this is also the view that the “boss is always right and has the last say”. This has in turn affected the effective delivery of public services to the people. When this happens, people have a distrust to government.

Operations

In order for FICAC to carry out an investigation, it needs a complaint, an investigation report or an audit report. That is the baseline to assemble a Team to begin investigations. More often than not, one thing leads to another and that is why investigations into corruption cases are time consuming.

We do receive anonymous reports and these are also taken seriously. However, over 80% of complaints received are not anonymous and this is a clear indication of public confidence in FICAC. In some instances, some complaints are unfounded or had to be dropped for lack of evidence. You will appreciate that corruption is a secretive crime with collusion between consenting parties. 4

In the seven (7) months of FICAC in being, complaints received against the public sector range from abuse of office to mismanagement. Over 70% of complaints from the private sector are land related. We do receive complaints against law enforcement agencies. To enhance our corporation, efforts are being made to put in place a Memorandum of Understanding between FICAC and the various law enforcement agencies. FICAC complements law enforcement.

In the seven (7) months in being, FICAC has prosecuted six (6) cases. Few more will appear in Court before the end of the year.

Legislation

The Fiji Independent Commission Against Corruption was established to investigate and prosecute alleged corruption and bribery cases. In the early stages of FICAC, negative comments and legal challenges have been common. However this has not deterred ordinary people from lodging complaints at our office.

Corruption is the major factor to the effective development of Fiji. The level of corruption is so widespread and accepted by the people that it has become a part of life in Fiji. 5

The misuse of public office for private benefit is both rampant and endemic in the country. Based on the enormous correspondence and people approaching FICAC office personally, we deduce there is a strong public will to fight corruption and the Commission will certainly fight to reduce the impact of dishonest behaviour in government, economy and ordinary citizens.

For the Commission to do its job effectively, we need resources and skilled staff. The FICAC promulgation, in simple terms provides the Commission with the certain authority that other law enforcement agencies do not have and this strikes fear into the hearts of corrupt officials. This authority is not a licence to do what we want, without control: it is a commitment to deliver a more honest government administration. Free as we are from political controls, we are still part of the system of checks and balances that governs democratic societies.

FICAC is empowered to investigate and prosecute the misconduct of public officials in the handling and distribution of public resources. As I earlier alluded, corruption is the betrayal of trust and whoever is involved in it lacks self respect and dignity, and does not deserve to occupy a position of authority at any level. 6

FICAC Challenges

Corrupt Senior Civil Servants are not forthcoming to cooperate with anti-corruption endeavors as ‘the fear of the known' grips the official. The resultant behavior is embarrassment, defensiveness, suspicion, obstruction or delaying of investigation, uncooperative behavior and impeding subordinates from giving information. Surely if the Head is rotten, then he/she cannot enforce anti-corruption measures, thus is not fit to be a government appointee representative of the national vision against corruption. If they do not serve the national interests, then whose interests do they represent?

Other challenges include lack of resources such as the acquisition of professional knowledge to investigate sophisticated corruption cases, the acquisition of forensic experts, acquisition of investigators professionally qualified in accountancy and computer forensics because their retrieval, analysis, and presentation of financial data greatly enhances the admissibility of evidence for prosecution in court.

Corruption thrives when there are cumbersome procedures and excessive regulations. That in itself creates opportunities for abuse of authority and for corruption. 7

An issue of major concern however, is the non-cooperation of statutory bodies with FICAC investigators, even when proper legal papers are presented. Investigations however, demand the uttermost cooperation from all departments and anyone bent on hampering investigations will face the full wrath of the law.

Conclusion

FICAC is committed to fighting corruption and will at all times adhere to the principles of integrity and fair play, rule of law, and uphold fairness and justice. The establishment of FICAC is a landmark that will make a difference in Fiji. FICAC does not instil fear, as often said by some prominent people of this country, but those that feel feared have something to offer FICAC.

The fight against corruption is everyone's fight and all of us have a moral obligation to fight it. Ladies and gentlemen, corruption thrives with our indifference and is harmful. It is against the government policies, it is against the needed development and it deprives the poor citizens of this country.

Fighting corruption requires a long-term strategy that systematically and progressively attacks the problem, and that is why any strategy for solving the problem requires the commitment and participation of the government, private citizens, and private businesses alike. 8

Fighting corruption is a long-term commitment, and results will not come overnight.

Thank you.