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“Where is PSC’s accountability?” Fiji Times, 19 Sep. 2015.

19/09/2015

Where is PSC’s accountability? (Fiji Times, 17 Sep. 2015)
Professor Wadan Narsey

For the last two months, civil servants in the Ministry of Finance and in the Prime Minister’s Office have not been able to give to Parliament’s Public Accounts Committee information on how they have spent taxpayers’ money since 2010 (Fiji Times 17 September 2015).

The questions asked have been on ministers’ salaries for 2010 to 2013, paid through a private accounting company, and the acquittals of more than $100 million through Head 50 of the Budget Estimates.

The 2010 Auditor General’s Report reported that the Ministry of Finance had asked the Prime Minister’s Office for this information, but it had not been given.

Through all these public questions, the current Minister of Finance and the Prime Minister are remaining totally quiet.

These are the people who have repeatedly promised “transparency and accountability” to the public.

What is more puzzling however, is the total silence also from the Public Service Commission and its members, who have the legal duty to ensure that civil servants under their direct responsibility fulfil their duties to the taxpayers who fund their salaries.

Silent Finance permanent secretary

It is horrifying that the highest civil servant responsible for the safeguarding of taxpayers’ funds, Filimone Waqabaca, has been totally quiet on the questions asked by the Public Accounts Committee.

It is disgraceful that he personally has refused to attend the meetings called by the PAC, choosing to send his subordinates.

The primary responsibility of the PS Finance is to the Fiji taxpayers who pay his salary, not to government ministers who come and go.

If he continues to withhold the required information to the PAC why should he not be held jointly responsible if it is later discovered that funds have been abused?

Silent PSC permanent secretary

All civil servants salaries are paid for by the taxpayers of Fiji.

All civil servants of all government departments, under the laws of Fiji (which ever ones you wish to refer to) must answer to their permanent secretaries, who in turn answer to the Public Service Commission.

The PSC’s Permanent Secretary, Parmesh Chand, has often been in the media these last eight years, extolling the virtues of accountability and transparency that he has been trying to inculcate in the civil service.

He has often praised the Bainimarama Government, both unelected before September 2014, and the elected one thereafter.

Has Parmesh Chand called on the respective civil servants to reply honestly to the Public Accounts Committee which is questioning them?

Has Parmesh Chand encouraged the civil servants to give the required information to the PAC if they have the information?

Has Parmesh Chand advised the civil servants to inform the PAC if the relevant ministers are refusing to give them the required information and that “they are not in a position to do so” is not an acceptable answer from them?

Has Parmesh Chand advised the civil servants concerned that if they refuse to answer honestly and stonewall the PAC on behalf of the ministers concerned, then they could be accessories to any abuse of taxpayers’ funds that may have occurred and may be equally liable to surcharges as required under the laws of Fiji?

Silent chairman and members of the PSC

It is extraordinary that the public have asked similar questions as the PAC for the last six years and the then PSC chairman (Jo Serulagilagi) and the many members (including USP academic Dr Akanisi Kedrayate) have remained totally silent.

It is the duty of the members of the PSC – who provide the independent oversight of what is supposed to be an independent civil service – to be publicly accountable to the taxpayers of Fiji for the civil service.

So far, they have failed miserably.

Some members of the public may have been reassured when Vishnu Mohan, CEO of multinational bank ANZ, was appointed chairman of the PSC.

So also were appointed other members from the private sector, such as Bhavna Narayan, Nesbitt Hazelman, Daksesh Patel, Kalpesh Solanki and Dr Akanisi Kedrayate (again) as members.

It might have been thought that having private sector members on the PSC would bring greater accountability as the private sector knows only too well the fiduciary duties of board membership.

Have they insisted that the responsible civil servants such as the permanent secretaries (Parmesh Chand and Filimone Waqabaca) do their duty?

But it appears that they are also quiet.

Clearly they cannot complain to the Prime Minister and the Minister of Finance, who themselves remain – un-transparently and unaccountably – quiet on the matter.

The apparent continued silence by the members of the PSC on a matter directly in their line of responsibility and possibly involving a massive amount of tax payers funds (more than $100 million) will be a blot on their reputations in the private sector.

If the chairman and members of the PSC do not receive the required co-operation from the civil servants, they should seriously consider resigning in the interests of their reputations.

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