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Qarase Under Fire Over Transparency

USP Pacific Journalism Online: http://www.usp.ac.fj/journ/ USP Journalism on the Fiji crisis (UTS host): http://www.journalism.uts.edu.au/ USP Pasifik Nius stories on Scoop (NZ): http://www.scoop.co.nz/international.htm Have your say: http://www.TheGuestBook.com/vgbook/109497.gbook

SUVA: Fiji's deposed elected government coalition has accused the military-backed interim administration of financial abuse early in its term of office.

The claim has come as the Citizens' Constitutional Forum has declared in a letter to President Ratu Josefa Iloilo that national reconciliation can only be restored in the Pacific country if the ousted government is reinstated.

The forum added that it was not possible to reconcile while some ministers in the interim cabinet had "engineered, supported and justified" the May 19 insurrection.

Former national planning minister Dr Ganesh Chand condemned the appointment by interim Prime Minister Laisenia Qarase of the largest cabinet in Fiji's history while the country was on the brink of economic ruin.

The appointment of 20 cabinet ministers and 12 assistant ministers would cost the country F$750,000 a year.

In its mini-budget late last month, the interim government endorsed the Public Service Commission's recommendation that all civil servants, including cabinet ministers, take a 12.5 percent pay cut. But teachers have already threatened a national strike in protest.

Dr Chand strongly criticised a decision by Qarase to buy a new landcruiser at $131,000 for prime ministerial use.

"And Mr Qarase has the temerity to ask the civil servants to accept a 12.5 percent pay cut because times are hard," Dr Chand said.

He added that the country should brace itself for a period of graft and corruption.

The Fiji Public Service Association and Fiji Youth and Students League have also protested over the pay cut.

FPSA general secretary Rajeshwar Singh said that while civil servants were having their pay slashed, the interim government was already spending on luxuries.

However, Prime Minister's Office Secretary Joji Kotobalavu defended the purchase, saying the new vehicle would be the only one used by the PM while two were used by his predecessors, Mahendra Chaudhry and Sitiveni Rabuka.

Qarase is also under attack for being paid a salary by the Merchant Bank where he was chief executive until being appointed Prime Minister.

"Accepting money from a private company for work done in private time reflects total lack of transparency," said Dr Chand.

Officials clarified that Qarase would not receive his prime ministerial salary until next month.

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