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Newspaper articles on the Auditor-General's Report

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Newspaper articles on the Auditor-General's Report


Fiji Times Page 1 (28th September 2000)

Chaudhry Wrong

No approval for home renovations, says auditor¹s report

DEPOSED prime minister Mahendra Chaudhry failed to get Cabinet approval to renovate his private residence nor was there proper documentation to assist auditors during the investigation.

In his report released yesterday, Auditor-General Eroni Vatuloka said $28,381.55 was spent on the home at Suva Point.

Of this, $14,225.51 was spent on wages, $13,289.67 on materials and $866.37 for the hiring of equipment.

During the investigation, the Government auditors noted four discrepancies:

… There was no specific Cabinet decision relating to the renovations at Mr Chaudhry's home. The report quoted a speech made in Parliament last June by former deputy prime minister Doctor Tupeni Baba who pointed out that Cabinet approval must be sought on the issue. As a result, the report said costs incurred by Finance, Public Works and the Prime Minister's Office were unauthorised;

… The director of buildings and Government architect had no authority to decide on the renovations;

… There were no regulations allowing the prime minister to stay at his private home although the parliamentary emoluments and benefits report did allow for the incumbent to live in a rent-free furnished residence with all the proper facilities; and

… Decisions and approvals relating to the renovations were not fully documented.

When The Fiji Times first published the story last September, the amount spent on Mr Chaudhry¹s home at that time was $24,503. There was also a request from the Public Works Department for an extra $87,320 to complete all renovations to the home.

Mr Chaudhry accused this newspaper of distorting facts and twisting the story, saying only that a maximum of $15,000 was spent on his home. This was supported by the then works minister, Shiu Sharan Sharma.

However, the deposed prime minister¹s son and former private secretary Rajendra Chaudhry contradicted him, saying that $24,503 was spent on renovations. The building director and Government architect then, Cama Tuiloma, said Mr Chaudhry had directed that repairs to his home be carried out. Neither Mr Chaudhry, who is in Canada, nor his son, residing in Australia, could be reached for comment last night.

The Auditor-General's report revealed Mr Chaudhry opted to stay at home because it would have been more expensive living in rented quarters which would have cost $5000 a month plus the cost of security measures.

Mr Chaudhry had offered the official prime minister's residence on Ratu Sukuna Road to the then vice-president, Ratu Josefa lloilo. Mr Vatuloka recommended that:

… The director of buildings and Government architect reveal who ordered him to direct the Public Works Department to carry out the renovations;

… The prime minister's office explain why the issue was not discussed and approved by Cabinet; and

… The Government review the housing eligibility of the prime minister and any decision made must be added to the emoluments report.

Son¹s appointment breaks service rules

FORMER prime minister Mahendra Chaudhry breached public service rules by appointing his son, Rajendra, as private secretary without advertising the position.

Also, the Auditor-General, Eroni Vatuloka, revealed that Rajendra Chaudhry did not undergo a medical examination nor did he produce a satisfactory police record before he took on the job. , Following his appointment on May 19, Rajendra's salary increased from $17 ,034 as administrative officer to $37,478 as private secretary.

"Before a letter of appointment is issued, a candidate selected for appointment must undergo a medical examination and should be passed physically and mentally fit by an authorised medical officer," Mr Vatuloka said.

"The candidate must also have a satisfactory police record. The private secretary did not undergo a medical examination nor did the police department clear him.

"The police vetting which was not received until August 8, 1999 indicated four counts of adverse criminal record but Mr Rajendra Chaudhry was appointed on May 19, 1999."

At the time of his appointment, Rajendra told the press he was the best person for the job, having worked alongside his father as administrative officer for the Fiji Labour Party.

Mr Vatuloka recommended that all public service appointments be made in accordance with PSC regulations.

Fiji Times Page 3 (28th September 2000)

Spending disturbs auditor

$49 million in unpresented cheques at end of 1999

AUDITOR-GENERAL Eroni Vatuloka has highlighted what he calls a disturbing trend amongst ministries or huge spending at year's end, indicating an attempt to spend all budgetary allocations. In his 1999 report, Mr Vatuloka said as a result of this spending, the Government had $49 million worth of unpresented cheques at the end of last year.

"These high balances indicate that ministries and departments use the balance or funds available in their expenditure allocations towards the end of the year," the report said.

"Such procurements could only result in uneconomic expenditures and in most instances not within the requirements of the budget estimates approved by Parliament."

Mr Vatuloka recommended that the Ministry of Finance ensure strict measures are put in place to discourage ministries from huge commitments of public funds towards the end of the financial year.

At December 31, the departments with the biggest unpresented cheques were:


- Works and Energy (PWD), $15.9 million;
- Education, $10 million;
- Agriculture $5 million;
- Health $2 million;
- Fiji Military Forces $1.9 million;
- Police $1.7 million;
- Tourism $1.5 million;
- Regional Development $1.3 million;
- Government Supplies $1.2 million;
- Public Service Commission $605,068;
- ITC Services $563,768;
- Marine. $557,286;
- Lands $512,861;
- Fijian Affairs $510,326
- Foreign Affairs $463,765
- Labour $449,214
- Energy $448,840;
- Housing and Local Government $447,277;
- and Crown Law $423,334.

Ministries bust spending by $18.4m

GOVERNMENT ministries and departments exceeded authorised limits placed on the Revolving Fund Account by $18.4 million last year, according to auditor-general, Eroni Vatuloka. In his 1999 report, Mr Vatuloka said stringent control measures had to be put in place so nobody could operate over the authorised ceilings.

"It is obvious proper procedures were not followed," he said. A sum of $17,222 had been set aside for the operation of 22 revolving accounts to make, buy or produce goods and services and other Government activities.

"The Revolving Fund balance at 31 December 1999 was $34.8 million indicating that ministries and departments failed to operate within the approved financial ceiling and in defiance of the limits set by the Minister of Finance," Mr Vatuloka said.

The Finance Minister is empowered to set aside not more than $18 million for the operation of the Revolving Fund Account and sets limit on these account for individual commercial undertakings in various ministries and departments.

Revenue drop cause for concern

SOME government departments had alarming increases in arrears of revenue, which helped increase the total government figure to $148.5 million uncollected last year.

Auditor-general Eroni Vatuloka highlighted the problem in his 1999 annual report.

Of the total arrears or revenue last year. the Inland Revenue Department had $65.9 million; the VAT Unit $22 million; UNIFIL $17 million; and Public Works and Infrastructure $11 million.

Lands Crown Rent had not collected $8 million; Judicial $5 million while Meteorological Services, Agriculture, Loans, and Government Supplies all had arrears or revenue or around $3 million.

"While some ministries and departments have taken positive recovery actions to collect dues to the Government, the arrears of revenue position for other entities have deteriorated to an alarming level warranting urgent remedial action," he said.

Mr Vatuloka highlighted revenue arrears for the Customs and Excise Department, which increased by an alarming 753.3 per cent last year. He said the Treasury Department's figure increased by 345.76 per cent, with the Meteorological Department's up by 171.6 per cent.

Additionally, Mr Vatuloka said ministries that overspent their budgets every year were Agriculture, Fisheries and Forests, Communication, Works and Transport, Health, FMF and the Police. He said this reflected poor budgetary preparation by these ministries and departments.

Trust funds overdrawn

TWELVE trust fund accounts within the Government were overdrawn by $10.5 million at the end of last year, says auditor-general Eroni Vatuloka.

Mr Vatuloka said in the annual report for 1999 that this was despite a circular warning that trust fund accounts should not, at any time, be overdrawn.

He said the chief accounting officers responsible for the overdrawn trust accounts should be asked to explain the reasons for allowing such action to take place.

Mr Vatuloka said the ministry should ensure that accounting officers comply with regulations.

Of the total amount overdrawn, $10.1 million or 96 percent, was for customs, and $214,465 was for finance management reform. The next largest amount was for the Fiji Military Forces' overseas remittances, which were overdrawn by $85,587.

Fiji Sun - Page 1 (28th September 2000)

NEPOTISM, MISUSE

THE most recent report by the Auditor General has highlighted nepotism, irregularities, misuse of funds and abuse of office by deposed Prime Minister Mahendra Chaudhry and his Government.

The report said that renovations carried out on Mr Chaudhry¹s residence, amounting to over $28,300 was unauthorised and did not receive Cabinet approval.

It added that the Director of Buildings and Government Architect did not have the authority to decide on such renovations. "There is no regulation which provides for the PM to reside at his own private residence in his term in office," the report said.

"Decisions and approvals to renovate the PM's private residence at Suva Point were not fully documented and could not be substantiated during audit." In its recommendations, the report said that Mr Chaudhry should explain why the issue regarding renovations to his residence was not discussed and approved by Cabinet.

The report said that the appointment of Mr Chaudhry's son, Rajendra, as the PM's private secretary was made without following proper procedures. "The PM promoted his son from an administrative position with a salary of $17,034 to chief administrative officer level with an annual salary of $37,478," the report highlighted.

The report said this was done without meeting requirements and as a result, individuals who could have been better qualified and more competent were not given the opportunity to apply for the position.

The Auditor General said in the report that Mr Chaudhry (Jnr) was employed as private secretary although police had advised that he had "four counts of adverse criminal record."

"The appointment was made without the Office of the PM establishing that he did not have a satisfactory police record," the report said. It said that Mr Chaudhry's (Jnr) position and two others - an executive officer and a butler to the PM, were not advertised and applications were not received by the Permanent Secretary.

The AG's report said that on numerous occasions, official government vehicles housed at various officials' residences without the proper approval of the Permanent Secretary for Finance and that there were many instances of unofficial vehicle runs.

The AG said that the purchase of air travel tickets for two of former Minister for Fijian Affairs, Adi Kuini Speed's children who accompanied her abroad for medical treatment was "inappropriate, illegal and should not have been allowed" and that the cost of airfares should have been reimbursed to the Ministry of Fijian Affairs.

The Ministry said that Adi Kuini's two children accompanied her because she was incapable of travelling on her own due to her medical condition. Adi Kuini said from her home last night that the expenditure of purchasing two airline tickets for her two children to accompany her on medical trip to Australia was justified by the "Fijian Affairs Secretariat.

"I was told that I was entitled to have two people travel with her when I went abroad for medical treatment. All my children came with me but only two was paid for by the Ministry," she said.

She added that it was unfortunate that such allegations were leveled at her Government.

"It¹s very petty. One only has to compare the trip that I took which was for medical treatment of an elected member of Government and Deputy Prime Minister, to the $28,000 trip taken by the interim Prime Minister and his cronies who are unelected and using Government funds to travel to New York and justify treason to the rest of the world. It does nothing for the taukei," she said.

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