After the Chaudary tax return and $2 million saga was exposed in the Fiji Times, Sammy, in order to protect his lucrative NCBBF contract of $12,000 a month started directly interfering with the illegal government and it’s illegal Prime Minister. So we now finally know that it was the head of the “supposedly” independent (but illegal) NCBBF that advised the Pig to appoint that pathetically set up three man enquiry team to investigate Chaudary’s tax scam.
The very public allegations in today’s Fiji Times against the Minister of Finance, Mr Chaudhry, will require an immediate and effective response from the Government. The response should be very considered and based upon the new approach to good governance that you have championed prior to and since becoming interim Prime Minister.
A considered approach will recognize the need to deal with the issue in a way that is very transparent. It must reflect the type of approach that would be taken to deal with allegations of inappropriate behaviour by anyone else in a position of responsibility in the public or private sectors. In other words, an approach that is recognized by the public as the “standard good governance” approach to such allegations.
The normal or standard practice, when the relevant authorities are “put on notice” that an offence may have been committed, is to ask the person against whom the allegation has been made to take paid leave from his /her position while the matter is investigated. The investigation has to be conducted by a competent, neutral party who must observe the rules of natural justice in conducting the investigation.
In regard to the allegations against Minister Chaudhry, this has already been highly politicized by the media. In view of this, it will be even more important that your response as Prime Minister is seen by the public as appropriate and that the investigation process adopted will be conducted both fairly and rigorously. The person or persons conducting the investigation must be of unimpeachable character and of undoubted competence – so that their conclusions are accepted as the final word on the issues.
Applying these principles to this case, the “good governance” approach would be as follows:
Request Minister Chaudhry to stand down from his Ministerial duties for a week; and
Appoint a three member panel to conduct a thorough investigation into the allegations and to report back to you by the end of the week.
The membership of the panel should include prominent people who are:
Widely respected for their personal integrity and independence;
Known to be politically neutral; and
Competent to inquire into reasonably complex taxation and legal issues.
The sort of people who might be considered for inclusion on the investigating panel of, say, three members would be a retired,eminent judge and people from the private sector such as a senior auditing partner from one of the major accountancy practices and a senior tax lawyer. (The Head of FIRCA cannot be on the panel because FIRCA’s conduct may also come under scrutiny during the course of the investigation.)
The considered, standard good governance approach would be immediately recognized by the public and by international commentators as representing best international practice and hence the most appropriate and fair way for the Government to handle the allegations.
An alternative approach to the above would be for you to reaffirm your confidence in Minister Chaudhry, and for the Government then to unite solidly behind the Minister and defend him against these charges. This would be a very human and natural reaction. Unfortunately, however, such an approach will not convince the public that an objective, independent and rigorous investigation of the allegations has been made. Under the current adversarial atmosphere, your opponents and detractors will claim higher moral ground. The public also will have an instinctive and understandable concern. The bonds of loyalty and mutual regard that typically arise within a Cabinet after Ministers have been together in office for a while and a desire to avoid harming the government’s reputation will be seen as detracting you from your stated commitment to transparency and good governance. Therefore, just relying on the press conference tomorrow, no matter how strong your statement, is not a satisfactory alternative approach.
This process does not preclude you though from publicly expressing your personal confidence in Minister Chaudhry, although this would have to be expressed carefully to avoid any appearance of trying to unduly influence the proceedings of the investigating panel.