7 Apr 2005

Fiji PM goes on attack over calls to sack jailed minister

10:12 am on 7 April 2005

Fiji's prime minister has attacked his political opponents for calling for the sacking of the jailed minister for lands, Ratu Naiqama Lalabalavu.

The calls have come from the former prime ministers, Sitiveni Rabuka and Mahendra Chaudhry, and longtime former cabinet minister, Filipe Bole.

But Laisenia Qarase says the three are making political capital to gain votes; and it's irresponsible of them to exploit the circumstances of the minister's imprisonment, without concern for the sensitive social, and cultural, issues involved.

Mr Qarase says it's impossible to ignore the wider issues related to the imprisonment of the holder of the Tui Cakau title, a paramount chief, and head of the Tovata Confederacy.

He says different considerations apply to ministers accused of abuse of their positions and those who've been charged, convicted, or sentenced, for matters which have nothing to do with their portfolios.

Mr Qarase says the cases involving Lalabalavu, the minister for transport, Simione Kaitani - who's currently facing trial - and the sports minister, Isireli Leweniqila - who was acquitted last year - are totally different.

The prime minister says the allegations against the three were for offences committed before they were appointed as ministers.

Mr Qarase visited the jailed minister in Labasa prison yesterday and says he'll announce his decision after consulting the attorney general.