14 Nov 2006

Rift within Fiji Labour deepens over budget response

2:25 pm on 14 November 2006

The most senior Labour Party minister in Fiji's multi-party cabinet, Krishna Datt, has attacked his leader, Mahendra Chaudhry, in parliament.

Mr Datt told the House this morning that he was shocked that Mr Chaudhry did not accept the prime minister's invitation to join the government as deputy prime minister and "fix the budget."

He said Mr Chaudhry had disclosed this at the FLP's caucus meeting last week.

He said the increase on Value Added Tax from 12.5 o 15 percent is Labour's main criticism of the 2007 Budget and it appears prepared to push out its ministers from the multiparty cabinet on this issue.

Mr Datt said if that was so, he could not understand why when Mr Chaudhry was invited to join the cabinet as its second highest ranking minister and get rid of VAT, he declined.

Mr Datt said this raises serious questions about the motives of the FLP leader and the FLP caucus.

He said the nine Labour Party ministers in cabinet are now asked to become the sacrificial sheep by being told to vote against the budget.

Mr Datt said Fiji's Constitution and a Supreme Court ruling of 2003 both require ministers to take collective responsibility for cabinet decisions and FLP ministers will; have to vote with the government.

Mr Datt said a vote against the budget and the resignation of the FLP ministers thereafter will bring the multi-party government to an end.

Mr Datt said for his part he can influence government policy for social justice far better from inside the cabinet rather than outside, where he had been too long to know its ineffectiveness.