10 May 2014

Fiji's Qarase - AG must quit as Elections Minister

6:56 am on 10 May 2014

A former Fiji prime minister has taken issue with the angry reaction by the attorney-general against criticisms on his dual roles as minister for elections and general secretary of the proposed Fiji First Party.

In a statement, Laisenia Qarase, who was ousted in the 2006 coup, says the issue is a serious conflict of interest, and the people of Fiji have a right to insist that this is not acceptable in a free and fair election.

There's mounting criticism for Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum to resign as minister for elections.

On Fiji TV, Mr Sayed Khaiyum described the resignation calls as gutter politics and a side circus show.

He also said in previous governments, ministers have been responsible for the Election Office.

But Mr Qarase says when he was prime minister and was also leader of the SDL Party, he was never Minister for Elections.

He says in a parliamentary democracy, all government agencies must come under a ministerial portfolio.

He says both the Electoral Commission and the Office of the Supervisor of Elections have always come under the Prime Minister's portfolio.

And he says as Prime Minister from 2000-2006, his role was two-fold in relation to the two agencies.

He says firstly, he was expected to deal with their submissions for budgetary allocations and, secondly, he had a duty to respond to parliamentary questions as they arose.

Mr Qarase stressed that in no way did he influence or interfere in the work of the Electoral Commission or the Supervisor of Elections, and he is aware that the Prime Ministers who preceded him played a similar role.

He also added that since Independence in 1970, there has never been a Minister for Elections.

Mr Qarase says the reason for this is that both the Electoral Commission and the Office of the Supervisor of Elections must carry out their functions within the laws regulating their operations, with complete independence and without interference from the Government in power.

He says this golden rule has been broken for the first time by the Bainimarama-Sayed-Khaiyum regime with the appointment of the Attorney-General as minister responsible for elections.

Mr Qarase says Mr Sayed-Khaiyum must do the right thing and step down from the position of Minister for Elections.