15 Jan 2019

Issues raised with Fiji Code of Conduct Bill

1:50 pm on 15 January 2019

A proposed law in Fiji which would jail or fine people found making a malicious complaint about a public official is ridiculous and curious, a prominent Suva lawyer says.

Government buildings in Suva, Fiji

Government and court buildings in Suva, Fiji Photo: RNZ/Sally Round

Richard Naidu was commenting on the Code of Conduct Bill which is under public consultation this week in Fiji.

The bill lays out codes of conduct for public servants, politicians and judges as well as rules for a new Accountability and Transparency Commission which would enforce the code.

Under the bill, the commission must refer complaints it believes are malicious or politically motivated to Fiji's Independent Commission Against Corruption (FICAC) and anyone found guilty would be liable to a fine of up to $FJ10,000 or up to five years in jail.

The terms "malicious" and "politically motivated" were not defined in the bill, Mr Naidu said.

"The idea of [the bill] is fine, but I am rather of the impression that this is all about trying to get brownie points and look good while at the same time having enough teeth in the law that say to people who might actually bring a complaint, 'don't you dare,'" Mr Naidu said.

"The idea that people could be prosecuted or jailed for making complaints is just ridiculous."

The commission could simply dismiss such a complaint, he said.

Mr Naidu said another provision in the bill, not allowing anonymous complaints, is also a problem.

"If the complaint is anonymous the commission is simply required by the law to dismiss it and in Fiji that can be a problem because a lot of people are afraid of the government.

"If it's a genuine complaint and it can be proven through other sources, there's no real reason why an anonymous complaint shouldn't be considered," he said.

The bill was also odd in not allowing complaints if a complainant had already made the complaint to somebody else, he said.

"The effect of this is that the commission will bury a complaint rather than bring it to light and that seems to me to be the antithesis of transparency and accountability," Mr Naidu said.