Friday, 22 April 2016

FICAC and Anti Corruption in Government

Recently we had the FICAC Inaugural Awards Nights where 15 staff members were recognised for their efforts in the fight against corruption. They were reminded to maintain their integrity and to be fully aware of their anti corruption roles.
In the Harry Porter films, there is a name that everyone is so afraid to say out aloud. Like uttering the name of “Lord Voldemort”, some people in Fiji become fearful when they hear the acronym FICAC. A friend said that people are only fearful if they are involved in corrupt acts and hearing the acronym FICAC should jolt them to do the right thing! Perhaps one of the reasons some people have a fearful view of FICAC is because the public has not been made aware of the other important role it plays (apart from litigation) in helping Government Ministries promote integrity. FICAC works with Ministries to identify weak areas of their operations that can be the target of corruption. There is a lot of such engagements taking place that is not often reported in the media.
A FICAC analysis between 2007 and 2014 highlighted that corruption continues to  rear its ugly head in some Government Ministries. One reason highlighted in the analysis is the lack of understanding of work procedures by some civil servants. Some civil servants for example are not aware that when a Ministry wants to purchase, for example, computers as replacement for obsolete ones, that a Board of Survey has to be carried out first. There is also the lack of compliance and enforcement which will be rectified in Civil Service Reforms. The FICAC analysis showed that “abuse of office” topped the list, followed by “forgeries” and then “embezzlements.” Corruption is not usually easy to detect because the givers and receivers of corrupt acts do so in secret. FICAC Manager of Corruption Prevention, Siteri Rabici reported late last year that more than 50% of complaints that come to them from the public are on poor Government services; especially with the slow responses to queries or departments that exhibit poor standards of public services. Efficient Government services prevents facilitation payments by  members of the public who may be pressured to give small bribes to get speedier services.
It is good news that the Fiji Independent Commission Against Corruption (FICAC) has had its 2016 budget increased to $9 million. This has increased from the $200/$300k it received 6 to 7 years ago. I am given to understand that the increased budget is due to Government’s resolve to eradicate corruption in all Ministries. The increased funding promotes systemic reforms conducive to a corruption free Government operating environment.
One issue that we are often not aware of is that FICAC is an independent body and cannot be directed by Parliament on whom to prosecute. In mid 2015, the Public Accounts Committee made 21 recommendations to FICAC requiring it to provide a comprehensive report on all actions taken on matters of corruption. One recommendation required information sharing between FICAC and the Auditor General’s Office to enable swift action on ant corruption. FICAC was also required (in one of the PAC recommendations) to build a system that prioritized issues raised by the the Public Accounts Committee.
While these were well meaning recommendations, Parliament and its Committees cannot give directions to FICAC to take individuals to court as it is an independent body. There are set procedures to follow when lodging corruption allegation complaints with FICAC. FICAC usually assesses if there is sufficient evidence to take the matter to court.
Members of the public who have complaints on corruption in Government Ministries  can contact FICAC through their toll-free number 1322 (for Vodafone and Digicel customers).

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