Sunday, 8 May 2016

Proactive Approach to Dealing with Transparency and Accountabilty in Cyclone Winston

  1. Proactive Approach to Dealing with Transparency and Accountability
    At the outset of the Cyclone Winston relief and rehabilitation work, various agencies like the Fiji Independent Commission Against Corruption (FICAC),  the National Disaster Management Office (NDMO) the  Divisional Commissioner’s offices, the Fiji Revenue and Customs Authority (FRCA), and the Office of the Prime Minister made it clear that corruption in any form would not be tolerated. The Attorney-General Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum said that “Fiji's accountants had an important role in fighting corruption on the part of their clients and upholding high ethical standards in the profession. The moment you prioritise what is best for the country and the Fijian people, you can rid our business community of the corruption related issues that are holding us back. It is about being patriotic and doing what is best for Fiji."
    Upholding Good Practices: An important factor in the push for economic recovery after TC Winston is the need for businesses to practice fair trade practices. The Fiji Commerce Commission had warned that penalties including imprisonment could be imposed if businesses engaged in unfair practices after Cyclone Winston. Commission Chair Joann Young had stated that the public had filed complaints regarding some businesses of jacking up prices, hoarding goods, refusing to provide supplies and adulterating certain consumer products to make an unfair profit.
    It was also noted that the Commissioners Offices moved fast in investigating claims of rations abuse and corruption.
    The following are a series of reports that provide an overview of anti corruption initiatives post TC Winston.
    Team complete probe on discrepancies of food ration distribution claim.
    On March 11, Commissioner Northern Jovesa Vocea directed a team to investigate allegations of discrepancies of food ration distribution on Taveuni. The completed report was sent to the NDMO and the Office of the Prime Minister. The investigation found no evidence of corruption by the Government official.
    The Fiji Independent Commission Against Corruption worked closely with the National Disaster Management Office (NDMO) and Divisional Commissioners offices to ensure that transparency and accountability processes were  in place throughout the rehabilitation operation post Cyclone Winston. FICAC Officers acted as liaison officers in advisory roles and provided support at a time when Government manpower resource were stretched. Public officers aimed this at lessening the possibility of abuse. It was noted in previous audit reports that there had been allegations of abuse including mishandling of funds and resources for past disaster relief operations hence the need to engage at the outset with DISMAC. FICAC noted that kickbacks and advantages have sprung up as a common corrupt practice during disaster procurement.  This is because managers often have discretionary powers to influence purchasing and contracting decisions. FICAC’s presence was to ensure that the system was transparent and accountable so that assistance reached the people who urgently needed them. They also noted that in the reconstruction of infrastructure, there was often the abuse of inflating contracts and the use of substandard material. This needed to be monitored for compliance to set standards. FICAC also said that false delivery dockets might be made which show high number of materials being purchased while in fact lower number of items may be delivered to the required areas. Verification would be required to counter check materials and allocations to reduce the mismanagement of relief funds and to ensure that the people in affected areas received fair and adequate attention.
    The Director of the National Disaster Management Office Mr Akapusi Tuifagalele said that Government would not condone opportunists. He stated this point because of a media report that some Cyclone Winston victims had been reportedly selling or bartering surplus rations provided by the NDMO Office and other donors. He said that they were aware of of the issue, they had not received formal complaints from their ground staff or the Divisional Commissioners. It was noted that Commissioner Western Manasa Tagicakibau had alerted the Roko Tui and district advisory councillors to be aware of the issue especially when there were many agencies giving out food rations. Commissioner Central, Setareki Tale indicated he was not aware of the matter. His office had reduced the distribution of rations to two week’s supply instead of a month to stop abuse by families. He said they also had their own people on the ground monitoring the situation.
    NDMO noted that the Fiji Independent Commission against Corruption (FICAC) and the Office of the Auditor-General were closely working with NDMO to prevent corruption. (7/3/2016)

Rations Abuse Reports Along Kings Highway: The Fiji Sun reported on March 6th that some Cyclone Winston victims were alleged to be selling or bartering surplus rations provided by the National Disaster Management Office and other donors. Reporters visited some communities and noted that such acts were becoming widespread. In Varavu, Ba it was alleged that some cyclone victims were selling part of their rations. NDMO director Akapusi Tuifagalele said that people who were victims and are being provided with rations should use it for their sustainability and their survival. He said the Government does not support victims making gains out of what they are given.

FRCA investigates abuse of tax concession for relief donations: The Fiji Revenue and Customs Authority investigated one case of abuse of the tax concession on consignments that was shipped to Fiji for relief and rehabilitation purposes post TC Winston. They were investigating an allegation that involved a particular person or group abusing the tax concession. The penalty can be up to three times the value of the goods itself. FRCA noted that there are opportunists who would take advantage of the tax exemptions announced by the Government on relief consignments addressed to the Ministry of Finance. FRCA is vigilant in combating any abuse of concession.

Do not abuse the system says PM  (Apr 10, 2016) The Prime Minister Voreqe Bainimarama has warned that anyone found to be cheating or abusing the Help for Homes initiative would face the full force of the law. Audit teams from the Ministry of Finance will carry out spot checks after the pre-paid electronic cards are dispensed. Legislation is being introduced in Parliament to impose special penalties including prison terms on any Fijian who tries to benefit personally by making false claims. Government is determined, at all costs, to protect the credibility and integrity of the recovery and rebuilding process.

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