Charlie Charters on the Corruption Commission

Charlie Charters was marketing manager of the Fiji Rugby Union and CEO of the Pacific Islanders Rugby Alliance in the early 2000s. He is married to Vanessa, the daughter of  Mere Samisoni, a former SDL politician and a prominent anti-government activist. My personal view is that his article is excessively negative — surely the FICAC must be doing some good — but it is published for its helpful ideas in the hope it will stimulate discussion.

Croz,

I don't know whether you want to run this as is, cherry-pick or spike the whole thing. Whatever. Your discretion. But given the debate that your blog tries to engender I thought I'd make my contribution. So here goes ...



'The recent publication of FICAC's 2010 report contained a great deal of statistical information. The anti-corruption agency pointed to the doubling of complaints, to 9,281, as evidence they were doing a good job educating the country to the menace of corruption, and that the sharp rise proved that the people of Fiji had increasing confidence in the credibility of FICAC. Complaints in 2010 were up almost 7,000 on 2008, the agency's first full year of operation, we were told.

I started a debate through Facebook by suggesting almost 9,300 complaints, producing only 15 convictions, seemed like a poor return. The press release stated that 7,088 of those complaints were 'resolved', allowing FICAC to claim a resolution rate of 76 percent. But what does resolved mean?

I asked out loud whether FICAC should be focussing more on quality of tipoffs rather than quantity, especially as in terms of concrete outcomes, the 15 convictions came at a cost of a little under $500,000 each. [In FICAC's first 19 months of operation from May 2007 the agency managed one conviction against a budget of $4.5m.] In 2010 the agency had a budget of $7m so presumably a significant amount of resources has to be devoted to fielding all of these tips. Especially if more than 7,000 complaints are 'resolved' because, presumably, they can't generate prosecutions or any other formal action.

What followed on Facebook was a reminder - in my eyes - of why Fiji is so poorly served by the Public Emergency Regulations, in place since April 2009. My Facebook post generated a spirited discussion, but good natured of course because it was amongst friends. Those contributing included the past chairman of Airports Fiji Ltd Rick Rickman, businessman Tony Ah Koy and former Fiji prop forward Dan Rouse. They were prepared to give FICAC the benefit of the doubt, pointing to the fact that private and public sectorworkers were more inclined to work honestly and diligently in the knowledge that FICAC was watching, and people around them were ready to dob them in.

This new-found wariness was in contrast, they felt, to how things were done in the Qarase era and could only benefit the overall competitiveness of the Fiji economy. Ah Koy also made the point that the International Criminal Court had only prosecuted 23 people since its inception in 2002, and FICAC's numbers should be seen in that light. All fair points, all well made.

So the discussion went back and forth. The sort of thing you would hope you might hear on a panel discussion on Fiji TV, Mai TV or one of the radio stations, or in a series of Op-Ed pieces in the newspapers. Alas, despite achieving all of their local ownership goals, the PER has not been relaxed as promised. The sort of honest, meaningful and engaging debate that might help to bed down the principles of anti-corruption simply is not being conducted in Fiji. So the citizenry don't get an opportunity to discuss the merits of FICAC, and where the country is in real terms in the fight against this pernicious disease. This, despite the fact that on coup day, December 5 2006, Bainmarama said Qarase had "already conducted a 'silent coup' through bribery, corruption and the introduction of controversial Bill(s)".

In this Facebook debate, one of the things I felt obliged to point out was that FICAC's reputation had suffered in many people's estimation because of the politically charged cases that it had prosecuted. And then there were the cases, politics or no politics, that just fell apart, or at least seemed to, when they came to court.

My knowledge of this comes from following friends of mine, people who I worked with at the Fiji Rugby Union, who had been put through the FICAC mill, and FICAC had come away in every case looking pretty foolish.
One was Imrana Jalal, an FRU board member when I worked there (seven FICAC charges against her permanently stayed in July 2010, and criticism of FICAC by the High Court judge for abuse of process). Another was Imrana's husband,

Ratu Sakiusa Tuisolia, president of the FRU until February 2008 when he stepped down after being charged by FICAC (acquitted in November 2010 on all six charges). A third, Usaia Daunivalu, former manager of the national 7s team and a water rates officer, was charged in January 2009 and had his case dismissed, nolle prosequi, in September 2010. [The chairman of the FRU while I was there, Keni Dakuidreketi, faces one FICAC charge of fraudulent conversion, with a trial expected some time this year.]

More intriguing to me though was the strange case of Naibuka Vuli, formernational team prop forward and now one of the most senior immigration officers at Nadi Airport. I knew Naibuka back when he was captain of the Fiji 15s team in 1992, and I was starting out with TVNZ as presenter of Shell Sports' evening telecasts on Fiji One.

In August 2009 Naibuka Vuli was charged with one count of abuse of office and 12 counts of extortion. His trial concluded in late December 2009 and he was acquitted on January 27 2010 of all charges. Now. The PER-censored Fiji Times, Fiji Sun, Radio Fiji, Fiji Village/FM96 and Fiji Live reported the investigation, the fact he was charged, the allegations and every aspect of the trial, except for, lo and behold, the fact that he was acquitted.

If you don't believe me, I invite you to search through their archive function which I have found to be wholly reflective. The last reports on all these websites are dated on or around December 18 2009 when the Nadi magistrate noted both sides had presented their case and he would make his judgement in the New Year. Not only did FICAC not secure a single conviction against the 13 charges, but that failure was not reported, not deemed newsworthy by any of the local media who maintain an uptodate website. This, in spite of the fact Naibuka is a well-known figure, and former nationalteam captain. How to explain that five major news media completely missed what would be - either way, guilty or not guilty - a sensational story? My instincts as a journalist (one who has worked at the Times, Daily Post, Fiji TV, FM96 and Radio Fiji) tell me that there is no way that five news media would miss a story like that. One or two perhaps, maybe even three, but not all of them. Not a former national team captain, for crying out loud!!

Despite issuing releases during the investigation and trial (still available on their website under Press Statements) FICAC did not report the judgement as a press release but tucked away news of the acquittal in the last line of a file stored on the website under the heading Case Summaries.

What to make of this, the seeming lack of interest in the guilt or innocence of a well-known immigration officer and former national captain who played five Tests for Fiji?

Is it too much to imagine that the PER regulations were invoked to prevent the media reporting that failure, for fear it might cause public disturbance, social disharmony etc. Either way, the point I was trying to make is that the country is being short-changed by the PER for not helping us understand what is being done, and what is not being done, in the fight against corruption in Fiji.'

Comments

Charlie Charters said…
Croz,

There were two versions of the story I sent through to you. You elected to publish the first version, but the second actually presents a more rounded picture as it includes some additional information I was able to glean from FICAC's annual report.

"A clue to the merit or lack of merit to many of these 9,300 complaints can be found in the fine print of FICAC's report, Appendix 3 which gives a breakdown of complaints received against various institutions. Where no institution is given, FICAC gives a general heading. Thus we learn that in 2010, FICAC's three offices dealt with 666 complaints relating to Disputes, Non-payment of Salaries; 1527 complaints were listed as Disputes (Personal); 120, Disputes (land/fishing) [as distinct to complaints against NLTB or any specific entity]; 992 complaints relating to Incurring Debt; 400 complaints were classified simply as Seeking Advice, and 233 who complained to FICAC about Non-Payment of FNPF contributions.

Three categories - Disputes Personal, Incurring Debt and Disputes Non-payment of Salaries, represented by far the largest number of complaints, far higher than against the Police (596 complaints, vs only 10 against RFMF), which generated the highest number of complaints against a recognisable 'entity'.

I chose those six categories to highlight because they seem to help make the point that a lot of people are turning to FICAC but they're complaining about things that are not in FICAC's mandate to handle: non payment of salaries and FNPF contributions, chasing down debts, personal disputes, squabbles over land and fishing rights. You add all of those complaints up - 3818 - and the total is more than a third of those FICAC fielded in 2010, and more than half of the complaints that FICAC 'resolved'."
What government said…
Croz
I notice you call Charlie Charters a "prominent anti government activist". If anything, in the eyes of the rational and honest world, he is an "anti coup" or "anti regime" activist?
Fiji for the last 4 years has been controlled by a military regime which is power for one reason and one reason only - it has the guns. It is not a legitimate government and is no different from the other dictatorships around the world that are currently being dismantled.
In my view he is a patriot and like other freedom fighters around the world is respected and supported by the free world - unlike those currently controlling Fiji? Such deceit only makes it worse for this regime.
Playing politics by another name! said…
Why are they turning to FICAC? In lieu of:

Transparency International ALAC Programme?

The Fiji Police Force

FNPF Enforcement

This is the moot and pertinent question? Are these agencies and institutions dysfunctional? In my view mostly 'Yes'. There is little continuity, no follow through, files go missing (corruptly?) and there is huge and overwhelming disinterest. Is this playing politics by another name? It seems so. Or, it is sheer incompetence/negligence/unprofessional conduct/laziness or....worse...criminal.
Walker Texas Ranger said…
@ Playing politics by another game...?

In Afghanistan, the game is 'bushkazi': playing Polo with the body of a dead goat. In Fiji, we play politics daily by other means. Those who are watching closely may observe the precise locations: Number one the Fiji Rugby Union and all associated with the game. Doubt this was the intention of the founder of rugby football: Charlie Charters will enlighten us? Another field of play is the Fiji Police. But many are also hoist on the petard of Serious Organised Crime. Ask the lawyers: they know! The Police Force - like most other forces worldwide - is paid from public money to serve the Public. Very simple really? Do they? Just down the road, certain officers owe money to a local shop. They have owed this money for over two years: against Police regulations; against the interests of the shop owner and ensuring a gain to themselves. Not one cent has been repaid. Yet, Lindsay Lohan, the Hollywood Star, has gone to jail for allegedly taking a necklace in similar circumstances. This is impunity. This is corruption and it flies in the face of proper governance. Would a return to democracy solve this situation? Did it previously? So, what is the precise nature of Fiji's Problem? Is it terminal?
Anonymous said…
Human Trafficking - in Uganda!

Is there some equivalence between 147 Ugandan women trafficked to Iraq from Uganda and the cases we learned about from Fiji? In 2008 when the evidence turned up in agonised telephone contact, no one was listening. Not even TI Fiji's ALAC! Nor the Labour Ministry. Nor the Ministry for Defence & National Security or the Ministry for Foreign Affairs. Women from Fiji have been trafficked to Baghdad believing they were going to Dubai. In Uganda, the machinery in place in government has permitted this. "The Public are held at bay" when attempting to make any complaint. That sounds familiar. No attempt was made to assist these unfortunate, ignorant women from Fiji. Neither did the Fiji media assist other than to appoint an independent investigator who got nowhere much. Was this an abdication of state responsibility for their own citizens? It left Fiji in Tier 3 Human Trafficking Land: serves us right! We deserve better!!
Trafficking in People said…
Return of 12 Ugandan women plus Agnes to Kampala.....

Within ten days of the Ugandan government being notified of their corrupt trafficking to Iraq (to the Baghdad Green Zone), these women were returned in safety. Yet, they had been sequestered in Iraq for two years, raped and made to work eighteen hour days in domestic service. Their passports had been taken frm them. Some Fiji women were also treated in this manner. Their fate has been unknown due to PER. But Fiji has now moved to Tier 2 on the Human Trafficking Scale. Still a serious place to be as no overseas loans may be obtained without difficulty until Tier 1 is achieved. The Trafficking of any person is now a crime under the Crimes Decree #44 of 2009. Anyone who associates with this trade in people - modern day slavery - may now be prosecuted.

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