Transparency and accountability
An Opinion By Mick Beddoes
Saturday, May 31, 2014
WE hear a lot about the need for a government to be transparent and accountable to the people. No one refers more to this than the A-G and Minister for Justice & Elections himself. He often refers to the Bainimarama government as ‘transparent and accountable’.
But the truth is, in nearly eight years of the Bainimarama-Khaiyum government, transparency and accountability have been absent except in words. Based on the principles of repetition — just keep using the words time after time — they hope that people will actually come to believe they are transparent and accountable.
In an effort to understand where the government’s spending is concentrated and to try to relate this to what is going on in the country today, I summarised the past 13 years of Annual Government Budget Estimates and Actual expenses recorded for the past 11 years from 2002 to 2012. I have also used the revised estimates for 2013 and the Estimate for 2014.
I am no chartered accountant or financial expert; however from my time as a parliamentarian I do understand budget documents. I trust the results of my research might stimulate some discussion and prompt the government to release the Audited Accounts to 2013. What is irrefutable is that inclusive of 2013, the government has spent some $14.8 billion without any transparency and accountability.
1. Office of the Auditor-General
Over the past eight years $25.5 million has been spent to maintain this office of 83 staff. So the question is, could they have all been sitting idle over the past eight years while receiving $25 million? Hardly likely, so I put a simple question to the Auditor General requiring a simple yes or no answer.
Have the accounts of government been audited. Yes or No?
Depending on the answer, my next question goes to Bainimarama and Khaiyum: If the accounts have been audited, why have you not released them? What are you afraid of? If the accounts have not been audited why not?
Why can’t you walk your talk?
2. Summary of government spending
The specific expenditure items I have selected for comment are not in any order but in my opinion they all suggest taxpayers’ money spent to make the government look good for the 2014 election.
3. HEAD 50: Miscellaneous and unallocated expenditures
This allocation of $3m for the Qorvis spin doctors is proof positive that the government has engaged this international group to co-ordinate and manage their propaganda using taxpayer funds.
As taxpayers we have a right to ask: What are the Qorvis terms of reference? What specific jobs have they done in 2012 and 2013 for the taxpayers of Fiji to warrant the $2m they received in these years and what are they doing for the people now to justify the $1m they’ll get in 2014?
The $4.3m for experts and consultants is also an expense that is likely channeled towards the efforts of Qorvis and other government promoters for services rendered.
HEAD 50: Miscellaneous and unallocated expenditures
The taxpayers have to fork out $2.9 million a year to subsidise the FBC, despite its recent multi-million makeover. Such a huge payout explains why we see such one sided FBC coverage primarily focused on the government and its activities with little coverage of opposing parties or dissenting viewpoints.
Add this $8.7 million handout to the FBC to the $7.4 million in Group 5, and the propaganda funding war chest jumps to $16.1 million dollars.
4. HEAD 16: Ministry of Information
It is no secret that this Ministry headed by Sharon Smith-Johns appears to spend much time promoting Bainimarama and Khaiyum via the Fiji Sun and FBC with ads, media releases and publications.
So I suspect that the majority of funds for publications, advertisements and such items form part of the Qorvis managed Budget. This means many more millions being spent on the never-ending media blitz about Bainimarama and his government.
HEAD 50: Miscellaneous services
The pre-election gift of 124 per cent increases in salaries for unqualified and inexperienced government personnel is located in Group 1 expenditure. I would not be surprised if some of the beneficiaries contest the election as they now have a salary level that can help fund their campaigns.
5. HEAD 50: Miscellaneous Services Group 9
Immediately following the 2006 coup the military paraded on national TV all the government ministers 4 x 4 vehicles, including mine as Opposition Leader, telling the people these were an example of the ‘excesses’ of a corrupt government. They announced they would sell them and use the proceeds for the poor.
We all know that they did not sell them and instead handed them out to their team members. In 2009 they switched to leasing vehicles. Previous governments spent about $1.2m a year for vehicles. The Bainimarama-Khaiyum government has spent $9.7m a year on leasing which represents a 708 per cent increase.
Question: Which companies are involved in the leasing to government, what is their annual share and what are the terms and any other perks that come with a leasing contract?
Table 1: Comparison of 5 Year Spend SDL 2002-2006 vs Bainimarama 2007-2011
Table 1 shows the total spend of the past five years of the Qarase government versus the first five years of the Bainimarama-Khaiyum government. The increase in the first post coup spend is $1.5 billion.
Table 2: Regime Post Coup Spend (2007-2011) vs Pre Election Spend (2012-2014)
* Source of information: Actual Expenditures 2002 to 2012 Revised Expenditures 2013 &
Estimates for 2014.
Table 2: Compares the eight-year expenditure of the Bainimarama-Khaiyum government with its first five years in power.
This comparison is necessary to show that in the pre-election period of 2012 to 2014 the level of expenditure has skyrocketed and in just 32 months from January 2012 to December 2014 approximately $1.3 billion dollars has been, and is being, spent by the regime in Works & Transport $239.5m, Public Utilities & Energy $243.6m and Fiji Road Authority $849.8m.
By the time the elections are over the government would have spent $14.9 billion of taxpayers’ money without accounting for one single dollar of it. Hardly the legacy of an accountable and transparent government.
This current year’s expenditure and deficit is also relying on $471.1m from the proceeds of sale of state assets.