23 May 2003

Fiji Senator calls on troubled officials to stand down

3:48 pm on 23 May 2003

A Fiji Labour Party senator is calling on the public office holders facing serious coup-related criminal charges to stand down.

The Fiji Times says Senator Anand Singh's call comes after the Suva magistrate's court temporarily handed back the passport of the sports minister, Isireli Leweniqila, to allow him to travel to South Africa this weekend.

Leweniqila is facing a charge of taking an illegal oath to commit a capital offence and another to engage in a seditious enterprise.

The charges relate to Leweniqila being sworn in as a minister in George Speight's failed administration a day after the May 2000 coup, when Senator Singh, who was the attorney general in the Chaudhry government, was held hostage in parliament.

Senator Singh has questioned the return of the passport for travel when it was ordered surrendered in the first place.

He is asking whether this is a precedent for all such accused persons or whether Leweniqila has been accorded special consideration because he is a cabinet minister.

Senator Singh says there is wisdom in the long-standing convention which requires all holders of public office, when charged with criminal offences, to stand down until their cases are determined.

He says Leweniqila, by not standing down, is undermining public confidence in the judicial system of Fiji which is under intense scrutiny by the international community.