8 Apr 2005

Jailed Fiji cabinet minister commended for resigning

10:21 am on 8 April 2005

Political parties in Fiji have commended Ratu Naiqama Lalabalavu for resigning as the minister for lands on his conviction and eight-month sentence for coup-related offences.

The leader of the United People's Party, and former opposition leader, Mick Beddoes, says Lalabalavu's decision to step down, will hold his character in good stead, in spite of the circumstances of his sentence.

Mr Beddoes says he respects Lalabalavu's action, in light of decisions by previous office holders, to cling on to their positions after being jailed, which brought their offices into disrepute.

The opposition leader, Mahendra Chaudhry, has also commended Lalabalavu, but he's added that parliamentary convention demands that any minister under investigation must step aside.

The National Federation Party says Lalabalavu has set a good example for other ministers to follow, in similar circumstances.

Earlier, the prime minister Laisenia Qarase, had said different considerations apply to ministers accused of abuse of their positions, and those who have been charged, convicted or sentenced for offences, which occurred before their appointment.

But, after visiting Lalabalavu in prison on Wednesday, Mr Qarase announced that Lalabalavu had decided to resign his cabinet portfolio immediately after his conviction and jailing, on Monday.

Another Conservative Alliance MP, Manasa Tuqia, was set to have taken over the lands portfolio.

A member of the Conservative Alliance Matanitu Vanua Party, Samisoni Tikonisau, says they are disappointed for their parliamentary leader.

But, Mr Tikonisau, who's the brother of the coup-maker George Speight, says they regard Lalabalavu's offence as political.

"Therefore we respect that he has taken into consideration the dignity and the decorum of parliament and most of all Cabinet, of which he was a member, to vacate his position, so we take heart that he is still a member of Parliament."