10 Oct 2003

Air Pacific sponsors Fiji government ministers to attend Rugby World Cup

12:08 pm on 10 October 2003

Fiji's national airline, Air Pacific, has confirmed it is paying for the prime minister, Laisenia Qarase, and a group of cabinet ministers to fly to Australia and watch the national rugby team in their first World Cup match.

Yesterday, Fiji's labour minister, Kenneth Zinck said the cabinet ministers going to Australia were paying their own way.

Mr Zinck said that whilst the prime minister Laisenia Qarase was travelling in an official capacity, the other seven cabinet ministers were financing the trips themselves.

But Air Pacific's Sales and Marketing General Manager, Craig McCarthy says the airline has organised both the tickets to the match and the flights to Brisbane as part of their sponsorship of Team Fiji.

"The first match is of course against France in Brisbane and we had decided that we should take some, I guess, influential people here from Fiji to go and watch that match, so yes there are some tickets that have been raised for government ministers."

Craig McCarthy from Air Pacific.

However Mr Zinck has insisted that he and two other minsters are paying their own way to Brisbane.

His comment follows a statement from the deputy Labour leader, Krishna Dutt, that the trip was irresponsible and a waste of taxpayers money.

In parliament, Mr Zinck accused Mr Dutt of telling lies in the same way that the Labour Party leader, Mahendra Chaudhry does.

Mr Datt then levelled accusations against Air Pacific saying it should have given an equal number of seats to Labour MPs.

Outside parliament, Mr Qarase told Fiji TV that all this showed that the Labour party did not really care about the Fiji rugby team and it was about time they did something positive.

Meanwhile, Fiji's sports minister says a decision by the Australian High Commission to refuse him entry into the country to watch Fiji play France is unfair.

Isireli Leweniqila had planned to join the prime minister, and the other cabinet ministers on the trip to Brisbane but could not get a visa.

Mr Leweniqila says that's because of his links to the May 2000 coup led by George Speight.

He was sworn in as a minister in Speight's failed administration and 3 years later, was charged with taking an illegal oath to commit a capital offence and with engaging in a seditious enterprise.

He says he has not yet been found guilty of any wrongdoing and the Australian authorities should have taken this into account when considering his visa application.