Prime Minister Hon. Sitiveni Rabuka, in his ministerial statement in Parliament this morning, provided an update about the role of the Constitutional Offices Commission (COC).
⬇️ is the Prime Minister’s full statement;
Honorable Madam Deputy Speaker – I rise to deliver my ministerial statement on the Constitutional Offices Commission (COC) which I chair as mandated under the Constitution of the Republic of Fiji.
The Constitutional Offices Commission (COC) is established under section 132(1) of the Constitution of the Republic of Fiji.
The Commission comprises:
(i) the Prime Minister (as the chairperson),
(ii) the Leader of the Opposition,
(iii) the Attorney-General,
(iv) two (2) persons appointed by the President on the Prime Minister (Prime Minister’s nominees), and
(v) one (1) person appointed by the President on the advice of the Leader of the Opposition (Leader of the Opposition’s nominee).
The Prime Minister’s current nominees are Ms Cema Bolabola and Mr Jon Apted. The Leader of the Opposition’s nominee is Ms.Tupou Draunidalo.
The Secretary is the Solicitor-General, who is assisted by a secretariat team of designated senior legal officers in the Office of the Solicitor-General.
Under section 133 of the Constitution, the COC is responsible for providing advice to the President on the appointment of the following offices:
a. the chairperson and the members of the Human Rights and Anti- Anti-Discrimination Commission;
b. the chairperson and the members of the Electoral Commission;
c. Supervisor of Elections;
d. Secretary-General to Parliament;
e. the chairperson and the members of the Public Service Commission;
f. Commissioner of Police;
g. Commissioner of the Fiji Corrections Service;
h. Commander of the Republic of Fiji Military Forces;
i. Auditor-General; and
j. Governor of the Reserve Bank of Fiji.
Furthermore, pursuant to section 138(4) of the Constitution, the COC establishes and maintains its own rules and regulations governing its internal procedures and functions.
As such, the COC, for the first time, resolved to consider formulating its own Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) with respect to the conduct of its procedures and functions.
Following this decision, the first zero draft of the COC’s SOPs was circulated amongst the members.
Honorable Madam Deputy Speaker, for the information of the House, the COC was allocated $20,000 for this financial year.
At present, the SOPs are being reviewed by the COC members to ensure that the same is comprehensive, coherent, and compliant with the constitutional provisions and the objectives of the COC.
The SOPs will serve as a starting point for the COC to implement and enforce its functions and responsibilities in alignment with the stipulated sections of the Constitution.
The draft SOPs contain procedures with respect to:
(i) the quorum for the COC meetings,
(ii) appointment and tenure of COC members,
(iii) responsibilities of the secretary to the COC,
(iv) the appointment process for constitutional office holders,
(v) dealing with urgent COC matters,
(vi) decision-making processes of the COC,
(vii) the independence of the COC, and
(viii) provisions regarding regular updates and advice to Parliament.
Once finalized, these SOPs will not only streamline the internal operations of the COC but also provide clarity and guidance to its members regarding their roles and responsibilities.
Additionally, the SOPs will enhance transparency and accountability within the COC, fostering trust among stakeholders and the public.
It is expected that the finalized SOPs will be officially adopted by the COC following thorough deliberation and consensus among its members.
For the benefit of the House, under this COC, we have seen the appointment of Mr Luke Rokovada as the chair of the Public Service Commission, and Ms Barbara Malimali as Chair of the Electoral Commission.
The following substantive offices are currently vacant – Supervisor of Elections, Auditor-General and Commissioner of Fiji Corrections Service (Commissioner Corrections).
However, there are existing acting appointments in those officers namely, Ms Ana Mataiciwa as acting Supervisor of Elections, Mr Sairusi Dukuno as acting Auditor-General and Ms Salote Panapasa as acting Commissioner Corrections, all of whom were appointed by His Excellency the President on COC’s advice under my tenure.
The recruitment process for these substantive offices is underway and the COC intends to deliberate on the suitable candidates for appointment in its next meeting later this month.
For the first time ever, the COC established an independent committee to advise the COC on the appropriate remuneration and allowances that should be payable to all the constitutional offices under its responsibility (as referred to earlier).
The Independent Committee consists of Mr Cama Raimuria (as chairperson), Ms Salote Uluinaceva and Ms Elenoa Biukoto.
The remuneration and allowances for future appointments, including for Supervisor of Elections, Commissioner Corrections and Auditor-General, will be based on the recommendation of the Independent Committee as mandated by section 136(2) of the Constitution.
Unfortunately, the previous COC did not adhere to this constitutional requirement and some of the previous office holders’ remuneration and or allowances are the subject of certain investigations by the Fiji Independent Commission Against Corruption (FICAC).
During its meetings on 18 and 26 January 2023, the COC considered serious complaints of abuse of office made against certain former constitutional officers namely, the Supervisor of Elections (Mr Mohammed Saneem), the Commissioner of Corrections (Mr Francis Kean) and the currently suspended Commissioner of Police (Mr Sitiveni Qiliho).
Those individuals were provided an opportunity to respond to the allegations following which the COC deliberated on whether, based on the allegations made, the question of their removal ought to be investigated, in which case, the COC was required to appoint a tribunal in accordance with section 137(3)(a) of the Constitution.
A tribunal appointed will be required to enquire into the matter and provide its written report to His Excellency the President.
In the case of Mr Saneem (as Supervisor of Elections), the COC received a complaint against Mr Saneem which had not been dealt with by the former COC members.
On 6 January 2023, this complaint was forwarded to Mr Saneem to provide any necessary responses before the COC decided on whether to appoint a tribunal to investigate the complaints in accordance with section 137(4) of the Constitution.
Mr Saneem responded on 9 January 2023 to the complaint, and his responses were brought before the COC.
On 26 January 2023, the COC after considering the complaints and the response provided by Mr Saneem, agreed to refer the allegations to a tribunal composed of Justice Filimone Jitoko (as chairperson), Justice William Calanchini, and former Judge Jiten Singh.
On the advice of the COC, the President suspended Mr Saneem pending the referral to and appointment of the tribunal.
However, before the tribunal could conduct its work, Mr Saneem resigned as Supervisor of Elections bringing the matter to an end.
In the case of Mr Kean (as Commissioner of Fiji Corrections Service), the COC received five complaints against Mr Kean.
On 18 January 2023, these complaints were forwarded to Mr Kean to provide any necessary responses before the COC decided on whether to appoint a tribunal to investigate the complaints in accordance with section 137(4) of the Constitution.
Mr Kean responded on 23 January 2023 to the complaints, and his responses were brought before the COC.
On 26 January 2023, the COC agreed to refer the complaints of misbehaviour to a tribunal to enquire into the complaints and provide its report to the President.
However, Mr Kean tendered his resignation letter on 14 February 2023 and therefore there was no need to proceed with the tribunal proceedings.
In the case of Mr Qiliho (Commissioner for Police), three separate complaints of misbehaviour were lodged against him.
On 26 January 2023, the COC agreed to refer those complaints of misbehaviour to a tribunal to enquire into the complaints and provide its report to the President.
The COC also agreed to recommend the suspension of Mr Qiliho to the President which is still in place.
Overall, ensuring the smooth operations of constitutional offices has been a cornerstone of the COC’s work in recent years, reflecting its ongoing commitment to efficiency and functionality within these vital institutions.
Building on these initiatives, on 3 November 2023, the COC embarked on laying the groundwork for establishing an independent secretariat.
This step is pivotal in enhancing the COC’s capacity to facilitate its functions effectively, ensuring streamlined processes and better support of its functions.
Honorable Madam Deputy Speaker, in recent weeks, complaints against constitutional office holders have been highlighted in various media reports.
In accordance with due process and the rules of natural justice, all complaints against Constitutional Officers will be dealt with by the Commission.
The officers in question will be given opportunity to respond before the Commission makes any further decision in accordance with the Constitution.
Honorable Madam Deputy Speaker, I expect an update on these issues at the upcoming meeting of the COC on the week of 29th April 2024 and thereafter will update Parliament and the people of Fiji on the work of the Commission.
I thank you.
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