The United Front for a Democratic Fiji (UFDF) condemns in the strongest terms the attempts by the interim Attorney General, Mr Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum, to interfere in the work of the independent Electoral Commission.
The UFDF said it applauded the chairman of the Commission Mr Chen Bunn Young for rejecting Mr Sayed-Khaiyum’s call for two of its employees to be sacked immediately. Mr Young and his commissioners must be prepared to rebuff any attempts by the government to dictate to them and control their work. As we have previously stated before, the independence and integrity of the Commission was questionable and more so now with this incident.
They should remember what happened with the independent Yash Ghai constitutional commission. It complained of massive interference and pressure from both the interim Prime Minister and Mr Sayed-Khaiyum. The commissioners and their staff must resist such interventions. They are responsible for conducting a free and fair election not Mr Sayed-Khaiyum.
A row blew up when Mr Sayed-Khaiyum found out that a laptop computer went missing from the office of the electoral commission. This, he said, was a “highly sensitive matter”. He became very angry and issued an outspoken media statement. He said the laptop contained sensitive data such as the entire national register of voters in softcopy and statistical analysis of the data. One would have thought if this was indeed a ‘highly sensitive matter’ then the information should have not been left lying around and backups should have been made.
The UFDF would like to know why all this commotion about information that should be available to the public and political parties at any rate? Why should Mr Sayed-Khaiyum be so angry when he is the champion of a new Freedom of Information decree? The UFDF said one would have thought this was the opportunity for him to live up to the principles of that freedom.
Why should the data he is so concerned about be kept secret? Why is it sensitive? We urge Mr Young and his commissioners to immediately release it. The public have a right to know whether the interim Prime Minister and Mr Sayed-Khaiyum have access to the missing data. If they do what are they using it for?
The UFDF said it rejects outright any suggestions by Mr Sayed- Khaiyum that political parties may be involved in the disappearance of the laptop saying it is simply a ‘smear tactic’ by the AG and the best thing he can do is to stay right away from the Electoral Commission and let them get on with the job they have been appointed to do by the AG himself?
Mr Sayed-Khaiyum’s media outburst made it very clear that he expects commission staff to report to the Permanent Secretary for Elections. He was angry when the laptop theft was not disclosed for four days. He then notified the prime minister and the police who are reportedly conducting a full investigation.
Surely it is for the commission to decide whether this was a matter for the police. All this indicates that Mr Sayed-Khaiyum has not come to terms with the independence of the commission and thinks it should report to his Permanent Secretary and by extension him, so he can continue to influence its direction.
His reaction also indicates that he has no idea about normal processes for dealing with employee issues. Any accused employee or person has a right to be heard by the employer who may or may not decide to call in the police.
The UFDF warns the Chairman & members of the Commission that this incident is just the beginning of the kind of interference that they can expect and which led to the collapse of the Ghai Commission.
The UFDF said members of the Commission must be resolute in their determination to ensure ‘free, fair and transparent’ elections and they should each bear in mind that the final judgment of their efforts in this task they have all agreed to undertake will come from the people of Fiji."