Following a thorough evaluation of the complaint by the National Federation Party and the responses received from FijiFirst and the Acting Permanent Secretary for Communications, the following findings are relevant:
a. The NFP has made incorrect references to the venue for the press conference. The venue of the press conference was held in level 10, Ro Lalabalavu House.
b. The press conference was in relation to the ‘inflation mitigation payment of $180.00’ and it was held by Hon. Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum in his capacity as the Attorney General and Minister. Hon. Sayed-Khaiyum was not holding a press conference in his capacity as the General Secretary of FijiFirst.
c. As the AG, he responded to media queries in relation to relevant provisions of the Electoral Act. In doing so, the AG criticized Hon. Prasad’s statements as was within his capacity as a Minister to address and clarify certain information needed by the media. Such action cannot be ordinarily viewed as campaign.
d. The AG and Minister did not post on the Fijian Government Facebook page and he also did not authorize the posts that were made subsequent to the press conference. The Acting Permanent Secretary confirmed that “the posts are in line with regular coverage of government events and media conferences”.
Section 113(4) of the Act states:
The press conference was conducted by Hon. Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum in his capacity as the AG and minister. The statement delivered and the responses to questions in the media were part of the same press conference and his role. It is far stretch if the actions of the AG as minister were to be implied as actions in campaign. This would undermine the entire functioning of government. It would also set a bad precedent and could prevent office holders from delivering their legal functions. The AG provided direct responses to statements made on the law.
It is also noted that NFP has incorrectly stated that Hon. Sayed-Khaiyum was speaking in his capacity as the General Secretary for FijiFirst perhaps in an attempt to build gravitas to a complaint conceived on poor interpretation of the law.
We have noted that the NFP has raised issues in the complaint that there may also be a breach of section 113(2) of the Electoral Act by the Fijian Government Facebook page in publishing the press conference as well as the posts on the said page following the press conference. Section 113(2) states:
“It shall be unlawful for any public officer to conduct campaign activities.”
In relying on the earlier finding that the actions of the Hon. Sayed-Khaiyum did not qualify as ‘campaign’ within the definition of the Electoral Act, the NFP’s assertions in relation to a possible breach of section 113(2) of the Electoral Act also fails. In any event, the Acting Permanent Secretary for Communications also confirms that Hon. Sayed-Khaiyum did not create or approve the posts on Facebook.
The NFP’s complaint contains factual inaccuracies and is misconceived in law. It appears to be an attempt to restrain ministers from discharging their legal functions under the guise of campaign law breach. Therefore, the complaint is dismissed accordingly.