More members of parliament in Fiji could end up in jail as a second MP has been jailed for corruption and abuse of office. Seven MPs were charged and two have been jailed while five others await their fate before the court.
A high chief and member of the opposition Ratu Suliano Matanitobua was sentenced to 36 months imprisonment by the Anti-Corruption Division of the High Court in Suva this week.
Justice Thushara Kumarage delivered his sentence to a courtroom packed with people and supporters of Matanitobua.
A month ago another opposition member of parliament, Niko Nawaikula was sentenced to jail. He became the first member of parliament in Fiji to be jailed.
Nawaikula’s jail term had a precedent indicating all politicians that would get convicted after him would get jail time.
The charges in this case have to do with the members of parliament making false declarations about their permanent residential addresses so they can cash in on the allowances given to members who stayed outside of the capital city.
Matanitobua was sentenced to 36 months with ten months suspended, and for the remaining 26 months, he has to serve 20 months before parole can be considered. The ten months was suspended for five years.
Under the PRA 2014, members of parliament are eligible to receive a traveling allowance if their permanent place of residence is located more than 30km from the place of the meeting of parliament or committee.
Matanitobua was found guilty of obtaining more than $38,000 (US$19,000) between August 2019 and April 2020 in parliamentary allowances that the prosecution contended he was not entitled to.
It was tense at the High Court in Suva as police officers turned up in numbers to provide security. Matanitobua’s supporters and political figures filled the court room on Tuesday.
The police had to close off the entry into high court as people tried to force their way in.
After he was sentenced, Matanitobua was quickly whisked away quickly by police as all attempts were made to avoid confrontation with his supporters.
The women of Namosi, where Matanitobua is a high chief wept loudly as the vehicle carrying Ratu Suliano drove off.
Police are now on standby as there are fears that there could be retaliation from the province. Five other members of parliament have been charged with the same offence and will have their turn in court before election dates are announced.