Deregistered party failed to comply, EC says in dismissing appeal

Seven political parties remain eligible to contest the 2022 General Elections after the Electoral Commission dismissed an appeal by the deregistered HOPE party.

The deregistered party had sought redress with the EC on 24 February after the Registrar of Parties Mohammed Saneem removed them from the register of parties 14 days earlier after it failed to submit its audited accounts for 2020 as per electoral laws.

“After hearing from both of the parties, the Electoral Commission has noted that the party had contravened section 26(2) of the Act and it does not find that the Registrar, having allowed over seven months to party to remedy the breach, had not acted unreasonably,” the EC said in a statement.

Section 26(2) of the Act provides that parties must submit their audited accounts within three months after the end of each financial year, a provision that the deregistered party said it could not comply with because they were unable to find an auditor despite being given additional time.

The commission insists the onus is on the party officials “to ensure adherence to financial disclosure laws and in this case, critical disclosures were not filed within the time required by law.”

The decision by the EC comes after a hearing on 25 February that heard submissions from both the deregistered party and the registrar.

Commission member Jawahar Lal chaired the meeting after EC chair Mukesh Nand recused himself from the hearing because his law firm was currently handling another matter involving the appellant.

In their submission, the deregistered party said that they could not comply with the law because they were unable to secure the services of an audit firm, that the registrar could have exercised his powers and applied section 26(3) of the Act to get the accounts audited by the Auditor General of another auditor of his choice, and that the EC should set aside the registrar’s decision.

The registrar in response submitted that the party by its own admission acknowledged having breached the act, despite being given seven months since the expiration of the stipulated timeframe to comply. The registrar also submitted that he is not required by law to order an audit under section 26(3) of the act in cases where he has invoked section 19 of the Act. He also submitted that after crossing another financial year being 2021, the matter got more compounded because the second audit now is due under the law and there is [a] continued breach.

“After considering submissions from both the HOPE leader Ms. Tupou Draunidalo and the Registrar of Political Parties, the Electoral Commission made the decision to dismiss the appeal.”

The EC’s decision can be accessed via the link: http://www.electoralcommission.org.fj/wp-content/uploads/2022/03/Decision-of-the-appeal.pdf

The decision also means that the seven registered and eligible parties to contest the 2022 General Elections are the FijiFirst governing party, SODELPA, National Federation Party, the Fiji Labour Party, Unity Fiji, Freedom Alliance Party, and the People’s Alliance party.

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