‘Forced to go’

FORMER Housing Authority chief executive officer Dr Punit Sethi claims he was forced to resign by the authority’s board last week and to leave Fiji immediately.

Speaking from his home in New Delhi, Dr Sethi, an Indian national, claimed he did not resign for personal reasons, but had his resignation letter drafted for him and was coerced to sign it.

“The board ordered me to resign in two minutes and then within five minutes, my official mobile, car, as well as laptop were confiscated and I was given air tickets to fly back to India,” he claimed.

“This was done so as not to allow me to retrieve any evidence from my laptop and also not allowing me to meet anyone, especially media.”

Dr Sethi claimed this was a clear example of harassment and ill-treatment of a professional by the authority’s board.

He claimed the laptop was removed from him because it had information adverse to the authority, including interference from a senior minister in its activities.

“In fact, myself and my family were put under tremendous unprofessional pressure to resign or to face termination despite visible results on the ground with complete transparency, without any partiality for anyone and putting completely derailed Housing Authority on the right track of progress and success,” Dr Sethi claimed.

He claimed he was not given any reason for his resignation, but was told that the directive had come from “the top”.

Dr Sethi claimed he had learned that “boards in Fiji appointed CEOs only for the purpose to show off on records that good governance is being done, and then on some pretext, CEOs are asked to resign”.

He claimed he had worked with complete honesty in his position.

“There is documentary evidence and physical evidence on the ground that after my joining as CEO of the Housing Authority, a ‘sick’ organisation was put into action within three to four months.”

Responding to the claims, authority board member Nesbitt Hazelman said the allegations were incorrect and mischievous.

Mr Hazelman, who chairs the authority’s human resources board sub-committee, said Dr Sethi was still on probation and was yet to be confirmed as CEO of the authority.

“His (Dr Sethi’s) probationary period was extended in December 2017 for a further three months based on performance issues.

“The board, after raising performance issues with Dr Sethi, was still not satisfied with his performance and exercised its option under the contract of employment.”

“Dr Sethi chose to resign on his own accord,” he said.

Mr Hazelman said with any resignation or termination of an expatriate staff mamber, it was normal practice and a requirement for immigration purposes to prepare for the officer to return to his point of recruitment. “The Housing Authority complied with this requirement and had travel arrangements confirmed.

“Again, with any resignation, all items belonging to the Housing Authority must be returned, this included his laptop and its contents as these belonged to the authority.”

He said the board was unaware of any wrongdoings on its behalf and these had never been brought to its attention in the past nine months Dr Sethi was employed.

“The board has always acted with the highest level of integrity and independence and all times guided by its own internal policies and the Housing Act.

“Again, Dr Sethi has never raised any of these concerns with us on the interference of a minister. Dr Sethi was never under any undue pressure. The board, as his employer, expected a high level of performance and measurable outcomes. Dr Sethi, as CEO, was hired to deliver.”

Mr Hazelman said the board had always acted independently and in the best interest of the authority and the allegations levelled against it by Dr Sethi were ill-founded and unfortunate.

In a statement issued this week, the authority said the board would soon announce the name of the person to act as CEO after consultations with the Minister for Housing, Parveen Kumar.