Ruling on the email and statement by the National Federation Party

Honourable Members, I will now address issues raised by the National Federation Party in regards to –

  • the unanimous decision of the Business Committee to defer the scheduled 7th to 11th March Sitting to 4th to 8th April; and
  • the purported subversion of Parliamentary democracy and ambush of Parliamentary processes.

The Hon. Pio Tikoduadua stated that he had only read the email communication from the Secretariat on the morning of Monday, 28 February 2022, as he was in Ra “all weekend”. He then made the following recommendations in his communication –

  1. That the agenda for the Tabling of the Revised Budget and its debate be tabled at the Business Committee Meeting on 3rd March 2022;
  2. The scheduled sitting of Parliament for 7 to 11 March to remain; and
  3. The scheduled Business Committee Meeting for 3rd March to remain.

Also in his communication, the Hon. Tikoduadua felt that the Flying Minute was “most unusual and illegal”. He does not provide any clarity on how this was illegal. Hon. Tikoduadua then argued that –

(a)     “there is absolutely no need or urgency to send a flying minute for the sole purpose of tabling and debating a budget when a proper Business Committee has been properly scheduled for 3rd March 2022. And

(b)     that “there is no direct bearing of a scheduled meeting of Parliament and a supplementary budget. A proper sitting of Parliament should not be set aside unless for a very very special reason. A revised budget is not a special reason. Parliament during the height of the COVID-19 crisis cancelled sittings. This is understandable. This removal of the sittings of Parliament in March is unnecessary uncalled for and illegal.

Hon. Tikoduadua added that –

the Speaker of Parliament and the Secretary-General to Parliament should defend Parliament’s interests and independence first and should not have entertained the proposal to set aside the March Parliament Sitting by the Government.

He further stated that the Office of the Speaker –

should have done to the Government proposal as it does to issues raised by the Opposition and that was for Tables to disallow it”.

Honourable Members should take note of the following –

  1. The Speaker’s Office considers all requests and submissions from all parties in Parliament and individual Members with utmost respect and undertakes due diligence before a decision is undertaken. All Members should be aware that when the Speaker’s Office makes a decision it is guided by the Standing Orders, relevant laws, precedence or previous rulings and the Constitution. The Speaker’s Office also takes a holistic approach and considers whether an urgent matter brought before Parliament serves the national interest.
  2. Honourable Members are well aware that the Fijian economy is in the recovery stages from the effects of the pandemic and we should all be considerate as Members of this august institution that the welfare of all Fijians remains paramount.
  3. The Government did inform this House, all Members of Parliament present and the nation on 16 July 2021 through the Honourable Minister for Economy’s 2021-2022 Budget Address that the Budget would be reviewed after six months. It is already past six months in this financial year, and all Members should have anticipated this. As Speaker, I saw no reason why we should not consider the Government’s proposal for a sitting to review the 2021-2022 Budget.
  4. Honourable Members, I wish to remind you all that all backbenchers were furnished with the necessary tools such as high-end smartphones, laptops and mobile internet access to ensure that you successfully perform your functions. It is inexcusable to claim that you have not received communications from the Secretariat on important matters relating to your work as Parliamentarians or that such communications were late.

At this juncture, I wish to inform all Honourable Members that a flying minute pertaining to the Revised Budget sittings and deferral of the March sitting to April, was communicated to the Business Committee which comprises four Members from the Government, two Members from SODELPA and two Members from the NFP. The Business Committee had three clear days to peruse its content and provide comments accordingly. No objections were received and following that, the final Order Papers were circulated to all Honourable Members.

There has been no subversion of Parliamentary democracy nor an ambush of Parliamentary processes. All Honourable Members will be given an opportunity to contribute to the debates. I remind Honourable Members that the job of the Opposition to hold the Government to account is not only limited to the budget processes. The Opposition has ample opportunity and space to voice its concerns and undertake oversight work through the various Parliamentary Committees. The Standing Committees allows all Members from both sides to ask critical questions and scrutinise public expenditures and the raising of revenue in the various implementing agencies of the Government. Additionally, the Opposition has further opportunity to undertake its oversight role through business brought to the floor of the House – such as debates on motions, petitions, Bills and question time and end of week statements.

I reiterate, that the Speaker’s Office and the office of the Secretary-General are here to serve the Honourable Members of Parliament. We are also here to ensure that Parliament undertakes its business in a timely and efficient manner. It would be unbecoming of an Honourable Member to question the integrity and the virtues of how each Parliament meeting or sitting is facilitated. The diligent facilitation of the Parliament sittings is duly undertaken to enable the Honourable Members of Parliament to undertake their legislative, representative and oversight mandates.