Caption: The Honourable Leader of the Opposition Ro Teimumu Kepa.Photo:SUPPLIED.
The Fijian Government dismisses the claims made by the Honourable Leader of the Opposition and the Honourable Leader of the National Federation Party (“NFP”) in the statements issued by them today to the media.
They have claimed that the Secretary-General to Parliament (“Secretary-General”) has acted on the directions of the Minister of Finance to implement a new arrangement for the funding of the parliamentary office staff of political parties in Parliament.
To the contrary, the new arrangement was implemented by the Secretary-General in the exercise of the powers conferred upon the Secretary-General under the Constitution.
The 8 January 2015 letter from the Secretary-General to all political parties in Parliament makes it very clear that the Secretary-General, in the exercise of her constitutional powers, has “decided that political parties in Parliament will no longer be provided with established civil service positions for their parliamentary offices. … Instead, all the political parties will be allocated funding by the Secretary-General and it will be the responsibility of the respective political parties to engage their own staff for their political party offices in Parliament.”
Furthermore, in her 8 January 2015 letter, the Secretary-General further states as follows:
“Based on the funding appropriated for Parliament in the 2015 National Budget under the 2015 Appropriation Act 2014, I have reviewed the amounts to be allocated to each political party for the staff of their parliamentary offices and I have decided that each political party will be allocated funding of $15,000 per member per annum.”
It is therefore quite clear from the 8 January 2015 letter that the Secretary-General decided in her own right that she will be making and implementing this new arrangement for the funding of staffing of parliamentary offices of political parties.
Given the above, the claims by the Opposition are misleading and superfluous. In light of the fact that the decision to implement a new funding arrangement was made by the Secretary-General, any claim that there was a breach of the Constitution or the Standing Orders is unfounded.
There is no doubt that the Secretary-General consulted and held discussions with the Minister of Finance, as the funding of staffing is being sourced from monies allocated to Parliament under the 2015 National Budget.
There is nothing unconstitutional or improper about an independent constitutional office consulting the Minister of Finance or his Ministry on budgetary and funding issues, both before and after the announcement of the National Budget. Such consultations on financial matters are regularly held and will continue to be held with numerous independent constitutional offices, including the Judiciary, the Director of Public Prosecutions, FICAC, Auditor-General, Supervisor of Elections and other Commissions established under the Constitution.
Of course, the Secretary-General held discussions with the Minister of Finance regarding resourcing of Government and Opposition parliamentary offices. Indeed, even before the 2015 National Budget was finalised, the Secretary-General had raised concerns with respect to the provision and management of staff for the respective political party parliamentary offices. These included hiring of staff who were over the civil service retirement age, as well as requests for staff to be appointed to civil service positions without having proper qualifications and without a competitive selection criteria being followed.
Following discussion and correspondence with the Minister of Finance, the Secretary-General made an independent decision that each political party in Parliament will be provided with funding as determined by the Secretary-General and it will be for the political parties to engage their own staff on their own terms and conditions. Contrary to the recommendation of the Minister of Finance in his 24 December 2014 letter to the Secretary-General to make an allocation of $10,000 per member per annum, the Secretary-General in her discretion decided to allocate $15,000 per member per annum.
The 2015 Appropriation Act 2014 and the 2015 Budget estimates have allocated a single sum for Parliament without any separate SEGs, programme or activity, thereby giving the Secretary-General the independence guaranteed under the Constitution and more latitude to make her own independent decision as to how the funds allocated by Parliament for the expenditure of Parliament is to be utilised.
Based on the amounts allocated in the 2015 National Budget, the Secretary-General decided that each political party will be allocated $15,000 per member per annum and the political parties are to use these funds for the staffing and running of their respective parliamentary offices.
The decision of the Secretary-General undoubtedly gives the political parties more independence with respect to their staff in their parliamentary offices and ensures that civil service rules and regulations are not undermined by appointments of staff by political parties for their parliamentary offices.
Indeed, the new funding arrangement implemented by the Secretary-General is a fair and proportional distribution of funding between the political parties in Parliament. Clearly, the more members a political party has in Parliament, the more resources are needed by that political party for staffing of its parliamentary offices to effectively attend to its members of Parliament and members of the public. The fact that a political party has more members in Parliament naturally means that they have a much larger support and voter base who will be coming to their political party offices in Parliament to raise all sorts of issues with these members. Hence that political party will need more staffing resources for this purpose.
Hypothetically speaking, if an existing political party has 5 seats in Parliament, then it will be allocated $75,000, and in the next general elections, if it wins 10 seats, then it will be allocated $150,000 for the staffing of its parliamentary office given that it has more members in Parliament and will have a larger voter and support base.
It would appear that the Opposition finds the new funding arrangement objectionable because FijiFirst is being allocated more funding than them. As the Opposition, they need to accept the fact that they have much fewer members in Parliament and much lesser voter and support base, hence a lesser allocation under this transparent and fair arrangement whereby funding is allocated proportionally.
The claims demonstrate a further misunderstanding of the separation of powers and parliamentary procedures and processes. The NFP leader confuses the role of the Public Accounts Committee (“PAC”) with the role of political party offices. His claim that he needs more funding for his staff to better perform his duties as the Chairperson of the PAC are also totally misplaced, given that, as a Parliamentary Standing Committee, the PAC has its own secretariat and separate resources are provided for all Standing Committees. The funding allocated by Secretary-General to NFP is for staffing for its parliamentary office and not for PAC.
This claim by the NFP leader demonstrates once again his inability to comprehend and understand that in a parliamentary democracy, the resourcing of Standing Committees such as PAC, which all have their respective mandate, are separate to the political agendas of respective political parties. We have been assured by the Secretary-General that all Standing Committees will be adequately resourced and staffed as and when required.
The claims made by the Opposition are wholly without merit and are a mischievous attempt by the Opposition to mislead the Fijian people.