Another Farce in Fiji’s Parliament?

Only 20 sitting days have been allowed to Parliament this year. One has already been lost to a power blackout. So why did the Government waste so much time on Tuesday voting to suspend standing orders then debating and then voting through a motion to “endorse” the Speaker’s suspension of NFP’s Members of Parliament?

Parliament cannot vote to suspend MPs unless the Speaker has named them for disorderly conduct (Standing Order 76). NFP’s MPs could not be guilty of that — they are not even there. So the Government motion is meaningless. But it may illustrate the poor understanding of certain of our current leaders of the role and function of Parliament in a democracy.

In a democracy, the people are supreme. That means that their representatives have the right to speak for them at all times, subject to very narrow exceptions. This is not a right of the parliamentary representatives or their political parties, but of the people they represent. That right cannot lightly be taken away.

Perhaps the Government’s “endorsement” motion is an attempt to put beyond judicial scrutiny the Speaker’s decision (apparently on the advice of the Solicitor-General) to suspend NFP’s parliamentarians. Time will tell whether that is correct. But a decision by a public officer, such as the Speaker, is still a decision and the law (whatever the law is) applies to that decision. A meaningless “endorsement” does not change the law in relation to that decision.

More curious is Mr Sayed-Khaiyum’s justification of the Speaker’s decision to suspend the NFP parliamentarians in the first place. He appears to think that “any duly elected Member of Parliament must be a representative of a registered political party” (which is not correct — independent MPs may be elected).

“Logically and consequently”, he says, “the suspension of registration of a political party must have the effect of suspending that party and its members from Parliament”.

But that is not what the Political Parties Decree says. Section 27(6) says clearly that if a party is suspended for an offence against the decree, its MPs continue to hold their parliamentary seats. So why would it “logically and consequently” be different for a party such as NFP, suspended merely because it is accused of not having its audit signed off properly?

But let us assume (perhaps in the face of the obvious) that Mr Sayed-Khaiyum is right. That would mean that, if his FijiFirst Party is suspended, for some (real or imagined) breach of the Political Parties Decree, “logically and consequently” Government would come to a halt. In a democracy, the Government derives its authority from Parliament.

Under Mr Sayed-Khaiyum’s Constitution, a minister can only be a minister if he is a Member of Parliament. So if a minister does not qualify to sit in Parliament (on account of his or her party being suspended), he or she cannot function as a minister. Is this “logically and consequently” how the country is supposed to be governed?

This is not “true” democracy. This is “Alice in Wonderland” democracy.

Government is a business to be carried on with respect for everybody. It is not something you make up as you go along just so you can win today’s argument.

An institution such as the Parliament (the legislature) is supposed to be separate and independent from the executive side of Government (the ministers and the civil service). This is why it is important for Parliament to have experienced, professional — and most importantly, independent — legal advisers of its own.

We think Richard is correct, so be on the lookout for yet another decree to make him incorrect.