STATEMENT FROM THE PRESIDENT AND PARTY LEADER
The suspension of the National Federation Party was lifted by the Supervisor of Elections in his capacity as Registrar of Political Parties 5pm on Thursday, following the submission of our audited accounts by Party Lawyers Munro Leys of the years 2013 and 2014 to his office at 4.05pm on Thursday.
The letter or notice of the lifting of the suspension was given to our lawyers and is also published as an advertisement in both daily newspapers today.
Court proceedings have already been filed by our lawyers challenging the suspension. The proceedings were filed at the High Court Registry at 10am on Monday 15th February.
We have instructed our lawyers to continue with this legal action. They are awaiting the release of the papers from the High Court and they will be served on the Supervisor of Elections after that.
We have challenged the Supervisor’s finding that NFP was in breach of the Political Parties (Registration, Conduct, Funding and Disclosures) Decree. We do not believe he interpreted the law correctly on the question of who may audit those accounts.
We have also challenged his decision to suspend NFP. We do not believe it was necessary for him to do that and we do not believe the law allowed him to do that. We have also challenged his notice that we were restricted from various political party activities during the period of suspension. We do not believe the law allows us to be restricted in that way.
We believe it is important for these issues to be resolved by the courts. This is to ensure that everybody, including the Supervisor of Elections, understands how the Political Parties Decree should operate in a democracy.
We are also taking legal advice on the decision by the Speaker to suspend the NFP’s MPs from Parliament and whether we should take action on that.
Because these matters are or may in future be before the Courts, on legal advice we do not wish to comment any further on matters relating to our suspension. However we can respond to issues on:
– the legislation that the Government pushed through Parliament last week
– the changes to the Standing Orders
– other matters
Aborted Press Conference
At 12pm on Monday 1st February the Party was scheduled to hold a press conference to announce decisions taken by the NFP’s Working Committee that had met n Sunday 31st January. We were forced to cancel that press conference because at 11.30pm on that same day we received the Notice of suspension fro the Registrar of Political Parties.
The matters to be highlighted during that particular press conference were over overtaken by event during the 18 days that we were suspended, both as a Party and from Parliament, which held its first one-week sitting for this year from 8th to the 12th February.
Matters such as the erroneous procedures surrounding the enactment of the error-riddled and gazetting of some 300+ changes to the Companies Act, the Employment Relations Promulgations (Amendment) Act and changes to the Standing Orders of Parliament were to be raised and made aware to the people of Fiji and the international community during our press conference on February 1st.
These matters were brought before Parliament by Government during the last sitting in our absence when our suspension had nullified our ability to expose these issues and speak on them – in other words forewarn the people that Government was railroading these in Parliament.
The truth is when the Bill was passed by the Fiji First Government on Friday 22nd May 2015, the Opposition was not in parliament. A day earlier on 21st May, Fiji First using its numerical majority in parliament passed a motion to suspend Turaga Na Tui Cakau the Honourable Ratu Naiqama Lalabalavu for 2 years from parliament.
The Opposition had informed the Speaker that they would not be in Parliament on 22nd May 2015. This was not a boycott as claimed by Government.
More importantly, Friday is for Members’ Business – where Motions and adjournment motions are debated after question time. And this is prescribed in the Standing Orders as well.
The Order paper for Friday 22nd May 2015 will prove that The Companies Bill nor the Report yo the Standing Committee was on the Order paper for parliament that day. And as Members of the Business Committee, the Companies Bill was never listed to be debated the whole week or on Friday 22nd May.
After question time and in the absence of Opposition, the Attorney General deliberately introduced the Bill following the tabling of the Report by the Standing Committee Chairman and got it passed swiftly by Fiji First Government only without any debate whatsoever.
This was yet another example of rushing and railroading legislation through Parliament.
The Attorney General must inform the people how much Minter Ellison – the Australian Law firm, was paid to draft the Bill which culminated into an error ridden Act.
The flawed legislation was then pushed through Parliament last week.
Changes to the Standing Orders
Changes to the Standing Orders has further eroded parliamentary democracy, transparency, accountability and good governance. Again this was pushed through by Government when the Standing Orders Committee did not agree to the changes.
This is the most serious example of usurping parliamentary democracy. Two specific changes will make a mockery of our democracy already struggling to find its feet more than 15 months after the general elections.
The requirement of 40% approval in Parliament for petitions being brought to Parliament by MPs on behalf of the people, to be referred to the relevant Standing Committee, means that at least 20 MPs need to vote in favour of the petition being given the attention and important that it deserves.
The Opposition has only 18 MPs and with the suspension of Ratu Naiqama Lalabalavu, is reduced to 17. We have seen in the last 15 months that no Government Member except on one occasion, has voted for an Opposition Motion.
And in the lone case, the member who voted in favour of a motion on NCD (Non Communicable Diseases), is no longer in parliament. We are reliably informed that his vote in favour of this Motion led to his forcible resignation.
Therefore the people’s voice has been suppressed. It is farcical of Government MPs to brag about being given the mandate of the people in large numbers when the same mandate is being abused to ride roughshod over them.
The other serious change apart from a few other controversial changes is to change the chairmanship of the Public Accounts Committee, which has always remained with the Opposition since Independence and is the practice in 67% of Commonwealth Countries.
It now means that Government can elect its own Chairman because it has majority members on the Public Accounts Committee – just like other Committees.
It now means that the current chairman can no longer be effective, with government always voting him out and replacing him with one of their own.
One has to ask the Attorney General why the change? Why is the Government frightened that an Opposition Chair is leading the scrutiny of Auditor-General’s Reports?
We will have more to reveal on this in due course especially the AG’s statements that the current chairman was politicising the work of the Committee.
Given the above it makes us wonder whether our suspension from Parliament was designed to prevent us from articulating these issues and exposing the deceit and deceptive nature of the changes.
We express our gratitude to all our members, supporters and well wishers who gave us hope and strength during the last 18 days. We also apologise to all of them for not being able to raise issues of concern to them in Parliament, particularly on education, sugar, land, health, cost of living and good governance.
However, this set back was temporary. We will travel around the country to speak to our members and supporters in the next two months.
Our website (www.nfpfiji.com), facebook (www.facebook.com/National Federation Party) and twitter (https://twitter.com/fijinfp) accounts that were suspended are in now operation.
Roko Tupou Draunidalo Biman Prasad
February 19, 2016.