29 September 2016: NFP Leader, Prof Hon Biman Prasad rejects the Emoluments Motion in the house

NFP Leader, Prof Hon Biman Prasad rejects the Emoluments Motion in the house today and has stated that he and Hon Prem Singh will NOT take the increases even if it is agreed to by majority.

Contribution on the Emoluments Motion by NFP Leader, Hon Prof Biman Prasad, 29 September 2016 (Please check against delivery and/or hansard)

Madam Speaker – 

At the outset let me say that we oppose this Motion.

Firstly, allow me to give a background of what has transpired in this Parliament since 6th July 2015. 

That is the day last year when the Leader of Government Business in Parliament moved the following Motion, which was passed. And it was to this effect Madam Speaker: –

“That in accordance with Standing Order 129, and in line with the provisions outlined in the Parliamentary Remunerations Decree 2014, that Parliament establishes an Emoluments Committee to investigate into and report upon the determination of remunerations for the President, Prime Minister, other Ministers and Assistant Ministers, the Leader of the Opposition, the Speaker, the Deputy Speaker and Members of Parliament. 

The Emoluments Committee shall – 
(a) Commission an independent organisation to consider the appropriate level of remunerations for the President, Prime Minister, other Ministers and Assistant Ministers, the Leader of the Opposition, the Speaker, the Deputy Speaker and Members of Parliament; 
(b) Review the independent considerations and report back to Parliament with recommendations no later than Monday, 24 August 2015.

The membership of the Emoluments Committee shall be –– 
(a) Hon. Jone Usamate;
(b) Hon. Veena Bhatnagar;
(c) Hon. Sanjit Patel;
(d) Hon. Roko Tupou Draunidalo; and 
(e) Hon. Salote Radrodro.” 

There was a recommendation that the Committee be given more time until February 2016. But what happened to the work, if any, carried out by the Committee is unclear, except that it could not engage an independent organisation to review Emoluments of all Members of Parliament including office holders, Prime Minister, Cabinet Ministers, the Speaker and the President.

Following the Business Committee meting of 21st August 2015, both the Honourable Leader of the Opposition and I had jointly written to your office Madam Speaker, reiterating the need for the Committee to engage independent organisations or consultants to review emoluments. 

Now Madam Speaker without us fully knowing what work if any that Committee did, another Emoluments Committee was established on 8th July 2016, comprising of Whips of all three parties and two other Members. 

We were surprised that contrary to the principles of transparency, the terms of reference especially relating to the commissioning of an independent organisation was ignored this time around. 

National Federation Party’s Parliamentary Whip, Honourable Prem Singh, who was appointed a member of the Committee on 8th July, wrote to the Committee Chairman on 11th August 2016, and thereafter did not attend any meetings of the Committee. 

I will quote in full what Honourable Singh stated in his submission: –

“We submit that it is morally and ethically wrong for parliament to prescribe its emoluments. Indeed the prescription of salaries and allowances for all Members of Parliament inclusive of His Excellency the President, Honourable Speaker, Prime Minister, Cabinet Ministers, Assistant Ministers and the Leader of the Opposition, was not done in a transparent manner.”

These were prescribed through the Parliamentary Remunerations Decree 2014 (Decree No, 29), promulgated by way of an extraordinary gazette on Friday 3rd October 2014. The current Fiji First Government promulgated this Decree, almost two weeks after it was sworn in as a democratically elected government following the 17th September 2014 general elections. 

Simply put, the current Fiji First Government prescribed emoluments for itself and determined salaries of all others stated in the Decree. This is totally against accountability and transparency. 

Historically, every parliament in Fiji appointed an independent Emoluments Committee to determine salaries, perks and privileges of Parliamentarians. The last such Emoluments Committee was in 2003. 

As legislators in the highest court of the land, we need to practice what we preach, more so when the Code of Conduct Bill is being scrutinised before being enacted.

We strongly believe that the Emoluments Committee should recommend for the establishment of an independent Emoluments Committee which then can independently and with impartiality recommend appropriate salaries, perks and privileges for all Members of Parliament including His Excellency the President, Honourable Speaker, Prime Minister, Cabinet Ministers, Assistant Ministers and the Leader of the Opposition. 

The Report of the independent Emoluments Committee will be an act of transparency and necessitate the repeal of the Parliamentary Remunerations Decree 2014 that was enforced by this Government.” – Unquote

Madam Speaker, given that the Parliamentary Remunerations Decree was promulgated after the Fiji First Government was elected, it is only ethical and transparent that an independent Emoluments Committee be appointed to review the Decree. It is inexcusable to say that nobody independent was willing to take up this task. This is simply a ridiculous reason. 

There is no doubt that huge disparities exist in emoluments when compared to the level and rate of salaries, perks and privileges of the last Parliament. This is due to huge increase in salaries of Cabinet Office holders. 

For example in the last 10 years the salaries of our civil servants have not been fairly adjusted. In comparison Madam Speaker, the Prime Minister’s base salary in 2006 was $106,000. Since October 2014, it is $328,750. The base salary has increased by a massive 210% through the Decree. Our civil servants, teachers, doctors, cane growers and those earning 2.32 an hour are on modest or below poverty level income. This is adding salting to their injury.

We have seen in the last few years persons in statutory organisations being convicted and imprisoned for approving monetary benefits for themselves or organisations they have interest in. And they were convicted of abuse of office. 

We will be seen to be doing the same if we as Honourable Members Parliament approve this Motion.

Madam Speaker, another issue is in the Decree itself. Any determination made by Parliament will mean amendment to the Decree. I have been told it can be done outside the scope of Decree but I remain unconvinced. 

Section 9 of the Decree states that the Secretary-General to Parliament must publish the report in the Gazette within 14 days of it being tabled here. The Secretary General has to ensure the Report is publicly available 15 days after it is Gazetted. 

We are obviously doing things in reverse. We are being asked to approve the Report that would mean increase in emoluments and then one month later our citizens can have full access to the Report. This is ridiculous. 

Madam Speaker, I cannot emphasise more for the need to have an Emoluments Committee or independent organization to consider appropriate levels of remuneration and allowances. 

The independent organization or persons of repute who have are either former Members of Parliament or prominent citizens will do justice to the task on hand but also do it transparently with members of the public invited to make submissions. 

The last Independent Commission was in 2003 resulting in parliamentary emoluments report of 2003. That was 13 years ago. We must revert to the terms of reference of the Motion of 6th July last year for the sake of transparency. 

I have been told that Government wants consensus on this Motion. We have right from day one of this Parliament and in the public through the media as well, called for consensus and bipartisanship in finding solutions to our social and economic issues, as well as amending or repealing draconian decrees that make the Constitutional provisions subservient. 

We even pleaded for consensus and compromise when Government through the Privileges Committee brought Motions to the floor of Parliament to suspend Honourable Ratu Naiqama Laabalavu and Honourable Roko Tupou Draunidalo respectively for two years – contrary to the values and principles of Inter Parliamentary Union of which Fiji is a Member. 

But sadly Madam Speaker, our pleas were ignored and Government used its majority to pass the Motions. We were basically swept aside. 

But now our consensus and agreement is needed for something that is most un-transparent and unethical for the reasons I have stated. 

Yes Madam Speaker, we do need sufficient resources that are commensurate with our work. And this is primarily our service to our members or constituents. We are unable to do justice to them because despite there being a single national constituency, we do not receive constituency allowances to able to serve and meet them. 

And worse still, we are severely handicapped by lack of parliamentary office resourcing. Our repeated requests for sufficient resourcing to be able to pay decent salaries to our staff and equip our office sufficiently have fallen on deaf ears. We do not even have an office in Parliament except a cubicle in the Opposition Chambers. 

We are operating out of our own office and all expenses are funded by us because the $45,000 annually is similar having an impoverished party office. The formula adopted in January 2015 by the Secretary General was upon a directive by the Attorney General through a letter, which has been ruled to be confidential in nature and therefore our questions for parliament to reveal its contents were refused under the Standing Orders. 

Madam Speaker, we cannot support the Motion before Parliament as it is against the principles of transparency and accountability – and more seriously it undermines the original intent of the Motion of 6th July 2015 when Members of Parliament recommend increases to their own parliamentary allowances. 

And let me state this clearly Madam Speaker, both Honourable Singh and I will not accept any increases in emoluments even if they are approved by Parliament. We will inform both you Madam Speaker and Secretary-General Accordingly. 

The NFP opposes the Motion in accordance with the decision of the Party that has been endorsed by the NFP Management Board, for the reasons I have stated.