Farce of democracy

‘Time limit’

Nasik Swami

THE FIJI TIMES. Wednesday, April 27, 2016 

A PROPOSED change to Parliament’s Standing Order 37 could limit the Opposition’s time to no more than five minutes to respond to a motion moved by a Government member.

This, as the Government tries to limit debates on petitions in Parliament by using its numbers to push for the change to the Standing Orders.

In a one-and- a-half hour heated debate during yesterday’s sitting, the Opposition labelled the proposed change as a facade to democracy and abuse of Parliament’s rule.

NFP leader Professor Biman Prasad said such “nonsense” by Government in Parliament needed to be stopped because it was painting a wrong picture of the genuine democracy Prime Minister Voreqe Bainimarama always talked about throughout the world.

“This is a complete abuse of the parliamentary process to change the rules when it does not suite the Government side,” Prof Prasad said. He said the change in the petition (February sitting), requiring 40 per cent of the Parliament to decide whether the petition was going to go to a standing committee in the first place was abuse of the powers and the numbers that the Government had.

“Because they know that the Opposition does not have 40 per cent. They would never allow a petition to go to a committee, isn’t that ridiculous enough to make this a mockery?

“And what the A-G is trying to do today (yesterday) is because they realised that the change they made to the Standing Orders with respect to the petition was not what they wanted. So today (yesterday), we see another change, you are abusing it. Abusing, abusing and abusing the parliamentary process.”

In an interview, Mr Bainimarama said the Opposition misinterpreted what they (Government) were trying to do.

“I think they have got the wrong end of the stick. They could not figure out what we want done and I think they misinterpreted what we are trying to do,” the PM said.

He said the Opposition seemed to think that the Government was trying to destroy democracy.

Leader of Government in Parliament Inia Seruiratu explained they had an issue with the way Standing Order 37 was being used in Parliament.

“This motion is based on the discussions, considering the fact that Monday to Thursday are Government business days and it should be given priority and Standing Orders 37, as it is, needs to be clarified so that Government orders remains priority,” Mr Seruiratu said.

NFP MP Roko Tupou Draunidalo said the proposed change by Government was “like playing in a game”. It’s like if you are playing a game, whenever one side wants to suspend the match and change the rules, they will suspend it,” Roko Tupou said.

She said the proposed change was demeaning the House of free speech.

Speaker Dr Jiko Luveni said she would seek advice on the matter and return to Parliament with her ruling.

The proposed change to Standing Order 37 states that the “member moving the motion may make a statement on the reasons for referring the petition to the Standing Committee, and the time limit for the statement is 20 minutes. There is no debate on the statement but if the motion is moved by a member of the Government, the Leader of the Opposition, or his or her designate may comment on the statement for not more than five minutes”.