April 20, 2017
Mr Nemani Delaibatiki
Managing Editor (Training)
You wrote an interesting analysis piece yesterday on my understanding of Parliamentary caucus rules. Of course, you are entitled to your opinion, but I beg to differ. I believe under the Media Code of Conduct I am entitled to the opportunity to reply to any commentary on me, so I am offering to you this short reply for your consideration. I hope that as a responsible newspaper and in the interests of balance – and considering an alternative viewpoint – you would consider it for publication.
You may reach me on my mobile 719 6802.
On Wednesday 19 April Nemani Delaibatiki wrote an “analysis” piece in the Fiji Sun headed “Pio Tikoduadua’s Lack of Understanding of How Parties Work Shows Through Now.” He was commenting on the incident that caused me to leave the Fiji First Government in 2015. This was my disagreement with Prime Minister Honourable Voreqe Bainimarama and Attorney General Honourable Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum on how to handle the dissent of Fiji First MP Dr Neil Sharma.
Nemani suggests that I do not understand how political parties work or the need for party discipline in parliamentary voting. This criticism is certainly new. I never suffered such criticism when I was a member of the Fiji First Party government!
You do not need to be a genius to know that a governing party needs all of its MPs to vote for its position on important legislation. If its MPs do not, the governing party does not achieve its policy aims and it is not being faithful to the voters who elected it.
But Dr Sharma did not vote against government legislation. He voted with the Opposition on a Friday afternoon adjournment motion, the kind where Parliament expresses a view about a particular issue, often raised by the Opposition.
Adjournment motions do not spend government money. They do not create new laws. They are a chance for MPs to discuss with each other what the people are talking about. Often the Opposition takes advantage of this opportunity. The Opposition also represents citizens of our country and their voices should also be heard. Adjournment motions are an opportunity for the Government to talk less and listen more.
I do not even recall the exact terms of the motion. I think it called for action on Non-Communicable Diseases (NCDs). Dr Sharma is a medical doctor. He is a former Minister for Health. No doubt he felt strongly about these issues. He voted with the Opposition.
There is a paranoid element in the Fiji First Party that treats any sign of dissension as a threat which must be immediately suppressed. This is similar to the Soviet Union in the time of Josef Stalin. In Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum’s words, Dr Sharma had to be “made an example”. He had to be forced out of Parliament to warn other MPs not to do the same.
The Fiji First Party has 32 out of 50 seats in Parliament. This was an adjournment motion. It did not compel the Government to do anything (except listen to some opposing views for a few a minutes).
For anyone who is paying attention, NCDs are right now the biggest threat to the health and well-being of Fiji’s people. If a Government MP votes with the Opposition, that is a wake-up call for the Government. The Government needs to listen and learn about why that MP feels so strongly that he would put at risk his relationship with his fellow party members.
Dissent, in the right measure, strengthens, not weakens, organisations. It means that we are keeping an open mind and looking for better ways to meet our goals.
Weak people fear dissent. They are not confident that their arguments are better than the dissenters. They are afraid of other people being seen to be better than they are.
So, Nemani, party discipline certainly has its place in Parliamentary government. But imagination, tolerance and listening to other points of view is how you strengthen your party for the future. People who know that you are listening to them, not dictating to them or threatening them, are the people who will vote with you when you really need the support.
That is how strong political parties work. The same is true of nations.