The Opposition today tried to block tabling of the controversial amnesty Bill by asking the acting Speaker not to grant permission for government to suspend Standing Orders for it to be tabled.
Not surprisingly, Acting Speaker Manasa Tugia of the CAMV Party (government’s coalition partner) refused to co-operate and the Bill which has received wide public condemnation went through its First Reading today.
Opposition Leader Mahendra Chaudhry had written to the Speaker in the week-end asking him to use his discretion and refuse permission for Standing Orders to be suspended.
He argued on the grounds that government had not complied with requirements that sufficient notice be given for the tabling of the Bill through a gazette notice 30 days prior to its intended first reading.
Nor had government complied with the requirement that copies of the Bill be presented to MPs at least 21 days prior to the first reading of the Bill. Labour MPs received their first copy of the Bill on Thursday 19 May
Standing Orders of the House of Representatives allow a Bill to be introduced without meeting the above procedures only if it is of urgent necessity.
It further states that any Order can only be suspended if it does not permit the transaction of any business not in accordance with the Constitution or any law in force in the Fiji Islands.
FLP argues that there is no urgency for the Bill and that it violates several important provisions of the Constitution regarding the Office of the President, the DPP and the judiciary.
It said its members did not have sufficient time to study the Bill or to seek the views of their electorate.
“There has (also) been inadequate public debate on the contents of the Bill and there is a lack of consensus on important issues,” Chaudhry said.
Furthermore, no evidence had been advanced to justify the urgency of the Bill nor was there sufficient grounds to indicate that suspension of Standing Orders would promote the conduct of the business of the House.
“Mr. Speaker, we urge you to consider that there has been widespread criticism of the bill, and the resultant public outcry. Organisations like the Fiji Law Society and the Human Rights Commission are apolitical and, their objections need to be heeded.
He implied that while there may be opposition within the judiciary, they do not “by tradition and judicial appropriateness” participate in public debate on these issues.
The move failed, and the widely opposed Bill received its first reading. It will go for its second tomorrow.