The Opposition today objected to the continued presence of government Ministers in the House of Reps who had forfeited their membership by taking up public offices.
Opposition Leader Mahendra Chaudhry, speaking on a point of order, said Education Minister Ro Teimumu Kepa and Trade Minister Tom Vuetilovoni, had taken up the chair of Rewa and Ra Provincial Councils repectively and under the constitution, had seized to be Members of Parliament.
The issue had earlier been raised with the Speaker Ratu Epeli Nailatikau who had said then that he was seeking legal advice on the matter. But Chaudhry said:
“This Honorable House is currently given the responsibility of considering several important Bills. It is critical for the purpose of projecting an image of propriety and integrity of the august House that questions of the composition and the constitution of the House are dealt with expeditiously and in a lawful, fair and judicious manner.
This honorable House ought to be seen to spearhead the move to uphold important aspects of the Constitution.
Every issue pertaining to the constitution of this august House needs a forthright and fair determination without any unnecessary delay or procrastination,” he said.
He referred to a number of Members of Parliament in both the lower and upper Houses who were forced to resign from their positions in their respective provincial councils to take their places as Members of Parliament.
One such was Sitiveni Rabuka who in 1999 resigned his seat as MP and as Leader of the Opposition to take up a posting as chairman of the Great Council of Chiefs.
“Mr. Acting Speaker, it is of outmost importance that there is a certainty and uniformity in the interpretation of the law. There must be an equal and fair treatment of all Members of Parliament who have taken up positions which are deemed to be public offices under the Constitution, and who have had to resign from this august House.
Additionally, there ought to be one rule, and one rule only, that is consistent with the decision of all those Honorable Members who have relinquished their respective positions in the provincial councils in order to become Members of Parliament.
The two Honorable members identified earlier should therefore be treated by the same yardstick. In view of the fact that they have been elected to the respective positions in the provincial councils subsequent to their election as Members of Parliament, they have contravened Articles 71 (1) (b) of the Constitution of Fiji. They have therefore lost their respective places as Members of Parliament in terms of 71 (1) (b).
Mr. Acting Speaker, Sir, I therefore call upon you for urgent action to proceed to exclude the Honourable Members of Rewa and Ra Fijian Provincial Communal from their respective places in this House in terms of Article 71- (1) (b) of the Constitution of Fiji.
The issue goes to the composition of this Honorable House. Therefore, until a decision is taken on this issue, the Honorable Members of Ra and Rewa Fijian Provincial Communal Constituencies need to stand down and await the pronouncement of the decision.
If the above option is not possible, Mr. Acting Speaker Sir, you may consider adjourning the House sine die until the issue has been resolved, “Chaudhry said.
Acting Speaker Manasa Tugia said he would leave the issue to the substantive Speaker Ratu Epeli Nailatikau to rule on.