It is absolutely shocking to see the FF government continue to shamelessly manipulate the parliamentary process to gag the Opposition by restricting its right to free and fair debate.
In a democratic society, the Opposition plays the critical role of holding the government accountable to the people, and ensure transparency and efficiency in its management of national affairs.
To carry out its function meaningfully the Opposition must be allowed to raise issues of national interest without any restrictions, and, within reason, be given reasonable speaking/debating time to effectively articulate its views on such issues.
The Opposition should be consulted on major national issues, if the democratic process is to be upheld.
The Parliamentary Assembly of the European Council in its guidelines for the workings of parliament states that “establishing fair legal and procedural framework and material conditions enabling the parliamentary minority to fulfil its functions, is a pre-requisite for the good functioning of representative democracy”.
In Fiji, however, we have witnessed the opposite. Since October last year, the FF government has been working insidiously to minimise the role of the Opposition in governance and to render it virtually ineffective.
Government has been using its brute majority to amend Standing Orders to systematically whittle down the effective voice of the Opposition:
- reduced parliamentary sittings by almost 50% to just 6 weeks a year – limited to one week sittings at a time except for the Budget session. One week sittings hardly allow time for the business of the Opposition to be dealt with.
- amended Standing Orders to allow the Business Committee ( with government majority) to scrutinise questions and motions filed by the Opposition to decide which should be allowed
- placing unreasonable time restrictions on debates on motions and Bills
- amended Standing Orders to require 40% support from the House for any petition moved by the Opposition to go before a Select Committee; in most parliaments a 25% rule applies
- proposed amendments to Standing Order 37 to restrict debate on petition motions to 20 minutes for the mover and 5 minutes to each side of the House.
- used its brute majority to suspend an Opposition Member for an unjustified length of time
Under parliamentary practices and procedures, the Opposition must have (within reason) unrestricted right to ask written and oral questions and to receive replies; right to seek debate on urgent matters of national interest and request the holding of extra-ordinary sessions of parliaments provided it has at least a 25% quorum.
Why is the FF government behaving in this undemocratic manner by denying the Opposition a fair voice?
The truth is that this government has a lot to hide from the people:
- official corruption
- abuse of office and authority
- human rights violations
- suppression of the media
- Prime Minister and AG’s salary scam
- missing fine money from Hundred Sands casino venture
- Chinese investor scams
- unlimited overseas junkets etc etc
It fears that if all these are exposed to the people in their full measure, the FF will be finished come the next elections.
The question is: What do the Opposition members intend to do in the face of repeated assaults on their legitimate rights and privileges to the point of rendering them irrelevant?
The answer: The Opposition must consider some serious steps to salvage itself from this untenable, if not, embarrassing situation. This is what their voters expect from them. They must not leave it too late else they lose the confidence of their supporters and the nation as a whole.