Reviewing the proceedings of the House yesterday, it is not surprising that the Opposition has decided to boycott today’s sitting of Parliament. It was obvious that government had ruthlessly used its majority in the House to steamroll and bulldoze the entire proceedings against Ratu Naiqama.
As a first time ‘offender’, he was allowed no mitigation, no gesture of mercy was shown even though the Opposition cited several cases where sentencing had been much less severe. It should be remembered that Fiji is a fledgling democracy struggling once more to emerge from eight years of a highly repressive dictatorship. Surely, a show of clemency was in order.
The events in Parliament yesterday left one wondering whether some other agenda was not at play, rather than that of upholding the dignity of the Speaker. Khaiyum’s lecture on democracy, good governance, decorum and dignity of the House etc etc sounded hollow coming from someone who has kept his own ministerial salary between 2010 and 2013 a secret from the people of Fiji.
The case against Ratu Naiqama was certainly flawed on several counts:
1. Ratu Naiqama kept saying he was quoted out of context. In the interest of natural justice, therefore, the entire recording should have been played in Parliament so that MPs could judge the issue for themselves. This could have been in camera, if desired, but there does not appear to be any good reason to refuse to play it altogether, except to surmise that the government side did not feel comfortable with it.
2. The entire case against him appeared to have been based on the media reporting/ recording of what he had said at a constituency meeting of SODELPA in Kinoya. Now we all know how selective media reporting can be – to rely entirely on just one media report of the event was not right. This is also why the entire recording should have been played in Parliament to put the whole incident in its proper perspective.
3. It would have looked better if the Speaker had recused herself from presiding at the proceedings as the matter concerned her. In a similar case against the late Anand Babla, the then Speaker Apenisa Kuruisaqila had moved aside, allowing Deputy Speaker Dewakar Prasad to take the chair. This would have been the proper stand for Speaker Luveni to take.
4. The high handed and calculating manner in which the AG handled the issue, gave an impression of vindictiveness. There is a perception among the people we have talked to that the case was rushed through Parliament imposing stringent deadlines on the Privileges Committee to produce a pre-determined outcome. Whether this is true or not, is another matter but that is the way people feel about it. They agree almost unanimously that Ratu Naiqama was not given a fair deal.
5. It was bewildering to observe the manner in which the female MPs on the government side ganged up to turn the issue into a case of gender bias. To take an isolated case and make it into a gender issue, was certainly unfair to Ratu Naiqama when they had failed to show a case history of gender bias against him.