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EDITORIAL: Raising The Bar In Parliament, A Moral Obligation For MPs

The new format for parliamentary sessions passed by the House of Representatives yesterday is a positive move. It reduces the number of sitting days but maximises Parliament’s output. Speaker Dr
09 Jul 2015 11:37
EDITORIAL: Raising The Bar In Parliament, A Moral Obligation For MPs

The new format for parliamentary sessions passed by the House of Representatives yesterday is a positive move.

It reduces the number of sitting days but maximises Parliament’s output.

Speaker Dr Jiko Luveni yesterday gave MPs a taste of what to expect when she adjourned the sitting for a one-hour lunch break instead of two hours.

That was a fine gesture. If most of the country’s workers take one-hour lunch breaks, then Parliament is giving the right message by doing the same thing.

One of the implications of the change is that Parliament will be able to sit late at night to complete debates on motions before the House.

The change will also require an improvement in the quality of debates. It will need both sides of the House to be well prepared for every sitting. A lot of valuable time is lost when MPs ramble on about issues that have no relevance to the substance of matters before the House.

How many times have we heard Dr Luveni interrupt speakers who have strayed from the issues? It’s hard to keep up with the count which means it is unacceptably high. For example, several MPs have to be reminded by the Speaker during supplementary question time to ask the questions instead of making statements or responding to remarks made from the opposite side of the House.

The time-wasting interjections and interruptions are clearly designed to unsettle the speakers. There is no other good reason for them. They do not contribute positively to the debate.

It’s fortunate that the Speaker’s strong leadership in the House helps maintain decorum in Parliament otherwise it would have turned into a circus.

When a question was asked about the Rakiraki and Vatuwaqa bridges yesterday, the answer from the Minister for Infrastructure Parveen Kumar indicated how he regarded it. He said “do you think we are building swings and slides?” for kids.

When questions and answers descend to that level it’s an indication that Parliament could be heading down that slippery slope.

Some MPs defend the exchange as an integral part of the democratic process. But in this the kind of democracy that we want? A lot of hot air and little substance. Of course robust debate is encouraged but it must be quality debate where points of views are made on the basis of facts and authority. When a question is directed at a minister and the minister replies that the issues come under another minister, it shows that the MP who asked the question failed to do the necessary research and preparation.

It’s a concern when leaders like National Federation Party’s Biman Prasad says he does not rule out the possibility of future boycotts by the Opposition. He says that’s their democratic right. But it’s how they exercise that right that is the issue here.

Walkouts and boycotts are a terrible waste of valuable parliamentary time. The Opposition is so far guilty of three boycotts and a walkout. In one boycott, it missed the passage of the Appropriation Bill for the 2015 Budget. Then it boycotted Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s parliamentary address. In the third boycott, the Opposition was not there when the New Companies Bill was debated and passed.

All MPs are in Parliament to fulfill an obligation to their voters. An important part of this is the judicious use of their time there. The new arrangement, therefore, calls for responsible action not the kind of cavalier attitude displayed by Mr Prasad.

Those who fail to change and follow the spirit and purpose of this move are not fit to be in Parliament.

Feedback: nemani.delaibatiki@fijisun.com.fj

 




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