Opinion

Book Review: Our Parliament ‘Made Easy,’ A Worthy Read

It’s been a steep learning curve for the members of Parliament, since it began ten months ago. Even the Speaker of Parliament, Dr Jiko Luveni, a relative novice to the
08 Aug 2015 13:10
Book Review: Our Parliament ‘Made Easy,’ A Worthy Read
Author Professor Richard Herr (left) with Speaker of Parliament Dr Jiko Luveni after lauching Parliament 101-A students guide to Parliament. Photo: Ronald Kumar

It’s been a steep learning curve for the members of Parliament, since it began ten months ago. Even the Speaker of Parliament, Dr Jiko Luveni, a relative novice to the position, had to navigate a few political minefields.

Through the parliamentary boycott by the Social Democratic Liberal Party (SODELPA), to the walk-out by the Opposition, Professor Richard Herr through his weekly columns, Parliamentary 101, has tried to make sense of it all for ordinary Fijians.

SODELPA’s boycott of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s inaugural parliamentary speech in November raised more than a few eyebrows. The boycott raised questions about how the leadership of a predominantly iTaukei-based political party could, through poor judgment, reinforce perceptions of its myopic and racist ideology.

The fruit of the SODELPA narrative-tree was apparent earlier this week, when the rumour-mill went into overdrive. According to the rumours, the Attorney-General Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum was supposedly taken by the military.

People enjoy feeding their misconstrued notions, about how Parliament, Government, and individuals should operate. The rumours were found to be false and the Attorney-General was seen being happily photographed with staff and children at the Korotogo Andhra Sangam Kindergarten, for the opening of Early Childhood Week awareness.

Lack of discernment

The fact that the rumours spread like wildfire showed an astonishing lack of discernment on the part of some Fijians. This needs to be addressed with education, in every sense of the word. In the same token, because of the televised nature of parliamentary proceedings, much misinformation and disinformation about the workings of Parliament have been generated.

In some ways, it’s the price to pay for an absence of Parliament for eight years. The Parliamentary Civic Education and Media Unit are fully aware of this, and have mounted an aggressive education campaign involving the Speaker to Parliament and senior staff. They have taken their message to the highways and the byways. They have talked about the protocols, procedures and purpose of Parliament with students, villagers, community elders and government workers. They have answered questions on the parliamentary walk-outs, boycotts and suspension of Opposition parliamentarian Ratu Naiqama Lalabalavu.

 

Timely publication

That’s why the publication of Professor Herr’s Parliament 101: A student’s guide to Parliament is timely. Published and launched this week with the assistance of the Fiji National University (FNU) and the Japanese government, the book is part of a comprehensive strategy to empower ordinary Fijians. Fijians have a right to know what goes on in Parliament, why it happens and they will at the end of the day, determine through the ballot box, who represents them.

The 33 expository pieces, have in one form, or another run as weekly column; ‘Parliament 101’ in the Fiji Sun since the September 2014 election. They are tailored to students, and as such, are easy to read, informative without the condescending overuse of jargon, and can be read also by the general Fijian populace.   The issue of parliamentary privilege, a topical issue over the last two parliamentary sittings is addressed early in the book from pages 23 to 26.

“The concept of parliamentary privilege is essential to the centrality of the Parliament in the political process. If the parliament is to be the highest level of political authority in the land, under the Constitution, it must be protected from undue influence from the other two arms of governance – the executive (the Government) and the judiciary (the courts),” writes Professor Herr.

 

Refreshing insights

The book also contains refreshing insights into the symbolism of Parliament. One delightful piece that students should find engaging is, “What is the mace?”

“The mace in our Parliament today began as a royal war club. It’s name was Ai Tutuvi Kuta I Radini Bau and it belonged to Ratu Seru Cakobau……There are some scholars who argue that the Parliament is not properly constituted until the Mace is present in its position on the table in the Chamber.”

 

Strange behaviour

Professor Herr also addresses strange sight of the Speaker being ‘dragged’ to her seat on live television during the opening of Parliament. The piece, ‘Why was the Speaker dragged to the Chair,’ puts the ‘strange behaviour’ into its historical context, the parliamentary history of England.

“Originally, the Speaker had a very limited role in the Parliament and that was to speak to the monarch on behalf of the Members. And in return the Speaker took the views of the king back to the parliament.

Anyone who was nominated to do this job could not be unaware of the possible consequences of being so close to the king. Thus, they would have to be persuaded to accept the job against their better judgement. This reluctance was formalised, over time, into the custom of dragging a new Speaker to the chair.”

The book also includes comments, questions from the public that were published as part of the weekly columns in the Fiji Sun.  This interactive approach helps the readers navigate the different issues with ease. In fact, the book’s structure and layout makes for easier access with four main topics:

Our main topics:

  • The Institution of Parliament
  • The People
  • Government and Opposition
  • The process of lawmaking
  • Committees
  • The Public and Parliament

For parliamentarians, this book could be a useful companion to their standing orders and complement training programmes undertaken by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and other stakeholders. For high school and tertiary students, it could inform their expository writing and debates and provoke more interest in parliamentary debates.

Members of the upcoming Youth Parliament will find this book extremely useful and applicable when they sit next in Parliament.

For politically-inclined members of the public, it will help to clarify some of the televised proceedings, and separate fact from fiction. It is after all a learning process, a steep learning process, for all Fijians.

The book is available from the Fiji National University.

Feedback:  josuat@fijisun.com.fj

 

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