Power Battle Raises Stakes

A power battle to control the finances and affairs of SODELPA is set to ignite the party’s annual general meeting this morning. It centres on the positions of party leader and
10 Sep 2015 10:52
Power Battle Raises Stakes

A power battle to control the finances and affairs of SODELPA is set to ignite the party’s annual general meeting this morning.

It centres on the positions of party leader and Opposition leader.

At the moment Ro Teimumu Kepa holds both and her group wants the status quo maintained. It essentially means the concentration of power rests on her.

But the opposing group led by SODELPA Northern members supports the proposed amendments to the party constitution for the devolution and separation of power. It endorses a proposed change that a party leader is deemed to have resigned when the party loses a general election. If he or she wins a seat, and the party forms the Opposition, the parliamentary caucus elects the Opposition leader.

Last year, that did not happen. Ro Teimumu assumed the role of Opposition leader because she was party leader before the MPs endorsed her.  The proposed change is designed to be in harmony with Section 78 of the country’s Constitution. The section says the MPs “must elect a person from amongst themselves to be Leader of the Opposition, in accordance with this section.”

Under the proposed change, the party leader post lapses and reverts back to the management board. If the proposed constitutional changes are passed today, Ro Teimumu will no longer

be party leader and Ratu Naiqama Lalabalavu’s position as president will be strengthened. But she will continue as Opposition leader. A new party leader will be elected. This will lead to a clear demarcation between the Opposition Office and party headquarters.

It will also clarify the role and responsibilities of the parliamentary office and the party office which appears blurred. A contentious issue that is part of an internal inquiry into a confidential report is who is responsible for handling the annual parliamentary grant of $225,000.

The Ro Teimumu camp of Mick Beddoes (Opposition Office’s principal administration officer), Mr Beddoes’ assistant Laufitu Malani and Opposition Whip Ratu Isoa Tikoca is understood to be drafting its own version of constitutional amendments. The version wants the party leader to be Opposition leader and that the parliamentary funding should be handled by the Opposition Office.

Last Thursday, Ratu Isoa was present in a SODELPA management board meeting in Suva where the proposed amendments were reviewed clause by clause and passed. Ratu Naiqama chaired the meeting.

By Monday this week it was heard that the SODELPA parliamentary caucus wanted to make a fresh submission. It is understood some of the MPs were not a party to the new move.

On Tuesday, MPs Ratu Isoa, Ro Teimumu, Jiosefa Dulakiverata and Anare Vadei met with lawyer Adi Litia Qionibaravi at the Salvation Army headquarters, McGregor Rd, in Suva to make their presentation.

Adi Litia oversaw the review of the party constitution.

The rival submission is expected to be tabled this morning alongside the original proposed amendments for discussion and voting.

Basically, it wants the Opposition Office to handle parliamentary party funding and it opposes the watering down of the Opposition leader’s power.

As early as January this year, a Nadave Task Force had recommended “structural and constitutional amendments to make the party more practical and effective.”

That was after the party officials and MPs conducted a post mortem of the election loss in Nadave, Bau.

Party president Silivenusi Waqausa resigned because of what was generally agreed in that meeting that those who led the party into the election should step down.

The party and the Opposition Office have not seen eye to eye on a number of occasions. The lack of consultations led to tension and misunderstanding.

Ratu Naiqama had written a letter from Australia to Ro Teimumu highlighting the issue.

He criticised the Opposition Office response to the resignation of Mosese Tikoitoga and Republic of Fiji Military Forces and the appointment of Commodore Viliame Naupoto as acting Commander.

The relationship between the two offices is clearly defined in the proposed amendments to ensure efficiency, transparency and accountability.

The amendments are designed to lift the party’s performance in its service delivery to the people as a buildup to the 2018 general election.

As part of the debate, questions could still be asked about the conduct of the Opposition Office after the general election in September. It is part of an inquiry now underway into a confidential report critical of Ro Teimumu’s leadership and governance of the Opposition Office.

In October, Mr Beddoes informed a management board meeting of Ro Teimumu’s decision to appoint him as the principal administration officer.

He said all positions at the Opposition Office were urgently put in place to initiate and develop work to support the party’s members of Parliament. Board members discussed the need for transparency in the allocation of positions. Ratu Jone Yavala Kubuabola stressed the need for the party to comply with Government procedures and not to breach any regulation on public funds. The board then resolved that:

n All positions at the Opposition Office are to be advertised and interviews to be conducted by a selection committee

n A selection committee to be appointed to conduct interviews for positions in the Opposition Office

n Anare Jale to  chair the selection committee and members drawn from the MPs and the party.

But this was not done and no one was held accountable by the board.

On the parliamentary allocation, Mr Beddoes indicated to the board that political parties in Parliament would no longer be provided with established positions for their parliamentary offices.

Instead, he said, all political parties would be allocated funding by the General-Secretary of Parliament and it would be the responsibility of the respective political parties to engage their own staff for their political party offices in Parliament.

Mr Beddoes indicated that the funding allocation for SODELPA was estimated at $225,000 per annum and the party was required to provide a bank account for the amount to be disbursed into. Ratu Jone questioned the basis of the funding because the Opposition Office was a Constitutional Office.

Mr Beddoes said the Opposition Office was to instigate a judicial review on the directive by the Minister for Finance and Secretary-General to allocate funds to political parties as this could breach the Constitution and relevant financial regulations.

Former Prime Minister Laisenia Qarase, also a board member, suggested if the party could accept the allocation without prejudice to any future actions the party might undertake. His suggestion was accepted.

All the party concerns  are addressed in the proposed constitution.

Last night there were indications that SODELPA representatives from Vanua Levu, Naitasiri, Namosi and most of Ba province, will vote for changes.



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