NATION

Privileges Bill Does Not Mean Government Exempt From Criticism

Parliament is not Government. Protection of Parliament does not mean Government is protected from criticism. As debate about Section 24 of the Parliamentary Powers and Privileges Bill 2016 heats up,
09 May 2017 13:10
Privileges Bill Does Not Mean  Government Exempt From Criticism
Fiji Parliament

Parliament is not Government.

Protection of Parliament does not mean Government is protected from criticism.

As debate about Section 24 of the Parliamentary Powers and Privileges Bill 2016 heats up, it is important some facts are highlighted.

And, the most important one which people seem to be confused about is thinking that protection of Parliament is by extension, a protection of Government.

Debate on this issue is important. Debate and public submissions on any issue is very important provided debate is on facts and people’s submissions are factual and not an extension of their political belief. A flimsy submission will not hold water.

Currently, the law that governs Parliamentary privileges is the Parliamentary Powers and Privileges Act Of 1965.

Section 20 of this Act states refers to “insult” meaning that any person who insults the Parliament, the Speaker, MPs, or the Secretary-General can get into trouble.

What can be insulting? Basically, anything and everything.

“Member X is going bald”. This statement can actually be taken as an insult by Member X or “Member Y’s nose is too long.” Member Y may find this insulting. This has been the legislation since 1965.

Such broad terms have been part of our legislation. The current Bill seeks to replace that with terms which are modern and with narrower definition.

The 1965 Act also makes mention of words slander and libel. This, in todays’ definition could very well be replaced by the term “defamation”.

The hue and cry surrounding the definition of defamation is unnecessary given the fact that similar words have been used in the 1965 Act. It is unnecessary when words such as “insult” have been part of the Act.

The Bill also refers to demean or undermine. This, by all accounts has a smaller scope than insult.

The Parliamentary Privileges and Powers Bill does not stop a member of public from criticising Parliament or the Members of Parliament. It does not stop a member of public from being critical of Government. It does not stop a person from questioning the motions before the committees.

It does not extend to Government. It is merely an extension of the current legislation.

However, if any member of public were to say that “Member Z took bribe of $100,000 to vote in favour of a motion” could be defamatory, it demeans the member. If it is without proof, it can be followed by a civil suit.

Since Colonial days, “insult” has been part of the law. One can twist it as much as they want for the sake of politics, but demean/ undermine is much narrower in its definition.

Consider this: Our judiciary, as an independent institution has the right to protect itself. So, Parliament as yet another independent arm of the State, should also have the right to protect itself.

Instead of taking the word of critics, read up on current laws and then decide on your submission.

Edited by Nemani Delaibatiki

Feedback:  jyotip@fijisun.com.fj

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