Opinion

Analysis: Parliamentary Privilege Is Sacred, Not To Be Abused For Cheap Political Gain

Some MPs think that they can get away with anything because they are protected by parliamentary privilege. Last week they learned that they cannot discuss any issue before the court because it is sub judice and therefore in contempt of court.
18 Feb 2019 09:31
Analysis: Parliamentary Privilege Is Sacred, Not To Be Abused For Cheap Political Gain

Parliamentary privilege is a sacred provision, but it is some- times abused by some Members of Parliament.

The issue was again highlighted in last week’s session of Parliament under the watchful eye of the Speaker Ratu Epeli Nailatikau.
Some MPs think that they can get away with anything because they are protected by parliamentary privilege.
Last week they learned that they cannot discuss any issue before the court because it is sub judice and therefore in contempt of court.

While it is true that that the privilege gives them blanket protection, Ratu Epeli has ruled that he would not allow any MP from commenting on cases before the court.
It is not allowed outside of Parliament because people can get charged with contempt of court.

The same standard should be applied in the debating chamber:
It also shows that we uphold the principle of the separation of power between the legislature (Parliament), the judiciary (courts) and the executive (civil service).
In the administration of justice it is important that we respect the in- dependence of the judiciary and it is crucial that there is no political interference or influence from anyone.
Its independence is one of the essential pillars of our democracy.
The Standing Orders of Parliament are guidelines. They must be correctly interpreted and applied like any set of laws.

Ratu Epeli made it clear that Parliament must be able to correct itself. He made the statement when he was challenged by SODELPA Opposition MP Mosese Bulitavu.
Mr Bulitavu had questioned Ratu Epeli to state the relevant section of the Standing Orders which prompted him to give the Attorney-General Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum the opportunity to clarify and counter a previous statement by SODELPA Opposition Whip Lynda Tabua on liquidity of the country’s financial situation.

Earlier Ratu Epeli said he had ruled out Mr Sayed-Khaiyum when he want- ed to speak on the issue.
But when the A-G lodged a formal request, he considered it and allowed him to speak.

This was an important issue and it was vital that people in business, commerce and finance got both sides of the argument and were empowered to make sound and correct decisions.

It raises other issues. Can MPs be economical about the truth or tell a lie and get away with it under parliamentary privilege? In the last Parliament, SODELPA Opposition MP, Niko Nawaikula said he could lie in Parliament. While technically he can, he will realise that it is not worth it be- cause if he is found out his credibility will take a big hit.

Parliamentary privilege should not be abused to get cheap political gain.
It should not also be used to attack defenseless people and organisations and defame others with baseless, scurrilous remarks.
If MPs say the same things outside of Parliament they can be sued by the aggrieved and prosecuted by authorities for allegedly breaching the law.

Those who engage in this type of politics are not only cowards but a national disgrace.They should instead be advocates of truth.
They have a moral obligation to tell the truth all the time not only some of the time. It would mean doing more work in their research and analysis to achieve the desired positive outcomes

Ratu Epeli has set the standards. It’s now up to the MPs to build on them for a more productive Parliament

Feedback: nemani.delaibatiki@fijisun.com.fj

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