Politics

Ratu Epeli Unlikely To Change His Ruling Despite Opposition Walkout

Opposition leader Sitiveni Rabuka said they would write to Ratu Epeli to clarify his ruling and would not return to Parliament until they got a response.
19 Feb 2020 10:29
Ratu Epeli Unlikely To Change His Ruling Despite Opposition Walkout
Ratu Epeli Nailatikau

The Speaker, Ratu Epeli Nailatikau, is unlikely to change his position on his ruling about an anti-mining petition based on  his previous record.

The Opposition Members of Parliament yesterday walked out after he explained why he dismissed the petition lodged by SODELPA MP Viliame Gavoka.

Opposition leader Sitiveni Rabuka said they would write to Ratu Epeli to clarify his ruling and would not return to Parliament until they got a response.

But Ratu Epeli is unlikely to change his ruling, going by his statement to Parliament yesterday (see full details on page 11).

He said: “Honourable members obviously this has happened before. I am the only Speaker where the Opposition has walked out of the chamber and where Government has walked out of the chamber. I am the only Speaker who has experienced that. So, for me it is not a new thing,” Ratu Epeli said.

“It happened when I was the Speaker in the Lower House and when Government walked out we were left there.

“I then adjourned the House and the Secretary-General came in and saw me in my chambers and said what are we going to do?

“I said we do nothing. Let them think about what they’ve done, when they come to their senses then they can come back and we will see what happens from there.

“And I’ll give them an hour  if they don’t, I’m going to play golf. We waited and within an hour she said there is a delegation .

“I said who are the members of the delegation. She named the members. I said ahh they’re thinking right. They got the right people in that delegation. They came and saw me and I said I’m not going to change anything, anything that I’ve ruled in Parliament. You come back I’ll give your side the floor, the Opposition side the floor and we’ll play it from there. Nothing is going to change. And that was the case.”

Prime Minister Voreqe Bainimarama told FBC News outside of Parliament that the walkout was the Opposition’s call.

He said: “The Government side is still inside and that the Speaker is making us work for our pay. But the question the Opposition should ask themselves is are they going to walk out every time they don’t agree with the Speaker’s decision? That is the question.”

All SODELPA MPs including National Federation Party members walked out.  Mr Gavoka’s petition is against mining in the Sigatoka River.

Ruling unacceptable: Gavoka

In protest Mr Gavoka said the ruling was unacceptable and that the Opposition was “totally disappointed.”

“This is a huge concern to the people of Nasigatoka,” Mr Gavoka said.

Addressing the Speaker immediately after the walkout, Attorney General Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum said the show of disrespect by members of the Opposition was unacceptable.

“And I think we have seen this on a multiplicity of times where the honourable members on the other side even though they are incorrect in the manner in which they conduct themselves, even though they do not recognise the separation of powers as you have rightly pointed out Mr Speaker Sir regarding the affairs of the State, they simply want to bulldoze their way and they continuously show disrespect to this Parliament, disrespect to you and disrespect to the Fijian people and the very institution of Parliament by walking out at every drop of the hat. And it’s very shameful Mr Speaker Sir,” Mr Sayed-Khaiyum said.

He said the walkout was tantamount to an enormous abuse of the process,  disrespect and dishonour to your office and to this very institution.  He said Parliament needed to send a lesson to them that they could not simply do this and they should not be allowed to come back at least for a period of time “through your ruling Mr Speaker Sir.”

Mr Rabuka said in a press conference that Opposition felt that the Speaker’s ruling was not in accordance with the Standing Orders quoted.

“We are going to be writing to the Speaker for clarification on that point and our stand on the extra points he made during the ruling. There is not much more we can say at this time. We exercised our right to present our views and we were not happy with the ruling, the honourable thing to do was to walk out,” Mr Rabuka said.

He said they would only return to Parliament after they received a response from the Speaker. NFP Leader Biman Prasad stood in solidarity with SODELPA MPs and said they shared their concerns.

Edited by Jonathan Bryce

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