Fiji Parliament funding dispute continues
Fiji opposition claims it is grossly under-resourced.
Staffers for opposition members of the Fiji Parliament say they are grossly under-resourced and the Secretary General of Parliament is not playing fair.
An argument over the allocation of funds for staffers and offices has continued since December, when the Secretary General announced that each party would get a kitty based on their number of MPs.
Following a backlash from minor parties, the amount was increased, but the smallest party still says it's not enough to employ a single staffer.
Alex Perrottet reports.
The Minister of Finance, Aiyaz Sayed Khaiyum, has denied interfering with the office of the Secretary General of Parliament. He was accused of sending a letter, directing Viniana Namosimalua to change the way parliamentary offices would be funded. Rather than working out a budget with the party representatives, the decision was made to send each party $10,000 Fijian dollars for each MP. The Principal Administrative Officer of the Opposition, Mick Beddoes, says with that approach the money won't be accounted for, and could be spent on anything.
MICK BEDDOES: What they've done is they've said we will give it to you and you can do with it what you want. That's absurd. And therefore, at the end, are we going to keep the surplus? And if we assume the Fiji First office has the same cost for operating for 12 members as we do for 18, then they are going to have a surplus of a million dollars by the time our four years is up.
Mr Beddoes was referring to the 12 Fiji First government members who are not ministers and therefore without executive funding. While Mr Sayed Khaiyum has defended the move, saying it gives independence, Mr Beddoes says the Parliament's Business Committee has backed down and will now enforce an independent audit of those amounts. But while Mr Beddoes and the Sodelpa Party have agreed to receive the revised amount, it's the small National Federation Party, with only three MPs, that says it can't afford to employ a researcher. The party leader, Professor Biman Prasad, says the reduction means four staff have lost their jobs, and the party is refusing to take the reduced amount.
BIMAN PRASAD: This is a matter of principle, I mean you're right, $45,000 is better than zero, but we will only accept $45,000 after we have resolved why this happened, how this happened, and whether there was any interference by the Attorney General in the allocation of the budget of the opposition parties.
Mr Sayed Khaiyum says it's fair the each MP gets the same amount, but the leader of the opposition, Ro Teimumu Kepa, says a significant amount of the population voted for the opposition, and a true democracy would ensure that the MPs reporting back to those constituents are properly resourced.
RO TEIMUMU KEPA: We need the secretary general to re-look at the budgetary allocation that should be provided for us in terms of our constituency visits, the constituency offices that we need to have and the staff that we need to have to work effectively so that we have an opposition in parliament that can work.
The Office of the Secretary General has promised to respond to these points, but could not return answers to questions today.
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