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NUTTY PROFESSOR, 'Speaker of Parliament has decided that each of the four parties in parliament will receive $325,000 grant annually (equally) to perform their functions effectively.' Biman Prasad, Maths Don't Add UP

AIYAZ SAYED KHAIYUM RESPONDS TO BIMAN PRASAD'S GARBAGE. Prasad did not distribute equally money he obtained for the Girmit Celebrations. He gave the vast majority to his wife and his chamcha Ganesh Chand to organize the Girmit conference

​I am compelled to put up this post since Biman Prasad and Vijay Narayan/Fijivillage have made comments on an ongoing correspondence between the Secretary General of Parliament (‘SGP’) – for whom we have a great deal of respect – and the General Secretary of FijiFirst (‘FF’).

As usual, Fijivillage provided the platform for Biman to make a number of scurrilous and truly ad hominem comments. There is no point in responding to each and every one of his personalized comments, but all Fijians have to be aware of what is happening regarding the back door way of giving all 55 MPs an increase of $10,000 per annum in cash, which Biman, who will benefit from it, is defending.

On 8 August 2023, the Secretary General of Parliament (‘SGP’) wrote to me as the General Secretary of FijiFirst, and this letter was copied to the Leader for FijiFirst, FijiFirst Opposition Whip, PS Finance, Acting Registrar of Political Parties and Ropate Green, Solicitor General.

The letter, which was not made public by the SGP, stated that after consultations between the Ministry of Finance and the senior executives in Parliament, the SGP’s office decided to disburse $2,125,000 as “grant to Political Parties”. The letter stated that all political parties that are in Parliament, irrespective of the number of members they have in Parliament will all receive $325,000 each. Each political party is to spend that money without any acquittals to Parliament, which simply means, the parties do not have to tell Parliament how they spent the money. However, as per the Political Parties (Registration, Conduct, Funding and Disclosures) Act, all political parties have to, on an annual basis, provide to the Fijian Elections Office their annual audited accounts which includes source of revenue, including any parliamentary grants.

This $325,000 grant is a new allocation, that is, such money was previously never given to political parties.

What was given by Parliament to political parties previously, during the term of FijiFirst Government, was a grant based on the number of members a political party had in Parliament. The formula was that a political party would get $15,000 per member it had in Parliament on an annual basis. In other words, if a political party had 20 members in Parliament, it would receive $300,000 (20 x $15,000), or if they had 3 members, they would receive $15,000 x 3 which is $45,000. Again, this money would be spent by the party as it saw fit to conduct its affairs.

The 8 August letter by the SGP stated that apart from the new allocation of $325,000 per political party in Parliament, the previous allocation of $15,000 would now be paid differently. Now only $5,000 would be given per member to the political party. In other words, if a political party had 3 seats, they would now get $15,000 as opposed to $45,000. The letter also said that the balance of the $10,000 from the $15,000 would be given to each member of Parliament, as a new personal benefit which will be called “Parliamentary duty allowance”. According to the letter, the “Parliamentary duty allowance” would be payable to all individual Parliamentary members, right from the Prime Minister, to the three Deputy Prime Ministers, the Ministers, the Assistant Ministers, the Leader of Opposition and all Members of Parliament. The letter also stated that the $10,000 will be paid to each member of Parliament at approximately $833.33 per month which will go directly into their individual bank accounts. Individual members would not need to provide any acquittals – in other words they can spend as they like and not provide receipts or invoices to Parliament. And even more significantly, the $10,000 increment they will get, will be tax exempt.

FijiFirst, including all its MPs, was deeply concerned about this 8 August letter for two critical reasons:

1/ Under the scheme of this allocation, all political parties will receive the same amount of 325,000, despite their size. Two political parties, SODELPA and NFP have no more than 5 seats, while Peoples Alliance Party and FF both have more than 20 seats but would get the same amount as SODELPA and NFP. The disparity of course is stark, but this allocation to the political parties is the prerogative of the SGP which cannot be interfered with.

We did, however, question the anomaly in the SGP’s 8 August letter, which on one hand stated that the party did not have to provide any acquittals and could spend the funds as it wished, but on the other hand stated that the party was to spend on ‘Parliamentary expenses such as staffing and other recurring expenses whilst in Parliament.” This on one hand appears to put restrictions on what the funds could be spent on but on the other hand says that it could be spent on other expenses while the party is in Parliament. We asked for clarification on this anomaly. We are yet to get that clarification.

2/ The second critical issue dealt with the new $10,000.00 allocation, tax free, to individual members of Parliament. In our response of 21 August (which we also copied to the General Secretaries of all political parties in Parliament for their information, as it was a legal matter that affected all of these parties) we pointed out that under the Parliamentary Remuneration Act (‘Act’), any remuneration, which includes salaries, allowances and benefits (see section 2 of the Act), pertaining to those office holders (which include the President, Prime Minister, other Ministers and Assistant Ministers, Leader of Opposition, Speaker, Deputy Speaker and members of Parliament – see section 3 of the Act) that fall under the Act, must have Parliamentary approval.

We noted that the SGP’s 8 August Letter purported to introduce the Parliamentary Duty Allowance for individual members which includes the Prime Minister, Ministers, Assistant Ministers, Leader of Opposition and other members of Parliament. This new proposed ‘Parliamentary Duty Allowance’ has not been approved under the Act and Part B of the Schedule to the Act (which sets out the specific amounts of the benefits) has not been amended.

It also for these very reasons that FF including all its MPs decided not to benefit from the $10,000 increment and that is also why FF recommended that if Parliament wanted to disburse the $10,000 allocation then it should be disbursed to the individual political parties which the parties could use for their operations including of course reaching out to its constituencies.

It is rather apparent that Vijay Narayan/Fijivillage which slavishly tells all that Biman Prasad says, without proper analysis, reported on 25 August 2023 remarks that Biman Prasad had made regarding the letter which FF wrote to SGP. Biman Prasad did everything but focus on the legal issues. He misrepresented that I wanted to ‘usurp parliamentary authority and the independence of the office of the Speaker’. He also was quoted as saying that I insisted the monies should not be given to the MPs, when clearly I did not. Biman Prasad did not address the legal issues at all. In fact, he said that ‘there is absolutely nothing illegal about the disbursement of the Parliamentary Duty Allowance to the 55 MPS…’. He obviously is wrong. He is either extremely woeful in his understanding of the law or has chosen to ignore the law. On both counts his rabid unchecked utterances are of deep concern. Just because one is a Government Minister it does not give one the authority to do anything they choose to do or say anything they like without regard to facts, without regard to the law. Every person right from the President, Prime Minister, Ministers, Assistant Ministers, Leader of opposition and members of Parliament are bound by the law and need to uphold the law, which includes the supreme law which is the constitution. If you also read my letter to the SGP you will clearly see that what Biman alleges I said, is not true.

In fact, Biman should not have commented on the SGP letter at all. It was correspondence between the SGP and FF. With his usual quest to politically malign others (especially when he gets caught out) and not focus on governing and being a minister for all Fijians and thinking of ways to stop the carnage which he wrought upon a very healthy economy, inherited from FF, he also dragged in Parliament and the Honourable Speaker of Parliament in his charade. He should have waited for the response from the SGP to our letter.

In the 31 August response from the SGP to the FF letter, the SGP says that the legal matters that I raised pertaining to the new benefit for individual members of Parliament will be addressed and until such time the $10,000 per member benefit will be put on hold. This demonstrates that the SGP seeks to adhere to the law after we raised it.

The upshot of all of this is, the law provides that any increase in benefit for members of Parliament whether it is an allowance, a salary or other benefits, must be approved through the Act which includes an amendment to the Schedule that sets out all the benefits. This has to be done by way of a Parliamentary motion. This has not been done. This new allowance for MPs, as we have said in the letter, gives MPs a pay rise, through the backdoor, while ordinary Fijians have not had a pay rise. The whole purpose of having an independent committee deliberating on an increase and followed by a debate in Parliament is so that members of the public can participate and have a say in whether or not their MPs should get a pay rise/benefit or not.

An increase of $10,000 for each member of the 55 members of Parliament in such a manner - the back door way - without following the process and the law is an abomination. It is more of an abomination because today, ordinary Fijians, and in particular the poor, the low income, the working class and the waning middle class, are having to pay 15% VAT, increase in duties, increase in bus fares, pay school levies and have limited if any access to the free GP scheme and an overall increase in cost of living.

The increase in pay/benefits for MPs must not only have a legal basis to it but must also have a moral and ethical justification.