Confusion In SODELPA Ranks Over Allowance Vote
There was confusion yesterday over SODELPA’s position on the allowance hike. Eleven out of 14 MPs, taking their cue from party leader Sitiveni Rabuka, voted in favour of the hike in Parliament on Thursday.
In doing so, they defied a directive from party president, Ratu Naiqama Lalabalavu. The directive was in a letter delivered to each of them on the morning before the vote. Now, they have to front up to the party and explain why they ignored Ratu Naiqama’s order. The letter advised MPs not to support the motion. Ratu Naiqama, who is currently suspended from Parliament said: “a vote in support of increases in allowances at a time when those affected by the ravages of TC Winston are still living in tents, school children are still attending schools in makeshift leaking classrooms, the continuing relative low wage rates across the board as well as the increasing cost of living, is inappropriate.
“It is quite clear that our party supporters place emphasis on transparency and accountability and I again seek your indulgence in reframing how you address this issue in tomorrow’s Parliamentary sitting. You have made known your views in public, however, there is also a greater need to consider the side effects of the process adopted in the recommended increase in allowance which was made by Members of Parliament themselves including representatives of our Members of Parliament. “Our party supporters including overseas branches have clearly stated their views against the increase in emoluments.” Those from SODELPA who supported the motion to increase MPs’ allowances included: Opposition leader Ro Teimumu Kepa, Niko Nawaikula, Viliame Gavoka, Semesa Karavaki, Ratu Suliano Matanitobua, Mikaele Leawere, Ratu Sela Nanovo, Kiliviliame Kiliraki, Ratu Isoa Tikoca, Aseri Radrodro and Jiosefa Dulakiverata. Anare Vadei was not in Parliament on Thursday. Both Mosese Bulitavo and Salote Radrodro were in Parliament before the voting but were outside the House when votes were cast. They were recorded on the Parliament voting result tally as ‘Not Voted.’ SODELPA General-Secretary Adi Litia Qionibaravi maintained that there is no division or miscommunication within the party. She said the party supported the review of allowances but to be done by an independent committee.
She insisted that proper processes were followed. “The Party President under the Party’s Constitution has the oversight of all Party matters including strategic governance and especially when the Management Board is unable to meet.” In this case, the 30 plus management board were unable to meet as they are scattered across the country.
It was also quite clear yesterday that vice-president Anare Jale was not consulted or aware of the directive. The other vice-president, Mr Kiliraki supported the motion. It is understood the 11 MPs who supported the increase did so for a number of reasons:
10 per cent of their pay goes to repaying the party contribution towards the TC Winston PM’s Relief Fund – that’s about $500 a month.
Another $300 monthly contribution is directed towards the party coffers.
This does not include the traditional obligations they have been encouraged to fulfill by party leader, Sitiveni Rabuka. This was evident when the party presented its i reguregu at the funeral of the late Na Kalevu, Ratu Ratu Kinijoji Vosailagi and in August for the late Tui Nadi, Ratu Sailosi Dawai. MPs are understood to be facing financial pressures to meet these obligations and carry out party work.
In addition, under the new electoral system of an open constituency, the parliamentarians become a disadvantaged to those on the lower salary scale as it limits their ability to travel the breadth of Fiji. This was noted in the SODELPA submission to the Special Committee on Emoluments.
Adi Litia said: “All political parties have constitutions and the SODELPA Constitution states that when the action taken by Members of Parliament differs from the directive of the party, members will be asked to explain why they have taken such actions.” More interesting times for SODELPA, it seems.
A vote in support of increases in allowances at a time when those affected by the ravages of TC Winston are still living in tents, school children are still attending schools in makeshift leaking classrooms, the continuing relative low wage rates across the board as well as the increasing cost of living, is inappropriate.
Ratu Naiqama Lalabalavu SODELPA president
Opposition MP Mosese Bulitavu.
Opposition MP Salote Radrodro.