Extension of Parliament tug of war
Embattled Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare’s announcement in Parliament today on the Constitution (Amendment) Bill has received backlash from the Parliamentary Opposition Group. Leader Matthew Wale described it as “hijacking the Parliamentary process” to fast-track the debate and passage of the much-publicized and controversial extension of Parliament.
Wale convened an urgent Press Conference after the announcement where he told journalists that the Prime Minister and his government have willfully decided to disregard parliamentary due process. “In any good governance practice, the bill that is before the house is referred to the Bills and Legislation Committee (BLC),” Wale says.
But in response to this, the Prime Minister’s Press Secretariat dismissed Wale’s statement – saying that the Constitution (Amendment) Bill was put on notice on 5 August 2022 when it was presented to Parliament.
In a statement, it says the Government has observed this constitutional requirement, but since this Bill was on notice, the BLC has not reviewed it.
However, Wale strongly argues that the Prime Minister is not interested in Parliamentary practice or good governance.
He says the Prime Minister wants to short-cut the process.
“So, it clearly is an abuse of process. It sets a bad precedence for the future. No Prime Minister or Government should see it necessary to short cut or undermine parliamentary process, especially on a matter of gravity (constitutional amendment),” he said.
On the floor of Parliament today, Prime Minister Sogavare says Parliament will resume on Monday next week (Sept 5) but will adjourn to Tuesday for the first reading of the Constitution (Amendment) Bill. It will then be adjourned to Thursday for the second reading of the Bill.
Wale insists under standing orders, once a minister moves a bill in the second reading it cannot be debated for another clear three days.
He claims Prime Minister Sogavare wants to move the second reading on Thursday so that debate starts and concludes on the same day, then goes into committee stage to consider it clause by clause and into third reading and pass.
The Opposition leader adds, after that the BLC conducts its hearing and inquiry, after that it tables its report with recommendations to Parliament which helps MPs in the second reading debate.
“In this case, the Prime Minister and his government have decided to disregard this process.
“Obviously the Prime Minister is not interested in Parliamentary practice or good governance, but wants to short-cut the process,” Wale says.
He expressed it as a sad day for democracy in Solomon Islands as the government turned deaf ears to the “majority” of people that oppose to the extension of Parliament.
Wale adds, a constitutional amendment affects the life of the house which all members of Parliament have a vested interest in.
However, the statement from the Prime Minister’s Press Secretariat says the Official Opposition deliberately misled the nation again.
“Since this Bill was on notice, the BLC has not reviewed it. Now that the Government has satisfied the constitutional requirement and will have its first reading next week, the BLC is accusing the Government of bypassing BLC.
“In fact, it is the BLC that has NOT carried out its mandate and now trying to blame the Government, because the Government has exposed the failure of the BLC. The Bill was in Parliament for four solid weeks and not a single inquiry was held by the BLC.
“It is a sad day indeed for our democracy when a Parliamentary Standing Committee such as the BLC is not functioning,” the statement says.
It adds, the Public Accounts Committee is an example of how a Standing Committee should function. When Appropriation Bills are tabled in Parliament, the PAC immediately conducts its enquiry and produce a report. If the PAC can discharge their functions quickly then so should the BLC.
“Apparently, the Opposition is politicalizing the issue by lying to and misleading our people again. Our people are tired of the lies that are propagated by the Opposition under the guise of democracy,” it states.
By Jared Koli