FijiFirst General Secretary, Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum has today posted a letter from Secretary General to Parliament, Jeanette Emberson, stating that she reassures that the issues raised by him are before the Parliamentary Emoluments Committee for their further deliberation, and therefore all payments pertaining to the $10,000 per MP will be on hold until further notice.
In his post, Sayed-Khaiyum also attacks fijivillage saying he is compelled to put up the post since Biman Prasad and Vijay Narayan/fijivillage have made comments on an ongoing correspondence between the Secretary General of Parliament – for whom they have a great deal of respect – and the General Secretary of FijiFirst.
Sayed-Khaiyum says as usual, fijivillage provided the platform for Biman to make a number of scurrilous and truly ad hominem comments.
He says 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.
Sayed-Khaiyum says on 8th August 2023, the Secretary General of Parliament wrote to him 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.
He says the letter, which was not made public by the Secretary General to Parliament, stated that after consultations between the Ministry of Finance and the senior executives in Parliament, the Secretary General’s Office decided to disburse $2.125 million 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.
Sayed-Khaiyum says each political party is to spend that money without any acquittals to Parliament, which means, the parties do not have to tell Parliament how they spent the money.
He says 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.
Sayed-Khaiyum says this $325,000 grant is a new allocation, that is, such money was previously never given to political parties.
He says what was given by Parliament to political parties previously, during the term of the 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. He says 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.
Sayed-Khaiyum says this money would be spent by the party as it saw fit to conduct its affairs.
He says the 8th August letter by the Secretary General 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.
Sayed-Khaiyum says 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.
He says the FijiFirst, including all its MPs, was deeply concerned about this letter because under the scheme of this allocation, all political parties will receive the same amount of $325,000, despite their size.
He says two political parties, SODELPA and NFP have no more than 5 seats, while People’s Alliance Party and FijiFirst both have more than 20 seats but would get the same amount as SODELPA and NFP.
Sayed-Khaiyum says the disparity is stark, but this allocation to the political parties is the prerogative of the Secretary General which cannot be interfered with. He says they did, however, question the anomaly in the Secretary General’s 8th 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.”
He says the second critical issue dealt with the new $10,000 allocation, tax free, to individual members of Parliament.
Sayed-Khaiyum says it was a legal matter that affected all of these parties) they pointed out that under the Parliamentary Remuneration Act, any remuneration, which includes salaries, allowances and benefits, 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 – that fall under the Act, must have Parliamentary approval.
He says 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.
Sayed-Khaiyum says it also for these very reasons that FijiFirst including all its MPs decided not to benefit from the $10,000 increment and that is also why the party 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 reaching out to its constituencies.
Sayed-Khaiyum says Biman Prasad did everything but focus on the legal issues.
He also says Prasad was quoted as saying that Sayed-Khaiyum insisted the money should not be given to the MPs, when clearly he did not.
Sayed-Khaiyum says Prasad is obviously wrong, he is either extremely woeful in his understanding of the law or has chosen to ignore the law. He also says in fact, Biman should not have commented on the Secretary General of Parliament’s letter at all.
He says it was correspondence between the Secretary General and FijiFirst.
Sayed-Khaiyum says the whole purpose of having an independent committee deliberating on an increase and followed by a debate in Parliament is so that the members of the public can participate and have a say in whether or not their MPs should get a pay rise/benefit or not.
He says 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.
Sayed-Khaiyum says 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.
fijivillage News had sought comments from FijiFirst Parlimentary Leader and Opposition Leader, Inia Seruiratu on August 24th. He is yet to comment. However FijiFirst Whip, Alvick Maharaj had said that they stand by the letter sent by Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum.
While responding to Sayed-Khaiyum, Professor Biman Prasad says he maintains his earlier comments but adds that Aiyaz unilaterally usurped the powers of parliament and the changed the formula in 2014 tp punish the Opposition and now wants to dictate to the Speaker and parliament as to how parliament supports parties in parliament and MPs to do their work.
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