Deputy Prime Minister, Minister for Communications and SMEs, Manoa Kamikamica has today confirmed that as soon as they got into office, he reduced his overseas travel allowance to 100 percent and some other ministers did the same however, this should have been done a long time ago.
Kamikamica highlighted this while supporting the motion moved by Prime Minister Sitiveni Rabuka to reduce the rates payable for overseas travelling allowances for the Prime Minister, Cabinet Ministers, Assistant Ministers, Leader of the Opposition and Members of Parliament.
Kamikamica says the former government was making money from the overseas travelling allowance as the allowance was excessive and needs to be reduced.
He says they also discussed about how to reduce these allowances and had a cabinet decision in April to formally decide on it and were told that it has to go through the Parliamentary Emoluments Committee.
He says they allowed the Emoluments Committee to operate however, it was taking too long.
The Deputy Prime Minister says they made a promise to the people of Fiji about this allowance and are now delivering their promises to become a true democracy unlike enjoying the allowance like the opposition and hiding things from the people.
Parliament has passed the Prime Minister’s motion to reduce the rates payable for overseas travelling allowances for the Prime Minister, Cabinet Ministers, Assistant Ministers, Leader of the Opposition and Members of Parliament from December 1st 2023 although the Opposition opposed the motion saying that they should wait for the Parliamentary Emoluments Committee report.
While tabling the motion, Prime Minister, Sitiveni Rabuka says the current overseas travelling allowances under the Parliamentary Remunerations Act 2014 for the Prime Minister is UNDP subsistence allowance plus 100 percent, for Cabinet Ministers UNDP subsistence allowance plus 50 percent, for Assistant Ministers UNDP subsistence allowance plus 25 percent, Leader of the Opposition UNDP subsistence allowance plus 50 percent, and for Members of Parliament (including Deputy Speaker, Government/Opposition Whip and Leader of the Government in Parliament UNDP subsistence allowance plus 25 percent.
Rabuka has moved this amendment to the determination to take effect from 1st December this year until such time that the Parliamentary Emoluments Committee tables its report in Parliament and the subsequent debate and vote has taken place.
The Prime Minister says prior to the promulgation of the Parliamentary Remunerations law in 2014, the salaries of interim cabinet ministers were a State secret and paid through a private accounting firm despite being the subject of audit query.
Rabuka says soon after assuming office in December last year, he announced his intention for the reduction of the ministerial salaries and travel allowances. He says unfortunately this was not operationalised because of some legal opinions received by them.
Rabuka says the current formula put in place by the past government for calculating these allowances are excessive and the motion seeks to correct that anomaly.
He says the formula proposed today significantly reduces the daily allowance while remaining adequate for the officials concerned.
The Prime Minister says the 2016 formula was exorbitant.
28 MPs voted for the Prime Minister’s motion, 5 did not vote while 21 MPs abstained.
Leader of Opposition Inia Seruiratu has opposed the Prime Minister’s motion to reduce the overseas travelling allowances for the Prime Minister, Cabinet Ministers, Assistant Ministers, the Leader of the Opposition and Members of the Parliament now, and questioned the Prime Minister’s timing for bringing up the motion to reduce the rates payable for Overseas Travelling Allowances and also asked if the Finance Minister forced him to put forward this motion.
While speaking on the motion tabled by Prime Minister Sitiveni Rabuka, Seruiratu questioned the objective of this motion.
He says they are confused because they had already submitted their mandate early this year.
He also says that its contradictory that what they will decide today will be implemented on the 1st of December 2023 while the Parliamentary Emoluments Committee work will be completed next year.
The Opposition Leader also asks if this is happening to satisfy the Finance Minister, Professor Biman Prasad who has been talking about this issue in the media.
He also asks who is in charge of the coalition government.
Debate continues on the Prime Minister’s motion to reduce the overseas travel allowances.
While supporting the motion by the Prime Minister to reduce the rates payable for overseas travelling allowances for the Prime Minister, Cabinet Ministers, Assistant Ministers, Leader of the Opposition and Members of Parliament from December 1st 2023, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Finance, Professor Biman Prasad revealed that the previous government used about $74 million is total travel expenditure including allowances during their reign from 2014 to 2022.
Professor Prasad says from 2014 to 2022, the total domestic travel of the previous government was $50.4 million, while its overseas travel allowance was $24 million.
He says this is the figure from the Ministry of Finance, and it is quite interesting that the Leader of Opposition, Inia Seruiratu, became so confused because he was part of the decision-making in 2016 to increase the allowance in a way that it became so exorbitant.
He adds they are camouflaging it and saying this is a political thing.
Professor Prasad also acknowledged the people for speaking up on this issue and said that he does not blame them as they were afraid of the kind of victimisation, harassment, and intimidation that was happening from 2014 to 2022.
He also highlighted that it is unethical and the worst of all for Members of Parliament to determine their own salaries, which is why the Emoluments Committee in this Parliament is engaging independent experts to do that.
FijiFirst MP, Jone Usamate says they do not agree with the government bringing the motion to reduce the overseas travel allowance and this must go through the Parliamentary Emoluments Committee first to complete the process as it should be done.
He highlighted this while opposing the motion moved by Prime Minister Sitiveni Rabuka to reduce the rates payable for overseas travelling allowances for the Prime Minister, Cabinet Ministers, Assistant Ministers, Leader of the Opposition and Members of Parliament.
Usamate says if they are reducing the travelling allowance, then they must reduce the salaries too.
He says a few years ago, when Deputy Prime Minister Professor Biman Prasad used to be the Chairman of the Public Accounts Committee, he would give off-the-cuff interviews to the press telling them what was happening and that is what he is doing now.
Usamate also says everything the government does is too slow as their processes are not right and they do not know what to do.
He says this is because the people they go to for advice are not giving them the right legal advice.
He says if this was so important, it could have been done in April.
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