The sky isn't falling!

The sky isn't falling!

By Yellow Bucket
Friday 07/06/2024
[Image: File]

At the Yellow Bucket we have been watching the recent political contortions with caution. Despite calls for early analysis we thought it best to avoid rush to judgement and to watch things play out before trying to make sense of the various plots and sub plots at play.

Like with any complex story its best to start at the beginning and that is the DECREE that was promulgated in 2013, just prior to the election, that detailed salaries for parliamentarians, Ministers and of course the Prime Minister. What was striking about the Decree was the huge salary awarded to the PM and Minister of Finance and the meagre amount given to back bench parliamentarians i.e. the Opposition and its leader. Equally startling was the generous allowances awarded for travel that subsequently led to an explosion of foreign visits!

It is important as background to remember who initiated all of this considering the drama that has unfolded on both sides of the house over the last two weeks.

Now to present…. The sudden move to review parliamentary salaries appears to have been driven by the ultimate Chair of the subcommittee Lynda Tabuya. Some suggest that her motivation was to regain lost credibility in a bid to regain potential leadership. Nothing like a pay rise to boost popularity! Remember, within People’s Alliance there is a quiet but ongoing wrestling match over succession to Prime Minister Rabuka. While this may be unkind this highly sensitive matter was pushed through with undue haste.

At this stage let’s just state that while politicians’ salaries and in particular increases are never popular we believe, hysteria aside, that there is a case for a genuine review. Parliamentarian salaries that were $50,000 per annum and then dropped to $40,000 post COVID are too low. YB wonders how many of the righteous commenting on social media would be prepared to put their hands up for this kind of salary. If we are to see more women, younger people and qualified candidates then there must be remuneration that is fair and equitable. At present to be a politician you either need to be on a pension or independently wealthy. On the flip side the PM’s salary and Minister of Finance look too high, and they were cut back, and the various allowances are off the planet.

The legislation doesn’t specifically say parliamentary committee so a wiser step would have been to form a committee of eminent qualified citizens as is the case in many other democracies. This avoids the unseemly scene of politicians voting themselves pay rises. Anyway, the committee was formed and employed an overseas consultant to provide a report. We aren’t going into the validity of the report because really in the end the critical part of the process ….. gaining support from the taxpayers was completely ignored.

It seems in parliament in the haste to get things passed there was general confusion. Amongst many, including the PM, there appears to have been a general belief that this was just a first step, and that public consultation would follow. Clearly, they hadn’t read the fine print!

The fall out on the Government side is that the PM embarrassed by having to back away and stunned by the public outrage has been forced to FINALLY “pull the trigger” and fire Siromi Turaga as his chief legal advisor. The appointment of Graham Leung as Attorney General is long overdue. Mr Leung brings much experience and hopefully will be able to drive change in this area that has been a real problem.

But let’s get back to the main story…. On the Government side the only party to come out of this looking good is the NFP. They had a long-held position on this, and they stuck to it. In the immediate aftermath there was muttering from the PM and a rant from Lynda Tabuya, but it

would seem the PM once properly briefed quickly realised the mess that had been created. What is left to be seen is how or whether he is able to back out of this and hopefully start again. What really needs to happen is a complete review of the legislation and the process. If the PM chooses to “muddle through” as is his habit this will open up a nightmarish situation especially with the public service unions as has already been indicated by the teacher’s unions.

However, that is only a fraction of the story. Let us now turn to the fiasco on the other side of the house. It is interesting that it took this event to expose the dysfunctional state of FijiFirst. YB predicted this early in the year and it has finally eventuated. Behind all of this is a battle for control of the party. FFP’s bizarre constitution leaves all power in the hands ultimately of its foundation members i.e. Frank Bainimarama, Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum, and a mystery Salesh Kumar.

Since the elections, a section of the parliamentary wing led by figures like Inia Seruiratu and Alvick Maharaj having been working to separate themselves from Khaiyum in particular. As has been publicly revealed Khaiyum wanted Faiyaz Koya as the leader, surprise surprise, but he was rejected, and the parliamentary party moved to start exercising its independence. Needless to say, this didn’t go down well at FijiFirst HQ.

Add to this Bainimarama’s pending disqualification from politics and the fact that the FFP representatives, including apparently Koya, endorsed the proposed salary changes openly without question and you can understand confusion over receiving a “directive” from Bainimarama from prison via Viber on the eve of the vote. The FijiFirst submission in the committee report had recommended an increase in salaries and benefits as well.

The subsequent “sacking” of the 17 rebel parliamentarians then exposed once and for all the structural issues within FijiFirst. It has been for so long a two-person band protected by the fact that it held power that no one has challenged or scrutinized its internal processes and legitimacy. Now that is out in the open and it would appear that the Supervisor of Elections is out to hold them to account deregistration appears on the cards.

Now that it has been clarified that the FFP parliamentarians will be able to continue as independents, this will further motivate the rebel 17 to challenge the legality of the party and it would appear they can do this on a number of fronts.

All this is good news for the People’s Alliance. YB understands that talks have already started over the formation of a grand coalition linking the rebel 17 with the Government and opening the way to at least starting a process of changing the constitution. This is optimistic as it has to be remembered that changing the constitution requires a referendum with a threshold of over 75% of registered voters. BUT it would certainly put to rest instability in the Coalition. We have to wonder what SODELPA might be thinking at present or at least certain troublesome members of the party!

Even if deregistration doesn’t occur we can expect lengthy legal and other battles within FijiFirst that could very well extend to the next elections.

All this makes some of the panicked commentary over the last few weeks look a little ridiculous.

To paraphrase Chicken Little (google it if you don’t know the story) the sky isn’t falling and in fact the Coalition Government look likely to emerge from all of this in a much stronger position. A very bizarre outcome from what began as a terrible political bungle!

PS This is all dependent on backing out of pay increases!!!!!!!!!!

For more Yellow Bucket opinion pieces click: HERE

Opinion Note

Long time fijivillage users may remember the Yellow Bucket opinion column that ran in the years leading up to the 2006 coup. Well following the repeal of the MIDA Act we are delighted to announce that YB is back!

The Yellow Bucket is something of a Communications Fiji Ltd institution…. Yes it exists…. A real Yellow Bucket that the CFL team and visitors gather around after work to drink grog and discuss the day. Legend has it that every Fiji Prime Minister has at some stage enjoyed a bilo from the bucket.

The YB column ran from 2003 to early 2007 when it was shut down under extreme pressure from the military government. Later the MIDA Act specifically forbade any use of nom de plums or pseudonyms requiring every published article to have a named author.

So why the pseudonym. The YB column was and will continue to be a product of group thinking and discussion, so it would be impossible and a little unfair to attribute it to a single author.

It will continue to provide fact-based opinion offering context to the complex and constantly unfolding story, that is our home Fiji. We stress, FACT BASED…. No rush to judgement here ….. Our aim will be to run weekly but that could change depending on the situation.

For more Yellow Bucket opinion pieces click: HERE

Opinion Note

Long time fijivillage users may remember the Yellow Bucket opinion column that ran in the years leading up to the 2006 coup. Well following the repeal of the MIDA Act we are delighted to announce that YB is back!

The Yellow Bucket is something of a Communications Fiji Ltd institution…. Yes it exists…. A real Yellow Bucket that the CFL team and visitors gather around after work to drink grog and discuss the day. Legend has it that every Fiji Prime Minister has at some stage enjoyed a bilo from the bucket.

The YB column ran from 2003 to early 2007 when it was shut down under extreme pressure from the military government. Later the MIDA Act specifically forbade any use of nom de plums or pseudonyms requiring every published article to have a named author.

So why the pseudonym. The YB column was and will continue to be a product of group thinking and discussion, so it would be impossible and a little unfair to attribute it to a single author.

It will continue to provide fact-based opinion offering context to the complex and constantly unfolding story, that is our home Fiji. We stress, FACT BASED…. No rush to judgement here ….. Our aim will be to run weekly but that could change depending on the situation.

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