Fiji Opposition Leader Stands Firm Amid FijiFirst Party Discord Over Salary Increase Vote

Fiji’s Leader of Opposition Inia Seruiratu today reassured the public that opposition MPs remain committed to their parliamentary duties despite potential disciplinary actions from their FijiFirst party.

This contrasts the party President Ratu Joji Satakala’s stern response to 16 MPs, including Seruiratu, who voted against party directives for salary and benefit increases.

In a statement this morning, Seruiratu, one of the 16 FijiFirst MPs who supported the Special Committee on Emoluments’ report recommending salary and benefit increases, downplayed the potential impact of proposed disciplinary actions by the party.

“There has been a lot of publicity on the recent statement of the President of FijiFirst and intention of instigating disciplinary action on FijiFirst Members of Parliament who voted for the Motion on the Emolument Review Report last Friday. This is a Party internal process and for now does not affect the work of Opposition MPs,” Seruiratu stated.

He reiterated that opposition MPs are diligently working in various Parliamentary Standing Committees, scrutinising reports and vetting critical bills that were introduced in the last parliamentary sitting. 

“These are important bills that need to be thoroughly vetted by the Committee and to be enacted by Parliament at the earliest opportunity.”

His comments pose a stark contrast to Ratu Joji’s statement last night regarding the actions of the 16 FijiFirst MPs who voted contrary to the directives given by the party’s Acting General Secretary. The directive had instructed FijiFirst MPs to vote against or abstain from voting on the proposed increases.

“Sixteen of the FijiFirst members of Parliament went against this FijiFirst position and directive by voting for the salary and benefit increase,” Satakala said. 

He named the dissenting MPs, including Seruiratu himself.

Satakala also indicated that the Central Executive Committee of FijiFirst would take steps to address this issue as per the party’s constitution, signalling possible disciplinary measures against the dissenting MPs.

FijiFirst Recommendation

In their submission to the committee, FijiFirst proposed standardising all cabinet ministers’ salaries at $200,000 across the board, while suggesting increased salaries for all other MPs, excluding the President and Prime Minister.

The party suggested doubling MPs’ salaries to $100,000, raising the salaries for the Leader of the Opposition, and Speaker to $200,000 (from $120,000 and $150,000 respectively), and increasing assistant ministers’ salaries from $90,000 to $120,000. 

Fiji Constitution Provision

While it is unclear at this stage the direction the Central Executive Committee of FijiFirst will take, section 63(1h) of the 2013 Fiji Constitution provides that the seat of a member of Parliament becomes vacant if the member – “votes or abstains from voting in Parliament contrary to any direction issued by the political party for which he or she was a candidate.”

In 2015, former Minister of Health and FijiFirst MP Dr Neil Sharma had to resign as an MP and vacate his seat after he voted in favour of opposition.

NFP Leader Professor Biman Prasad On Party Vote and Coalition

Professor Biman reiterated the party’s stance from the parliamentary debate whilst addressing the media this morning, maintaining that the party’s stance should not be misconstrued as opposition to the government or the Prime Minister, but rather as adherence to their party’s directives.

Four out of NFP’s five MPs, including Professor Biman, voted against the increases, while Minister Agni Deo Singh abstained “mistakenly”.

The party proposed a 30% salary reduction for the PM and cabinet, with reduced overseas travel allowances for all MPs, balanced by increased parliamentary emoluments for parties in the current financial year.

Professor Biman stated that NFP’s submission to the committee was a directive from its Management Board and Working Committee. The party couldn’t endorse the report’s recommendations without consulting their party’s leadership, so they voted against the increases.

People Alliance Party Recommendations

The Peoples Alliance party submitted recommendations to increase the president’s salary to $250,000 from $130,000, raise Deputy PMs’ salary to $200,000, and boost Assistant ministers’ salary from $90,000 to $100,000.

They also proposed maintaining salaries for other MPs, including the PM, at their current levels but providing medical insurance, and life cover. In addition, for the Speaker and Leader of the Opposition the party also proposed housing allowances.

Report Recommendations (Tabled and Endorsed in Parliament on Friday May 24)

The recent development stems from a parliamentary decision to endorse the report recommending significant increases in salaries and benefits for various political officeholders, including the President, Prime Minister, Ministers, Assistant Ministers, Deputy Speaker, Whips, Speaker, Leader of Opposition, and Members of Parliament.

In presenting the report, Chairperson of the Emoluments Committee and Minister for Women and Social Protection Lynda Tabuya said recommendations were based on consultations with an independent consultant, bipartisan discussions, and consideration of various factors, including aligning the salaries with the responsibilities and autonomy of each position within the Fijian government, the importance of fair compensation, especially considering the lack of salary review for certain positions over a significant period, and to ensure that salaries reflect the importance and gravity of each role, while also addressing disparities and ensuring fair compensation for government officials.

The adjustments included:

1. President’s Salary: The recommendation is to increase the President’s salary from $130,000 to $185,000 non-taxable to better reflect the ceremonial and legal authority of the position.

2. Prime Minister’s Salary: The Prime Minister’s salary is proposed to be reduced to $320,000 from $328,750, aligning it with the salary of the Chief Justice, reflecting the responsibility of managing the Executive branch.

3. Ministers’ Salaries: All Ministers are recommended to earn $200,000 to standardise salaries across ministries, considering their decision-making authority and autonomy.

4. Assistant Ministers’ Salaries: An increase from $90,000 to $120,000 is recommended for Assistant Ministers to better align with their responsibilities and to be comparable to senior civil servants.

5. Speaker and Leader of the Opposition’s Salaries: Both positions are proposed to receive salary increases to $220,000 and $200,000 respectively, reflecting their important roles in the legislative process and representing Fiji internationally.

6. Members of Parliament’s Salary: A significant increase to $95,000 from $50,000 is recommended for MPs, considering their responsibilities, the lack of salary review for ten years, and the additional duties they may have within their political parties.

According to Tabuya, the new salary scale proposed for MPs are low compared to salaries that some permanent secretaries are on ranging from $190,000 to $250,000

The report was put to a vote with 40 MPs voting for (24 Govt and 16 Opposition), 7 voted against (Govt 4 Opposition 3) 3 did not vote (All Opposition) and 5 Abstained (1 Govt and 4 Opposition)

Voting Outcome – Friday, May 24 Sitting

For (40):

Alitia Bainivalu, Mosese Bulitavu, Sakiasi Ditoka, Viliame Gavoka, Esrom Immanuel, Manoa Kamikamica, Sanjay Kirpal, Semi Koroilavesau, Shalen Kumar, Virendra Lal, Dr. Lalabalavu, Ioane Naivalurua, Mâciu Nalumisa, Sachida Nand, Vijay Nath, Viliame Naupoto, Ratu Josaia Niudamu, Sitiveni Rabuka, Aseri Radrodro, Kalaveti Ravi, Penioni Ravunawa, Vatimi Rayalu, Taito Rokomatu, Jese Saukuru, Inia Seruiratu, Charan Singh, Lynda Tabuya, Sakiusa Tubuna, Alipate Tuicolo, Naisa Tuinaceva, Ro Filipe Tuisawau, Isikeli Tuiwailevu, Tomasi Tunabuna, Siromi Turaga, Jone Usamate, Ratu Rakuita Vakalalabure, Iliesa Vanawalu, Ifereimi Vasu, Jovesa Vocea, and Filimoni Vosarogo

Against (7):

Hem Chand, Sashi Kiran, Faiyaz Koya, Premila Kumar, Professor Biman Prasad, Lenora Qereqeretabua, Pio Tikoduadua

Not Voted (3):

Parveen Bala, Aliki Bia, Alvick Maharaj

Abstained (5)

Ketan Lal, Joseph Nand, Viam Pillay, Rinesh Sharma, Agni Deo Singh

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