FijiFirst General-Secretary Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum says while all Members of Parliament receive an allowance increase of $10,000 and a $325,000 per political party in Parliament, ordinary Fijians are having to pay 15 per cent VAT, increase in bus fares, pay school levies and an overall increase in cost of living.
In a statement, Sayed-Khaiyum said this is an abomination.
He said the $10,000 is payable to the Prime Minister, the Leader of Opposition, the three Deputy Prime Ministers, Government Ministers, Assistant Ministers and MPs.
Sayed-Khaiyum said he was compelled to make a statement since the Minister of Finance Professor Biman Prasad made comments in one of the local media organisations on an ongoing correspondence between the Secretary General of Parliament and him as General-Secretary.
The former Attorney-General said Prof Prasad made a number of scurrilous and truly ad hominem comments.
“Fijians must be made aware of what is happening regarding the back doorway of giving all 55 MPs an increase of $10,000 per annum in cash.”
Last month, the Secretary General of Parliament wrote to Sayed-Khaiyum as the General Secretary, and copied to the Leader for FijiFirst, FijiFirst Opposition Whip, Permanent Secretary of Finance, Acting Registrar of Political Parties and the Office of the Solicitor General.
Sayed-Khaiyum said 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, her office decided to disburse $2,125,000 as “grant to Political Parties”.
He said 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 said each political party is to spend that money without any acquittals to Parliament, which simply means, the parties do not have to tell Parliament how they spent the money.
“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 the source of revenue, including any parliamentary grants.”
“This $325,000 grant is a new allocation, that is, such money was previously never given to political parties. What was given by Parliament to political parties previously, during the term of 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. 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. Again, this money would be spent by the party as it saw fit to conduct its affairs,” Sayed-Khaiyum said.
He said the letter by the Secretary-General highlighted 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 and 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’.”
“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.”
“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.”
Sayed-Khayum said 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.
“It also for these very reasons that FF including all its MPs decided not to benefit from the $10,000 increment and that is also why FF 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 of course reaching out to its constituencies.”
However, the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Finance Professor Biman Prasad has lashed out at Sayed-Khaiyum saying Parliament is now more considerate compared to when the former AG was there.
He said this is a man who changed the funding formula unilaterally denied opposition political parties, for eight years, terrorized them in terms of lack of office, lack of funding and that the funding has been made available.
“What we have done is provided a baseline funding to the political parties and the MPs will have what we call duty allowance and that process has been determined by the Speaker of Parliament.”
Professor Prasad added that the Coalition wants the parties to get the appropriate resources that will help better serve the people.