By Gary Hatigeva
BOTH Leaders of the Opposition and Independent groups, on Thursday clashed with the government in Parliament, over the Constitution (Amendment) (Electoral Reform) Bill 2018, with its future to be tabled, in limbo.
On Tuesday, debates into the Bill was suspended as members of the other side of the house were outrage about proposals to change the current electoral context within the constitution, together with the Political Parties Integrity Act.
The minority groups have raised serious concerns about certain aspects of the bill relating to its implementation and asked the Prime Minister to let Parliament take a careful look at those critical issues suggested before it could be passed.
In accepting the suggestions and call for adjournment, Prime Minister Rick Hou agreed to consider the group’s recommendations on a close consultation basis with leaders of the other side of the house.
However, despite all that were agreed to, the government, according to the Leader of Independent, Dr. Derrick Sikua, decided to do the changes without consulting their sides.
And these changes, he added, have not all featured what they described as, some of the key areas that were in question.
Sikua said despite calls for thorough consultations on the highlighted aspects of the proposed amendments, the government pushed to go ahead, and their group was left with no choice but not to support the bill.
The Northeast Guadalacanal MP along with the East Malaita MP, noted that the hasty manner in which government dealt with the agreement, contravenes the chance for a short but thorough discussion that they thought can lead to a vital agreement for the sake of having the bill through.
Both the Independent Opposition Leaders then called on the Prime Minister to put the bill into vote, and indicated they will boycott the passage of the Constitution (Amendment) (Electoral Reform) Bill if the necessary consultations were not allowed to take place by the government.
He said based on his earlier point of order on Tuesday, understanding of their side of the house was after debates were adjourned, they were hoping that when the amendments are made, there would be discussions between the government and their groups to thoroughly look into the amendments that were highlighted.
“Before we can table it in parliament at whatever time we would agree to.
Sikua added that the amendments were only given to them in the chamber, and to his knowledge, no consultations were made with his colleague, the leader of the opposition group or anyone from the Independent group, to agree to the amendments before the bill is table it in parliament.
“And the government has decided not to consult us and push to proceed with debates into it. One of the major points we are concerned about is in the amalgamation or the merger of the SIEC and the PPC, and so we have no choice but to vote against it. And in accordance with standing order 41 (6), I am calling for a division and let us vote on the bill.”
“What really vexes me as to why we are not happy is that it is a simple courtesy. Why was it when the government made the amendments at least consult us first before you table them in the house, it would only take a minute or two to discuss them.
“Debates can continue, but none of us from this side of the house will contribute in debates to the bill,” the Independent Leader stressed.
However, in his response, the Prime Minister explained that after Tuesday’s adjournment of debates, the governmnt took the statements by the two speakers that presented, namely, the Leader of Opposition and the MP for Aoke/Langalanga who is also Chair of BLC, “but also take into account the three recommendations that were made by the Committee”.
“I believe that we have taken full account of all those recommendations and this issue about amalgamation. We have taken fully inside the proposed amendments.
“What I wanted to proposed was for the debates to go ahead and when we come to the committee stage the amendments can be taken up as motions like we have been doing to make changes.
“But I want to assure the house that all four recommendations have been taken up in full account especially, this one on amalgamation.
“As I’ve said yesterday, the proposals that were made yesterday are not unreasonable proposals or requests and the government taken them onboard,” the Prime Minister said.
In an attempt to help convince the groups, the Attorney General clarified that the amendments were to affect the Solomon Islands Electoral Act and not the Political Parties Integrity Act, but the groups on the other side disagreed
Despite all the explanations, the groups on the other side of the house have already made up their minds and called for the bill to be voted under section 41 of the standing orders.
Speaking in support of the leader of the independent group, the Opposition Leader, Manasseh Maelanga also accused the prime minister, saying the PM had agreed to the suggestions for the amalgamation issue to be included, “but why isn’t it in here?”
However, the PM said intentions to call for a direct vote of the bill was premature because the concerns that were raised yesterday were quite specific to some of the provisions within the bill and so we have addressed those concerns. In fact, we have had to bend backwards to accommodate that.
“We have seen there’s reasonableness in the arguments that were made and the amendments that were circulated have taken full accounts of those concerns, and especially, with the amalgamation, it will be taken out but we won’t vote on these clauses until we come to them,” Hou added.
The consideration of the bill was, therefore, deferred later in the afternoon to allow for an opportunity for a thorough deliberation by the leaders as to which direction the House will take with the Bill.