Podcast with UNDP's Dyfan Jones: Fiji's parliament to be among region's most developed

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A parliamentary development specialist helping Fiji with its new parliament says the new body will be among the most developed in the region, meaning better access for the public.  The parliament held its first official meeting in eight years on October 6th. 

Dyfan Jones of the United Nations Development Programme says the UNDP has a programme in place to help with the body's rules and assist the parliamentarians settle in to the job.  To listen to the podcast, please click here.  

DYFAN JONES: The Fiji case is quite unique, in the sense of establishing, if you like, a new Parliament after a gap of eight years. So many of the challenges were different, but the support that UNDP has been providing will hopefully help in setting a sound platform for the operation of the new Parliament.

SALLY ROUND: Now is this parliament being established on classic Westminster lines?

DJ: Fiji has a Westminster parliament tradition, so its similar if you like to the parliaments we see in New Zealand, Australia, other Pacific countries, in the structure and the way the parliament is established. This parliament is largely, similar in many ways to the previous Fiji parliament so it will be a Westminster-style parliament with a Prime Minister, a Leader of the Opposition facing each other in Parliament; Question time that we see in many parliaments that are often the pinnacle if you like of the week in terms of theatre of Parliament. So many of those aspects of the Parliament will be the same.

SR: A lot of the parliamentary rules and procedures are prescribed in the constitution of Fiji. Do you feel that that constitution actually does, comparatively speaking, provide a good model?

DJ: The outline of the way that parliament will operate in the constitution is broadly in line with the majority of countries. The one aspect that is slightly different to some countries is the fact that members of parliament will not be able to vote against their party or to abstain on a vote which their party is supporting, that element is different to some parliaments, but there are other parliaments in the world that also have this rule in place.

SR: One of those rules is around the sittings of parliament, how does that procedure work under the rules at the moment?

DJ: The Constitution of Fiji outlines the minimum time that parliament needs to meet, so according to the constitution, I believe, parliament cannot be in recess for more than six months — that is the very bare minimum. However the rules of procedure of the parliament — the standing orders — outline that at the beginning of very year the parliament itself must establish a sitting calendar, when will the parliament sit throughout the year that is done by the business committee of the Parliament. The business committee is made up of representatives from all the political parties and is chaired by the speaker of the parliament. Very unusually in the Pacific, and its a good thing the parliament will have a clear one year plan, if you like, of the sittings or an outline of when parliament will sit. Which will help members of parliament, civil society, government and others plan their work in a much better way. So this is a very positive element of the new rules of procedure.

According to these rules the, the parliament cannot, must sit within six months, so technically parliament could sit for two days a year, but as I say the business committee itself must agree a sitting of, a calendar of sittings. In addition, there is a clause in the standing orders of the parliament that when parliament is not sitting, if a matter of national urgency arises the Prime Minister can request that the speaker reconvene parliament. And also if one third of the members of parliament, want parliament to be reconvened to discuss a matter of national importance, they can also make that request to the speaker. So I think there are rules within the rules there are issues about when parliament will sit, but broadly the fact that there will be a calendar of sittings agreed by the business committee should provide a good outline, for citizens in Fiji to know, when Parliament will be sitting.

SR: Are there any challenges within this framework?

DJ: I think there are, the way that parliaments operate are, are influenced by a number of factors, the rules are very important but the political culture is very important so one of the issues or the challenges in Fiji will be that many of the MPs who have been elected are obviously new MPs so they will need some time and some support in developing their professional skills as parliamentarians, learning the rules of Parliament. And as we go along UNDP will be working with the speaker and the secretary general of parliament to provide any support we can in this regard. But I think that at the moment people are very optimistic that the parliament will be meeting. It will be the forum for national debate which is a positive thing.

SR: Now technically, this parliament is going to be quite high tech. Can you explain what is happening?

DJ: The Parliament here is decided that they will have an electronic voting system. So I understand it will be the first parliament in the Pacific with this electronic voting system. There will also be live audio and television broadcasting, in the chamber and also in the committee rooms. So the parliament in terms of infrastructure, in terms of ICT will be one of the most developed parliaments in this part of the world. Which is a very positive thing, it can, ICT can be very useful in making Parliament open to the people, taking parliament to the people and the Parliament itself will be looking at the best way to do that. Now that the technology is there, the infrastructure is there, how it can be used in an effective way, to take Parliament to the people.

SOURCE: Radio New Zealand International