“On April 10, Finance minister Mark Browne proposed a remuneration increase in the House, almost immediately after that Parliament was adjourned sine die. About four working days later we discover that this order is prepared and to go through Executive Council.”
Browne says the minister of Finance should not have been pushing to implement a pay increase for all members of Parliament without debate, “to guillotine Parliament thereby preventing the opposition from having a say on this issue was unethical”.
Browne says for government to rush through the Appropriation Bill in Parliament over only three sitting days, then to include at the very end a pay increase for MPs has been staggeringly unscrupulous.
“The public also needs to know that, despite repeated requests, the opposition was only given the Appropriation Bill on the morning shortly before the first sitting of Parliament. We were never given the opportunity to examine it in detail beforehand.”
She stresses that the Democratic Party would have wanted the opportunity to make recommendations on the remuneration issue and would not have supported it without a number of things first being agreed to in Parliament.
Amongst these is Parliament releasing a timely schedule advising when sittings will take place, the bills and standing orders to be debated and meetings of special Parliamentary committees. Browne says the minimum number of days Parliament has to sit each year must be increased and legislated – “currently it’s just one day and that’s woefully inadequate, it must be changed to reflect the urgency for Parliament to convene regularly and do its duty to the people of this country. At present that duty is not being accomplished and the recent sitting was a prime example of that.”
Browne says she agrees with the Group for Political (GPC) that the Constitution needs to be amended to state the actual number of days parliament is required to sit each year (currently it is only one).
“To be required to sit more working days a year isn’t unreasonable and is very achievable, there has to be a will on the part of the government to deliver this for the benefit of the country and our people. We believe this should have been addressed, as well as increasing the minimum wage before any raise in MPs’ salaries.”
Referring to the MP pay increase, Browne says the Democrats want to see greater parity between this and the $7.60 an hour minimum wage, the Opposition advocating a $10 an hour minimum wage.
“To me, it just seems so unethical for the Finance minister Mark Brown to have pushed his agenda of a MP’s salary increase when all this government could do for our people was a 35 cents increase in the minimum wage bringing it to $7.60. It needs to be set at $10, this would more fairly reflect the cost of living increase,” says Browne.
Increasing each MP’s constituency funding based on the size of each constituency would have been a more proactive approach rather than a blanket pay rise for all members of Parliament, according to the Democrats.
Titikaveka MP Selina Napa says she would have preferred if the government had gone for this option as MP’s would then be able to give help to more community organisations and small projects within their respective constituencies.
“MPs are expected to donate or contribute in kind to just about every community event, organisation or church in their constituencies, the present $10,000 constituency fund doesn’t fully cover all that if you have quite a big constituency, so all MPs spend their own money to meet the shortfall.”
The Democratic Party is pushing for the new and more comprehensive MPs code of conduct to be legislated and the Privileges Committee established and functioning as a matter of priority.
Tina Browne says there is deep concern within the Democratic Party ranks, a concern that is shared by many of the public, over the behaviour of some members of Parliament.
“We believe our country and our Parliament have been brought into disrepute over this legal matter that the RAPPA MP is facing in NZ. To have an arrest warrant issued for Albert Nicholas by New Zealand Police and then he is sworn in as an MP here promising to uphold the dignity of our Parliament and country, to me seems a complete contradiction.”
Cook Islands Police have confirmed with local media that the troubled MP is also currently under police investigation here. This was after a complaint alleging a serious offence was lodged with police about Albert Nicholas.
“For the PM to be warning the Opposition about alleged behaviour at international meetings is ironic, he needs to be examining his own behaviour, that of his RAPPA MP, MP’s and some heads of ministries at international meets.”
Browne has been requesting to meet with the PM for the past three weeks to discuss the RAPPA MP Albert Nicholas situation and clarify why Henry Puna has not forced the RAPPA MP to surrender himself to New Zealand Police. She says there could also be a matter of contempt of court, as Nicholas has failed to appear in the NZ High Court to face charges. “One must ask why is Henry Puna protecting Albert Nicholas?” says Browne. The Opposition leader has also asked to meet with Police Commissioner Maara Tetava to discuss the same issue and express the concerns of the Democratic Party. Browne has been waiting two weeks to meet with the police commissioner.
- Democratic Party