Tuilaepa queries handling of budget

The Opposition leader has queried the new Government’s handling of the main budget that bypassed the process of being referred to a parliamentary Committee before its debating in the House. 

Tuilaepa Dr. Sailele Malielegaoi raised the point when the parliament resumed on Monday to debate the Appropriation Bill 2021/2022 that was introduced under a certificate of urgency last week. 

Addressing the House, Tuilaepa noted that their party have come too late in the proceeding where a motion to debate the $982 million budget was approved by the Assembly in their absence. 

Normally when an appropriation bill is introduced in the Assembly, it is referred to the Finance and Expenditure Committee for no less than 14 days for consideration, before it reports back to Parliament to be debated and considered in detail. 

The budget is referred to the parliamentary committee to give the opportunity for the head of Government agencies to give details on their allocated fund, said Tuilaepa who referred to section 133 of Standing Orders to support his proposition.

“If there are any errors they find it can be corrected then and the report will be tabled in parliament by the committee before it is debated,” he added. 

At this point the Speaker of the House, Papalii Lio Masipau interjected to explain the Standing Orders and the motion that was moved and approved by the House last week. 

Papalii told parliament that they cannot backtrack parliament proceeding, emphasising that the Opposition had joined the session late.

“It is clear under Standing Orders part 78 (8) the motion that was moved and approved and we cannot go back on our work,” he said. 

“Our work is guided by Standing Orders although [the party] has come too late [tautuaupega] but the Government has moved on with its work and a motion has been passed and approved by parliament, that I want to remind the leader of the Opposition.

The Standing Order states that no member may speak on any question after the same has been finally put by the Speaker, that is to say after the voices of both ayes and noes have been given thereon.

Tuilaepa then interrupted the Speaker, saying that he is not yet finished. 

The Opposition leader noted the Standing orders governed the Assembly and its order of business. 

Prime Minister, Fiame Naomi Mata’afa then interjected on a point of clarification. 

She told the Speaker the term used by the leader of the Opposition [tautuaupega] that they came late will not backtrack the business of the House. 

Fiame added that they followed the process and laws in moving the motion that has been passed. 

Furthermore she reminded the leader and his party that there is a chance for the Members to speak about the budget when it is considered in detail.  

“Honourable Speaker, we are aware of the process of our business [in the House] and that the other side were unable to attend the beginning of our sitting,” she said. 

“It is easy to have a parliamentary committee from this side but I believe it is better to lay it out in the House for the country to hear. 

“I urge you [Tuilaepa] to accept that business has moved on and there are many opportunities you can speak [about the budget] and question the Minister of Finance on…let's continue move on with our work.” 

But Tuilaepa took the floor, saying that he did not object to the business of the House. The former Prime Minister said their side is following Standing Orders citing section 139 where the appropriation bill takes precedence of all other business until it’s completed. 

He urged the Speaker to look into the Standing Orders again where the Government can arrange the order of business in any other business they like but not the main budget. 

The Speaker, again, interjected to remind Tuilaepa that proceeding have moved on and the House will not backpedalled. 

Papalii emphasised to the Opposition leader that he is the one that interprets Standing Orders of the Parliament. 

However, Tuilaepa continued to speak over the Speaker, saying that the Prime Minister does not understand parliamentary process and asked that his concerns are noted and he would now sit down. 

But then Fiame interjected saying Tuilaepa continues to breach Standing Orders and added that if he wants to be the Speaker he should make his way up to the Chair to preside the sitting.

“Leader of the Opposition – be patient,” Fiame hit back at Tuilaepa. “You are now sitting on a different seat [in the Chamber].”

The $982 million transitional budget was tabled last week was introduced under a certificate of urgency and is on its second reading. 

The current emergency budget that was activated during the caretaker Government's term expires at the end of September and in order to finance the public service the new budget has to be passed before the end of the month. 

Parliament was unable to meet straight after the general election in April to pass the main budget due to a four months-long power struggle between the two dominant parties. 

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