FIJI’S CABINET DILEMMA

Commentary

FIJI’S CABINET DILEMMA

By Stan Ritova Whippy

If Prime Minister Laisenia Qarase's plan to create 14 more Cabinet places to add to his already large 22-portfolio cabinet to accommodate the Labor Party is adopted, it will only become almost a replica of the House of Representatives but on a smaller scale.

The Prime Minister's existing cabinet members will represent the government and the Labor Party's 14 new cabinet places he is offering them will become the opposition and unless both sides agree to compromise, nothing the Labor people will take before cabinet will be approved.

So what's the point? All this arrangement will create chaos and more chaos.

And to make sure the situation doesn't develop into a political farce and an international laughing matter, both parties had better get together and work something out and fast.

In it's existing form, no matter how we look at it, it won't work satisfactorily.

Government will have it's way all the time because it will be in the majority but it has to make sure it has the numbers at each cabinet meeting especially when it wants to put an important Bill through and not caught with its pants down so to speak by not having the numbers. 

And it could happen.

The cost of Mr Qarase's plan to the taxpayer as he has already indicated in his speech to the nation Thursday would be astronomical.

There will have to be a major exercise in the way of creating 14 more offices, additional staff, 14 ministerial cars, housing provided, additional seating in the House and last but not the least their salaries and all the perks that go with them.

Government will also have to provide extra front seats in parliament to accommodate the new ministers unless they place them in the empty opposition seats where they should really be.

So why create the situation because strictly speaking there is no point in Labor being represented in cabinet because if the Prime Minister goes ahead and creates additional portfolios he will make sure they are insignificant ones.

Let me see what we can come up with in the way of new portfolios.

May be a ministry of rhinoceros beetles or a ministry of yaqona or may be a ministry of the movie making or something like that.

The Government will be really far fetched in trying to create new portfolios to justify the extra places.  

Mr Qarase is certainly not going to give Labor parliamentary leader Mahendra Chaudhry and his men important portfolios unless he changes his mind and asks some of his ministers to step down which is the only other way to go and give them some of the existing minis tries.

Minister for Labor, Kenneth Zinck, has shown initiative by volunteering to step down but whether Mr Qarase will accept this or not will depend on what his final decision will be. This plan of course will reduce his majority in Cabinet

I can't see other ministers following Mr Zinck's example.

But if Mr Qarase decides to adopt his original plan and increase cabinet to 36 members by offering Labor 14 of these, he will still be in control and matters he will put through will be approved.

But to make sure he maintains this control he must make doubly sure that he is in the majority each time cabinet sits especially if there is something important he wants to get through.

I think it will be a crazy arrangement and as already stated it will most probably be the biggest Cabinet in the world and should claim a place in the coveted Guinness Book of Records. 

But who knows Mr Chaudhry may have something up his sleeve that will be acceptable to Mr Qarase. If he has it will certainly solve a lot of problems.

What Fiji needs is political stability and only these men can provide it by making the right decisions.

The answer to the dilemma of course is to look at changing the Constitution by taking out Section 99 (5).

August 14, 2003

Stan Ritova Whippy, a longtime Fiji journalist and writer, is former Editor of the Fiji Sun. He currently lives in Sydney, Australia, and writes a column for the Sunday Sun. 

 

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