Cook Islands Speaker’s Parliament Adjournment Apparently Didn’t Follow Procedure

Taking advantage, opposition looks to move motion of no-confidence against Cabinet

By Florence Syme-Buchanan 

RAROTONGA, Cook Islands (Cook Islands News, June 20, 2016) – An apparent failure by Speaker Niki Rattle to follow correct Parliamentary procedure may give the opposition coalition the much desired opportunity to proceed with a motion of no confidence in cabinet.

A series of events concerning the adjournment of the House on Friday has led to local authority on the role of Parliament, John Scott, crying foul on the decision of the Speaker Niki Rattle.

In Scott’s view, because the Speaker made an inaccurate decision in favour of the government, Parliament has neither adjourned sine die or to August 22. This, says Scott, means Parliament is still in session, and as such, all MPs have the responsibility to attend the next sitting of the House, which is today.

Prime Minister Henry Puna was scheduled to have left the country yesterday for Palau to attend the Special Session of the Forum Small Island States. Add the absences of Finance minister Mark Brown and Health minister Nandi Glassie, who is also overseas, and the ultra-slim majority held by the government ceases to exist.

Yesterday morning Opposition leader Teina Bishop was preparing to fly to Rarotonga to meet with his caucus and convince them they “have to do the right thing,” and be in parliament today. This is likely to eventuate in opposition MP’s assembling at parliament this morning with the intention of carrying on the business of the House as normal. The business of the house is outlined in the Order paper, which includes a motion of no confidence in cabinet.

According to Scott, under Cook Islands parliamentary rules, Speaker Niki Rattle should take up her duties today and assume chairmanship of parliament. And if a quorum is present, those in the House can choose what business they will deal with. A parliamentary quorum is 12 MPs. The Opposition coalition holds 11 seats in Parliament to the Cook Islands Party government’s 13. With three government MPs on overseas engagements that have been blasted by the Opposition coalition as unnecessary, the Puna-led government has placed itself in a precarious position.

The Opposition coalition says that’s largely due to the travel bug that’s infected most government MPs. Opposition coalition leader Bishop and his team have been highly critical of the budget debate being shortened to accommodate the overseas excursions of Puna, Brown and Glassie.

Scott, himself a former Clerk of Parliament, says Speaker Rattle made the wrong decision on Friday. He further claims the Speaker, often tends to make hasty decisions “…as has been demonstrated countless times, to abandon impartiality and the rules in favour of the administration.”

PM Press secretary Trevor Pitt said yesterday as Puna was departing that he was in no position to comment and he needed instruction from the prime minister.

Bishop doesn’t mince words when he talks about Speaker Rattle’s decisions saying she’s “…made mistakes before and we can’t allow this incompetence to continue in our Speaker or Clerk as it challenges the entire integrity of parliament”.

He says by going to parliament today, the Speaker is compelled to explain to the Opposition coalition whether she believes her decision to be right or wrong. “We would also want that explanation to be backed up by an opinion from Crown Law”.

Failing to get satisfaction from the Speaker, Bishop says the next step will be for the Opposition coalition to take the matter to the Queen’s Representative Tom Marsters.

As all MP’s are required to swear an oath to the Queen that “we will do what is best for the country” Bishop says it’s critical that the QR is made aware of the Opposition coalition’s displeasure and concerns.

“We have not been accorded the impartiality as required in the House”.

Asked yesterday if he thought Speaker Rattle and Clerk John Tangi would turn up for a parliamentary sitting today, Bishop was adamant that the both should be at work today.

Cook Islands News
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