Kiribati Parliamentarians Discuss Parliamentary Privileges and Immunities
(Tarawa, Kiribati) - Parliamentarians in Kiribati have agreed to have a clearly defined procedure so that members understand the process for addressing issues concerning Parliamentary powers, privileges and immunities. They have also agreed to develop a code of conduct for parliamentarians and a procedure for dealing with refusal by a Member of Parliament (MP) or government minister to release confidential information. This development stemmed from training for parliamentarians to familiarize them with the Privileges Committees powers and functions.
Since independence, the Committee has been inactive and Parliamentarians have varied understanding of their privileges and immunities. Although the Parliamentary Privileges Act 1986 provided the powers and function of the Committee, MPs have not been able to fully utilize it to preserve the independence of Parliament and Parliamentarians from external interference.
As one of the Kiribati Parliament’s procedural and administrative committee, the Privilege Committee when effectively used can become an effective tool for preserving the integrity and independence of the Parliament. During the Privileges Committee Workshop, the Kiribati Parliamentarians noted that the Committee should change from being standing committee to a select committee. MPs also discussed the need for a guide book which should clearly spell out the processes to be followed by MPs and members of the public to address breaches of parliamentary privileges and immunities.
The newly appointed Chairperson of the Committee, Honourable Tetabo Nakara, found the workshop to have been very timely and useful. “The workshop was very useful as it enlightened us and provides guidance for future work. We will review the Parliamentary Privileges Act 1986 to include a provision for contempt, particularly for MPs who use their privileges to mislead the public during parliamentary sessions. Parliament is a sacred place, as signified by Maneaba in its traditional sense, where truth and honest discussions must take place.”
The workshop concluded on 31 August with concrete recommendations and requested the Speaker to seek their approval in Parliament during the November 2012 session. The recommendations included the need for a privilege committee to be well established in Kiribati and be empowered to deal with the following: Protect the Parliament from being subject to discussions and information which are not factual; that the Privileges Committee to take on board complaint from a member of public who has been hurt by comments made by an MP especially an individual who felt has a right to reply; that confidential information can only be released following resolution by Parliament. However, in situations where a minister does not release the requested information as requested by the Parliament, it was proposed that the Speaker be requested to appoint an independent arbiter who will look into the facts of the matter and decide on the outcome.
Attended by 33 MPs (two females and 31 males) along with staff from the UN Joint Presence Office in Kiribati, the workshop was designed and facilitated by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), Kiribati Parliament staff and the Australian Capital Territory Legislative Assembly. The workshop is an activity of UNDP’s Kiribati Parliament Support Project 2009 – 2012. UNDP supports the Parliaments in several Pacific Islands countries, including Kiribati.
Brian Lenga, UNDP Governance Analyst, on tel: (679) 3312-500 or email: email@example.com.