Query on Q and A

Assistant Minister for Environment, Lorna Eden and Opposition MP Salote Radrodro outside Parliament yesterday. Picture: JONA KONATACI

Assistant Minister for Environment, Lorna Eden and Opposition MP Salote Radrodro outside Parliament yesterday. Picture: JONA KONATACI

“If you don’t like my voice, there’s the door”.

Those were the words of Attorney-General Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum during a heated debate with Opposition MP Niko Nawaikula in Parliament yesterday.

Mr Sayed-Khaiyum made the statement while responding to a question from Mr Nawaikula, who asked why Mr Sayed-Khaiyum was answering questions about the environment when the Assistant Minister for Environment, Lorna Eden, was present.

Mr Sayed-Khaiyum is the Acting Minister for Local Government, Environment and Housing.

Substantive Minister Parveen Kumar was away abroad, Mr Sayed-Khaiyum said.

Mr Nawaikula questioned Mr Sayed-Khaiyum why Ms Eden could not respond to questions on the environment. He claimed “90 per cent of what is happening here” was about Mr Sayed-Khaiyum.

Mr Sayed-Khaiyum responded that Mr Nawaikula was not familiar with the way Government functioned.

“You see again, they have a tendency of personalising matters,” he said. “I have been answering questions as acting minister for the past almost eight days, he did not have an objection then. Suddenly, an objection now. If you don’t like my voice, there’s the door — freedom of movement.

“This is the level of contribution of the Opposition. Various other ministers have answered questions while they have been acting on various positions. I am the acting minister so that answers the question. Honourable Lorna Eden is the assistant minister.”

University of the South Pacific academic Professor Vijay Naidu said it was a “strange practice” in the Fijian Parliament for a minister to be answering almost all questions brought before the House.

“It’s not personalising the matter,” Prof Naidu said.

“I think it’s an important issue because it then asks the question of what is the point of appointing assistant ministers.

“Are they just merely symbolic, decorations, tokenism? And then linked to that are these people who have been appointed assistant ministers. Government does not have the confidence in these assistant ministers to answer the questions.”

Prof Naidu asked if the assistant minister positions were designated positions, then what were they doing with their posts.

“They are assistant ministers precisely because they will be responsible for a similar range of things as the substantive minister.

“What it means really is the system has produced a category of people who are nominally in government but really do not seem to have the power and the trustworthiness about that particular portfolio area. That is the impression you give.

“Can’t Lorna Eden be given the information to speak, strengthening the women’s voice? What you have here is a strange practice which you don’t find in other countries,” he added.