The island’s elected representatives – but only 14 from a total of 20 – sat on Thursday this week with one major business on the Order Paper – the Civil List, at least that was the impression when listening to the proceedings. The Assembly spend the entire morning session on this debate. If the electorate was expecting to hear the debate on government owned enterprises – some have taken to labelling these as the Talagi Harris-Daw Enterprises – were in for a great disappointment.
Members spend the best part of the morning session debating the Civil List. For those who are not familiar with parliamentary terms and procedures the Civil List deals with the remuneration of the Members. This time though, the legislation before the Members, was not in reference to any pay increase, but with a clothing allowance.
In the amendment the Niue Public Service Commission, the agency charged with looking at all government remuneration, has recommended that the clothing allowance for members be increased. For ordinary members, when the new Assembly is elected in two years, they will receive a clothing allowance of $4,000 at the beginning of their term, a massive increase of 800% from $500.
Let’s see – at the lower end of current prices, an Armani Emporio dark suit 78% wool, 21% silk and 1% elastane ( a synthetic fibre known for its exceptional elasticity) would set a member back $920 plus tax with enough change left over for a couple more.
For the ladies a Giorgio Armani blazer 56% polyester 38% Virgin wool and 5% Polyamid would cost $817 plus tax and shipping from Italy. With that sort of allowance the electorate can expect their elected representatives to be the best dressed in the region. No more jandals in the Chambers. The allowances for the Premier and the Ministers are higher.
During the debate some members were under the impression that the clothing allowance was to be paid annually, but this is not the case; it is payable to each elected member at the beginning of each term. The total cost for decking out our elected representatives in sartorial elegance is approximately $80,000.
Several members expressed concern over what they consider to be a conflict of interest – anything to do with members receiving some kind of a reward from the public purse should not be debated in the house. This is in keeping with accepted convention in most parliaments.
There was also dissenting voices from the government benches with ministers cautioning members that the country is operating on deficit budget amounting to some $1.1 million.
Another amendment to the Civil List was the addition of another associate minister – now officially known as Member Assisting the Minister or MAM. The total number of MAMs is now four – making up a total cabinet of 8 as follows: Hon Premier, Hon Pokotoa Sipeli, Hon Billy G Talagi and Hon Dalton Tagelagi. MAMs are Mr Andrew Funaki, Mr Talaititama Talaiti, Mrs Mona Ainu’u and Mrs Maureen Melekitama. One reason being advanced for appointing four MAMs is the increasing workload for Ministers.
Opposition parliamentarians have pointed out already that an 8 member cabinet is 40% of the total number of members in the Assembly.
Virtually No Debate on SOEs
Following the adjournment for lunch, the House resumed its sitting with the expectation from the electorate that members will be questioning the government in depth on the budget for State Owned Enterprises. It wasn’t to be, the debate barely took an hour.
In summary SOEs are expected to generate $7.1 million in income. Expenditure in deriving that income is estimated at $5.7 million which leaves a surplus of $1.4 million. From the surplus, government is expecting a dividend of $500,000.
While most of the activities of the SOEs are no more than neo-liberal economic reforms the CEO Wayne Harris-Daw is banking on the sale of bottled water with an expected surplus of just on $1 million provided sales begin in October. Opposition member Terry Coe has been against the sale of Niue water citing impurity as a reason despite assurances from government that laboratory tests has shown that the quality is up to standard.
The sale of liquor by the Bond Store – a total government monopoly- is expected to net $175,000 from total sales of $1.6 million. Civil and Quarry are hoping for a net revenue of $44,000 reflecting perhaps the demand from a couple of building projects.
The hype and hoopla over the rebranding of radio and television does not appear to have any great impact with a projected surplus of $4,000. Complaints continue to mount on the quality of the service.
The Niue Power Corporation – with possibly the most realistic budget of all the SOEs – is predicting a deficit of just over $200,000. NPC inherited a system badly in need of upgrading and maintenance. The impact of the installation of the new pay-as-you-go power meters will probably not be felt until the next financial year.
One of the most successful of the SOEs will have to be the Numismatic operation – expecting a return of $282,000.
An hour into the afternoon session of the House the Speaker called a halt to the proceedings when the Assembly lacked a quorum with only nine members in the Chambers.