Wednesday, 14 April 2010 9:28 AM

Increasing of Parliament Seats

To begin with, I would be delving on the responsibility of the Boundary Commission. The public must be informed that the Boundary Commission is mandated to make recommendations to Parliament every 10 years for a possible increase of Parliamentary seats. It is Parliament that decides to accept the recommendation or to reject it. The Parliament will not change the recommendation. The Parliament in its last year sitting amended the relevant section in the Constitution to allow 20 more constituencies to be added to the current 50 seats. Now the Constituency boundary Commission has recommended 17 seat of the 20 approved seats to be considered for this year.

Secondly, there will be numerous socio-Political and economic impacts of the increase of Parliamentary seats in which we need to consider. I would prefer to discuss some positive and negative socio-political and economic impacts of increasing parliamentary seats so that we get a balanced view of the proposed bill.
Understandably, increasing a number of seats on top of the current fifty (50) is a thumb up in terms of more job opportunities to Solomon Islanders. Assume that adding seventeen seats as proposed, means employing another seventeen people as Constituency Development Officers. Similarly, if the Government decided to further employ some people as accountants and or project officers, it will be a further increase from seventeen to around 51 people that will be employed. I assume here that if any Government decided to employ three (3) people per constituency to manage Constituency funds and projects. By doing this I believe people who get this positions (assume) will be able to pay their children's school fees thus reduces pressure on MPs to divert Constituency funds to pay for fees. Further to that, on the notion that MPs may be less pressured under the new proposed arrangement, it can be further substantiated with an argument in a political sense.

Currently, there are some very populated constituencies. Hence MPs representing such constituencies experience more pressure from their constituents than others in less populated constituencies. I therefore, believe that increasing a number of constituencies for those currently over populated constituencies will ease the pressure on our MPs. It is very important to understand that decision making under pressure can be notorious.

On the same line of thinking, increasing a number of constituencies means more links to our MPs to access development funds. One example to illustrate this would be that, if a constituency is so populated and geographically scattered, only people who are accessible to these service benefited where as those remote communities are left afloat. Hence if such a constituencies are further divided into two separate constituencies, I believe MPs might have sufficient time and money to cover all areas in their constituencies. Assuming this is the case, there is high tendency that our long forgotten rural remote dwellers may now be accessed and delivered their most needed services and their development aspirations now be met.

Interestingly, this notion of increasing a number of constituencies will also lead to access to information or more coverage. There will be more information available or collected for decision making purposes. For instance, if an organization usually carries out research on impacts of Government Services, and it usually take a sample of 5 villages per constituency for the study. If the same constituency is divided into two as per the current proposal, there will be 10 samples, which means given that there are two separate constituencies; the research team has to take 5 separate samples. This is in my view covers more than the preceding study.

It will be further argued that having more constituencies means wider representation in Parliament. This is relevant to Solomon Islands politics in which our politicians and not merely legislators but are also administrators of some Public Funds. Having more constituencies means more funds to constituencies. For instance, assume ROC Taiwan will increase its funding to support Rural Development the so called Rural Constituency Development Fund (RCDF), and increase it to cover the newly introduced constituencies. There will be more funds for the constituency than it was before. Hence, I believe more people will be benefiting from this new proposal ones approved.

However, another very important question is whether ROC Taiwan will increase its RCDF to those proposed 17 seats.

Similarly, there are big questions to ask if this idea of increasing Parliamentary seats is voted for. The first and the fore most is affordability. There are several areas to consider in terms of affording such a drastic change. Inevitably, we have to consider administrative costs pertaining to such changes. Administrative costs include advertising costs to fill the 51 posts, salary for those 51 new recruits, salary for those 17 new MPs. Similarly, accommodation for these 51 new recruits plus 17 new MPs will be footed by Public Funds. This is one of the most expensive components associated with the proposal.

Simultaneously, Public funds will also be used to foot 50 plus 17 new MPs entitlements, such as travelling allowance, constituency touring allowances, ex-gratia payments, entertainment allowance, just to name a few. There are numerous entitlements we have heard of recently.

It is also unfortunate for the Constituency boundary Commission to make such a recommendation at this time when our economy is struggling to recover or is slowly recovering from most recent Global economic crisis and even the social turmoil.
Our leaders (parliamentarians) need to consider thoroughly the status of our economy prior to debating this recommendation. This is because we cannot afford such an expensive exercise at this point in time. There are already struggling public servants, increase social problems and consequently poor service delivery to our people. How can we afford this when we are struggling to fund the current government size? The current House should be mindful and do not go there just to pass the bill but to go there to do the right thing to save the people of this country. It is irresponsible on their part to pass this bill without considering its associated costs.

We cannot continue like today in the future. We are currently depending on donors to fund our development and recurrent budgets. Thus our only meagre source of revenue (taxes) is not sufficient to continue fund a large parliament and the parliamentarians' fat entitlements and salaries.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this letter/article are those of Reginald Tawea and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Solomon Times Online.

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