The Parliamentary House Committee will conduct an inquiry into the recent Parliamentary Entitlement's Commission (PEC) decision to award a SBD50,000 Terminal Grant to the spouses of Members of Parliament.On 17 July 2009, in response to a public outcry on the award of the terminal grant, Hon. Clement Kengava, MP for North West Choiseul, raised the issue as a matter of privilege in Parliament.
In the ensuing debate, on a motion by Hon. Patteson Oti, MP for Temotu Nende, Parliament passed a resolution that the matter raised under Standing Orders 25 by the MP for North West Choiseul relating to the award of the new terminal grant for parliamentarians' spouses be referred to the House Committee for consideration.
Hon. Kengava stressed that the decision made by the Parliamentary Entitlements Commission had placed Parliament under negative scrutiny.
Hon. Patteson Oti, when moving the motion which resulted in the reference to the House Committee, emphasized that Parliament does not have the authority to influence or direct the Commission except through Section 62 of the Constitution which establishes the Standing Orders of Parliament and Orders 70(a) which gives the authority to the House Committee to consider and advise appropriate authorities on matters relating to terms and conditions of service of Members of Parliament.
In accordance with the resolution of the House, the Committee's Terms of Reference are as follows:
"That the Parliamentary House Committee inquiries into and report on the concerns raised by the Member of North West Choiseul under Standing Order 25 relating to the Parliamentary Entitlement Commission's Regulation legal Notice No. 45, which provides for a $50,000.00 terminal grant to the spouse of a Member of Parliament".
While the Committee has been specifically mandated by the House to look into the Spouse's Terminal Grant, the Committee has, under Standing Order 70 (a), the inherent power to consider any matter relating to the terms and conditions (entitlements) of parliamentarians.
As such, in undertaking its inquiry the Committee is not confined only to the terminal grant but may also consider broader issues such as the legality of other entitlements and the procedures and operations of the Parliamentary Entitlements Commission in its annual determination of Members' entitlements.
In line with the approach taken in recent select committee inquiries, the Committee is expected to consult widely in its proposed inquiry, including holding public hearings. This was indeed the expectation of the Chair of the Foreign Relations Committee, Hon. Peter Boyers, when he expressed that "... in referring this matter to the House Committee, I believe there should be proper consultation process..."
Hon. Oti further supported this course of action in his closing remarks when he stated that" the committee will have the responsibility of taking and hearing from different stakeholders on how to resolve this issue". Due to the high level of public and media interest, the Committee expects to receive a large number of submissions from stakeholders including the government, legal experts, non government organisations, the business community and most importantly the public; and hold public hearings to hear from these people and bodies.
Although the terms of reference of the Committee, as outlined in the resolution of 17 July, do not mention reporting, every standing select committee of Parliament is duty-bound under Standing Order 72 (11) to report back to Parliament on any inquiry it may undertake, whether that is referred by the House or whether the inquiry is the committee's own initiative.
As such, at the conclusion of its inquiry, the Committee will report to Parliament, with recommendations, for its consideration.
That report is expected to be tabled at the Budget Meeting at end of this year.
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