The recent Cabinet reshuffle by the Prime Minister proves beyond doubt that only a handful of Ministers control more than 80% of the National Budget and are vested with the responsibility of making critically important decisions on national policies, precious natural resources and governance of our country.
This reshuffle has basically created a “Cabinet within a Cabinet”.
Apart from the Prime Minister, Fiji now has three Ministers who hold multiple portfolios and can be likened to “super ministers”. The reshuffle has disregarded issues of transparency, conflict of interest and decision-making based on impartiality.
We now have a Minister for Industry & Trade and Tourism, as well as Lands and Mineral Resources. This means one person will make decisions when it comes to tourism development and land use as well as development of mineral based industries.
This is similar to the general secretary of Fiji First (Attorney General) also being Minister for Elections. Fiji always had a distinctly separate Ministry and Minister for Lands and Mineral Resources. How the new Minister expects to handle two important portfolios is only known to him and the PM.
We may have different political views but outgoing Minister for Lands and Mineral Resources was at least seen to have been doing her job responsibly and articulated issues well in Parliament.
The latest bungling by Honourable Faiyaz Koya when he categorically denied that Fiji had withdrawn from Pacer Plus negotiations despite conclusive evidence in the media that he had made an announcement to this effect, confirms our doubts on his suitability to handle both portfolios.
The NFP is also concerned that the PM has also assumed the role of Foreign Affairs Minister while still being in charge of two very important ministries of i-Taukei Affairs and Sugar. Even before the reshuffle, the PM could not extricate from his prime ministerial and hectic travel schedule to give close attention to these two portfolios. Undoubtedly both ministries will receive negligible attention with increased travel required by the PM as Foreign Minister.
The PM should also clarify what he meant when he said Foreign Affairs and Trade needed to work together. Does he mean this wasn’t happening before when Ratu Inoke Kubuabola was Foreign Affairs Minister?
And why two Ministers have single portfolios of Fisheries and Forests respectively? Why could not have the PM appointed any one of them as Sugar, i-Taukei or Foreign Affairs Minister? This doesn’t make sense when other ministers have two or more portfolios, while a few have multiple portfolios.
The reshuffle of Cabinet is the prerogative of the Prime Minister. But any reshuffle must be based on the ability, competency and suitability of a Minister to hold certain portfolios.
We re-iterate that the reshuffle does not consider these prerequisites and seemingly smacks of a “Cabinet within a Cabinet”.
Hon Professor Biman Prasad Leader