EX-PRIME Ministers Sir Francis Billy Hilly and Allan Kemakeza should not be ‘offered’ government houses at the expense of senior public servants, a former Speaker of the National Parliament said this week.
Waita Ben was reacting to a report in the Solomon Star last week that the Office of the Prime Minister is finalising arrangements to “offer” former Prime Ministers Hilly and Kemakeza government houses both men are occupying in Honiara.
Sir Francis has confirmed he and Mr. Kemakeza discussed the matter in a meeting with Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare last week.
He said Mr. Sogavare told them the government would make them an “offer” which would be conveyed in due course.
“What that offer is, we do not know,” Sir Francis told Solomon Star after the meeting.
But Mr. Ben said he is angry that state properties are being “auctioned” at the highest level of government at the expense of those who need it most.
“I am really angry about this. These are already a group of privileged people who are enjoying life at the expense of taxpayers. For example, former Prime Ministers have an Act of Parliament which stipulates the privileges they enjoy after leaving Office.
“While they are enjoying life, ordinary Solomon Islanders struggle to make ends meet. Where it justice in this?
“Why should they be given government houses at the expense of public servants who could hardly survive on the kind of rentals they get from the public service?,” Mr. Ben said.
“It is totally unfair. These two gentlemen have private houses in Honiara. They should move into their private houses to free up government housing for senior public servants. Living in their private houses will attract a very generous rental supplement provided for in the Prime Minister’s (Pension and Benefits) Act of 2014.
“The benefit in what I am saying is that by occupying their own private houses frees up additional government houses for senior public servants,” Mr. Ben said.
Mr. Ben also questioned why Speakers of Parliament or the Head of the Judiciary are not accorded the same privilege by way of an Act of Parliament?
“The National Parliament and the Judiciary are the other two arms of government in this country. The heads of those two institutions should be given the same recognition in law in the same way the Head of the Executive has,” Mr. Ben said.
Mr. Ben recalled a meeting instigated by the then Speaker, Mr. Kemakeza several years ago to address the matter.
“Gordon Darcy Lilo was the Prime Minister at the time. He was kind enough to attend as did the late Sir Peter Kenilorea, the late Sir Paul Tovua, Mr. Kemakeza and myself. The single agenda item was the need for the Speaker’s Pensions and Benefits Act,” he recalled.
“Everyone was excited because the response from Prime Minister Darcy Llio was one of optimism. We will do it in no time at all,” he told the meeting.
“Sadly, nothing was done. Before he left Office, he brought the Prime Minister’s (Pensions and Benefits) Bill to Parliament, which it passed into an Act of Parliament.
Section 9 (1) of the Act stipulates, “A Prime Minister shall be paid an ex-gratia payment of $75, 000 or such greater sum, equivalent to and payable to a Prime Minister under the current Members of Parliament (Entitlements) Commissions Regulations for each term of office he has served.
The spouse of a Prime Minister also shall qualify to receive an ex-gratia payment equivalent to 50 per cent of the payment received by the Prime Minister pursuant to subsection (1), according to subsection (2).
Section 10 (1) states that, “A Prime Minister shall be provided with a residence free of rent and the cost of water, gas and electricity shall be paid for by the Government.
Subsection (2) states, “If no residence is provided in accordance with subsection (1), a Prime Minister shall be entitled to a monthly housing allowance at a rate equivalent to the upper limit of the range prescribed or determined from time to time by the Members of Parliament (Entitlements) Commission Regulations in respect of Cabinet Minister irrespective of whether the Prime Minister lives in his own house.”
It is understood that Cabinet Ministers and Chairman of Parliamentary Committees receive up to $20, 000 a month in tax-free rentals.
“What I am on about is fairness and equality. We must never allow a group of privileged individuals to take advantage of their positions in pushing their own agenda.
“It is simply unfair to recognise one and not the other two arms of government,. I know my comments will not sit well with some, but someone needs to say it” Mr. Ben said.
By Alfred Sasako