Through the parliamentary twinning program, the NSW Parliament is paired with the parliaments of Solomon Islands and Bougainville. In this edition of Twin Peeks, we feature an interview with the Honourable Patteson Oti, Speaker of the National Parliament of Solomon Islands…
Can you give us a quick overview of the National Parliament of Solomon Islands?
The National Parliament of Solomon Islands is a unicameral legislature, and general elections are held every four years using the ‘first-past-the-post’ electoral system.
The country is divided into 50 constituencies, Parliament usually meets on average three times a year, and the meetings usually last for two to four weeks.
The proceedings in Parliament are spoken in English or Pidgin. All parliamentary documents – such as bills, motions, questions and reports – are written in English.
Parliament sits on weekdays only. From Monday to Thursday, the arrangement of business is decided by the Government, whilst Fridays are allocated to ordinary MPs. A typical sitting day starts at 9:30am and ends at 4:30 pm.
You’ve been Speaker of the National Parliament of Solomon Islands since May 2019. What is the role of the Speaker in your Parliament?
The Speaker is elected by Parliament from among those qualified to be a member, but is usually not a sitting member. If the Speaker is chosen from among the sitting members, then the seat is declared vacant and a by-election is held. The term of office is four years.
The Speaker does not vote in divisions. If the votes are equally divided, the motion is declared lost. If absent during a session, the Speaker’s duties are performed by the Deputy Speaker, who is also elected by Parliament and must be a sitting member.
Whenever the office of the Governor General is vacant or the holder of the office is absent from Solomon Islands, or is for any reason unable to perform the functions of the office, those functions are performed by the Speaker.
What does the twinning relationship with the NSW Parliament mean to you?
Among its strategic objectives, the Solomon Islands Parliament strives to maintain its relations with regional and international organisations and to me, twinning is a prime example of this – especially in terms of south-south exchanges between parliaments.
To me, twinning is about cooperation and support between parliaments at all levels (members and staff). Also, the twinning relationship provides a space for exchanges of best practices and experiences.
Can you tell us a little bit about your career before you were elected Speaker?
Prior to being elected Speaker, I was the High Commissioner to Fiji and Non-Resident Ambassador for Vanuatu. I was in this role for six years, and prior to this I was a Member of Parliament.
I became a Member of Parliament in 1997 as member for Temotu Nende Constituency in the eastern Solomons. I managed to return in 2001 and 2006, but lost the seat in 2010.
From 1997 to 2000 I was Minister for Foreign Affairs and in 2002 Leader of Opposition for a year, before taking up other ministerial and Parliamentary portfolios:
- 2003 – Minister for Civil Aviation, Communication and Meteorology
- 2005 – Chairman of Parliamentary House Committee
- 2007 – Minister for Foreign Affairs and Immigration
- 2009 – 2010 Deputy Speaker of Parliament.
The Solomon Islands has been successful at keeping COVID numbers very low, but the virus has no doubt had a major impact on many facets of life. What has COVID meant for the Parliament and what steps have been taken to provide a COVID-safe environment for members and staff?
At the moment there are no community cases, so Parliament is able to meet physically. If the situation changes, we may need to make changes to the Standing Orders and, if need be, Constitution.
In terms of keeping Parliament safe, we have taken small steps in implementing a COVID-19 workplace policy and we have introduced approved hygiene practices. We have also had the Parliament buildings and precinct inspected and passed by the relevant authority for public gatherings.
The current COVID-19 preparedness programs and slow economic growth have resulted in substantial budgetary cuts to many departments, including the Parliament Office. Therefore, parliamentary oversight on government responses to the COVID-19 pandemic (including committee inquiries) is often delayed.
Going forward, there is need to ensure that small parliaments have the technical capacity to support committees and the plenary – particularly in the review and oversight of COVID-related issues, COVID-related legislation, regulations and COVID-focused budgets and expenditure.
You were born in Nemba in Temotu Province. Do you get to go home often?
I visit the village occasionally when on annual leave as a civil servant and as an MP, or when important traditional obligations demand my presence.
Did you know? Temotu Province is one of nine provinces that make up the nation. It’s located in the far east of the Solomon Islands and is geographically closer to Vanuatu than to the capital, Honiara.
The Solomon Islands has been described as the ‘the dark horse of Pacific rugby’. Are you a fan of the code?
I’m a less enthusiastic follower of Rugby League, but a die-hard follower of Rugby Union.