The Ministry of Provincial Government and Institutional Strengthening (MPGIS) clarifies recent media complains by members of the Western Provincial Assembly regarding their accommodation allowances during the initial formation of the Western Provincial Executive Government early this year.
In a statement today, Permanent Secretary Stanley Dick Pirione said the allowances were paid through their individual bank accounts under their housing allowance entitlements which should cater for their accommodations.
This new exercise was applied following the new MPAs’ determination of Salaries and Allowances (PAMSAD) which was approved by the Parliamentary Entitlements Commission (PEC) and was effected as of 1st July 2022.
This means Housing Allowances and Transport allowances for Assembly and Executive meetings are now paid through the MPAs’ personal bank accounts. In this regard, all members are responsible for their own transport and shall pay their own accommodation when attending official executive and Assembly meetings.
“This is a new arrangement done by the MPGIS in collaboration with the PEC. During past years, provincial members normally stayed for longer periods and unnecessarily incur hefty accommodation bills compelling the Provincial Governments to pay,” he clarified.
PS Pirione added that “this is not the case anymore. Since July 2022, all Provincial members were paid their transport allowances, accommodations and other allowances under the new arrangement. They are now responsible to take care of themselves in terms of accommodations because allowances for accommodation were paid into their bank accounts”.
The total allowances each MPA will get for accommodation and transport to attend to executive and Assembly business is around $132,000 per MPA per year. The responsibility is now on individual MPAs to properly budget and use their allowances wisely.
Regarding the Western Provincial Assembly members case, PS Pirione further pointed out that early this year, some MPAs incurred bills as high as $37,000 due to the fact that they housed political supporters, lobbyists and friends during the formation of the Executive government.
“This is the confusion and misunderstanding many new MPAs had even when I have already explained this issue in a long letter to the Speaker and Clerk of Western Provincial Assembly early this year and has explained to the Hon. Premier Billy Veo. The MPGIS is however surprised as to why this issue keeps repeating itself in the social media,” he said.
Another reason for MPGIS and WPG not obligated to pay any accommodation bills is that, it is now a Minimum Condition of the Provincial Capacity Development fund (PCDF) that Provincial Governments or MPGIS are not allowed to pay for any costs involving Provincial members, and that Provincial executive should not approve or endorse any form of allowances paid to themselves or other MPAs. The only authority that has the power to determine allowances and salaries or benefits to members of Provincial Assemblies and the Members of Parliament is the Parliamentary Entitlements Commission or PEC. During past years, some Provincial Executive Governments approve allowances or benefits for themselves outside the PEC requirements.
This new change was approved during the PCDF’s Joint oversight Committee (JOC) meeting in October 2022 at Tulagi Central Province. The JOC recommended that any payments for MPAs must be approved by the PEC. Failure to do so would mean disqualification or “inability to access PCDF funds”.
For the case of Western Province, should the accommodation bills are paid by MPGIS or WPG, there is likelihood that the WPG will lose nearly $8M to $10million of PCDF funding this year. This has been repeatedly mentioned to the Provincial Government and that there is risk the people of Western Province will miss out on PCDF funding if their (MPAs) personal issues are dealt with by the SIG or WPG. However, they should appreciate the fact that allowances are paid into their personal accounts.
Another interesting issue is that all MPAs from other Provinces are also eager to see what would be the response from the WPG in payment of the bills. If that is done, it would then set as a precedence to all other provinces.
“Surely, some MPAs always want to spend time in the hotels and incur huge bills at the expense of tax payers,” Pirione said.
The PS/MPGIS however, also acknowledge that there are also other issues that need to be clarified particularly when it comes to the number of Assembly and executive meetings, other allowances, salary increase and other benefits for Members of Provincial Assemblies.
PS Pirione stated that his team will also start discussing with the PEC on other issues affecting MPAs.
“We are mindful that this year 2023 will be a very “financially-committed” year but at least we should have time to consult the PEC on matters affecting our MPAs terms and conditions”. The PS stated.
PS Pirione also thank other members of the WP Assembly on the issues confronting the MPGIS and the SIG and challenges to finances. Some members are willing to work with the MPGIS on how these issues can be addressed, and this is the approach all parties are going to take.
The MPGIS will also conduct a three (3) Week induction training for WP MPAs from 11th to 27th of April at Gizo. A follow up training will also be done for Choiseul Province after Western Province.
The MPGIS will conduct training on the financial management ordinance, financial instructions, government systems and procedures, the role of Executive and Assembly members, relationships between the Assembly, Executive and Administration, Acts of Parliament, Assembly business, community work, and a range of other issues to help enhances them on their duties as MPAs. We hope to also clarify the issue of Allowances and PCDF during that time as well.
The PS/MPGIS also would like to encourage the public and the media to at least consult the MPGIS on any “MPGIS-related” issues before they can publish any news that may deemed unbalanced.