The National Parliament of Solomon Islands has a committee system that enables Members of Parliament to examine issues in more detail than is possible in the House. It also enables the public to have direct input into parliamentary processes. Standing Order 68
The main conference room used for Committee Meetings in Parliament House.
Select Committees are appointed from among the members of the House at the start of each Parliament (after a general election). The Speaker decides on the size of every Select Committee and also nominates the Chairman and the members of each. Membership currently ranges from five to seven per committee. Within Parliament, there are two main types of select committees. They are:
- Standing Select Committees
- Special Select Committees
Standing Select Committees are appointed under the Standing Orders. From time to time, a Standing Select Committee reports to Parliament on the issues and matters that it was assigned. Standing Select Committees are relatively permanent and they dissolve only on the occasion when Parliament has dissolved. There are ten Standing Select Committees in the National Parliament of Solomon Islands, which have different areas of responsibilities. These ten are: PROCEDURE OF SELECT COMMITTEES
Special Select Committees are appointed under an Order specially made. Such a committee dissolves as soon as it has completed considering and reporting to Parliament the issue or bill referred to it. There are various examples of Special Select Committees in the past, who have investigated and reported on the following issues: PROCEDURE OF SPECIAL COMMITTEES
- Inquiry on the ten Kwaio men sent to the Weather coast in June 2002
- The petition relating to the Sale of the National Art Gallery and former Sate House property
- Review of the Retirement Schemes and condition of service for certain constitutional offices
Committee business Committee work includes examining bills (proposed laws) and several ways of holding the Government accountable to the House.
Public access to Committee proceedings
When a committee hears evidence (for example, submissions) the meetings are usually open to the public, including the news media. The only exceptions are if a committee decides to hear evidence in private or secret. Secret evidence remains secret after the committee presents its report. Private evidence remains confidential until the committee reports. It is then publicly available, along with all the other committee proceedings.
When the committees are not hearing evidence, proceedings are not open to the public. This enables Members to discuss issues freely while they decide what to report to the House. It would be much harder to have free and frank discussions if they were open to the public and media observation.
After a committee reports to the House, papers related to the committee meetings are placed in the Parliamentary Library.
Parliamentary powers and witnesses rights
Most evidence supplied to a committee is given willingly because people wish to assist committees in reaching an outcome that takes into account their concerns. However, committees sometimes need information that is not so willingly provided particularly when they are, for instance, holding an inquiry. Therefore, Parliament has the power to require:
- witnesses to appear before a committee
- production of documents to a committee
- answers to relevant committee questions
The powers derive from the privilege to send for persons, papers, and records. They are somewhat coercive in nature and procedures have been developed to ensure due deliberation is built into the exercise of these powers, which are very rarely used in any case. Knowledge of their existence tends to ensure a reasonable level of co-operation
Evidence given to committees is covered by the absolute freedom of speech that applies to all parliamentary proceedings. The House has therefore built into its standing orders (procedural rules) some natural justice procedures giving right of reply. This ensures a fair process is followed if serious allegations are made about a person during committee proceedings. It is necessary because parliamentary privilege prevents the person from taking legal action for defamation.