Monday, May 24, 2010

Papua New Guinea Parliament now irrelevant


A recent editorial in a Papua New Guinea newspaper highlighted how the increase in the Somare ministry from 28 to 32 has effectively created a quorum that could govern PNG in its own right.
 With 32 ministers and a Speaker, the required number of 33 or a quorum is achieved.
The Speaker could merely in future convene the ministry and have them pass laws without having any Opposition or other members available.
The Somare government has therefore finally reduced the PNG Parliament to a toothless and silent rubber stamp.
 The current government has in effect, voted their fellow non government members into irrelevance.
Opposition members might just as well install cardboard cut-outs in their seats in Parliament or become computer images of virtual reality.
What happens when all members of Parliament other than the current government ministers are excluded from the Parliament for example?
 If there were to be a lock out of Opposition members or those members were in some way delayed from attending a sitting, the Somare/Temu government has now become a law unto itself.
There is now, no effective way of holding the Somare government accountable either in or out of the Haus Tambaran.
With one vote, PNG has entered an entirely new phase of non-representative Parliamentary government.
The next step and final step is full blown dictatorship.
But wait, could there be light at the end of the tunnel?
When the two new governors of the two new districts Jiwaka and Hela, arrive in the House in 2012, the numbers required for a quorum will be altered.
But then the creation or yet another ministry could always fix that minor hiccup.
 So will the 20 new seats reserved for women alter the balance?
Not if they are to have 'appointed' members as occupants.
If the new female members are to be appointed by the government, this will deliver the final death blow to the last vestiges of PNG democracy.
So will these expensive machinations by the Somare government, worth millions of kina, produce a recipe for any better performance in a government that has presided over an almost total collapse of services and infrastructure.
Not by one iota.

Editorial from today's The National

Cabinet alone can convene a parliamentary session

PARLIAMENT last week passed an amendment to the Organic Law on the number of ministers to allow the prime minister to increase their number by four from the present 28 (27 ministers and the prime minister) to 32.
In so doing, Parliament unwittingly gave the executive government the right to convene Parliament with only the speaker present.
Parliament's present quorum is 33.
By increasing cabinet numbers from 28 to 32, Parliament has virtually given the executive government the mandate to convene a parliamentary session on its own with only the speaker present and no other member.
Now, one might argue that such a situation is absurd and, in any case, no business could get done because of other requirements such as the number of members required to pass important legislations, but there is always a danger inherent as we shall see shortly.
Earlier last week, we raised the issue in this space about the independence of the three arms of government - executive, legislature and judiciary - and the need to ensure such independence is never undermined.
We raised the concern that Parliament is presently at risk of becoming a mere rubber stamp of the executive government.
To our mind, the vote to increase the number of ministries adds to this risk as it will erode the independence of the legislature (Parliament) further.
Look at the manner parliamentary business is conducted these days.
On most days, the business of Parliament is carried on voices. For those unfamiliar with parliamentary procedures, this means that the speaker asks the chamber whether they support or oppose an issue under discussion and invites members, who support it, to say "ayes" and those who do not to say "no".
The speaker is able to tell from the number of voices whether the "ayes" or the "noes" have it. Most days, this is how business is conducted.
Were this principle applied in a Parliament sitting, which had only ministers in attendance, it would be perfectly okay since every minister is a Member of Parliament. Every matter decided would be within the norms, practices and procedures of Parliament.
This means that the executive government could make a decision at cabinet level and then ratify it in Parliament without any other Member of Parliament participating.
Quite apart from the important issue about this being "another job for the boys", as the opposition claimed and the matter of the extra cost to the nation, by this amendment, Parliament has made it possible for the executive government to constitute the legislature as well.
Unwittingly, or perhaps by design in some circles, Parliament has undermined itself and removed its independence.
While this might sound far fetched at the moment, and in practice might never happen, the grave concern is that if such a situation was ever contemplated by this or future governments, it is now legally possible.
All the more reason why the size of Parliament needs to be expanded beyond 109 by the inclusion of the two governors for the Jiwaka and Hela provinces in 2012 and by the 20 reserved seats for women.
The other concerns, which have already been raised by the opposition, is the extra cost to the nation and the matter of jobs for the boys.
The list of jobs by the opposition is that there are 28 ministers (soon to be raised to 32), 12 vice-ministers, 19 permanent parliamentary committees and 14 parliamentary referral committees. This totals 73 which also constitute a three-quarter majority of Parliament, the number required to pass amendments to the Constitution. The additional four ministers are extras.
In the area of costs, K14.9 million is presently spent on the existing 26 ministries excluding the prime minister and deputy prime minister who, together, cost K3 million. The four new ministries are expected to cost an additional K2.8 million. This is a sizeable amount of money.
The question that must be asked is: What other sectors of this country need further ministerial rule?
The further question that must be asked is: "Are all the present ministries performing to expectations and producing results such so that more ministries can be expected to boost the productivity factor and, hence, be considered positive for the country overhaul?
If the answers to these questions are in the affirmative then, we suppose, the country can foot the bill as we can expect to gain something. If not, this is nothing but another wasteful use of taxpayers' money.
And, do not forget the encroachment factor referred to in the beginning of this editorial.

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