Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Time running out for government


After the controversy over the election of Governor General and suggestions of a vote of no-confidence, Executive Government must reflect and appraise how to start to get the nation back on course again.

Numerous press reports and diversions continue to tempest the waters on where the nation is heading.

Land owner disputes within the LNG project, horrific crimes and even the belief in sorcery taking hold again, is creating an environment of uncertainty for the future of Papua New Guinea and its children.

It is time for Executive Government to appraise the situation and firmly hold the helm of this ailing Ship of State called Papua New Guinea and steer it through some very rough waters to the nearest port of repair.

It all begins with the credibility of our National Parliament, the hub of our democracy.  This paper addresses issues that must be urgently addressed if we are to maintain a democratic state. 

This follows on to some clear direction to the delivery arm of government – almost in the doldrums.  Based on the performance of the public service over the last two decades this should be a key area that the Executive Government must address without further delay.

We can only hope that the recent meetings in Crowne Plaza between the Acting Prime Minister and the senior public servants from Waigani and the provinces will get the public service moving with the right attitude and embracing the urgency to implement many excellent government programs and project.

First we must address the critical question of where we must begin!

Parliament has been adjourned to 10th May and the substantive Speaker is the Acting Governor General while the appointed person has to wait in limbo for nearly four months. The Speaker already has been judged by a Supreme Court ruling determining he was unconstitutional in his actions causing the invalid appointment of the former Governor General. What could happen now, with him being Acting Governor General for such an extended period?

If things go wrong concerning any Speaker it is evident that some legislative housekeeping is necessary. There are no provisions in Standing Orders of National Parliament supported by a Constitutional Law to remove him/her in the same way as can be done with a Governor General or a Prime Minister. There cannot be a successful vote of no confidence in a Speaker and if he/she wishes to continue to hold that position, outside of any court action, the Parliament can do nothing about it.

Over the last eight years the close relationship between the Parliament and the Executive Government has not served the interests of the Nation well and sadly this flows on to many ordinary citizens who suffer as a consequence. The public perception of Parliament is low because it is not getting down to its legislative business. This must change.

There are many other legislative issues that must be addressed urgently prior to the next elections in 2012 to reassure the people that we are not heading for a constitutional mess. Time is shortening to a period critical to correct these matters to avoid these dire legal consequences.

The women’s Bill, the Constitutional Amendment (Equality and Participation) 2010, is now before Parliament to enable women to be elected to 22 reserved provincial seats in 2012. 

The Parliamentary Committee on Constitutional Legislation is required to meet to fine-tune this Bill to re-define provincial electorates for Governors and to include reserved seats for women.

Unless this action is taken soon, both the women’s and Governor’s seats are in jeopardy!

Globally, we could be seen as a backward country with half the population having no female representation in Parliament at all? With their menfolk at large there are many tireless women who work for a pittance to bind the communities of over 85% of the population together with their contributions to elementary schools, improving nutrition and disease prevention, not to underestimate their leadership of youth groups in the villages.

There are alternate reforms to replace Governors and a move to strengthen District level representation both politically and administratively. Currently at most district stations there is very little presence of the public sector administration as they have all migrated to provincial headquarters. Direct funding by MPs for district project are adhoc and remain outside of planned programmes. Local government once a dynamic force in the delivery mechanism has been marginalised.

Does the government intend to have the Constitution redefined to have those proposed seats available together with a provision in the Organic Law on National and Local-level Government Elections, to enable elections for these seats to take place?

Governors now hold their positions in a constitutional predicament. For the 2012 elections the constitutionality of their electorates and their election could be challenged if this is not fixed soon.

What of the new provinces for Hela and Jiwaka?  The four resulting new provinces to date have not been gazetted by the Minister for Inter-Government Relations under the Organic Law on Provincial Boundaries (Amendment) Law 2010 to enable the establishment of their provinces in 2012. If and when they are, they obviously want to elect a Governor like other provinces.

As well as the issue of women’s representation, are Governors and potential candidates for this position aware that this seat may not be available for year 2012 election?

The Organic Law on National and Local-level Government Elections is a constitutional law, which states we should have between 110-120 Open Electorates in the 2012 lections. We were already in breach of the same constitutional law last elections, which by default or intent has not been challenged before the last election. It is now too late for the electoral Boundaries Commission to develop a report and recommendations and have them accepted by Parliament. To rescue a potential constitutional crisis, that Organic Law should be amended to provide a new range of 89-120 Open Electorates. If nothing is done about this we are exposing the Electoral Commission to a legal quandary.

Corrective legislation is also necessary in regard to obtaining a balanced and equitable sharing of political power. Local-level Government Councillors, through a set of circumstances, have a reduced term of office of just over 3 years. Their required full term of five years cannot be made concurrent with the term of Parliamentarians as required, unless appropriate changes are made to the Organic Law on Provincial Governments and Local-level Governments to give then five year terms at elections held separately to those of the National Parliament as recommended by previous electoral observation teams.

There is growing dissent among them while they hover in this uncertainty. Councillors feel left out of the big picture by the policy makers marginalising their role in a purportedly decentralised system of government.

A Legislative Working Group has been established by Cabinet (decisions 91/2010 and 182/2010), which discusses and works consistently on these and other issues and those of future reform. There are many leaders in the public sector who resent the understanding, and practical experience these people have to contribute and are tardy in their communications with them. Departments responsible fail to coordinate with other agencies and are inadequate in openly debating solutions to solve these problems openly, mainly because they do not know how to manage them.  Among this faction in some departments there is also an attitude problem. They resent and will not listen to those with proven experience and are not honest and straightforward in advising the Executive Government.

I am Deputy Chairman of this group (the Chairman, a Professor of Law at the UPNG, is overseas as I write) and have over 57 years experience in district administration, local government including 19 years in parliament and time in the hard world of the private sector. Others in the group have similar experience as well as being unmatched as being technically competent on these issues.

I have never experienced such dysfunction and lack of coordination in the public sector. There is a mind-set problem among certain ‘gatekeepers’ who inhibit the work and thinking of our younger enthusiastic public service recruits.

These people do not lack intelligence and they pray to God, as many of us do, but there is an element of ineptness among them, which they cover up with meetings, workshops, and meaningless junkets exploiting their travelling allowance without achieving any results to better the lives of our people.

Public Servants should be paid more, but first, let us get the right people with a ‘can do’ spirit for the job.

The issues mentioned above are not the highways, clinics and schools we should urgently build and maintain or the administrators, medical people and teachers we should budget as priority for future development, but are about establishing integrity in our key institutions, so we can begin to plan and implement these essential capacity building programmes.

As a result, Ministers and other Parliamentarians have a difficult job. It is traditional that one arm of government will blame another. Our leaders getting back to basics to establish a solid base for good governance can help to solve this.

Events in other countries demonstrate the dangers of unstable national governments imposed by Prime Ministers and Presidents.  The National Government must not only learn from Haiti and Baby Doc, Tunisia and Ben Ali, Ivory Coast and Zimbabwe but more importantly take the necessary steps now to avoid falling into the same mess as these countries have.

Under the Constitution, Parliament can move a vote of no confidence up until early August this year. Let us get more focus, be positive, and get Parliament moving again on real issues, sooner than later. Set aside our differences before our stormy waters develop in a devastating cyclone.

I believe that the most critical issue the Somare Government must address is the performance of the public service and especially that of the heads of government departments and agencies.  In my next article, I will share some of my recent experiences and offer some suggestions on options for the way forward.


Barry Holloway, CSM, KBE

Deputy Chairman

Legislative Working Group


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