Saturday, April 21, 2012

PNG government may sack elections chief

By EOIN BLACKWELL, AAP Papua New Guinea Correspondent

There is growing evidence that Papua New Guinea's government may move to sack the electoral commissioner, removing a steadfast obstacle to parliament's vote to suspend the June election by six months.
Prime Minister Peter O'Neill said on Friday the government appointment's committee was investigating a discrepancy in Andrew Trawen's reappointment as head of the electoral commission in 2010 by the government of Sir Michael Somare.
He told parliament he had received legal advice that Mr Trawen's term as commissioner had been extended beyond the mandatory retirement age of 55 set for certain PNG civil servants without a compelling reason.
"That reasoning was not provided at that meeting," Mr O'Neill said.
"In fact, the meeting took less than three minutes, at least that's what one of the members who was there deliberated to us after that meeting yesterday with my good friend, the leader of the opposition and the other members."
He told parliament the government's chief secretary, Manasupe Zurenuoc, was investigating the matter and had told the PM he needed time to do so, with advice to come in the coming week.
But in what can be interpreted as parliament's determination to have its will heard, Mr O'Neill earlier told the chamber parliament's vote on April 11 to delay the election did not need to be rescinded.
"The motion that we passed on this floor was voted on by many of us on this side of the house. We stood because we believed very strongly then, as we do today, that the electoral commissioner was not ready because of his failure to present the common roll (on time)."
Mr Trawen is a steadfast opponent of parliament's vote two weeks ago to suspend the elections by six months.
The specifics of Mr Trawen's appointment are just the latest volley in a larger, and longer, political game.
Since he took office on August 2 last year, Mr O'Neill has repeatedly said he wants elections to be conducted on time.
Mr O'Neill voted along with 62 other government MPs on April 5 to delay the poll by six months over fears of fraud in the common roll.
Mr Trawen says parliamentary terms - five and a half years - are fixed by the constitution.
Following parliament's vote, Mr Trawen said he was going to Governor-General Sir Michael Ogio to sign off on the issue of writs as scheduled on April 27.
Following a massive public outcry about delaying the polls, Mr O'Neill said parliament's decision was a protest only, and he agreed with Mr Trawen to a three-week delay in the issue of writs with no change in the June 23 polling date.
However, Jeffery Nape, PNG's powerful speaker, told the chamber on April 11 the vote still stood and Mr Trawen should obey it.
Mr O'Neill's coalition partner, Deputy Prime Minister Belden Namah, has frequently been highly critical of Mr Trawen's performance as electoral commissioner, arguing that the rolls are not ready five years after the last election.
Mr Trawen, with the backing of Australian-funded electoral support staff, says the rolls will be fully updated by May 18.
AAP understands that many sitting MPs also fear the odds are stacked against them during PNG's relatively chaotic five-yearly elections because Mr Trawen is an appointment of the former PM.
However, PNG traditionally has a high turnover rate of MPs after elections.
Journalists were on Wednesday night sent documents from the Somare camp detailing Mr Trawen's appointment as electoral commissioner.
Mr Trawen could not be contacted for comment

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