Thursday, July 04, 2013

PNG opposition challenges constitution changes

By Eoin Blackwell, AAP Papua New Guinea Correspondent 

PAPUA New Guinea's opposition will launch court action to stop a constitutional amendment it says will remove parliament's ability to keep government accountable.
Prime Minister Peter O'Neill on the weekend announced his government will push a series of amendments to the constitution which will force motions of no confidence to be made public three months before the vote.
The government is also seeking to mandate the amount of parliamentary sitting days in a move the opposition says will limit sitting days from 63 to 40.
"This is not only dictatorial but a dangerous abuse and violation of our national constitution," Opposition Public Enterprises spokesman Tobias Kulang said in a statement.
"All members have taken an oath to uphold and protect the constitution and we call on intellectual MPs and former prime ministers to lead the way in defending the spirit and intentions of the constitution." Mr Kulang said the wording of the amendment to alter the sitting days means MPs will theoretically sit for the first forty days of a year and not meet again.
He said the opposition will launch legal action to stop the ammendments being debated in parliament.
Mr O'Neill leads a coalition of more than 95 MPs in PNG's 111 seat, single House of Parliament.
Three of those MPs are former prime ministers - Sir Michael Somare, Sir Julius Chan and Paias Wingti.
Mr O'Neill said on the weekend the amendments are aimed at stopping others from abusing parliamentary process.
Under the changes, a vote of no confidence will also require a third of parliament to back it instead of the currently required 10th of parliament.
"The amendment allows the vote of no confidence process to occur in an open and transparent manner," Mr O'Neill said.
 "It allows more time for Parliament and the public to assess and debate whether the notice has merit. It ensures wider consultation." The Prime Minister says the amendments will also make clearer the number of days Parliament must sit every year, and will remove ambiguities he says were used to congest sittings and prolong adjournments.
"By clearly defining the sitting days in a year, the government can plan its legislative programs for Parliament in an orderly manner," he said.
"A clearer sitting timetable improves administration and helps to reduce costs." Shortly after winning the 2012 election, Mr O'Neill convinced his parliamentary backers to pass a 30 month ban on votes of no confidence during a government's five year term.
That amendment followed almost a year of political instability sparked in mid 2011 by the removal of Sir Michael Somare as Prime Minister by Mr O'Neill and his supporters.

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