Law Society must have a say

Editorial

TWO legal issues were brought to light this week that are rather disturbing.
Firstly, there is no law stopping candidates with criminal records from contesting the general elections and secondly, many laws that have been passed by Parliament recently have had no input from the PNG Law Society.
Registrar of Political Parties Dr Alphonse Gelu dropped the first bombshell on Wednesday when he admitted that his office was currently powerless to stop such candidates from running for public office.
However, Gelu is hopeful that Parliament will pass the Revised Organic Law on the Integrity of Political Parties and Candidates before the 2017 general elections, which will effectively rectify this situation.
One of the features of the revised organic law is that the Registry of Political Parties and Candidates will be empowered to vet and approve all candidates before sending the final list to the PNG Electoral Commission.
As Gelu rightly pointed out, “We cannot allow felons to contest for public office. If you serve in prison for more than a particular time, you will not be eligible to contest for public office.”
There is little doubt that many candidates with criminal records and dubious backgrounds have contested past elections.
We recall the much publicised case of a Madang leader who was elected to Parliament while serving time in prison some years ago. In fact, he was not only declared a winner behind bars but a hero to his people for beating both his opponents and the electoral system.
That is the kind of stupidity and nonsense that will happen again in the June elections because nothing can stop unscrupulous candidates from running for public office and getting elected like the Madang leader.
Neither the Registry of Political Parties and Candidates nor the Electoral Commission have been able to intervene in past elections but they can this time if Parliament passes the revised organic law before the next elections.
Also on Wednesday, the PNG Law Society president Peter Kuman dropped another bombshell when he told a hearing of the Special Parliamentary Committee on Public Sector Reform and Service Delivery that they had no input in recent laws passed by the Parliament.
Kuman cited “a classic example” of the anti-money laundering legislation that was passed by Parliament recently, “which affects the (legal) profession in a significant way”.
“We (PNG Law Society) were not invited by the Central Bank (Bank of Papua New Guinea) and the Law Reform Commission to comment on (the law),” Kuman told committee chairman Elias Kapavore and members Gary Juffa and Mehrra Kipefa during the hearing into the implementation of the Lawyers’ Act 1986.
Believe it or not, the PNG Law Society does not have any role in the Law Reform Commission. And we are talking about a group whose members are legal practitioners in both the government and private sectors.
Doesn’t the commission value the society’s input? It seems not as they have been working in isolation and without consultation with many of the country’s highly qualified and very experienced lawyers.
Ideally, the commission should provide any draft or proposed legislation to the society to circulate among its members for their input. But that has not been happening insofar as Kuman and his members are concerned.
The lack of consultation and input by the law society on draft or proposed legislation brings into the question the quality of the laws that have been passed by Parliament recently. Kuman highlighted the anti-money laundering legislation, which did not have any input from the law society but which affected the legal profession in a significant way.
Interestingly, the Law Reform Commission and the Bank of PNG did not think it necessary to consult the legal practitioners who would be impacted by the new legislation. It shows total disrespect and disregard for the legal profession and its contribution to upholding and implementing the country’s law.
Moreover, other laws that have been enacted recently without consultation and input by the PNG Law Society may have defects, loopholes and other anomalies that could have serious consequences for our people.
The National Government must insist on a thorough checklist
for any proposed legislation
with consultation and input from the relevant sectors and authorities, such as the PNG Law Society, before it is passed by Parliament.

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