By GABRIEL LAHOC
THE Catholic Bishops Conference, one of the most powerful voices in the nation, is against the Maladina amendment, which will limit the powers of the Ombudsman Commission (OC).
This fraternal gathering, comprising 26 PNG and three Solomon Islands Catholic bishops, gathered in Lae for the week-long annual conference, and were approached by Transparency International (TIPNG), which is currently undergoing massive nationwide awareness to educate the public about the dangers of this amendment, which in effect has already been passed 83-0 by Parliament in the March 9 sitting.
“The Catholic bishops have studied the Maladina amendment, and we believe it would dangerously weakened the powers of the OC to carry out its investigative and directive roles as mandated by the Constitution.
“We, therefore, strongly oppose the Maladina amendment,” president of the Catholic Bishops Conference Bishop Francesci Panfilo said in a statement.
“With a bishop in all provinces, it is inevitable that we represent and know the reality of the whole country and the people’s plight.
“Our experience may be different from what the Government might think,” Bishop Panfilo said.
Catholic followers in PNG stand at about 1.3 million people.
Just like the OC’s proposals in 2006 to the OC parliamentary committee after consulting the people, where it asked for more powers to increase its effectiveness, the Catholic church is also asking the Government instead to boost the OC’s powers.
“Now is not the time to weaken the one body which is capable of holding our leaders accountable.
“In fact, perhaps, it is time to strengthen the OC with more personnel and better financial support,” Bishop Panfilo said.
TIPNG is banking primarily on its network and partners which included the churches.
The Catholic church, as one of the biggest denominations in PNG, is the first to come out publicly and make its position known in this issue, stating: “This is such a serious matter, which we feel compelled to speak out.”
Very rarely does the Catholic church speak out on national issues that border on politics. It is the first time since Archbishop Sir Brian Barnes called for the ouster of prime minister Bill Skate.
TIPNG chairman Peter Aitsi said the organisation and its partners would go on an aggressive public awareness and media campaign in the next two weeks to get the parliamentarians to change their minds.