House looks set to rise Tuesday

Editorial, Normal

FEAR of what the opposition might be up to will force the government to rise after passing the budget next Tuesday.
It is likely that, after the opposition presents its reply to the budget, there will be a marathon discussion on the budget, mostly comprising ministerial statements. At day’s end, the budget will be passed and parliament will rise to March or April next year.
It can be as early as January because, by then, the fear of a motion of no-confidence will be removed and the Somare administration can serve a second full term in parliament.
However, as it turns out, urgent business of government will be delayed and, since it is that much closer to the national elections, there might not be time to complete those businesses in time before parliament rises for the 2012 general elections.
Of note are the matters pertaining to the arrangements for the new provinces of Jiwaka and Hela and those relating to the reserved seats for women. There is a real possibility that these businesses might never be ready, given the amount of work that remains to be done.
First and foremost, there have to be legislative arrangements in place. There is a need to make alterations to the constitution such as those laws pertaining to electoral boundaries and the Organic Law on national elections, we foresee difficulties in getting all the legislative and administrative arrangements in place.
Constitutional laws require a two-third majority support of parliament, or 73 members over three separate sittings of parliament sitting two months apart.
With its superior strength, the government would normally muster that number easily but, it being the eve of elections, there are going to be difficulties mustering quorums of a mere 33 as election day draws nearer.
With luck, the laws might get passed but, then, there are the administrative and logistic hurdles to be jumped.
The PNG Electoral Commission must prepare separate ballot papers for the electorates of the two new provinces including two new regional seats and those of the 22 reserved women’s seats.
The electoral boundaries of the new provinces, and even the reserved seats, have to be ascertained in law.
Even if, for instance, the electorate of Jimi in Jiwaka would have the same proportions and demarcations as the existing boundary, the fact that it is an electorate of the new Jiwaka (province), and not the existing Western Highlands, has to be established in law.
Sitting arrangements in parliament have to be confirmed and set in law as are requirements for voting, quorums and a number of other procedural issues. The same would be required of all provincial assemblies.
After the legal hurdles are passed, there is the massive task of mounting a nationwide education and information campaign to ensure all voters know what they are required to do.
That has been a hard enough task in all other elections. This next one, if the two new provinces and reserved women’s seats are to factor, will be particularly testing.
It behooves government, therefore, to begin the process in this sitting of parliament if it is serious about granting the two new provinces and the reserved women’s seats.
These would be the most significant parting gift to the people from the “father of the nation” and, particularly, to the women and people of Jiwaka and Hela.
There has been so much hype for the 22 reserved seats and the two new provinces, and such little actual movement on just how these new arrangements would fit into the existing scheme of things at the legislative, provincial, electoral and administrative levels.
Even the cost factor, in both time and money, appears not to have been considered seriously.
It would be a monstrous thing if these proposals were never to see light of day in this parliament, but we would not be surprised if it were to happen.
In PNG politics, we can always be assured of a surprise, but let it be all good this time round.
There would be far too much disappointment otherwise, sufficient to take down governments and leaders.
You heard the warning first, as always, in this space.