Idiocracy in oil and gas province

The National, Wednesday July 6th, 2016

HELA province created political history, or rather idiocracy, yesterday when two acting governors were elected simultaneously in a dysfunctional provincial assembly.
Koroba-Lake Kopiago MP Philip Undialu was elected by his faction in a locked-door session in the morning and Komo-Magarima MP Francis Potape was elected by his faction in similar fashion in the afternoon.
The separate elections were nothing short of a circus and created a volatile situation which threatened to spill onto Tari town with rival tribesmen waiting for the signal to turn the political battle into open warfare.
Fortunately, the bitter rivalry between Undialu and Potape did not turn nasty.
Last Tuesday’s aborted assembly meeting had set the stage for yesterday’s farcical polls despite assurances by Hela leaders that the election of an acting governor would be conducted without hindrance.
What transpired in the provincial assembly yesterday has brought more shame and disrepute to the people and province.
If the Hela leaders cannot get their act together and elect an acting governor in a responsible and politically correct manner then what does the future hold for this relatively new province.
If they are hell-bent on hijacking a political process then it’s time to stop this utter nonsense and let the people elect their new governor in a proper and fair by-election.
The onus is now on Electoral Commissioner Patilas Gamatoto proceed with the by-election before the July 25 deadline. He must immediately announce the dates for the issuing of writs and the subsequent dates for the election process.
It is also imperative that the O’Neill Government provide the necessary funds for the Electoral Commission to conduct this crucial by-election, which will ensure the resource-rich province continues to be fairly and adequately represented in Parliament by a duly-elected governor.
Moreover, Gamato is bound by law to proceed with conducting the by-election for the seat left vacant by the death of Governor Anderson Agiru in May this year.
Gamato had earlier promised that the by-election would be held after the mourning period as a mark of respect for the late Agiru who was much revered by his people. He must keep his word and proceed without further delay.
The supporters and sympathisers of the late governor are seemingly opposed to immediately replacing their fallen hero and would rather wait until the general elections in June next year to elect his successor.
On the other hand, there are others who want the by-election to proceed, not only because it is constitutionally correct but, emotions aside, Hela must move on.
While the opponents of the by-election, which include influential figures within the Government, are adamant that the by-election is a waste of time and money, they really don’t have a choice, not after yesterday’s display of idiocracy.
By law, the Hela by-election must proceed as the precedent has been set with the recent by-election for the South Bougainville seat left vacant by the death of State Minister Steven Kama.
Thus, it is legally binding for the Electoral Commission to conduct the by-election while it is inexcusable, deliberate or otherwise, for the Government not to provide the necessary funds.
The commission is empowered under Section 106 of the Constitution to fill a vacancy in Parliament if it occurs more than 12 months from the date of the issuing of writs for the next general election.
It is important that the Hela people are given the choice of a by-election to elect a new governor who will not only continue to build on the solid foundation set by the late Agiru but also ensure there are no disruptions to the delivery of essential government services over the next 12 months.
There are many outstanding development projects and social issues, including law and order matters, which need to be addressed by a duly-elected governor who has the people’s mandate.
The new governor will face many challenges and hurdles but he will need to provide good leadership and focus on rebuilding a province that has been plagued by tribal violence and lawlessness since its establishment.
As well, he will need to unite the rival political factions that have caused much dissention since Agiru’s death.
Indeed, it is in the best interests of the Hela people that a by-election be conducted without further delay.