Let the people have their say

Focus, Normal

The National, Friday July 26th, 2013

 The proposed amendments to sections 124 and 145 of the Constitution by the executive government has put the Government, the Opposition and responsible agencies on tenterhooks by raising concerns over the integrity of the country’s founding principles, writes GANDE JAMES of the National Research Institute.

ON balance, it has to be said that both the Government and the Opposition are entitled to their arguments and that their arguments are genuine. 

The amendments seek to clarify the minimum number of days Parliament can sit in a year (S124), and also increase the number of days required from seven days to three months for a notice of no-confidence to be given (S145).

One cannot side with the other and nullify the arguments of the other but will have to weigh the consequences of the grounds of both the Government and Opposition on this proposed amendments. 

When the consequences are brought to the picture, it can be seen that there are advantages and disadvantages to amending these two sections as well as for rejecting the proposed amendments.

Prime Minister Peter O’Neill premised its proposed amendments on the grounds that these amendments will allow for good governance and political stability. 

This would lead to investor confidence, because political stability will ensure a safe business environment. He also said these two sections of the Constitution, in their original form, leaves an incumbent government vulnerable to being ousted without validating that it is unfit to run the affairs of the country. 

He says these amendments are being made in the best interests of the people.

The Opposition make a strong point against the proposed amendments.  

It says that they will undermine the powers of the legislature, tamper with the Constitution and threaten Parliamentary democracy that Papua New Guinea has been enjoying since independence.

There should be a separation of powers between the legislature, the executive arm and the judiciary.

This is to ensure and maintain checks and balances so that no arm of the government becomes too powerful. 

This is what the Opposition fears if the  bill is passed – the executive arm will become all-powerful.

Without credible checks and balances, ‘power feeds on power’, and corruption may reign making it dangerous for the nation as a whole.

It’s the Constitution that is the foundation for this nation, which binds  a conglomerate of diverse cultures, many different languages, and hundreds of different  tribes spread across complicated geo-political boundaries. 

To amend these sections would be analogous to removing some parts of a traditional house made of different bush materials. It will result in collapse.

Democratically, these particular provisions have allowed people, through their representatives, to change the government through a vote of no confidence.

The proposed amendments surely needs critical analysis and debate.

Against the arguments put forward by both the Government and the Opposition, there are certain factors that need to be considered.

In this period when the economy is slowly picking up, good governance and an enhanced political stability is needed to bolster economic growth. 

The Opposition have said stability is not legislated but has to be earned, and this defines democracy. 

While this is true, it simply cannot be earned when there is instability. 

Democracy in PNG has been resilient and very vibrant. People don’t realise the consequences of the freedom they have in choosing and changing their leaders and governments.

The amendment to this section, though it’s a deliberate tampering of the Constitution, is not the only one, but largely, it’s the main way to ensure good governance and enhance political stability. 

Learning from PNG history, quick changes in government curtail development plans and policies.

This affects basic service delivery to the people. 

When people feel that they are missing on the benefits  of development, they start to rise up against the state in their own little ways. 

Degradation of law and order is the result of citizens rebelling against the state for not providing them what they need. 

When this happens, it reflects an absence of good governance. 

When they are content with what the government does, then their acceptance of that government will enhance political stability.

Reducing the number of sitting days will allow for proper planning of the meetings and reduces the chances for MPs to destabilise government.  

If, in any case, the Opposition is successful in getting the Supreme Court order to stay the proposed amendments, then the imminent crisis will not be faced.

But even if the amendments are passed into law as expected, lawmakers will still be able to cross the floor of Parliament to provoke a change in government.

The political impasse that occurred last year was a classic example. 

That was a time of ‘horse-trading’ which resulted in almost 75% of the MPs getting behind O’Neill to remove Sir Michael Somare.

Certainly, more public awareness of the proposed amendments is crucial. 

Only few people know what Section 124 and 145 of the Constitution provide for and what it means.

The bulk of the population is not properly educated and combined with the lack of access to media information, do not know what it is all about.

Certainly, it is a move which is going to have an  impact on the future of this nation. 

Some MPs want a nationwide referendum on these amendments.

The  terms of reference should be written out in close collaboration with the Constitution and Law Reform Commission, Ombudsman and stakeholders to capture the sentiments of the people about the proposed amendments.

The advantages and disadvantages of the proposed amendments must be explained in detail to the people. 

It will help them to decide whether to support the amendment.

This would follow the steps taken by our forefathers who went to the widths and depths of the country to put together the Constitution of the Independent State of PNG.