The National, Thursday July 18th, 2013
By JEFFREY ELAPA
PRIME Minister Peter O’Neill’s move to change the Constitution in two places in the name of stability received overwhelming support in Parliament yesterday.
Using its numerical strength, the Government breezed through the first reading 87 to three on votes.
Kundiawa Gembogl MP Tobias Kulang, Rabaul MP Dr Allan Marat and Madang Governor Jim Kas voted against the proposed amendments to sections 124 (1) and 145 (1) of the Constitution.
Notable absences from the debate were Sir Michael Somare and Sir Julius Chan, who were earlier in chamber while former prime minister and current Governor of Western Highlands Paias Wingti voted for the amendments.
In keeping with the provisions of the Constitution when voting for amendment, Parliament should now return within two months for the second reading.
Presenting the Bill for the amendment, O’Neill gave notice that government would establish a team of eminent people to review several key drivers of the nation, a review of the structure of the Constitution itself among them.
This team will be appointed by a committee comprising the prime minister, the Opposition leader, the Chief Justice, Chief Ombudsman and the Permanent Parliamentary Appointments Committee chairman.
Apart from reviewing the structure of the Constitution, the team of eminent people will review the nation’s political, legislative, judicial and service delivery structures.
O’Neill said based on their report, the government would move to conduct a nationwide referendum to determine the most desired and suitable changes to be made in relation to our institutions of government and national service delivery.
He said he was pleased that people from all walks of life, including professors of law, students, councillors and church and women leaders were debating the pros and cons of the amendments.
He said it was not the first time the Constitution was being amended as it had been amended numerous times since its adoption.
“Therefore, the Constitutional amendments proposed by our government are not unprecedented in fact and in evidence.
O’Neill said a government voted in after a general election must be allowed to enjoy the mandate of the people.
“We are not removing the provision for Motions of No Confidence (Section 145). We are simply giving the process more accountability and building on the changes approved by the House earlier this year, and on reforms implemented by the Somare government in the last decade.
“The amendments are not extreme; they are not dangerous; they don’t undermine our democracy or accountability
“The claim that these proposals are all about keeping Peter O’Neill in the office of Prime Minister indefinitely is just laughable.
“I will remain in this office for as long as I retain the confidence of a majority of the elected men and women who, under the Constitution, decide who is Prime Minister. These changes are not about protecting Peter O’Neill. No! They are about strengthening long term political stability and confidence in our system of government and participatory parliamentary practice. And that is what our nation needs today,” he said.
The second change to Section 124 (1) of the Constitution is designed to clearly define sitting periods of the House in each year.
It will stop the prolonged adjournment of the House for political convenience and survival and allow the Government to better plan its legislative programme and will help keep the Government more accountable.
“Our government is not heartless. We adhere to the principles of inclusive participatory democracy.”