MPs should lay off local politics

Editorial, Normal

LAGAIP-Porgera MP Philip Kikala’s referral to the Ombudsman Commission by a court must send a wake-up call and even a warning to all Members of Parliament who have been meddling in local politics.
The Constitution has provided for a three-tier system of government in PNG for very important reasons. The National Constitution is premised on the principle of participatory government and of bringing government closer to the people so they are closely involved in the governance of their own affairs and welfare.
Each level of government was to have its own elected representative who have their duties and responsibilities under the law. What the system did unwittingly was that it sought to display the roles of some more prominently than others. Open MPs were, until 1995 when the Organic Law on Provincial Governments was reformed, the most invisible of leaders at the local level where it mattered most to them.
Provincial leaders and local government councillors tended to dominate at that level because this was where they were meant to operate. There was fierce competition for influence between the national and provincial politicians and often the next MP elected to Parliament would be the provincial government representative from the area.
This became a big bone of contention for MPs and played a pivotal role in the move which resulted in the provincial government reforms. From 1995 on, there were to be no separate elections to elect representatives of the provincial assembly. That assembly comprises the elected local government presidents from the province and the open MPs of electorates. The regional member for the province is the automatic governor of the province and chairs the assembly unless he is a minister and chooses not to take up the post of governor. When that happens, the governor is elected from among the members of the assembly so any council president or MP is eligible.
Theoretically, the three structures are in place so that decision-making could flow from the bottom up and top down with ease.
Decisions made at council ward levels would be brought by the ward councillor to the council chamber and decisions made at this level would be passed up through the council president to be presented at the provincial assembly and if matters required National Government adjudication, these would be presented by MPs or the government at the national level. Decisions made by the National Government could then be passed down through the same hierarchy.
The system did not leave much of a visible role for the open MP to perform at the local level where members of his electorate could easily observe. He was a big-time lawmaker in some distant town and only the councillor could be seen at work. That made the MP invisible to his electorate and created many problems for him or her come national election time.
Over the years, it led to the MP moving at Parliament level to increase his or her level of participation at the local level. That finally came to pass when the provincial government system was reformed.
The local MP was made head of the joint district planning and budget priorities committee (JDP&BPC). Finally, the MP could be seen where he desired it most – back in his electorate directing the distribution of goods and services.
Where the council president, rightly the kingpin in the local area, was to fit into this scheme of things is unclear yet under the law. Where his councillors were to fit in is also unclear. Since the MP is the chairman of the JDP&BPC, he can well choose and pick who he wants.
This is what has been happening with the effect that in some electorates the elected councillors and council presidents are completely left out of JDP&BPC. There is nothing wrong with that. But in many instances, MPs have taken the law into their own hands to appoint councillors and even council presidents to sit on their committees.
And that is illegal. MPs can well appoint their own committees but they have no right whatsoever to appoint councillors or council presidents, which are elected positions.
In the case of Lagaip-Porgera, five council presidents alleged in court that Mr Kikala has by passed their authority and also appointed two unelected persons as council presidents whom he proceeded to appoint to his JDP&BPC and to pay them. To our mind, the issue is not with the membership of the two appointed persons on his committee but rather the fact that he purported to appoint them as councillors, which they were not.
Every councillor who feels aggrieved or has been placed in similar circumstances should now know what course of action to take. It should also remind MPs that they are not a power unto themselves.