Parliament’s independence at stake

Editorial, Normal

The National, Friday November 13th, 2015

 THE independence and integrity of the National Parliament may have been compromised in the rejection of the Opposition’s second motion of no confidence by the Permanent Parliamentary Committee.

The committee, chaired by Acting Speaker Aide Ganasi, deliberated on the motion on Wednesday last week, the day after Parliament adjourned after passing the 2016 Budget. 

Ganasi wrote to Deputy Opposition Leader Sam Basil on the same day and gave this explanation:

“After some deliberation, the committee was of the view that since a Vote of Confidence in the Prime Minister was expressed by way of motion on the floor of Parliament on Thursday, 29 October 2015, and carried by 78 Members to 2, there was complete confidence in the Prime Minister.

“Similarly, yesterday the National Budget was handed down and passed unanimously on the same day without any dissenting voices.

“On this basis, the committee by majority decision resolved that the motion was not in the best interests of the nation at this particular point in time and was therefore parochial in nature.”

It seems the Permanent Parliamentary Committee had been playing cat and mouse with the Opposition on this matter. 

But the irony is that the cat is the bigger loser than the mouse.

Whilst it is a temporary setback for the Opposition in its bid to oust Prime Minister Peter O’Neill, the committee has lost face by bending the rules to suit its political whims.

A week earlier, the committee had rejected the first motion of no confidence on the basis that it was “defective”. 

Instead of washing its hands off the matter, the committee advised the Opposition to fix the defects and present the motion again.

By all accounts, the second motion proposed by Basil and seconded by East Sepik Governor Sir Michael Somare fully adhered to the provisions of Section 145 of the Constitution on motions of no confidence.

The government-dominated committee then found itself in a quandary with mounting pressure from the ruling coalition to reject the motion. But how could they reject a motion that satisfied all the requirements of Section 145?

In fact, they had no grounds and instead found two good excuses – the overwhelming vote of confidence in the Prime Minister and 

the passing of the 2016 Budget – to reject the second motion.

While we maintain that the Opposition’s bid to oust O’Neill was premature and ill-conceived, it is the duty of all 111 Members of Parliament to deliberate on a motion of no confidence that has fulfilled the requirements of Section 145 of the Constitution.

It is not for the Permanent Parliamentary Committee to decide what is in the best interests of the nation by rejecting such a motion that they believe to be parochial in nature.

We therefore question the quality of advice that was provided to the committee by the Acting Clerk of Parliament Kala Aufa on the second motion. 

Did Aufa advise Ganasi and his committee members that they would set a bad precedent by rejecting the motion?

If he did then the committee is at fault for not accepting his advice. 

If he didn’t then he deserves to be removed.

Interestingly, Aufa was not properly appointed to the position he currently occupies. 

He was only acting in the position when then Acting Clerk Podi Kohu died of a heart attack at Jackson’s Airport while on his way to Australia in December last year. 

Since then Aufa has been occupying the position without approval by the National Executive Council.

That being the case, the Acting Clerk has been administering the affairs of Parliament and expending public funds without lawful authorisation.

Aufa’s advice or lack of it on the second motion of no confidence leaves a lot to be desired. 

It also brings into question the quality of advice he has been providing to the Speaker’s Office and the parliamentary committees since he assumed that role by default.

Moreover, NEC must take immediate steps to appoint a well-qualified and experienced person as Clerk of Parliament who will ensure that parliamentary committees are accorded the best advice in maintaining the independence and integrity of the Legislative arm of government.