Parliament has failed women

Editorial, Normal

IT was a shameful thing to do, but parliament is shameless of late.
After a week of hope, when women flew in from throughout the country to witness their parliament put through first reading a bill to reserve one seat per province for a woman, that very parliament rose yesterday without a word on it to May 10 next year.
That parliament chose to do that on the day when the world, including ordinary Papua New Guineans, was marching against Violence Against Women is a stark reminder that PNG has a long way yet to go before it is mature.
The man who presided over yesterday’s proceedings, Speaker Jeffery Nape’s own women constituents had flown in to, in the words of one of them, “make sure our member and speaker supports the bill”.
It appears that the delegation from Sinasina-Yongomugl has failed. So has every other delegation from many parts of the country.
It is a sad day for women in the country.
It might get sadder still because there is hardly time for everything to be put in place before the 2012 general elections.
Parliament has been adjourned to May. There will be only 13 months left between then and the next general elections.
Given that this is a constitutional law, it will require a 73-member absolute majority on three separate sittings of parliament spaced two months apart. If that were done religiously from May, the bill will be passed into law by September next year. The same goes for the legislative arrangements pertaining to the new provinces of Hela and Jiwaka.
By then, the government will have only nine months to put in place administrative arrangements and educate the people on the changes.
From experience, we can state confidently that the time is too short. There will be too much confusion leading to chaos come election time.
The person who has pushed this matter all alone, Minister for Community Development Dame Carol Kidu, was close to despair yesterday.
On the floor of parliament, she was a lonely voice which sought to appeal to her male colleagues that there was no time left.
When the appeal fell on deaf ears, she nearly broke confidentiality when she muttered aside to a colleague minister, but clearly audible over the intercom: “But, you agreed this morning in caucus.”
Her final words on the matter were a resigned: “I hope so. I hope so.”
She was referring to government commitment to introduce the bill and, whether or not, there was enough time to complete all consequential amendments.
There were many words on the matter, we gather, within government caucus room.
It would seem that men are dead scared to have women in parliament, fearing, perhaps, that that their inadequacies might be exposed by hardworking women MPs.
Governors are fearful that women will be elected in the same manner as them and that they pose the greatest threat to them if women happen to be more efficient than them.
They are using the issue of an extra cost of K35 million or so as an issue.
Hardly a voice was raised in opposition to the Salaries and Remuneration Commission recommendation to spend a further K33 million, backdated to last year, for members in increased salaries. That is extra.
Governors were given an additional K1 million to bring their provincial services improvement programme to K2 million next year. That amounts to K40 million for leaders whose province are covered by the open members’ electorates. This is clearly extra money but nobody is raising an issue.
The K35 million estimated for the 22 reserved seats for women would go towards ensuring that some three million women are represented in parliament. That, we declare, is a cause worthy of the cost.
That should never be an issue.
We warned in this space last week that the reserved seats bill would not be put through parliament and, that, there might not be time to pass it in time for the 2012 general elections.
We can predict now that it might never see light of day and, certainly, might not be ready for the reserved seats to be available to women come June 2012.
If the women of this country decide not to vote in 2012, they would be within their rights.
Indeed, if the bill is not passed, all women should refuse to vote in 2012 and see if there is enough room in the jails of this land to hold three million women.