The National, Friday September 25th, 2015
WE asked this question in our online poll last week: “Will the reinstated 6 months grace period for no-confidence votes in the Prime Minister endanger political stability?
Out of the 106 votes received, 55 per cent said “yes” and 45 per cent said “no”.
While the online poll is not truly reflective of public opinion, it is indicative of the mixed feeling about this pertinent issue following the Supreme Court ruling earlier this month that nullified Parliament’s decision to extend the grace period for motions of the no confidence in a Prime Minister from 18 months to 30 months.
The five-member bench, including Chief Justice Sir Salamo Injia and Deputy Chief Justice Sir Gibbs Salika, unanimously declared that the constitutional amendments passed by Parliament in 2012 were “unconstitutional and invalid”.
The Supreme Court concluded that the protective barricades in the constitutional amendments restricted MPs and Parliament to call upon the executive government to account for its actions by recourse provided under section 145 of the Constitution. “These constitutional amendments restrict or impede Parliament’s ability to conduct its business in sufficient time and restrict MPs and Parliament to be given a reasonable opportunity to perform their duties in Parliament.”
The first extension to the initial six months grace period allowed under the Constitution was made in 1991 when Parliament amended section 145 (4) to extend it to 18 months.
In 2012, the current Parliament again amended section 145 (4) of the Constitution to further extend the grace period to 30 months.
In 2013, Parliament amended section 145 (1)(b) of the Constitution, which increased the period of notice required to move a motion of no-confidence to be given from one week to one month. In the same amendment, Parliament increased the number of MPs required to endorse the notice of motion of no-confidence from one tenth (11 MPs) to one fifth (22 MPs).
Also in 2013, Parliament amended section 124 (1) of the Constitution, which reduced Parliament’s sitting time from a minimum of 63 days in a year to not less than 40 days in a year.
The central issue in the case was whether the constitutional amendments were inconsistent with the purposes of the principle provisions that were amended and with other related provisions of the Constitution.
The Supreme Court found that the amendments were clearly inconsistent with the spirit and purpose of sections 50,111,115,125, 141 and 145 of the Constitution.
Interestingly, Prime Minister Peter O’Neill said that while Government respected the court’s ruling, it was important the reasons for the amendments were understood as it was an issue that was likely to return in the future.
“This legislation was designed to further enhance the stability in the Government of the nation. This was for current and future governments. It should be noted that since the passing of the integrity law that came into effect in 2002, and these further amendments in 2012 and 2013, the country has enjoyed sustained economic growth averaging 8 per cent.”
O’Neill added: “We do not want the country to revert back to decades past whether governments could be changed every few months. When governments used to change often, growth was undermined and investors stayed away. Political stability is vital for growth and development.”
We couldn’t agree more with the Prime Minister on his last point, which was highlighted this week by the Registrar of Political Parties and Candidates, Dr Alphonse Gelu.
Since the O’Neill Government came into power after the 2012 elections, it has gone in leaps and bounds with initiatives and policies such as free education and free healthcare. Moreover, the current K15 billion budget is the country’s largest money plan to date and may be increased next year.
The Government’s list of achievements during its short term in office is astounding, to say the least.
And as the Prime Minister said, PNG’s impressive economic growth and progressive developments could not have been achieved without political stability.
The Government meant well in its pursuit for strong economic growth when it convinced Parliament to extend the grace period to 30 months to give itself the buffer to govern without distractions.
While its critics and distractors have argued otherwise, the Government has been able to move the country farther ahead than anyone could have imagined in 2012.