MANY commentators (including the governor of the National Capital District), dissatisfied with the workings in Parliament, the civil service and the National Executive, have voiced an opinion on the values of the presidential system of government and its relevance to Papua New Guinea as an alternative to our present system.
In this article I will look at whether it is a feasible alternative and whether it should be worth spending time and energy to even consider it.
Our Constitution does not make it possible for future generations of leaders to amend it.
This is so because there is no provision in the Constitution to facilitate any amendments to the Constitution.
There are provisions which make it possible to alter the Constitution.
“Alteration” and “amendment” are two words that have been misunderstood by many people.
They cannot be used interchangeably.
To alter is to make additions to the existing structure.
To amend is to destroy the existing structure of the Constitution and to replace it with another.
Thus, the Constitution provides for alterations to be made by adding to the existing structure of the Constitution.
Therefore, Parliament has no absolute authority and power to amend the Constitution as it sees fit.
To give an example, Parliament has power to divest its law-making power but it has no power to divest of that power or authority absolutely.
Accordingly, the provisions that deal with Bougainville, therefore, may be valid but the power of Parliament to determine the questions for the referendum on Bougainville becoming independent from Papua New Guinea will be void and of no effect for the reason that the Constitution does not allow any part of Papua New Guinea to separate permanently from the rest of the country.
Thus, greater autonomy for Bougainville is legal but secession is not authorised by the Constitution.
In this regard, the Government and Bougainville agreement in this respect is void and of no effect in law and awaiting a challenger before our courts.
From the above, it should therefore, be abundantly clear that any consideration of a presidential style of government as an alternative form of government for Papua New Guinea is a waste of time and energy.
It should also be abundantly clear to all those in Government, including the international aid agencies wishing to change the PNG Constitution, that they will be embarking on a futile exercise to engage consultants to produce materials that cannot be validated under our Constitution.
Indeed, I have heard that certain aid agencies are intending to hire lawyers to amend our Constitution. It would be a complete waste of aid funds.
One has to ask the questions – what for?
For whose benefit?
What is the intended result?
Is it constitutional to do so?
Or is it just another job creation to satisfy the “wants” of their citizens and not ours.
In 1975, our Constituent Assembly adopted a British Westminster model of government but defragmented absolute authority of government between various arms of government based on the United States experience and model.
This fact has never been understood by our politicians and political commentators including lawyers.
For instance, Bernard Narokobi, an esteemed lawyer by profession, was the Speaker of Parliament at the time of adoption of the alteration of the Constitution to cater for the Bougainville agreement and certified those alterations.
Today, we also have an esteemed lawyer in the NCD Governor, who has even taken time off from his otherwise busy schedule, to write about the potential of a presidential system of government for Papua New Guinea.
The fact is Parliament has no absolute power of law making. So parliamentarians and the National Executive should stop acting as if it has.
A realisation of this fact will bring back to reality that horse trading to keep the Prime Minister in office defeats the primary purpose and powers of Members of Parliament.
Their primary purpose is to make laws for the good government of this nation and this includes acting as a check against any attempt by the National Executive to wrest absolute power from the other independent arms of government.
Today, we have 72% of MPs holding and exercising some sort of executive power.
As a result, Parliament’s power to vet the actions of the National Executive has been marginalised.
This country will be better off if there are more ordinary MPs than those holding positions in the National Executive.
The National Executive must be held accountable to the people of this nation through Parliament.
This is required by our Constitution.
The very persons who swear to uphold our Constitution when elected to Parliament have been found wanting in honouring their oath of office.
They go to church on Sundays and will be the first on the stage of any Bible-bashing evangelists but will contradict their oath of office at the drop of a hat.
We have a country that is led by contradicting parliamentarians. In other words in reality, we are being led by absolute chaos.
We have the best system of government in this country – a cross between the Westminster and American system of government. Yet we are not able to make it work.
The reason is not one that is based on implementation of the current system.
No. It is based on greed for power.
And as we all know the adage – power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.
Greed again is the enemy of love – a Christian virtue.
So again, Christian politicians who chase greed are abominations unto themselves and the nation.
We are also a fractious society.
The presidential system in African countries has not worked.
Many presidents there are kept in office by the military which is the source of power for the presidencies.
There is that unholy alliance between the military and the office of the president.
The presidential system validates Orwellian theories expounded in Animal Farm and 1984 where some citizens are more equal than others.
Here in PNG, the presidential system will exacerbate regionalism and be a cancer within our society as it will be founded on greed and less on service to our people.
So there are several problems with the idea of presidential system of government.
First is one of constitutional validity of any amendment to the constitution to facilitate its introduction.
Second is its suitability for PNG.
Third is the one of conscience – do we really think it will usher in an era of giving out of love for our citizens or of taking based on greed.
Let us try to make our Constitution work for us instead of being greedy for more power.
* Peter Donigi is a lawyer and previously also taught at the University of PNG and overseas. He specialises in constitutional matters.