AS pressure mounts to increase the number of national parliamentarians, including reserving 22 seats exclusively for women candidates, it is of paramount importance that all politicians recognise the important roles to which they are called.
So far, the entire notion of being the prime legislatures and policy makers in the land, which is the exclusive preserve of the politician, has been replaced by a lesser role which is duplicating the work of the civil service.
At present, there is a perception – quite wrong and created by default and the ineffectiveness of the public service – that the politician should be the bearer of goods and services to the electorate.
That, this being the role of the public service and not the politician, has long ago been lost on the electorate. The politician has neither the system and resources nor the mandate to deliver goods and services effectively to his or her electorate.
A politician’s chief function is to make laws and policies and to ensure government functions as a coordinated, effective and efficient body that caters for the diversified needs of a modern nation. Over time, this crucial role has been eroded as the needs of an electorate, which has seen little delivery of goods and service by the public service, exert such pressures upon the politician that he has felt the need to respond to his people.
The politician must, for his job depends on the people’s wishes – a quite frightening perspective which the civil servant does not face. And, so, the pressure has mounted year after year and, since parliament determines the budget, it has steadily allocated more and more funds to its membership. It has grown from the humble K10,000 per member under the village service scheme in 1982 to the now K2 million-odd per member. That is a whooping K270 million per annum. It will never be enough.
Members in this parliament have each been given K17 million so far. Next year, each politician has been allocated a further K2 million and, this time, the governors have been invited to the feast as well.
And, still, the electorate craves for more. So, the pressure is there for politicians to elect themselves more and more money until the rest of government machinery is starved of funds. At that point, government will simply cease to function.
More money does not automatically make the member more popular in the electorate. It merely makes the job more attractive such that he gathers more enemies as PNG’s tribal jealousies clicks into high gear. To get at the wealth, each tribal grouping will fight strongest to make the present member’s task more difficult and lower his reputation so the tribe can get some mileage for its own future candidate.
The pressure upon the member is greater now also because the people know the member has all this cash to go around and K2 million will hardly go around in any electorate. Neither will K17 million or K30 million.
Most importantly, there is no accounting for all this money because the member does not have the necessary staff or expertise to ensure that is done. Essential infrastructure services such as roads and buildings will be given, as they are now, to inexperienced operators who do a sloppy job which comes undone in no time.
And, since the politician, by nature of his work, must always move on to new areas where he has not spent any money, maintenance in areas where he has spent money suffers greatly. And, so, development visit to an area is brief.
As mentioned, the member does not have the capacity to deliver. If he starts using the money given him to set up his own civil service, it would be illegal and it would take up too much money – creating even more demands from the electorate. It also promotes and feeds the dangerous handout mentality that is already entrenched among the people.
There needs to be a fundamental shift in this dangerous trend. One way is to give each member of parliament a job to do. This parliament has done that through the creation of parliamentary committees.
What remains now is to breathe life into these committees, to make them loud and active and, especially, to be involved in the task of running the nation by inquiring into matters of public interest, to analyse the problems, to debate the options and then come up with the correct laws, policies and programmes to correct what flaws might exist. The politician’s job is done at this point and it must pass over to the machinery that exists to service the public, the public service.