Sit the 63 days and no less

Editorial, Normal

The National, Tuesday, May 17, 2011

TRANSPARENCY International has raised the topical issue of parliament meetings and how many times parliament has fallen far short of meeting the statutory requirement of 63 sittings days.
The watchdog body said in a statement yesterday that it was concerned at parliament not abiding by the law to sit the required sitting days in a calendar year.
We agree with TI.
Supreme Court ruling (reference No.3 of 1993) is very clear that parliament has a duty to sit, in principle, a minimum of 63 days in each parliamentary year.
The constitution itself stipulates, under section 124, that parliament do sit for that number of days.
Of graver concern is the backlog of work and important national legislation that is yet to be debated and passed into law.
No other body in the country can do that work except the national parliament.
It is hard to believe that our leaders can be negligent of their duties as legislators.
There are so many pressing matters to contemplate, yet already a full week has gone by without important legislations pertaining to the new Hela and Jiwaka provinces and the 22 exclusive seats for women coming before the house for debate and possible passage.
There are thorny issues that have to be ironed out in relation to each one of these proposed laws.
They will mean considering the provincial and open electoral boundaries. Even if it means confirming existing boundaries they will have to be approved by the required two-third majority of parliament to pass into law as new electorates within a new province.
They might mean complementary changes to the Organic Law on national elections to cater for increased electorates in the province.
They will mean changes affecting the maximum number of seats in parliament, numbers required for a quorum, the majority votes required for passage of constitutional laws and even the simple majority vote.
So much more work needs to be done than meets the eye.
Come next month, there will be only 12 months left in this term of parliament before the next general election.
It would be next to impossible to drag enough MPs out of their electorates to muster sufficient numbers so close to the elections to pass constitutional laws and to do so repeatedly as the law requires over two or three consecutive sittings of parliament.
Time is of the essence and now rather than later.
Already a week of sitting has passed without these national issues coming up in parliament for debate or passage into law.
With the ruling National Alliance party now fighting its own pitched in-house battles for succession to the leadership, it is going to be that much harder to actually put priorities together to get the national agenda in order.
If the Hela province is not granted, the region will be thrown into turmoil.
The people of Hela will refuse an LNG project on their soil if they are refused a province after so much hype.
A delayed or abandoned LNG project is unthinkable as so much has been premised on it going into operation.
The impact of the LNG project upon the rest of the economy is another important issue that needs to be debated in parliament.
Recently, leaders of the agricultural and manufacturing sectors came out to state just how serious a threat the project is to these sectors.
Unless government support for these sectors can be offered, the sectors will be adversely affected to the extent that their contribution to the economy will be next to nothing.
With these important heavy employment sectors stagnant or not functioning at peak efficiency, the future economy of PNG will be affected by the so-called Dutch disease, or resources curse.
This is why it is very important that parliament gets to sit through a marathon session during this sitting, even if it means sitting beyond its normal three weeks to get important business of the nation out of the way.
Perhaps, things can improve now that the house has approved K30 million for renovation work so that our good legislators can work in the comfort of air-conditioned offices with, perhaps, working printers and being online with the rest of the world.