The National, Wednesday August 5th, 2015
By Dr Thomas Webster
Last week, questions were raised in Parliament about the need to create new electorates by splitting existing ones.
The Deputy Prime Minister was reported to have responded by saying that the Electoral Boundaries Commission was looking at the matter for a number of new electorates to be created.
While, we want to have fair representations by all peoples and that their needs are effectively addressed by a Member of Parliament, taking into consideration the population size as well as the land mass to be covered, this must be balanced against the high administrative costs of having additional Members of Parliament and that of district staff and facilities.
I therefore looked at the 2011 National Census Population and Housing Census report released by the National Statistics Office (NSO) and used the population figures presented by local level governments (LLGs), districts and provinces to put across an independent perspective on where the new electorates should be created and at the same time, to point out that some proposed electorates, are not feasible.
What is the reasonable size of an electorate?
Most electorates have a population size of between 40,000 and 60,000. Some are outside of that range with Rabaul District having a population of 27,048 persons at the bottom end, and Talasea District at the extreme upper end with a population of 128,792.
A typical electorate will have a population of between 40,000 to 60,000 persons.
However, the geographical area and terrain within which the population of a district are living are important considerations.
Goilala (Pop.27,345) and Obura Waninara (Pop.29,688) are two of the least populated electorates, but cover a large area with difficult mountainous terrain and people living in many small and remote communities.
Apart from the mountains and swampy regions on the mainland, the scattered island communities of Manus and Milne Bay provinces pose difficulties in terms of access and visitation by government officials.
By looking at the population figures of each district and that of the adjoining electorates in a province, it could be argued that there is a case for the creation of four new electorates.
Two new electorates could be created by splitting the existing large electorates of Talasea in West New Britain and that of Anglimp-South Whagi electorate in Jiwaka.
Both have existing large population sizes as well as large areas of coverage.
In Talasea, a number of possibilities exist in the groupings of the existing LLGs to form two electorates.
The one I would think as feasible would be to have the LLGs of Bialla, Hoskins and Mosa in the main oil palm growing areas forming one electorate with a combined population of 80,352, while the other three LLGs of Baliwitu, Kimbe and Talasea with a combined population of 48,440 forming the other electorate.
In Anglimp-South Whagi, the South Whagi Rural LLG with a population of 53,836 could be one electorate and the other, Anglimp Rural with a population of 42,734 forming the other electorate.
The adjoining electorate of North Whagi has a population of 51,843 and so a re-drawing and reallocation of population groups would not be recommended.
Both council areas have distinct cultural groups.
The third new electorate could be to split the electorate of Lae with a current population of 119,178 giving each electorate about 60,000 persons each.
The adjoining Nawae electorate is small according to the 2011 Census with a population of 35,059.
However, it is evident that recent developments along the Nadzab road has resulted in new housing visible along that area over the last couple of years and so the population of Nawae could now be at least double what it was in 2011.
The fourth new electorate could be created in Southern Highlands by redistributing groups from the existing Mendi/Munika electorate and the Nipa Kutubu electorate.
The third table shows the population distribution between districts of Southern Highlands.
Obviously all electorates have large populations, but clearly these two electorates have populations nearing 100,000 persons each and so a new electorate is warranted.
Larger electorates for re-grouping
Members of Parliament and others have made calls for the creation of new electorates in other parts of the country, but on closer analysis, we can reduce their sizes by redrawing the boundaries of existing areas and generating greater efficiencies.
Calls have been made for the splitting of the Kairiku-Hiri electorate in Central and of Gazelle electorate in East New Britain to create new electorates.
While these electorates are indeed large, they are not unique as per size and even more so, a re-drawing of boundaries within the provinces could allow for re-sizing of electorates as other electorates within the respective provinces are small and their numbers could be bumped up. The tables below show the existing population sizes of the electorates in the two provinces.
The boundaries of Kairiku-Hiri could be re-drawn so that the size of adjoining Rigo is increased.
One possibility is to re-zone Koiari LLG (Pop. 10,336) as part of Rigo, thus increasing the total population of Rigo to 49,812 and reducing the size of Kairiku Hiri to 68,448 persons.
Goilala has a smaller sparsely populated area with a difficult terrain to cover and should be left alone.
Similarly, the Gazelle electorate is large with a population of nearly 89,776 but that can be redrawn with the population of Rabaul District to increase its current population of only 27,048 persons.
Many of the people in Gazelle may have relocated from the Rabaul area during the volcanic eruption and so some careful considerations need to be given when redrawing the boundaries.
It may include redrawing the boundaries of the three districts – Gazelle, Kokopo and Rabaul – and not just Rabaul and the Gazelle districts.
Other large electorates that need to be re-sized include Lagaip Porgera in Enga with a population of 91,002 persons.
A more effective way would be to redistribute segments of the population to the other adjoining electorates such as that of Kandep with 47,400 persons.
Kainantu, in Eastern Highlands, has a population of 91,777 persons but the other districts in the province have smaller population sizes so a total re-distribution would be recommended.
The adjoining district of Obura-Waninara has a population of only 29,688 but the district covers a large sparsely populated and difficult geographical terrain. The other adjoining electorates of Okapa (Pop, 62,041) and Heganofi (Pop. 55,768) have adequately sized population.
However, at the other end of the province, Daulo has a population of 30,960, Lufa has a population of 45,868, and Ungai Bena with 45,006 persons, so a redistribution of groups to all the electorates of the province could balance out the size of the persons within the districts/electorates.
Practicality of creating new electorates
For practical purposes, the most expeditious means to create new electorates would be to split existing electorates rather than the re-drawing of boundaries.
Recommendations of past Electoral Boundaries Commission, especially those relating to review of existing boundaries, have never been passed by Parliament.
The process takes a lot of time in consultations, especially in getting approval by Parliament.
The only changes so far have been the creation of two new regional seats through the creation of the Hela and Jiwaka provinces using the existing boundaries.
Therefore, the only feasible new electorates that can be created now, if desired in preparation for the 2017 General Election would be the splitting of the existing electorates of Talasea, Anglimp-South Whagi and that of Lae using the existing boundaries of the local level government councils in those electorates.
In the long run, a complete review of the electoral boundaries is required as some electorates are quite large compared to others.
In others, the electorates emerged as a result of boundaries using rivers, mountains and etc. by the colonial government officers without regard to social and cultural groupings and networks.
If the synergies and dynamics of political groupings and networks are to be better used for harnessing political support for the delivery of goods and services, the cultural social kinship network groupings need to be utilised.
The other striking bit is the large variation in population sizes of electorates and the differing difficulties of geographical terrain that one needs to travel whether this is for political representation or for delivering goods and services.
Clearly the current formula of standard allocations of K10-15 million per electorate is woefully inadequate for the equitable distribution of goods and services through the newly formed district authorities.
The work done by the National Economic and Fiscal Commission in terms of allocating funds to districts and provinces by a formulae taking into account both population as well as the cost of delivering services in terms of the varying difficulties in geographical terrain need to be taken on board by Government.
- The author, Dr Thomas Webster is the former director of the National Research Institute. The views expressed in this article are entirely the author’s own and not those of the National Research Institute.