The National – Tuesday, December 21, 2010
THERE has been much discussion on increasing the number of members of parliament, including the presence of 22 exclusive women MPs.
It is important to revisit the thinking of the planners of our constitution with regards to the composition of parliament.
How did they arrive at the kind of parliamentary system that we currently have?
Is it relevant today?
As discussions continue, should we consider a second house of review?
How relevant are regional seats particularly now women are going to be elected on a regional basis as well?
In making recommendations for the kind of parliament PNG should have, the constitutional planning committee (CPC) said PNG must have a participatory democracy with maximum emphasis on consultation and consensus.
For that, the national legislature or parliament was to have a central and pivotal role.
While the executive government was to have a big role in providing strong leadership to reshape the new nation and bring about development, that leadership should not become autocratic. Only a strong legislature would prevent that danger.
The committee said in its report: “The legislature should not be seen as a rival to the executive arm, but rather as a full and constructive partner. It can then help to ensure the overall effectiveness of government by keeping the executive accountable to the people. This is the approach that underlies our proposals.”
To signify the break with the colonial past and to emphasise the national character of the legislature, the house of assembly was renamed the national parliament.
After much discussion, it was decided that although there was some attraction in the idea of an upper house of review, in practice it might be costly and would not perform its task.
Experience elsewhere had shown that a upper house would be cumbersome and complicate the legislative process.
The CPC, thus, recommended one strong national parliament.
On another of today’s burning issues of nominated and appointed members, the CPC recommended against having nominated members.
Prior to self government and independence, the administrator could choose up to four official members and the house could decide by a two-third majority to appoint up to three members.
The provision for official members was abolished at self-government in 1973.
Although the CPC recommended against having nominated members, the constitution, when it was adopted, kept the provision for three nominated members. It has never been implemented.
In each of the pre-independence houses of assembly, there were two kinds of members. Most represented open electorates but some represented the entire district of provinces and were referred to as regional members.
In 1964, there were 10 special electorates reserved for expatriate candidates. This was abolished in 1968 and replaced by 15 regional electorates which increased to 18 and now 20 representing a province.
The CPC, in its wide consultation with the people, found that people were against having regional candidates.
It was felt that a regional candidate just could not reach all parts of this electorate and, in any case, open members did represent each part of a province. This seat was thought to be expensive and ineffective, and the committee proposed for its abolition.
Chief minister Michael Somare was supportive of the recommendation for abolition of the regional seats.
It is, yet, another one of the recommendations which was not carried by the house when it met in August 1975 to agree on the constitution and the regional seats remain.
In 2002, parliament met and agreed to throw out the provisions for regional seats which was to be effective in 2007.
While the law was repealed, regional members remained. It is uncertain what the status of the law is at present and might pose interesting questions.
With discussions on having reserved seats for women in the coming elections and with the question of regional members unresolved presently, the time might have arrived to consider a house of review.
The regional members, or governors, can comprise the upper house. This is particularly pertinent now that more and more actions of parliament are coming unstuck when laws are held up to the scrutiny of the courts.
A house of review would ensure laws are properly debated and considered before they are passed.