By PNG Echo
The Supreme Court has ruled against parliamentary amendments to sections 142 and 145 of the constitution. The extension of the ‘grace period’, whereby there can be no votes of ‘no confidence’, will not be extended to 30 months
While I have not been able to access the judgment in its entirety, I have had the benefit of being given the Government’s view through press releases from the Prime Ministers Office and also the anti-government angle through the writing of Bryan Kramer whose strident, partisan, anti-government bent will have, no doubt, provided me with the most damning evidence emanating from this Supreme Court case.
So, keeping it simple, the Prime Minister has said that it was a move to enhance government stability and Kramer has quoted the Chief Justice, Sir Salamo Injia as saying that the government had “…the aim of entrenching itself in power at the expense of parliament and democracy.
I suggest the truth of the matter is that it was a little bit of both
Where Sir Salamo’s judgment falls down (or is severely restricted) is in having to proceed from the assumption that PNG is a democracy – it isn’t – at least not a working and workable one
In most democracies, political parties and party platforms are underpinned by political ideologies – ‘isms’. In most democracies it is a battle between socialism/quasi-socialistic principles versus Conservatism (or in Australia ‘Liberalism’). The parties formulate policy based on the underlying principles of their ideology.
The lazy Australian voter, for instance, is able to ignore the policy minutiae (policies) and merely vote along philosophical lines, if that’s all they can be bothered to do – and the number of voters in Australia who do not know the name of their local member is legion.
Conversely, in Papua New Guinea, ideology is virtually non-existent and the member’s identity of paramount concern.
In PNG, even policies based on no ideology at all are thin on the ground or have the ‘same old, same old’ feel. They all want to curb corruption and deliver services, don’t they?
Yet, I’d be surprised if every voter in PNG doesn’t know the name of his/her MP. They would also know who comes across with the most booty – whose lamb flaps and beer are given in more abundance than the other’s
Do they know the morals, aims and political ideology (if any) of the man (and sometimes woman) they’re voting for? Well maybe. But do they really care? Of course they don’t. Voting is an opportunity to practice low-level extortion. To weigh up their relationship to the candidate and to ascertain their chances of gaining a future (corrupt?) benefit from the relationship.
It is with this sure knowledge that each and every politician enters parliament
Never-ending horse trading
I don’t know what part of democracy involves ‘horse trading’ (not my term) prior to the formation of a government? It’s a practise in many Melanesian countries, including PNG, whereby the party with the most MPs (rarely enough to form a government on its own) starts to open its wallet in order to buy enough MPs to form that government. Naturally, the opposing forces do the same – and while the best man doesn’t necessarily win, the richest one has the decided advantage.
The trouble with PNG is that it doesn’t stop there. Things never progress too far from the horse-trading yard.
Many MPs remain constantly open to offers. It favours a situation where the main occupation of the government becomes hanging on to power – the frequency of ‘no confidence’ votes becomes almost comical.
Bryan Kramer states that: “Good governments don’t fear getting voted out…” What planet is this man living on? (No Bryan, “you can’t legislate against stupidity” if you could there would have been a constitutional amendment dealing with you a while ago.) In PNG, it’s money that talks and throw enough money at it and PNG would vote Christ out of Heaven
A Hiding to nothing
So the question is: how does a government concentrate on governing and providing the services so desperately needed or even just run the country with the Sword of Damacles hanging over its head?
(The Sword Of Damacles was a huge sword that hung above the throne, held at the pommel only by a single hair of a horse’s tail. It is an allusion to the imminent and ever-present peril faced by those in positions of power.)
The answer is: they attempt to take measures that address the situation – and that’s what this government did. If that shocks you because of the ramifications of what that means for democracy, well then you should consider that the man, Belden Namah, who challenged this legislation was the man, who, as Deputy Prime Minister, was considering postponing elections indefinitely.
When you’re intent on pulling down you need to understand the forces waiting in the wings to fill the vacuum.
Because, thing is, in PNG, even if there is a vote of ‘no confidence’, it neither means that the government is ineffectual or corrupt nor does it mean that those that would replace them are better – chances are they’re worse. It just means that someone had enough money and promissory power to entice those who permanently dwell in the horse-trading yard – and they are many.
It’s simple, PNG needs a government that governs – that does what it’s mandated to do. When it is constantly in a state of siege it’s unable to be as effective as it should. It’s too bad that the proffered solution has proved to be undemocratic – so PNG, what is the solution?
PNG, you are fence sitting with one foot in western democracy, the other in tradition – and you know what they say about the vital organs of the person so poised. How do yours feel?