The Supreme Court says “no”

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.

Chief Justice Sir Salamo Injia leading the contingency of judges.
Chief Justice Sir Salamo Injia leading the contingency of judges.

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.

Australian Parliament House
Australian Parliament House

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

p4I 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

The mythical Sword of Damacles constantly poised above the ruler's head.
The mythical Sword of Damacles constantly poised above the ruler’s head.

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?

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9 thoughts on “The Supreme Court says “no”

  1. The amendments to Section 142 and 145 is wrong in that the number of sitting days was reduced to forty days with no mention of quarterly meetings. What if Parliament sits for six weeks in January and February and does not meet again.
    Also giving three months notice with a third of MP is wrong. Once a government is given notice, in PNG state coffers and contracts could be fast tracked.
    The way to maintain stability is to develop strong political cultures based on party and policies

  2. This political issue commenced way back in 1975,when that dwarf decided to gain in independence ( i apologize to my fellow country men for addressing our first PM like so), anyway 40 years later and this issue has just grown,matured into a beast.. politicians now and then are all the same or similar..The real issue at hand is the people/citizens,it must be well understood that P.N.G is still a primitive nation,we are at an early stage of evolution or civilization so really no one should really be blaming anybody,when its comes to election of candidates into parliament (democratic nation) the people only follow the big man or in your words doctor, the one with more lamb flaps and beer..Now another dwarf claims that this change to sect: 142 & 145 of the constitution will enhance government stability (the beast is getting smarter now), that is one great big fat lie,all it is really,is for them to gain more time to further gain more power,and that’s all really. I guess P.N.G,or as we all like to say, christian nation,will just have to wait another 40 more years,by then i guess that beast will get old and most probably die away, and the people become more educated, i hope?? we should forget about September 16 celebrations completely…but that is only my opinion…..

  3. Dr Merrel, I would like to mention something here,something that has been really making me feel very anxious, if you would kindly help me out on this matter, it would be gratefully appreciated..
    It is about the 40 million or 25 million kina that was allocated for the independence celebrations?
    Dr Merrel every time someone mentions Mrs Ni Cragnolini and that ?? million kina allocation, you always come out in her defense.. well that is how I see it…..
    What I would like to know is why can’t Mrs Cragnolini and the Prime Minister come out into the open and explain to the public!! what is really going on? I mean that is tax payers money so the general public have every right to for your explanation that is fine but you are only a journalist (freelance), I would like to see (NEC) and Mrs Cragnolini come out and explain to the public,or does she and ??? think that they are just too good for the ordinary citizen of P.N.G..and not bother completely!!
    (daddy and mommy give the kids,kids don’t complain,just except)

    Dr Merrel if you don’t mind helping me out on understanding why they do not come out and explain to the general public,, because in your country Australia, wouldn’t they like come out in the media and explain?? Our nations independence celebrations are a few days away,so if you don’t mind, please?

    • Rex – so sorry to cause you so much chagrin. I am a journalist, if I want to know something, I ask. I did, and the reply I got was published. Nevertheless, the rumours keep being published. It’s a bit like Obama in the U.S., no matter how many times its refuted there are a coterie of people that will not let go of the fact that he’s not Muslim. Are you one of their PNG counterparts? The minister responsible for the celebrations is Justin Tkatchenko and I believe he made a long and detailed speech at the launch that outlines everything – please refer to that. As you are in PNG and I’m not – it should be easier for you to access that than to rely on me. Hope that cures your sleepless nights.

      • although I may not be an American,but I am a strong believer in Mr Obama..I sometimes wish that there should an Obama in every political arena in every country..Anyway!!
        ah but doctor,it’s good to know that you have a good sense of humour..

  4. the last paragraph of your comments sums it up best. Sooner or later, the people must chose to have both feet in either the western democracy or the tradition concepts of governance. I would be interested to read the judgment to find out the legal reasoning. It would be interesting to know the legal basis for that ruling coz there are some processes of Parliament that are entirely within the sphere of Parliament to legislate. I hope the judiciary has not gone overboard to curb the power of Parliament to make laws to govern its own processes.

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