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Parliament Panel Fails To Clear Bill

By Thomas Kilala

PORT MORESBY, Papua New Guinea (January 23, 2002 – The National)--The Government was forced to abandon a vote on the Bougainville legislation in Parliament yesterday after it emerged that the Parliamentary Committee on Constitutional Matters had failed to meet to clear the proposed constitutional amendments relating to Bougainville.

And with the numbers in the chamber not exceeding 70 at any one time when Parliament resumed at 2:00 p.m. yesterday, a vote would have failed anyway.

Leader of Government Business and Minister for Privatization Vincent Auali moved a motion to adjourn Parliament to 10:00 this morning, citing as the chief reason the failure of the Parliamentary Committee to sit and deliberate on the proposed amendments.

Mr. Auali said it is a normal procedure that Parliament cannot debate and vote on constitutional amendments such as the amendments relating to Bougainville unless the Constitutional Committee deliberated on them and submitted its recommendation to Parliament.

The Committee is called the Constitutional Laws and Acts and Subordinate Legislation Committee and is headed by South Fly MP Gabia Gagarimabu as its chairman. Its other members are Kandrian/Gloucester MP Peter Arul, Kagua/Erave MP David Basua, Namatanai MP Ephraim Apelis, Simbu Governor Fr. Louis Ambane and Samarai/Murua MP Titus Philemon.

Mr. Auali said the committee would meet to deliberate on the amendments before it goes to Parliament for a vote this morning.

An official from the Prime Minister's office said the amendments had been sent to the Committee, but it was unclear if the Committee had in fact met to consider and approve the proposed constitutional changes.

Mr. Gagarimabu, when contacted after Parliament was adjourned, said his committee would meet at 9:00 a.m. today to verify and certify the document before it is presented later in the day to Parliament.

Mr. Gagarimabu said the Committee had been unable to meet earlier to consider the proposed laws because he had been unable to secure a quorum among the members.

A majority of 72 votes is required for the laws to pass the first reading. Both the Government and the Opposition have expressed their desire to see the legislation passed, despite reservations expressed by some MPs on both sides of the House during debate at the last sitting.

The President of the Bougainville People's Congress, Joseph Kabui, told The National outside Parliament that the Bougainville delegation had already been made aware that the vote on the proposed laws would be deferred.

Mr. Kabui said the Prime Minister had given them an assurance that the Government is confident about passing the legislation, even if they don't make the required number on the first day (yesterday).

"Nothing came out today, but there's still plenty of time and it's encouraging to see that the numbers are almost there. There were about 70, so it's just perhaps one or two (MPs) that are still slowly working their way into the Parliament House, so I think we will get there," Mr. Kabui said.

The constitutional amendments propose to give more autonomy to Bougainville, and allow for a referendum on independence to be conducted after 15 years.

One MP contacted last night said he would not support the constitutional changes. Deputy leader of the Pangu Pati, Daniel Kapi, said the proposed legislation "discriminated" against the rest of the country, and he will not vote for it.

For additional reports from The National, go to PACIFIC ISLANDS REPORT News/Information Links: Newspapers/The National (Papua New Guinea).



By Thomas Kilala

PORT MORESBY, Papua New Guinea (January 21, 2002 – The National)--Bougainville leaders are appealing to all Members of Parliament to participate in the debate and passage of the proposed constitutional amendments that will formalize the Bougainville Peace Agreement.

The special session of Parliament begins tomorrow and depending on MPs' presence and how they cast their votes, this session is being treated as the one that could "make or break Bougainville."

If MPs vote in favour of the constitutional amendments, it will be a historic occasion for Papua New Guinea. Otherwise the whole situation could return to "square one," Bougainville leaders told a news conference in Port Moresby yesterday.

A rejection by MPs is something the Bougainvillean leaders hope would not happen.

The joint Bougainville negotiating team, headed by Governor John Momis and Bougainville People's Congress president Joseph Kabui, told reporters that the onus was now on the MPs who have the privilege to exercise their mandated rights to pass the first reading of the constitutional amendment bill that would enable Bougainville to be an autonomous province of Papua New Guinea.

If Parliament approves the Bougainville Peace Agreement through amendments to the constitutional changes, it would be a "momentous occasion in the political development of our country," the leaders said.

"If the MPs approved it, it would be one important act of reconciliation in the history of this nation.

"Autonomy according to us (Bougainvilleans) is a very important ingredient for sovereignty. Autonomy is not meant to disintegrate or lead to disintegration. Autonomy, in fact, leads to a committed partnership, a creative partnership, a partnership that respects the rights and welfare of the people that constitute the nation," Mr. Momis said.

The leaders thanked the present Morauta Government for giving the Bougainville issue the priority it deserves and the consistent attention it has given to finally resolve the conflict through negotiations and signing of the Bougainville Peace Agreement on Aug. 30 last year in Arawa.

They said since the signing of the agreement, both the National Government and Bougainville leaders had worked hard to implement the signed agreement, which enabled a number of activities in relation to the Weapons Disposal Plan to start, and the process is well under way in Bougainville.

The leaders also thanked former Prime Ministers Sir Rabbie Namaliu, Sir Julius Chan and Bill Skate for their efforts and contributions in finding lasting peace on Bougainville through peaceful means.

They stressed that without the work of these past governments and leaders, the resolution of the conflict would not have come this far.

They added that the weapons disposal process depended entirely on the final passage of the constitutional amendments and the necessary organic law to implement autonomy, referendum and also the weapons disposal program.

"A clear vote of support by the National Parliament to the constitutional amendment would be most helpful in allowing the rest of the Weapons Disposal Plan to be implemented," they said.

For additional reports from The National, go to PACIFIC ISLANDS REPORT News/Information Links: Newspapers/The National (Papua New Guinea).

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