PNG LAWMAKERS QUIETLY AMEND CONSTITUTION

Editorial

The National

PORT MORESBY, Papua New Guinea (April 27, 2010) - If any public good will come out of amending section 27(4) of the Papua New Guinea Constitution, people living in communities across the length and breadth of this nation are yet to be told.

This is a Government sponsored-amendment to the Constitution and the Organic Law and, yet, we have not seen the vast resources of the Government’s public relations machinery at work to promote debate on this law publicly.

Since the amendment was introduced in Parliament by Esa’ala MP Moses Maladina last month, the Government has done very little to go out to the community to sell this proposed law.

For the record, Parliament passed the proposed amendment 83-0. Members of the Opposition present also voted to pass it, although they now claimed they were misled and did not know what they were voting that day.

A two-month break is required before the final vote can be taken for the proposal to become law. That vote will take place next week when Parliament sits.

Essentially, section 27(4) of the Constitution empowers the Ombudsman Commission to issue directions to individuals and organizations, where it feels necessary, to preserve and uphold the conduct of public office holders such as Members of Parliament. The commission has used this power in the past, on occasions where it felt public funds at the disposal of Members of Parliament, might not be applied in areas where these funds were intended.

The Maladina amendment will remove this power from the Ombudsman. It is argued that the amendment will remove MPs from scrutiny in the discharge of their duties and responsibilities; they will be removed from scrutiny in the disbursement of public funds at their control, in an age when these funds now amount to tens of millions of kina; they will be removed from scrutiny in the use of the powers of the office they hold.

It is argued that the amendment will make them less accountable to their constituents, the very people who elected them to serve and placed their trust in them.

It is also argued that the amendment would remove the powers the Ombudsman Commission has relied on from time to time to preserve the public offices our leaders are elected to, and the sanctity of these public institutions.

On the other hand, Mr. Maladina has gone public in defense of the amendment.

He has said the amendment was necessary because the ombudsman’s frequent use of this has prevented goods and services reaching the rural masses.

He said schools and health services had suffered the most because of interventions by the ombudsman using this provision of the Constitution.

But his is a lone voice in a groundswell of opposition to the amendment.

He has received very little support from the Government, and those in the Opposition that support him.

With the final and most crucial vote a week away, the Government must come out publicly why it will vote to pass this law.

The Prime Minister, his deputy, Cabinet ministers and all political party leaders have a responsibility to tell the public which side of the legislation they will stand when Parliament sits, and why they are doing so.

If the use of these provisions by the Ombudsman Commission has, in the past, caused one school to collapse, Mr. Maladina and the Government have not told us.

If one hospital or health centre has shut down, denying people medicine or even causing death, we need to know.

The Government and Mr. Maladina are also entitled to pay attention to the views of the public. The community is becoming very vocal about this amendment; it would not serve public interest.

The community is suspicious about the laws, especially at a time when a multi-billion-dollar Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) project is kicking off that will bring in a lot of revenue to the public coffers in the coming years.

We have no doubt Members of the current Parliament know they have a duty to serve their people, and to protect public institutions, including their own offices, from any forms of threats.

We are confident the majority’s view on this amendment to the Constitution will be at the forefront when Parliament sits to vote on this law.

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