PNG Court Declares Constitutional Amendments Unconstitutional

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Amendments making no-confidence motions more difficult voided

By Charles Moi

PORT MORESBY, Papua New Guinea (The National, Sept. 7, 2015) – The decision by PNG’s Parliament to extend the grace period for motions of no confidence against a Prime Minister from 18 months to 30 months has been nullified by the Supreme Court.

The full bench of Chief Justice Sir Salamo Injia, Deputy Chief Justice Sir Gibbs Salika, Justice Sir Bernard Sakora, Justice Nicholas Kirriwom and Justice Catherine Davani on Friday unanimously declared the constitutional amendment as "unconstitutional and invalid".

The Supreme Court also declared that amendments made by Parliament in 2013 on the one-month notice required for a motion of no confidence to be moved, the number of MPs required to endorse the no-confidence motion and the reduction of Parliament’s sitting time were unconstitutional.

The judges said the protective barricades in the constitutional amendments restricted MPs and Parliament to call upon the executive government to account for its actions by recourse provided under section 145 of the Constitution.

"These constitutional amendments restrict or impede Parliament’s ability to conduct its business in sufficient time and restrict MPs and Parliament to be given a reasonable opportunity to perform their duties in Parliament," the judges said in their ruling.

Vanimo-Green MP Belden Namah and former Chief Ombudsman Ila Geno had sought the declaratory reliefs on four constitutional amendments after they filed their applications in the Supreme Court under section 18(1) of the Constitution.

Namah and Geno’s applications were consolidated and challenged the amendments made by Parliament relating to the conduct of proceedings in Parliament.

According to evidence before the court, Parliament in 1991 amended section 145 (4) of the Constitution that extended the grace period from six to 18 months.

In 2012, Parliament again amended section 145 (4) of the Constitution to further extend the grace period to 30 months. In 2013, Parliament amended section 145 (1)(b) of the Constitution, which increased the period of notice required to move a motion of no confidence to be given from one week to one month. In the same amendment, Parliament increased the number of MPs required to endorse the notice of motion of no-confidence from one tenth (11 MPs) to one fifth (22 MPs).

Also in 2013, Parliament amended section 124 (1) of the Constitution, which reduced Parliament’s sitting time from a minimum of 63 days in a year to not less than 40 days in a year.

The central issue to the case was whether the constitutional amendments were inconsistent with the purposes of the principle provisions that were amended and with other related provisions.

The Supreme Court found that the amendments were clearly inconsistent with the spirit and purpose of section 50 (1)(c)(e) section 111, section 115 section 124 section 141 and section 145 of the Constitution.

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