IN Papua New Guinea, as in any democracy, accountability and transparency are determined by many factors including the government’s understanding and nurturing of the notion of separation of powers.
Over the years, successive governments of PNG including the current government have not understood or appreciated the rationale and intrinsic values for separation of powers between legislature, executive and judiciary – the politicians, the public servants and the judges.
The concept of separation of powers and how it works in a democracy embodies fundamental right and responsibilities within the rule of law.
It exists to nurture and promote a system of ‘checks and balances’ and impose accountability and transparency on the three arms of government.
The legislative arm, which rises to power through elections and secret ballots, and the executive and judiciary, who occupy positions as a result of educational qualification, experience and merit.
The independence and working relationship between these three arms should be guided by legally prescribed roles and mutual respect for the limitation of their functions.
The relationship must be transparent and accountable amongst themselves and to the people.
In PNG, however, a pattern has been established where the demarcation between the arms of government has been muddied.
The relationship between the legislature and executive arm of the government can be described as one of political convenience.
The executive arm is almost always subject to the ruling government. Regardless of how competent and capable (and ethical) public servants may be, individuals serve at the whim of their political masters.
Functions that public servants ought to perform ‘without fear or favour’ are compromised.
The executive arm does not care about the separation of powers. It does not care whether individual public servants worked hard to acquire knowledge, skills and experience. It doesn’t care whether there is logic, continuity and consistency in implementing government policy.
The assumption of PNG government’s over the years has been that the job the politician wants, no matter how much it may divert from proper and established norms of public service, will be done in the way the politician dictates.
Such practices have created a culture of obedience to the executive arm based on fear and career uncertainty.
If a tally had ever been kept on the turnover of CEOs and departmental secretaries, the statistics would be overwhelmingly high.
Let me now turn to the other arm of government.
The judiciary in PNG has been struggling for a long time to maintain its independence under trying circumstance.
We saw the judiciary attacked by the previous O’Neill-Namah government using parliamentary privilege.
The last thing any right-thinking government in a democratic society would do is bluntly attack the court, which is the custodian of the constitution and the laws.
The National Court has also maintained its independence by intervening in the PNG-Australia asylum seeker arrangement. The court used a provision in the Constitution which empowered it to intervene and set the human rights record straight for PNG.
This was something both the legislative and executive arms of the government seemed willing to ignore and were prepared to go to the court to stop. They mutually agree to maintain a relationship of political convenience without much attention to the muddied boundaries.
The current fiasco between the prime minister, the police and the court is nothing new for us.
It represents an uncultured and unprincipled power play on the part of the government to maintain its position and prolong its lifespan.
The undermining of the executive arm as seen in the sacking or forceful retirement of police commissioner Kulunga, his deputy Kauba and a number of other senior police officers - who were faithfully executing the law of the land - brings to fore a kind of unchecked power.
The court was under great pressure to prolong a decision to stay the warrant against PM O’Neill. But, as things worked out on Tuesday, the court did not want to get in the way of police performing their lawful and constitutional duties and granted them the liberty to make the call themselves.
We watch with interest to see whether the police, under their new O’Neill appointed administration, will act “without fear or favour”.