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17 April 2012


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Well put Paul - agreed!

Who will guard the guardians themselves? Simple answers are always preferable.

What seems to be coalescing from a number of viewpoints is the following concepts:

1. The current system is flawed because it’s foreign and doesn’t represent a Melanesian concept.

2. Melanesian consensus on debated issues is required before acceptance.

3. More politicians won’t fix the current problem with those already elected.

4. A long term solution is needed but a short term fix is imperative.

The concept of a council of seniors is not a new or foreign idea in Melanesia. Each village used to have one. The issue is: How do you elect the right people to this house of review?

Suggestion: Only elect those who have a proven record of achievement and knowledge about how a national government works. Initially, Provincial governors who have already been elected and are well known could make up a ‘Council of Chiefs’ or Senate, separate from the rest of the MP’s.

This could be done immediately the results of the next general election are known. Perhaps later, only those who have been elected for at least two terms might be eligible.

All legislation passed by the Lower House of Parliament would then have to be discussed and debated in the Council of Chiefs.

No legislation would be allowed to progress to the Governor General until consensus is reached.

Each Provincial Governor would then be individually accountable to their own Provence and people if an issue is allowed to progress further.

Is this in line with Melanesian customs? Yes, absolutely.

Will there be more politicians required and will it cost more? Emphatically, No.

Will a Council of Chiefs, Senate or Council of Governors be able to be held individually more responsible and accountable? Yes. Will it slow down intemperate, knee jerk reactions by lower house MP's? again, Yes! (An incentive for new Senators/ Chiefs would be a new title and perhaps an automatic gong.)

Is this a workable short term fix while a longer term solution is debated? Yep!

Come on all you ‘Doubting Thomas’. A solution is needed now, not after the next general election.

It appears problematic to nations both developed and not so regarding the course of maintaining society in stable alignment.

The hope of modern PNG is bolstered by expectations of revenues arising from the mining and processing projects mostly owned by foreigners.

To a great extent, the home bases of those investors are themselves under fire from prevailing economic assaults likely to severely affect their own sustainability let alone that of viability of PNG operations.

Much of the argument for a revised form of governance to suit the Melanesian-way is derived from the cultural more's of PNG societies that are generically distinct from the globalist influences driving PNG, the corporate entity, forward in an arena of operational involvement that is at odds with expressed desires for a more user-friendly protocol of governance.

How effective would a Sovereign stand aloof stance be in the face of unknown or unquantified exposure by PNG to historic and contemporary debt and trade obligations?

Those obligations are usually factored into a spread of portfolios held by investors in a range of overseas banks and investment institutions.

There is now mounting panic in European circles as to the Spanish debt crisis about to explode with no current or foreseeable bailout mechanisms to handle the fallout threatening the developed world with a tidal wave of default.

With predicted overseas economic indicators trending toward collapse, the falloff in resources and energy sales will undoubtedly affect prosperity gains for those supplier nations.

This bodes ill for a small struggling nation seeking to intensify the size and structure of an already burdensome institution of government.

Its planning therefore needs not to be dependent upon Aus aid- or even for that matter mining revenues. Both streams are quite likely to dry in economic drought.

Bigger is not necessarily better.

When the big-bucks disappear, and the struggle for survival grows intense, it wont be the GMO grains from donor nations that will sustain PNG but the gardens and marine resources that will fill hungry mouths.

Then the value of land and family will prevail over Big-men and empty promises.

Then the need for stable functional regional or local government will loom larger than Capitol dysfunction.

Keith - Phil's last comment may be an idea for raising the bar on the Essay category of Crocodile Prize 2013.

How does a Melanesian political system work in the 21st century?

Is this a worthy writing task for our thinkers and leaders, past, present and future?

Neat idea - let's put it on the agenda for the AustAsia Pacific Health Services Writers Forum in September - KJ

Phil and Paul - Well I suppose it depends on how an Upper House is elected.

How about an earlier idea that it be non-political and comprise elected PNG 'great and good' who through their acknowledged contribution to PNG society have shown themselves worthy? A modern variant of Fiji's Council of Chiefs.

There's also the model of Athenian direct democracy, a political system in which the people do not elect representatives to vote on their behalf but vote on legislation and executive bills in their own right.

Participation was by no means open to all citizens, but the in-group of participants was constituted with no reference to economic class and they participated on a large scale.

The arms of government seemed to have been "the assembly (in some cases with a quorum of 6000), the council of 500 (boule) and the courts (a minimum of 200 people, but running at least on some occasions up to 6000)."

Modern communications infrastructure (eg mobile phones) could make this possible.

Tongue in cheek - there's also a great science fiction short story (maybe by Ray Bradbury?) in which statistics and mathematics are used to objectively determine 'the most typical citizen' and that one person is then the only voter.

Double tongue in cheek - or take the main leaders to a remote planet and let them fight it out amongst themselves with no modern technology allowed. The one left standing becomes the President.

That's the problem Paul. I don't have anything in mind. Neither does it seem has anyone else.

The only way to curtail crooks is to lock them up. How you can effectively institute a system that locks crook pollies up without them corrupting the process is beyond me I'm afraid.

Phil - What you say about corruption and human nature is perfectly true.

The only alternative is to try and reduce the opportunities, tighten up the monitoring systems and make it easier to hold those who are caught accountable and charged them.

What do you have in mind?

Michael Dom makes a good point about the prospects of introducing a bicameral system in PNG.

If PNG policians are capable of corrupting the current house they should have no trouble corrupting a senate too.

It would just mean that the numbers game would get a bit more complicated; something that your average, devious pollie would welcome with open arms.

Whilst I am riding my hobby horse into the sunset I thought some further comments were also appropriate.

On the key issue of constitutional rights I am somewhat puzzled on the phenomena exhibited many citizens around the world who give almost religious zeal to the issue of their constitutional rights.

I often wonder as to whether the founding fathers of the American constitution would have been so generous in their proclamations in particular one issue found in their constitution namely the rights of all citizens to bear arms had they known that further innovation in technology now allows their citizens to carry weapons of mass destruction namely fully automatic machine guns not the old single shot powder charged muskets which were in usage at that time.

Here in Australia a similar pattern of Central Government usurping States rights has occurred over the past 30 years.
In student of law would know that the founding fathers of our constitution clearly set out what powers the Commonwealth and state Governments would have and yet this have not stopped past and present Commonwealth Governments usurping their roles by interfering in State matters in the field of Education, Health and mining issues for example.

I don’t think the more contemporary issues of the environment even got a thought back in 1901 and yet this issue has received the Commonwealth blessing.

This erosion of State rights by the Commonwealth Government has left some of the poorer states struggling for relevance further encouraging some federalist to call for the states to be abolished.

It is this need by the Commonwealth to maintain control over the states that has resulted in poor old Northern Territory remaining unrecognised in its bid for statehood status whilst the lesser relevant Local Government Councils still owe their existence under provisions of State Legislation despite many calls over the years for such bodies roles to be recognised as sovereign entities whose rights would be enshrined in the constitution.

So the power struggle continues, not only in PNG but everywhere.

Robin and Peter have raised some interesting issues relating to the current PNG Government’s muddled way of thinking on the issue of separation of powers between the judiciary and the parliament.

This issue is not new and similar cases can be found in the bastion of democracy, the good old USA, whereby their legislative parliaments have in the past made appointments of judges to their Supreme Court based upon the perceptions that those judges would have the same mindset and on the same wavelength as the politicians so that further possible rulings on Government policies remain unchanged.

To an outsider it would appear that the current PNG government have got it wrong as the role of their Supreme Court is merely to offer opinions as the validity of the laws under review.

If the outcome such rulings do not meet the requirements of the parliament it then behooves the parliament to enact supplementary legislation to correct the omissions or anomalies highlighted by the wise judges and not shoot the messenger as seems to be the case in this matter.

What next, Will the PNG Government adopt the Fiji model where in that country the military jaunta sacked their judges because they dared to be objective and not follow the party line of the dictator?

Further evidence that perhaps if left uncorrected poor old PNG is rapidly following a path to inevitable anarchy?

It seems good sense to adopt a bicameral approach to enacting legislation.

I'm inclined to think that it needs to proceed further than Waigani in its effective outcomes.

Protection is needed to ensure the regional disbursements of revenues are equally guarded from corruption of the genuine good intentions of the reformed government.

Perhaps voices of experience could add their weight to the valid argument for better regional government as well.

It gets worse.


The Papua New Guinea government is continuing to pass legislation critics say will weaken the nation's judiciary.

The government on Wednesday passed a law to restrict the powers of the Supreme Court.

The Supreme Court (Amendment) Bill stops the Supreme Court issuing stay orders on behalf of people who "cannot prove that their powers, rights and privileges".

Critics of the amendment say the government is eating away at the edges of the nation's constitution by stripping powers from the court system.

"The Supreme Court has been empowered by the constitution," former chief justice and attorney-general Sir Arnold Amet told reporters in Port Moresby.

"It cannot be undermined by legislation, or rules, or motions.

"Fundamentally the provisions in these acts are unconstitutional."

But Deputy Prime Minister, Belden Namah says the law is necessary because judges have given themselves too much power, and have no right to block parliamentary legislation.

Namah - yes they do, if such legislation is unconstitutional.

I read the article on Our Pacific Ways (whose blog is that?).

It mentioned in conclusion that "the current political system does not respect those values [i.e. Melanesian values] – or those of our Constitution...".

So, supposedly we like the idea of running a democracy, as outlined in our Constitution, but while we need some form of 'political representation' (parliament or senate) we don't like the way the current 'politicians' are running 'the system'. (One could argue the semantics.)

There is a fundamental need for public discussion and debate on our so called Melanesian values and the called for 'political structures' (constitutional reform?).

This should be all inclusive of literate and illiterate, employed and unemployed, rural and urban people: to the very roots of PNG society.

We must be thorough and precise, because we should not continue to espouse the use of customs and traditions which may not be deemed relevant to our times or may be considered impractical in the effective running of a democracy of over 800 different cultures.

Questions arise of "what to leave in what to leave out?".

In the end 'the people' will again need to make choices and thereby empower some group of representatives to conduct the business of running our country.

My opinion has always been that there is not so much a problem of 'systems of government' but of 'quality of political leadership'.

Political representation is a function of the membership to office that, in a democracy, a leader is elected to hold.

Are we entirely satisfied with the performance to-date of all our leaders?

If arguments for changing the system of government are to move any further than beautiful rhetoric floating through the ether, then this next election is that much more important to select the right leaders who may be able to provide us with such a vision of a better Melanesia. And more importantly an action plan for moving forward.

Is someone able to offer us a concrete impression of what a Melanesian system of government might be like?

What models apart from the Westminster system can we use, or do we start from scratch?

Should be talking about more fundamental reform. A model based on our Pacific ways, rather than a foreign model that's clearly not working for us.

This proposal from Paul has a lot of merit and needs some serious consideration.

Paul - a thoughtful and well-reasoned piece. Another example of knee-jerk and ill-considered legislation occured this week. The ABC's Liam Fox reports...

On Tuesday morning parliament was given notice of the introduction of an amendment to the government's controversial Judicial Conduct Act.

The act effectively gives the government the power to suspend judges it deems to be biased.

The amendment, if passed, will create a criminal offence for a judge who ignores a suspension.

If convicted they can face a prison term of up to seven years and the loss of all retirement benefits.

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