Domestic Politics. Papua New Guinea press review
On the 2nd of June 2020 began a new session of the National Parliament of Papua New Guinea.
In the first days of the June session, Parliament has voted to extend the COVID-19 State of Emergency (SoE) for another 14-days. 80 members of parliament voted in favour of the extension, only two voted against. The SoE was initially declared for 14 days from 24 March 2020, but later was extended until 2 June 2020. Currently, Parliament members discuss what precautionary measures each one should take to protect their own provinces from the COVID-19. Earlier, the Permanent Parliamentary Committee on Emergency recommended a 2-month extension of the COVID-19 State of Emergency. Governors of Madang, Eastern Highlands and East Sepik Province reasoned against this decision, based on lack of evidence and police brutality against citizens.
According to Prime Minister of Papua New Guinea (PNG) Hon. James Marape, once the emergency ended then a specific Act of Parliament would embrace how people lived, used transport, went to school, and conducted themselves in order to keep defences strong against the coronavirus. Mr. Marape also added that Cabinet had directed the Health Department and State lawyers to come up with a specific Act.
In turn, SoE Contoller David Manning admitted earlier that PNG still had «capacity issues» in its ability to tackle COVID-19, there is some acknowledgement that it has had some success in tackling the spread of the disease. Nowadays, 8 cases of COVID–19 have been registered in Papua New Guinea, and all the cases have been successfully cured.
However, Mr. Marape summarized the results of the first year of his premiership. According to Mr. Marape, the country faced a number of challenges and his Government had been busy cleaning up legacy issues since taking office: «When you look at our 2019 Supplementary Budget, we’ve cleaned up the former government’s K300 million (US$8,66 million) worth of outstanding Works’ contracts […] This money could have been spent on infrastructure, however, was used to settle outstanding debts,» – said Mr. Marape. Prime Minister also added that Treasurer Ian Ling-Stuckey had the unenviable task of cleaning up the mess of the previous government. «We paid K122 million (US$35,24 million) to public servants in outstanding wages and salaries, a commitment that was made three to four years ago, but no concrete effort was made to honor those commitments […] On top of this, we paid K860 million ($US248 million) to public servants who were going on retirement […] we paid K600 million (US$173,3 million) to service providers […] and another K400 million ((US$115,5 million) for office rentals […] those were contractual obligations that had to be paid seven years ago, six years ago, five years ago» – emphasized Mr. Marape.
PNG Prime Minister also noted that the Government continued to build a solid foundation to provide better opportunities for Papua New Guinea in the future. He said that the development of the country involved not only the building of infrastructure, but also the reform and restructuring of State structures and systems.
The Supreme Court has upheld the decision by a Leadership Tribunal on 18 October 2017 that suspended Belden Namah as the member for Vanimo Green and Leader of Opposition in PNG Parliament on application to challenge the appointment of Hon. James Marape as Prime Minister. In handing down its decision The court said that Mr Namah has been suspended with effect from 18th October 2017 and has been so far suspended for a continuous period from that date through to the date of hearing the application until the final determination of the Leadership Code proceedings regarding him. Mr Namah was suspended after a Leadership Tribunal found him guilty for storming the courthouse in 2012. The Supreme Court upheld the ruling of the High Court of Justice of 18 October 2017, which dismissed Belden Namah as the representative of the electorate Vanimo Green (West Sepik Province) and as leader of the opposition. Mr. Namah is still a Member of Parliament but has been suspended from performing his duties.
Prime Minister of Papua New Guinea Hon. James Marape has just announced that Members of the People’s National Congress (PNC), who have been in the Marape-Steven Government benches, will no longer have seats there: “PNC Party members continue to participate in the Government Caucus, but speak as opposition to my Government, so it is only fair that all of them are bundled into the opposition to speak fair and freely against the Government, as their Leader has been doing,» – Prime Minister. In turn, PNC Leader, former PM of Papua New Guinea Peter O’Neill, since his dubious move on the floor of Parliament on May 30, continues to oppose Government in media, in court and in person. It is only fair that he opposes formally from the opposite benches. Party leader Peter O’Neill and his deputy Yangoru-Saussia (East Sepik Province) MP Richard Maru led their team of 15 parliamentarians on the move. «PNC in the opposition will work with our parliamentary colleagues, including the increasing number in the middle benches, to promote real alternative policy to get the country out of the Marape mess,» Mr O’Neill said.
However, Prime Minister Hon. James Marape says the coalition government he leads currently has 91 MPs – a number he wants to maintain up to the 2022 general election «and beyond». On behalf of his Pangu Pati, he signed a memorandum of agreement with Bulolo (Morobe Province) MP Sam Basil, the leader of the United Labour Party (ULP). He was also going to sign a similar agreement yesterday with Aitape-Lumi (West Sepik (Sandaun) Province) MP Patrick Pruaitch, the leader of the National Alliance Party (NAP).
It is important to point out that Mr. Basil is the National Planning and Monitoring Minister while Mr. Pruaitch is the Minister for Foreign Affairs and International Trade. «If the 2022 general election comes and the ULP has more numbers, than Pangu will support them in getting the prime minister’s seat. And if the numbers are with Pangu, then ULP will support us. The same applies for our other coalition parties as well,» Mr. Marape said. Mr. Basil thanked James Marape for the signing of the agreement saying it was time to have political stability to restore the faith of the people and the business community in the Government of Papua New Guinea.
The 91 MPs coalition is mostly from Pangu Pati (29), NAP (10), ULP (9), United Resources Party (9), People’s Party (6), People’s Progress Party (4), National Party (2), and the four single-MP parties Madang MP Bryan Kramer, Northern Governor Gary Juffa, Eastern Highlands Governor Peter Numu and THE Party’s Jeoffrey Komal, and also independent MPs and others from small parties make up the coalition.
The National Executive Council (NEC) approved the Electronic Transaction Bill to be introduced in this session of Parliament, as stated by Deputy Prime Minister and Attorney General Davis Steven made this known. According to Mr. Steven, NEC decision was timely and will help many business houses and individuals during such time of the COVID-19 when the use of technology was crucial around the world. The purpose of the Electronic Transactions Bill was to enable the legal framework for the use of electronic transactions, which would imply:
• Facilitation of electronic commission by means of reliable electronic records;
• Facilitation of electronic commerce to eliminate barriers to electronic commerce resulting from uncertainties over writing and signature requirements, and to promote the development of the legal and business infrastructure necessary to implement secure electronic commerce;
• Facilitation of electronic filing of documents with public agencies, and to support the promotion of efficient delivery by public agencies of services by means of reliable electronic records;
• By application of principles relevant to electronic transactions to minimise the incidence of forged electronic records, intentional and unintentional alteration of records, and fraud in electronic commerce and other electronic transactions;
• Help to establish uniformity of rules, regulations and standards regarding the authentication and integrity of electronic records;
With the resumption of the June session of Parliament, the Bill for the Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) must be pushed during its second reading. This was the call from Transparency International PNG (TIPNG) to the Marape-Steven Government and MP’s in Parliament. Chairman of TIPNG Peter Aitsi says the bill will have the full powers of Investigation, Arrest & Prosecution required to be effective in addressing the scourge of corruption.
The June session of the Papua New Guinea Parliament began on the 2nd of June 2020 and will last two weeks.