12 Apr 2012

PNG parliament adjourned to meet amid election controversy

3:16 pm on 12 April 2012

Papua New Guinea's parliament has been adjourned until next week amid controversy about the legality of it deferring the elections and passing the Judicial Conduct Act.

The Speaker, Jeffery Nape, insists the Electoral Commission must recognise last week's parliamentary vote to delay the poll by six months.

Johnny Blades reports

"The Speaker's stance clashes with that of the Prime Minister who has declared that elections will go ahead as originally scheduled, in late June. Despite voting for the deferral, Peter O'Neill now claims parliament's motion is non-binding on the Electoral Commissioner. Meanwhile, Mr Nape has cited the Morobe Governor, Luther Wenge, for gross contempt of Parliament, after he filed a legal challenge on the validity of the Judicial Conduct Act. Opposition Leader, Dame Carol Kidu, is also being investigated for accusing officers of Parliament of fraud in relation to the Act. However the Supreme Court found an appearance of illegality in the Judicial Conduct Act and has stayed its enactment and parliament's referral of the Chief Justice and another top judge for suspension, under the Act, last week."

The Housing Minister says concerns over the common roll in the newly-established Hela province are behind support for deferring the elections.

Ken Fairweather was one of the 63 MPs who last week voted for a six-month deferral.

However, following a public outcry, the Prime Minister Peter O'Neill says the elections will now go ahead as originally scheduled by the Electoral Commissioner, in late June.

Mr O'Neill, who had also voted for deferral, says the vote is non-binding on the Electoral Commissioner.

But the Speaker, Jeffery Nape, says that the motion, unless rescinded, stands.

Ken Fairweather says he would vote again for deferral.

We're worried about the common rolls in the new electorate that has the gas. So we want to make sure it's correct, that's all. They're saying that Hela's not ready so if that's the case, yes I would (vote again for deferral). But if they could convince me that Hela is ok, then I wouldn't bother.

The Governor of Western Province, Bob Danaya, says there's no justification for deferring national elections.

Mr Danaya expects a vote will be held to rescind the motion, even though the Prime Minister says it was non-binding on the Electoral Commissioner.

Concern over incomplete common rolls in the Highlands provinces is behind the support of many MPs for deferral but the Governor says he would vote against any deferral.

They may have problems but that doesn't give anybody any reasonable excuse to defer elections. They've had four and a half years to prepare for this so if the Electoral officials are not ready then I think they have to blame themselves. Government has given them enough money.

One of the architects of the Papua New Guinea constitution says the country needs a greater level of critical awareness and appreciation of the role of such a document.

Bougainville's president, John Momis, who was defacto chair of the constitution commission nearly 40 years ago, says the Peter O'Neill government is treading a dangerous path by continuing to ignore the constitution's provisions.

Mr Momis says the government has adopted a pragmatic approach with a series of controversial decisions that run counter to the constitution's requirements, and he says these are dangerous moves.

We must respect the rule of law. If we have any grievances we should allow the normal processes of law to take place and await the outcome and not fall prey to this belief that the end justifies the means. The end does not justify the means.

John Momis