Former PNG chief ombudsman hails Supreme Court ruling
The Papua New Guinea man who launched a successful legal challenge against changes to the constitution regarding parliament and motions of no-confidence says the case was about protecting democracy.
The changes, introduced by the Peter O'Neill-led government, included extending the grace period protecting a government from no-confidence votes from 18 to 30 months after an election.
Another key change was reduction to the number of parliament sitting days in a year from 63 days to 40 days.
However a Supreme Court bench ruled that the changes were unconstitutional, void and of no effect.
The former chief ombudsman Ila Geno, who launched the initial challenge, says the amendments could have derailed PNG's democracy.
ILA GENO: Or in my view that would be a restricting, a prohibition of voters' rights to be expressed through their representatives on the floor of parliament on any important issues: a bill or budget or amendments or anything.
JOHNNY BLADES: In a way, the process that you instigated in the courts was in a way where the real discussion about these amendments took place, a discussion that should have really taken place on the floor of parliament.
IG: Well, those were the arguments, those were the reasons where, in my view, it was unconstitutional, undemocratic, it was not properly debated and the rules and the proceedings were not fulfilled before the vote was taken. But it was in itself, in my view, I said, it would be derailing the democracy in this country, restricting the rights of the people to be expressed through their representatives on the floor of parliament through a vote of no-confidence.
JB: The change that the O'Neill government tried to enact with moving the parliamentary sitting days down by more than a third, that really restricts robust debate and it restricts, I suppose, scrutiny on the government in parliament, that was a particularly unpopular move I would say with some people, including yourself right?
IG: Well, unpopular for some, but (popular for) those who have an interest to doing that. But for me, from the point of view of democracy and the constitution, I argued that that's unconstitutional and undemocratic. To me that's clear restricting, prohibition of the people's rights. And then, the situation would become parliament's exclusive club where nobody could question what they do for at least 42 months, and to me that's very, very dangerous.
JB: But can you see what Peter O'Neill was saying at the outset, that this was all about forging political stability?
IG: I don't agree with that. I don't agree with this being the reason. I don't agree with that, because my position is, I'm talking about, I would want to see the country properly developed through political leadership and bureaucratic leadership, it must have a degree of integrity, and that integrity must be demonstrated and invested by the accountability provisions. And it must be open. I don't agree with that (the O'Neill) view. We can agree or disagree, but for my part I disagree: this is why I went to court. There is no other way I can say it.
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