We are beginning to understand upcoming elections stand no chance of improving the dismal status quo of non-representation.
Let’s start with the root problem: the majority of Papua New Guineans do not feel represented by the current political system. The reasons for this are complex, but can we identify a few of the major flaws?
One thing we need to look at is the number of MPs we have: 109 seats is way too many for people’s concerns to be meaningfully addressed. When 2000 public servants quit their jobs to contest the election, a seat can be won by someone who gets enough of his wantoks and mates together, or buys enough of them. These candidates see the current National Election as a lottery – if they get voted in, they win the spoils of corrupt politics (sponsored by those same foreign corporations supposedly bringing ‘economic growth’ to PNG).
So slashing the number of seats in Parliament would be a start. But even after doing so, the issue of MPs’ accountability to their electorates is not resolved. Money and power is concentrated in Port Moresby, hence the vast majority of local communities get totally neglected, government after government. They lack access to essential health services, school facilities, road access, because their member isn’t based there. He’s in Port Moresby, where he doesn’t have to answer pesky questions about the lack of medicine or electricity from his local constituents.
There are reportedly growing calls for independence among various PNG provinces. This suggests people want to be closer to the decision-making process. A better system of government would be decentralised, so that political leaders were based closer to the communities they are meant to serve. By bringing the decision-making base closer to home, we can ensure greater accountability by leaders across the nation.
And that brings us to the most fundamental reform – a return to the National Goals inscribed in our Constitution. It declares, in its National Goal for Equality and Participation, that:
WE ACCORDINGLY CALL FOR the creation of political structures that will enable effective, meaningful participation by our people … and in view of the rich cultural and ethnic diversity of our people for those structures to provide for substantial decentralization of all forms of government activity.
In talking about political reform, let’s not constrain ourselves to the box of the current Westminster system. Let’s go back to the forgotten goals of the Constitution, which captured the traditional values which our Melanesian cultures are built on. If the current political system does not respect those values – or those of our Constitution – perhaps it is time to talk about a system that does.