We are beginning to understand upcoming elections stand no chance of improving the dismal status quo of non-representation.

As we come to see – sooner than we may have thought – the O’Namah Government is just as bad as Somare’s regime, it’s becoming clear the revolving door of self-interested politicians will continue to spin, no matter how we vote, this election or in another five years’ time.
As a result, some are now talking more seriously about political reform. A recent blog post  by former kiap Paul Oates argued PNG’s parliament needs an Upper House to review legislation before it becomes law.
We question whether reinforcing the Westminster system – an imposed system that, Senate or no Senate, is collapsing around the globe – is the right approach.  Should we be thinking of more fundamental reform? Should we be talking about a political system based on our realities and founded on our Pacific values, rather than on a foreign imposed model that’s not working for us?

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.

  1. Paul Oates says:

    I take your point that a bicameral system is intrinsically, not a Melanesian tradition. The problem is, from an external perspective I grant you, that traditional Melanesia did not have a national viewpoint. The concerns of the village and clan were paramount. That is not a bad thing but it does not provide a template for national politics.
    Other countries who have had to cope with this problem have quite happily borrowed political systems when they had to. Japan is a classic example. So is China.
    A system of government starts from the ground up is great but it also has to have a wider perspective than the clan and village.

    Where has that happened in the past in Melanesia?

  2. Tavurvur says:

    The argument for political reform in PNG is much more extensive than simply arguing for a change in the make-up of PNG’s Parliament.

    The political impasses PNG is currently facing are the symptoms of an illness representative of a political system, with its current checks and balances, which have been too easily usurped by the executive – as seen by the actions of O’Namah.

    For a more detailed response to political reform, read my following blog post:


    • Thanks for linking your post on that issue Tavurvur. Totally agree that the ‘checks and balances’ aren’t working because they are easily corrupted. One could argue the state is more concerned with facilitating the interests of corporations, than with regulating in the interests of our people. Decentralisation is just one suggestion for how we might better hold our leaders to account, to stem some of this tendency to corruption. It would have another important benefit too: the empowerment of the people’s voice throughout the country in a meaningful way.

  3. Paul says:

    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.

  4. […] But I believe the argument for political reform in PNG is much more comprehensive than simply arguing for a change in the make-up of the structure of PNG’s legislature and the process of how bills become acts – and even much more than the creation of a parliamentary system which may be deemed to be more Papua New Guinean-friendly. […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s