27/09/2012 06:00

The trouble with PNG politics? Money!

By Fr Franco Zocca SVD
Melanesian Institute, Goroka

Why 3425 candidates for 111 seats in Parliament in the 2012 PNG elections? I think the main reason is the money which comes with the position. The “original sin” of current PNG politics, however, is the confusion between the legislative with the executive, the erosion of the principle of separation of powers (Legislative, Executive, and Judiciary), which developed in the last fifteen years or so. Legislators are now executors, Governors are also members of Parliament and Members of Parliament detain executive power in their respective districts.

The consequences are various and mostly negative. By making the position of Member of Parliament so attractive and desirable, the system is causing increasing competition among candidates. This is multiplied by the competition among their supporters, who might recur to all means in order to get their candidates win. And in case of failure to win, fights might erupt among disgruntled supporters.

Furthermore, the amount of money spent by the winning candidates, which often is loaned money, is likely to make them eager to recuperate it as soon as possible also by corrupt means. As far as the losing candidates are concerned, the competition could bring them financial bankruptcy, since they tend to invest in the campaign huge amounts of private and loaned money. Financial bankruptcy may also affect those who financially supported the losing candidates.

Another consequence is the increasing number of petitions to the Court of Disputed Returns. After having invested so much, nobody is willing to withdraw without a fight. Hence the increasing number of cases to the Court of disputed returns with additional waste of money in litigations. After the 1997 elections there were 88 cases brought to the Court of Disputed Returns. For the 2012 elections more than 100 have been presented , which challenge the election of 80 members out of 111. Linked to the increasing number of court litigations is the possibility of elected members being dismissed and having to recur to by-elections, with further waste of money and the absence, sometimes for a long time, of district representatives in Parliament.

But the most serious consequence in my opinion is the discrimination in the distribution of services and resources. The winner, in fact, will tend to benefit those who voted for him and to punish those who voted for other rival candidates. Belden Namah made it clear in the speech he gave after winning the Vanimo-Green River Open: “Let me say today that I will only represent the people of Bewani, Wutung and Oney who voted for me. Without you I would not be elected for the second time. People from Green River, Amanab and Imonda will suffer for five years”. (The National, 24 July 2012)