BRYAN KRAMER MP
| The Kramer Report
PORT MORESBY – Last Friday, a bench of five judges of Papua New Guinea’s supreme court handed down a unanimous decision dismissing opposition leader Belden Namah’s challenge to the election of James Marape as prime minister on 30 May 2019.
Namah claimed Marape’s election was unconstitutional because the speaker failed to comply with section 114 of the constitution and section 7A of the parliamentary standing orders.
Section 114 of the constitution states that, unless provided by constitutional law or the standing orders, all questions before a meeting of parliament shall be decided in accordance with the majority of votes of the members present at the meeting and voting.
Namah was essentially arguing that, because there is no procedure in the standing orders for a candidate to withdraw his nomination for prime minister, the speaker breached section 114 of the constitution when he made the decision to allow O’Neill to withdraw his nomination.
Instead, it was argued, the speaker should have put the question to parliament to decide by majority vote, consistent with section 114 of the constitution.
Namah also argued that the speaker breached section 7a of the standing orders by allowing the prime minister to be nominated by a member of parliament and not by political party.
Standing order 7A relates to the procedures to elect a prime minister, and states that the speaker shall call for and accept nominations duly moved and seconded by a party or a member that may nominate a member of parliament as a candidate for prime minister.
After hearing all arguments, the supreme court held that section 134 of the constitution states the court does not have powers to question whether or not procedures of the standing orders have been complied with, unless the procedure is provided by constitutional law.
The court also ruled that Namah failed to satisfy the court that there had been any breach of the standing orders in the election of James Marape.
On the issue of whether the speaker failed to comply with section 114 of constitution, the court ruled that a member of parliament ought to have raised it at the time by putting the question to the speaker and asking whether O’Neill could withdraw his nomination.
Because no question was put to the speaker, section 114 was not breached.
The chief justice also made reference to standing order 284, which states that, in any matter not provided for in the standing orders, the speaker shall decide.
On the issue of breaching standing order 7a, the court held that the order states that a party may nominate a candidate but did not state that only a party may nominate a candidate for prime minister.
They held that any other member of parliament could also nominate a candidate.
Following the decision, opposition leader Belden Namah staged a press conference in Vanimo.
He deceptively stated he welcomed the decision of the supreme court.
“Perusing this case and coming to a finality of it, it’s a great relief. I want to thank the judiciary for a very good decision that has come out today, it is a precedent decision, a unanimous decision by the court,” Namah said.
He then went on to make a misleading and mischievous statement that the supreme court had set a precedent to say that parliament reigns supreme, and that the majority on the floor of parliament reigns supreme in as far as separation of powers are concerned.
Nowhere in the 58-page judgement did the supreme court say that parliament or the majority of members of parliament reign supreme.
The court did not hand down a precedent decision. It simply explained to Namah that section 134 of the constitution prohibits the court from questioning any procedure of parliament unless it breaches constitutional law or procedures provided in the constitution.
It also said that Namah had failed to prove any breach of standing orders or constitutional law.
The court dismissed his case and ordered him to pay costs.
Interestingly enough, another current matter before the court filed by Peter O’Neill raises similar constitutional procedures on whether the deputy speaker, by entertaining Namah’s motion to adjourn Parliament to 1 December 2020 was in breach of constitutional law.
Section 2 of the organic law states that only a minister may set a date and time of the meeting of parliament. And Namah is not a minister.
There lies the problem for opposition. Particularly when you have a fool as opposition leader and spokesperson.
It’s my respectful view that Namah’s case was a nothing but a waste of money and the court’s time.
Will O’Neill’s case fare differently?
The only real winners in these cases are the lawyers.