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Who's really to blame for PNG mess

Academia Nomad

PORT MORESBY – In June, the Constitutional Law Reform Commission completed a nationwide consultation gauging views on whether the prime minister should be elected directly by the people as in a presidential system. The directive to do this came from the national government.

Why the need to change the current system? Because the government thinks that the unicameral parliamentary system is “not working”? The obvious question therefore: ‘Is the current parliamentary system not working for PNG because it’s a bad system, or because PNG is not using the parliamentary system as it is supposed to be used?’

The latter is true. You see, in a parliamentary system elsewhere, the politicians are lawmakers. They are not service deliverers. In PNG, MPs are both lawmakers and service deliverers. Why does this dual role matter? Because MPs are more concerned with their service delivery roles whilst their lawmaking responsibilities suffer.

In 2020, 500kg of cocaine was discovered on the outskirts of Port Moresby when the plane carrying it crashed. The pilot and those involved couldn’t be charged because cocaine at the time was not regarded as an ‘illicit drug’ by PNG’s Drug Act 1954. Imagine having a law that was outdated by more than half a century. A year later, meth was discovered. Again, the person producing it couldn’t be charged because the Drug Act 1954 didn’t recognise meth as an illicit drug.

It gets worse: we have 370 laws in PNG, according to CLRC, that are outdated by more than half a century, and of no practical use. Whose role is it to update these laws? Your politicians. Why aren’t they updating it? Because they are busy delivering services.

Is delivering services the MPs role? No. So who gave MPs the additional service delivery role? The MPs themselves. They amended the organic law in 1995, and then created the District Development Act in 2014 to make themselves service deliverers.

About K1. 5 billion is given to these MPs to deliver services. K10 million to Open MPs every year, and K5 million times the number of districts to the governors. These funds are commonly known in PNG as DSIP/PSIP funds. How is the service delivery in your province now you know that your MPs control more than a billion kina?

The Auditor General this year said only 40% of MPs submitted acquittals for the millions they spent the year before. The rest didn’t. And, even for those who acquitted, we have no idea whether projects were actually implemented.

Regularly you see MPs switching from one side of the parliament to the nother. They do this because they want to be on the side of the government which controls the DSIP/PSIP funds. Your MPs have no interest in making laws, providing representation in parliament or holding the government accountable.

They made themselves services deliverers and, instead of making laws, they pride themselves on delivering services. With very low to no accountability, they spend millions through DSIP/PSIP. When they don’t have enough funds, they borrow and plunge the country into more debt. To get the loans, they give in to conditions set by the institutions offering these loans.

The parliamentary system is not working because its conventions are not being followed. Now the government wants a presidential style of electing your prime minister. Nothing will stop the presidential styled prime minister from bending more rules now that the president is not subject to a vote of no confidence.

We have a tendency to bend the rules, and when the rules don’t work, we say they were introduced by the white man. And then we adopt a new system, and bend it too. And when it doesn’t work we blame the consultants who advised us.

We are a country that refuses to accept accountability. We rationalise our way out of every mess. We support our tribes and schools and communities against the most basic and illogical mistakes. This country is being plundered not by foreigners (if foreigners are involved, it’s with the permission of rule bending Papua New Guineans), but by its own citizens who have no regard for rules and conventions. This country is in a mess because everyone from politicians to people in the street bend the rules.


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Mike Pepperday

Hello Michael Kabuni. You ask: ‘Is the current parliamentary system not working for PNG because it’s a bad system, or because PNG is not using the parliamentary system as it is supposed to be used?’

You plump for the latter: that PNG is a mess because everyone bends the rules. All right. But that raises further questions. Why do they need to bend the rules? How is it that they get away with it? Surely we have to conclude that there is something wrong with the system.

Should it be presidential? If you check Wikipedia you’ll find there are sixty-odd countries with presidential systems and seventy-odd with parliamentary systems. Of the world’s two dozen or more long-established democracies, only the US is presidential.

The US founding fathers took a big leap into the unknown and invented modern democracy. It worked.

Then all of South America adopted the presidential model and it didn’t work. Similar with the post Soviet countries: the parliamentary ones are managing as democracies but the presidential ones have failed.

Lesson: avoid the presidential system like the plague.

The PNG ‘system’ consists of a single chamber of parliament composed of single-member electorates. This never works. It didn’t work in New Zealand, didn’t work in Northern Ireland, didn’t work in Africa, and is not working in Hungary. England tried it in 1649 and gave it up in 1660.

It can’t work because it breaks the rule of the separation of powers of the legislature and executive. The need for this separation was worked out by Montesquieu in the eighteenth century.

The Australasian colonies were all created with two chambers. Why did the colonial authorities abolish the PNG upper house during the 1960s? I don’t know. Similar in Solomon Islands. After the horrific failures of the single-member, unicameral structure in Africa, why do it again in the 1970s in the Pacific?

The only models were Queensland (unicameral since 1922) which was corrupt, NZ which was a political mess, Northern Ireland which was in flames, and Mauritius which had declared a state of emergency.

The colonial experiment of getting PNG, Solomons and Vanuatu to compete to become the first country in the world to make the single-member, unicameral set-up work, has failed.

For a parliamentary system there are two choices to make: (1) either single-member or multimember electoral districts and (2) either unicameral or bicameral legislature.

That makes four combinations, of which three work and one doesn’t. To have any chance of becoming a stable democracy, PNG must either acquire an upper house or (preferably) adopt multi-member proportional representation. It is not optional.

New Zealand finally, and somewhat luckily, adopted West German PR in 1994. Northern Ireland adopted multi-member PR in 1998.

More on what works and why can be found in my submission to the Australian parliament’s inquiry into supporting democracy at

My submission is number 20. It gives some specifics on various countries, lists the Australian vested interests in broken Pacific politics, criticises the practice of blaming Melanesian culture, and suggests a path to reform.

Henry Sims

This endorsement is from afar and cannot make any difference to the problem, but I am one expatriate Territorian who thinks your words give some hope for the future of PNG.
By taking such a positive step forward and speaking out, then maybe you and other smart thinkers can turn things around.
We still watch with interest our Papua besena, but are helpless.
Henry (Heisi) Sims
Western Australia

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