Tuesday, 9 June 2009 9:40 AM

Political Party Systems & Governance Reform in Solomon Islands

THE GOVERNMENT WHITE PAPER AND ITS PURPOSE:

The government recently tabled a white paper on "Policies for development of Political Party System and Governance Reform in Solomon Islands" during its parliament meeting in April 2009.

In his foreword in the white paper, the Prime Minister declared that the CNURA Government wants to leave a legacy (something good for the future generation) for this nation's political history and that is to bring about political reform and stability in the country. That is the CNURA vision for our young nation.

CNURA is of the view that political stability is essential for building a stable society and for forging our common heritage, prosperity and destiny. National unity and durable peace are the bi-product of such political stability.

Since independence the country's political growth and development have been marred by political instability and characterized by the frequent changes in government through the various "motions of no confidence" passed on the floor of parliament (25 since independence), a result of the constant switching of political allegiances and the loose commitment and conviction to political parties, policies and philosophies. During the last 18 years within 6 general elections the government had changed hands 10 times or as the Leader of the Opposition rightly put it; 60% of the country's political time was bogged down in political instability or on average a government would only be in power for 1.8 years or 20 months to be more precise. It is a wonder why we have not progressed much during the last 30 years and this situation is worrying and must be a concern to all citizens of the country.

CONSULTATIVE PROCESS TOWARDS ENACTMENT OF THE BILL:

To achieve the above goals the CNURA government wants to bring a Bill to parliament for debate and eventually for passage as law, preferably before the next general election (in fact the next parliament meeting). The proposed Bill would be called the "Political Party Integrity Bill" (PPI Bill) which will finally become the "Political Party Integrity Act (PPI Act)" when passed by parliament.

Before the Bill is brought to parliament however, the CNURA government feels that the policy is quiet a significant political milestone and requires a lot of consultation with the public and interest groups. Part of the consultations would involve looking at other similar models within the region and elsewhere and to look at the strengths and weaknesses of these models and to learn from them and to decide where we could improve on these and perhaps to come up with our own "home grown" solution because "one man's meat may be another man's poison" or similarly, it would be futile to "re-invent the wheel" if a better system already exists.

So in order to move the consultative process forward the CNURA government decided to appoint a working committee to investigate the potential for reform of the political party system in Solomon Islands. The working committee comprising eminent persons conducted consultations, research and discussions within Solomon Islands and abroad and the White Paper is the product of their assignment.

THE WHITE PAPER:

The Prime Minister remarked that the White Paper now presents the potential and clear direction for reform to the political party system in Solomon Islands. He said that the government is now on an illuminated (enlightened) path to undertake legislative reform measures through what he calls an "imperative action plan" (IP) ('important must duim now action plan'). The recent debate and endorsement of the White Paper by parliament signals the progress and way forward in achieving political stability in the country.

Why do we have a white paper and not a bill before parliament? In its most simplistic form a bill is normally the instrument brought to parliament for debate before being passed as law of the country. On the other hand, a white paper is usually tabled before parliament when the government sets out a definite policy or strategy, in this case, for sound political party system for a stable and effective political government in Solomon Islands and feels that the subject is of national significance and is sensitive enough to warrant open discussion by both sides of the house before it is formally brought to the house as a bill by the government of the day.

The reason is that it would be more beneficial and advantageous for the government, and indeed the opposition, to bring into parliament a very sensitive bill that already has the support of the "other side" of the house (bi-partisan support) or as the Leader of the Opposition has put it has "a meeting of minds" from the very beginning or at the outset. That is the government can almost be assured of the passage of the bill into law when such an approach is taken. The flip side is, political wrangling and point scoring may hinder the passage of such an important bill in parliament if such an approach in the consultative process is not taken.

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NOTE: The article will be a five part series spread over 5 weeks. To be continued.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this letter/article are those of Kataresi Meto and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Solomon Times Online.

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