Tuesday, 23 June 2009 9:49 AM

Political Intergrity Bill Commentary (Part II)

POLITICAL INSTABILITY ISSUES & REMEDIAL POLICY OBJECTIVES FOR STABILITY:

The working committee has found that some of the factors causing instability and poor governance in Solomon Islands include: (a) party related issues, (b) weak electoral system, (c) corruption at various levels, (d) discrepancies between local cultural attitudes and modern party politics and (e) the side effects that come with diversity within a nation.

PARTY RELATED ISSUES:

(a) Party Viability:

The working committee's observation is that Solomon Islands has a weak political party system due to factors such as fluidity of party politics, party loyalty centred on personality rather than on party ideologies or national interest and lack of party discipline.

What is the Government's response to these assertions? How are they going to correct this anomaly? The Government has made a policy statement which summarizes how it intends to deal with these crucial issues. This is the first part of its two pronged "Imperative Plan" (IP) (We will correct this by passing a new political party integrity law in parliament) "The Government recognizes the inevitable and genuine need for a strong political party system and therefore will introduce a PPI Bill. The PPI Bill will lay the legislative scheme for registration, development and administration of political parties."

The Opposition acknowledges and embraces the Government's intentions. It feels however, that the policy clearly identifies or articulates three (3) key issues; Firstly, there is a focus on greater recognition and responsibilities for political parties. Secondly, there is going to be a reform in the process of electing a Prime Minister and thirdly, the broader electoral system.

In summary, both sides of the House do not find the enactment of a Political Party Integrity Bill (PPI Bill) offensive and would be supportive of its passage as law in Parliament as a matter of principle. However, the Opposition has stressed that the passing the PPI Bill must be accomplished simultaneously with reforms to other applicable laws of Solomon Islands which the Government intends to achieve through its Imperative Plan (IP)

(b) Party Loyalty:

The working committee's observation is that the strengthening of party loyalty is pivotal to a strong political party system. Thus the concept of party loyalty will be an essential and central nerve to the PPI Bill.

The Government's response to this is contained in the following policy statement; The PPI Bill will have provisions that will ensure that;
1) Members of parliament do vote in support of or consistently with their party's resolution or position in relation to certain matters. Thus any member who votes contrary to party resolution or position will be subject to disciplinary sanctions by their parties pursuant to the provisions of the party constitution and rules.
2) The party members who have rendered support to the appointment of a particular Prime Minister must continue to render support of that Prime Minister in relation to certain matters. Such matters are: the appointment of the Prime Minister, motions of no confidence against the Prime Minister, the national budget, government policies, bills and amendments to the Constitution. These are considered important for the maintenance of the effective functioning of Government.

The Government will also seek amendment to the Constitution to ensure that a Member of Parliament who, during election campaign period, campaigns under the banner of a political party and wins an election but who later deserts his/her party will cease to be a member of parliament on the ground of breach of voters trust.



The Government recognizes that certain individual members of parliament may not agree with a particular resolution or policy of the government or a party however, it feels that any form of dissent could be catered for either in government or party rules allowing Ministers to resign for example and to retire to the government back bench. It is envisaged that the foregoing will entrench patterns of loyalty to parties voting behavior in parliament and bring about more stability and strength to the party executive. It will also encourage more consistency and predictability in the parliament. Such laws/rules will also reduce the influence and bargaining power of the independent members.

The Opposition is concerned with aspects of the Government's response to the question of party loyalty and party matters generally. It feels that the objectives of the policy can be effectively and better achieved through the reform of the electoral processes. The Opposition feels that there is no need to restrict the rights of individuals to think and act according to the dictates of his or her conscience as advanced by the Government. The Opposition is worried about the constitutionality (constitution gives and protects people's basic rights which cannot be removed) of such a move because the Government would be seen to be legislating against the freedom of the people to choose their political affiliation, how to vote, who and what to vote for, who and what not to vote for and to be penalized for exercising the right to make independent and judgment based decisions on these matters.

The Opposition further feels that the proposed restrictions suggested by Government will make the need to debate in parliament defunct because political parties will have established a position on any matter before coming to parliament. If a government policy appears to be draconian (extreme), government members would be restricted from either objecting to it or voting against it on the floor of parliament. Parliament is the mechanism for checking whether or not policies are in the best interest of the public and should not be used as merely a rubber stamp.

The Opposition referred to the recent "Walter Folotalu Vs Minister of Home Affairs" court case when CNURP proposed to increase the election fee to $5,000. The court ruled that this was unlawful because it amounted to restricting the rights of the people to run for public office. That is, the court was saying that government cannot adopt policies that would restrict the people's right to conduct themselves in politics. It appears, from the Opposition's view, that the proposal by Government restricts the people's freedom to think and act rationally.

The Opposition, as indicated earlier, is of the view that you do not need to restrict or legislate against people's right. It feels that the Government can still achieve its objectives simply by making changes to the electoral processes.

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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