Addressing PNG’s ‘Late Bus’ Election Attitude
To be “late bus” in PNG’s ever evolving Tok Pisin slang means to have missed the bus or boat so to speak, or to be the last person to know about something, or to leave a task to be completed at the last moment.
It’s a common phrase lobbed about in PNG’s colorful vernacular and is usually accompanied by negative connotations – or at least the undesirable perception of being the last one in the loop.
I believe it’s also an appropriate phrase to attribute to Papua New Guinea’s key electoral institutions, particularly the PNG Electoral Commission and the PNG Integrity of Political Parties and Candidates Commission in regards to two key issues: the effective and efficient planning of PNG’s five yearly general elections; and timely political institutional and structural reform.
PNG Electoral Commission
The planning and organizing of PNG’s five yearly elections will always be challenging due to the sheer mammoth logistical effort needed to provide ballot boxes and papers to PNG’s rural population secluded by mountains, rivers and oceans.
However, there seems to be an almost endemic “late bus” gene unique to and prevalent within the PNG Electoral Commission which makes this already difficult task almost impossible – and to the detriment of the state of democracy in PNG.
Indeed, it was this exact view of the unpreparedness of the PNGEC that produced the many outbursts from PNG members of parliament, cabinet ministers, and even the deputy prime minister – all of which threatened to almost disrupt the holding of the 2012 elections on time.
And despite avoiding this calamity, Deputy Prime Minister Belden Namah has already announced his plans to challenge in court the validity of the electoral roll for his own Vanimo-Green electorate.
There is an enormous amount of literature available describing, outlining and providing solutions to help the PNGEC plan and conduct general elections to the best of their ability – and yet, every five years, the risk of not having elections on time rears its ugly head time and time again.
One of the biggest points of concern here, and in defense of the PNGEC, is the release of adequate and timely funding to the PNGEC from the government.
In 2009, Electoral Commissioner Andrew Trawen warned that the 2012 elections would be more challenging than 2007, and that the government allocated insufficient funds to cater for the elections. In addition, he also raised the point of those funds generally only being made available a few months before the elections.
After suggesting in 2009 that the PNGEC needed US$60 million to hold the 2012 elections (this figure skyrocketed in late 2011 when the same Electoral Commissioner announced that he needed more than US$109 million), Trawen went on to state:
“The Electoral Commission needs sufficient funding three years in advance in order to conduct a better election.
What we are saying is, implement some activities like purchase the ballot boxes in 2010 and, electoral roll update with reduced cost in 2011.
And when it comes to 2012 we just conduct the election.”
We all know what actually happened in 2012.
PNG Integrity of Political Parties and Candidates’ Commission
The second electoral institution suffering from “late bus” disease is the PNG Integrity of Political Parties and Candidates’ Commission (IPPCC).
On Wednesday, it was reported in the Post-Courier that IPPCC boss Dr Alphonse Gelu announced that his office is currently conducting a review into a number of key political institutional and structural reforms, including:
- The number of political parties
- The situation facing female candidates
- Exploring whether the Organic Law of Integrity of Political Parties and Candidates (OLIPPAC) could expand in looking at ways to assist female candidates; and
- How the office can actually manage the affairs of political parties
Gelu went on to state:
“The Integrity of Political Parties and Candidates’ Commission is undergoing a review at the moment and a lot of changes are expected.
The review will be a good package and I hope Parliament will endorse it and Cabinet will give its approval once we complete it.”
This indeed will be a good package, and there is no doubt that this is a positive step in the right direction, but why in the world has IPPCC left this important piece of reform to the last minute?
What good would expanding the OLIPPAC to address female candidate participation rates do now for intending female candidates with the country going to the polls in two weeks?
The non-timeliness of these welcome developments is concerning. If such reviews and reforms were conducted on time they would help contribute enormously to a much more stable and streamlined election process and period.
PNG’s “late bus” attitude to elections and to key political institutional and structural reforms must be addressed.
PNG’s political institutions and structures must be well tended to in order to enable the effective and meaningful participation of our people in the political life of nation building.