The Contemporary Pacific 16.1 (2004) 205-207
[Access article in PDF]
In-House in Papua New Guinea with Anthony Siaguru,by Anthony Siaguru. Canberra: Asia Pacific Press, 2001. ISBN 0-7315-3680-0, xvi + 359 pages, acronyms, glossary, notes, AU$36.00, US$32.00.
This volume is a collection of Sir Anthony Siaguru's newspaper columns, "In House," in the Post Courier, the leading English-language daily in Papua New Guinea. Most of the articles in this collection appeared from 1988 to 2000. The articles are organized into themes close to the author's interest, namely "The Great Game" or contemporary politics; "Transparency" (the author is one of the founders of Transparency PNG); "Changing Society"; "Bougainville"; "Celebratory"; "Economic Matters"; "The Other Estate" (dealing with the press, women, and the Church); and "Friends and Neighbours." For those unfamiliar with Papua New Guinea, Anthony Siaguru is one of the "Gang of Four" who ran the PNG bureaucracy during the crucial first decade after independence. He was secretary of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade, before opting for active politics. He successfully ran for a parliamentary seat in 1982 and was appointed minister for state and public service. After serving just one term in parliament, he took up the position as deputy secretary-general of the commonwealth in London for seven years before returning to Papua New Guinea. Since then, he has emerged as a major corporate player in Papua New Guinea's small economy, holding seats on the boards of all the major PNG corporations and helping to establish the Port Moresby Stock Exchange. He is also known to be a major behind-the-scenes player in Papua New Guinea's byzantine world of politics.
The bulk (and the most interesting and valuable part) of the book can be found in the first section, "The Great Game." Here Siaguru expresses his thoughts on the biggest problem facing Papua New Guinea since independence: political instability can be summarized in one phrase: vote of no confidence. Since independence in 1975, more governments have fallen due to a vote of no confidence than by losing a general election. Unlike votes of no confidence, the timing of PNG general elections runs like clockwork—every five years or at the end of a full term of parliament. Parliament has never agreed to earlier dissolution [End Page 205] because less than 30 percent of members get reelected. Siaguru suggests the following constitutional reforms to solve the instability. First, give the prime minister the power to dissolve parliament at any time and call a general election. Second, change from a first-past-the-post (FPTP) to a preferential-voting (PR) system. Third, require ministers of parliament to seek reelection if they leave the political party in which they were elected. Fourth, strengthen the political party system by officially registering all political parties and have their party constitutions and procedures formally drawn up for public inspection. Fifth, setthe maximum numberof ministries at no more than fourteen. At present, the constitution allows the creation of ministries up to one quarter of the total number of ministers of parliament. Thus, ministries are created to reward political allies or to cement political alliances.
It is interesting to note that these five key suggestions were first made in 1985and that three outof five were only adopted in 2001. An Integrity of Political Parties and Candidates bill and a Preferential Voting bill were both promulgated after a successful campaign spearheaded by the Electoral Reform Project, a subprogram of Transparency PNG, of which Siaguru is both chairman and cofounder. Yet from all accounts, the laws meant to strengthen political parties have largely been failures and a new law is currently being drawn up to address the same issues.The next general election, due in 2007, will be held under the PR system. Yet trials have shown that the results of the PR system will not be different from those under the FPTP system; candidates who win under the present system are also likely to be the victors under thePR system. What will change significantly...