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Pacific Islands Development Program, East-West Center

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PNG’s O’Neill Confident Grace Period Extension Will Pass
Opposition says amendment ‘totally’ breaches constitution

By Jeffrey Elapa

PORT MORESBY, Papua New Guinea (The National, Feb. 4, 2013) – Prime Minister Peter O’Neill is confident that Papua New Guinea's parliament will pass the constitutional amendment to extend the grace period from 18 to 30 months.

The opposition yesterday indicated it would seek a Supreme Court order to stop parliament from approving the extension to the government’s grace period in office.

The second and third reading of the constitutional amendment would take precedence over other government business when parliament begins its first sitting of the year at 2pm tomorrow.

Other key legislations that would go before the house over the next three weeks include the Judicial Conduct Bill 2012, an amendment to the Criminal Code relating to human trafficking and an amendment to the Education Act relating to community colleges and technical vocational education training.

Opposition leader Belden Namah gave notice yesterday of the Opposition's intention to seek the judiciary’s assistance in blocking passage of the constitutional amendment to extend the grace period.

Flanked by nine of his 15 MPs, Namah told a media conference at parliament house that he had advised his lawyers to proceed with the Supreme Court matter today and get a ruling before parliament starts tomorrow.

The opposition’s legal challenge is indicative of its lack of support on the floor of parliament as the government coalition parties, led by O’Neill’s People’s National Congress, clearly have the numbers to amend the constitution.

O’Neill, boosted by overwhelming support within his coalition ranks, had said that he was confident of mustering the numbers to pass the amendment.

Namah reiterated yesterday that proposed amendment was "in total breach of the Constitution."

"It goes against the spirit and intent of the Constitution in that it restricts or removes the parliament’s function of keeping the executive government accountable to the parliament," he said.

"We will not support the bill and we call on the members of the parliament not to vote for the bill. This will undermine your bargaining powers and the powers and the authorities of the people."

Namah added that the opposition had supported the constitutional amendment during the first reading thinking that it was done for good governance and stability but later decided not to support it as O’Neill’s intentions were questionable.

The prime minister had said that most MPs wanted stability and would support the amendment.

"Most MPs want stability so they can implement projects to bring change to their districts and provinces. They know what political stability can bring and they will support the law. It’s only a few MPs with ego problems, who want to be disruptive, they are the ones jumping up and down in the press and talking down this law," O’Neill said.

"We have a lot to do to get our country on the right development path.

"The economy has grown in the last nine years and will continue to grow in the coming years.

"We have identified key policies and impact projects to deliver change to our community so this economic growth impacts our people and not wasted.

"The business community has shown they want to work closely with us to deliver those targets. They want a stable political climate to operate, and that is what we are giving them, and ourselves, with this amendment.

"After 30 months anyone can move a vote of no confidence if they feel a government has failed to deliver. That provision remains and has not been removed by this amendment," O’Neill said.

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