By Paul Oates
An article in today’s PNG newspaper ‘The National’ (Massive voter education needed), indicates that although the next national election is two years away, electioneering has apparently already started.
Voter education is being targeted as being very important and the PNG government has been exhorted to properly fund this aspect. But will the PNG government see this request as being in the nation’s best interests?
The PNG Constitution is so important to PNG as it provides a basis for how the nation will be governed. Yet are many people even aware that it exists or what it says? Has it been translated into Tokpisin or any local language for instance.
The current attempt by the PNG Parliament to change the Ombudsman’s powers provides a good example of why everyone in PNG should be more aware of their country’s laws and government institutions. There is now a debate over whether the PNG Parliament actually has the power to change the Constitution without a Referendum. Yet neither the PNG government or the Opposition seem to be interested in consulting their electorates.
Before any change is made to the structure of the national government, it is a democratic principle that the nation should be first consulted. But can this be effectively achieved if those who may be consulted aren’t aware of what they are being asked to consider?
This critical issue is one that AusAID could really help with and get some actual ‘rubber on the road’.
Why not have AusAID provide financial assistance to the PNG Electoral Commission to fund a Public Education campaign? A campaign of this nature campaign should see the distribution of pamphlets and newsletters to everyone at all levels and TV and Radio programs specifically designed to raise awareness about this issue. The PNG Governor General could even sponsor this initiative in a non political and bipartisan approach.
Massive voter education needed
WITH Members of Parliament now having instant access to millions of kina, courtesy of Parliament, the tempo has gone up several notches in the drive to gain access to that exclusive club.
Electioneering has begun in earnest throughout the country with but 26 months left before the 2012 national elections.
Outside candidates are fully aware of the financial clout sitting MPs have at present so there are vicious schemes being hatched, which would get nastier as the countdown narrows.
Security has always been the number one priority of past elections but this next one promises to be a shocker.
The Government must resource the office of the Electoral Commission sufficiently this year and next year to begin preparations, beginning with massive voter education.
Recent suggestions for voter identification and finger printing should be taken seriously.
Despite the most elaborate preparations, you can be sure that there will be equally elaborate schemes to thwart or cheat the system. That is only natural in PNG but an educated population is the best defence against election fraud.
Education should begin at the beginning – with an appreciation of just what the responsibilities of a citizen is in a democratic country.
A visit to the Constitution and, in particular, the goals and guiding principles in the preamble is a useful start. You will be surprised just how many people in this country are ignorant of these timeless and powerful messages.
“We The People,” the Constitution declares in the opening lines, “do now establish this sovereign nation and declare ourselves, under the guiding hand of God, to be the Independent State of Papua New Guinea.
“And we assert, by virtue of that authority all power belongs to the people – acting through their duly elected representatives; respect for the dignity of the individual and community interdependence are the basic principles of our society; we guard with our lives our national identity.
“Our national wealth, won by honest, hard work be equitably shared by all.”
So saying, we, the people, adopted for ourselves a Constitution and declared ourselves before God and the community of other nations that we were Independent.
In so doing, we, the people, also set before ourselves five national goals and directive principles.
While these goals are non-justiceable, it is nevertheless binding on all citizens corporate and unincorporated.
The first of these goals are for integral human development. This goal proclaims for all to be “dynamically involved in the process of freeing himself or herself from every form of domination or oppression so that each man and woman will have the opportunity to develop as a whole person in relation with others.
Equality and participation.
We declared our second goal to be for all citizens to have an equal opportunity to participate in, and benefit from, the development of our country.
The third goal is national sovereignty and self-reliance, which commits Papua New Guineans to be politically and economically independent and for no effort to be spared in making PNG economically self-reliant.
The fourth goal is for Papua New Guinea’s natural resources and environment to be conserved and used for the collective benefit of us all, and be replenished for the benefit of future generations.
Our fifth goal is to achieve development primarily through the use of Papua New Guinean forms of social, political and economic organisation.
Having set such noble goals, the founding fathers also acknowledged and gave to every person in the country certain fundamental rights and freedoms of the individual.
Each person is entitled to life, liberty, security of the person and protection of the law regardless of race, tribe and place of origin, political opinion, colour, creed or sex.
They have the right to take part in political activities and ought to be free from inhuman treatment or forced labour, that they have freedom of conscience, of expression, of information and of assembly and freedom of employment and movement; protection for the privacy of their homes and other property and from unjust deprivation of property.