Transparency International PNG (TIPNG) warns that the democratic rights of all Papua New Guineans will be damaged if proposed legislative changes to election laws are enacted by Parliament.
With the recent major changes done by the National Executive Council on: nomination fees, the campaign period and election petition costs, TIPNG sees the proposals as undermining the principle of equality for all.
Lawrence Stephens, the Chairman of TIPNG, in advising of this concern with the proposed rule changes said, “They will severely reduce the rights of citizens to participate in future elections”.
There has been concern expressed nationwide at news of the proposed change of increasing the election nomination fee for intending candidates from K1,000 to K10,000.
“The laws of PNG must not be available only to those with cash. We must protect the rights of all citizens regardless of their access to cash”, said the Mr. Stephens, “the right to stand for public office is enshrined in Section 50 of the National Constitution and should be protected so as to ensure equal participation in our democracy. Previous Governments’ attempts at increasing the fee have been rightly challenged by the courts as being unconstitutional”.
TIPNG is particularly concerned by the proposal to impose a K20,000 fee for filing election petitions.
According to Mr Stephens, “This creates a barrier for citizens wishing to demand justice during elections. When a complaint is lodged the law enforcement agencies should be obliged to respond. If the agencies find that the complaint is based on reasonable evidence it should be mandatory that they take action. If the complaint is frivolous the agencies are obliged to make impartial decisions. It is disrespectful of our legal system to suggest that officers of the law are not able to identify cases without merit and that they should only respond to complainants who are able to lodge a enormous fee with their complaints.”
TIPNG is calling on the NEC, the Parliament, the PNG Electoral Commission and all arms of government to insist on the protection of citizens’ rights to participate equally in free and fair elections both as voters and as candidates.
The fees now being proposed to nominate for election or to challenge illegality in the election process, TIPNG views, would be destructive, and will undermine the basic principles on which PNG was established.