SHOULD THE SPEAKER BE A MEMBER OF A POLITICAL PARTY?
The National Parliament of Papua New Guinea is the highest institution in the Country. The Legislative power of the 7.5 million plus people of PNG is vested in the National Parliament and the person who ensures that the peoples’ lawmaking power is exercised by their elected representatives is the Speaker of Parliament. Parliament is a deliberative assembly and if laws are not deliberated or debated properly and bulldozed using the government’s numerical strength, it defeats the very purpose of Parliament. It is just the same as having no parliament at all but a dictatorial executive government.
A Speaker inherits the mantle of spokesperson for and defender of the Parliamentary Democracy. The chief characteristics attaching to the Office of Speaker in the Parliament are authority and impartiality. Parliament loses its dignity and respect if these characteristics are not observed by the person occupying the seat of the speaker.
The Speaker has a role to ensure that all members of Parliament are able to express themselves and to maintain order to enable such free speech. The Speaker must be consistent and fair in his interpretation of the Standing Orders and practice and that the minority’s right to be heard is diligently maintained, instead of hiding behind the curtains of parliamentary standing orders and procedures, gagging constructive debates on national issues and laws tabled in parliament. A fair degree of latitude must be given to members opposite and allow debates, to ensure that there is check and balance on government sponsored legislations.
Section 107(1) of the Constitution of the Independent State of Papua New Guinea establishes the offices of the Speaker and Deputy Speaker. Subsection 4 prohibits Ministers or Parliamentary Leaders of registered Political parties to hold the office of the speaker, purposely to avoid party affiliations and government agenda influence the impartiality of the speaker. The first most important function of the speaker as stipulated in Section 108 of the Constitution is to uphold the dignity of Parliament.
In other democracies such as the United Kingdom, the speaker of the House of Commons, once elected, disassociates himself from party affiliations. The Speaker is impartial in the Chair, withdraws from party meetings and does not debate party issues. The extension of our Westminster system of Government in PNG demands that we have a similar arrangement as that of UK. The Speaker, once appointed, should sever party affiliations. I believe that such an arrangement would strengthen Parliamentary democracy in PNG.