Opposition claims PNG budget vote a ‘mockery’, plans legal challenge

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PNG Parliament chamber
PNG Parliament in session ... opposition MPS caught in Vanimo. Image: One PNG

Pacific Media Centre Newsdesk

The Papua New Guinea Parliament has passed the 2021 national budget with more than half of MPs – including the opposition – absent from the chamber, assuming it had been adjourned to December 1.

The opposition says it is challenging the sitting in the Supreme Court.

Opposition lawyers could not obtain a stay order from the court in time to stop the Parliament sitting on Tuesday morning, reports The National.

Speaker Job Pomat, after reviewing the laws governing the calling of meetings of the House on Monday, ruled that a motion passed last Friday to adjourn to next month, was “wrongly entertained”.

He therefore recalled Parliament on Tuesday, catching the Opposition MPs who left last weekend for a camp in Vanimo, West Sepik, by surprise. They were still in Vanimo.

Prime Minister James Marape, backed by 50 MPs including himself, welcomed the passing of the 2021 national budget saying the work of governing the nation must continue.

“It is time to finish the year and pass the budget for a new year. I am still PM leading this government and have been leading for 18 months. It hasn’t been easy,” he said.

Debts ‘we are trying to clean’
“There are debts we are trying to clean and get loans that have less interest like the Australians have given.

“The IMF, ADB, World Bank, Japan are assisting this country. We are trying to clean the debts we have incurred over the last couple of years.”

The National 181120
“Crisis in the House” … The National newspaper’s coverage of the budget vote. Image: PMC screenshot

Lawyer Phillip Tabuchi of Young and Williams lawyers representing the opposition said an application for a stay order had to be withdrawn around midday as Parliament was already sitting by then.

Justice Derek Hartshorn in the Supreme Court agreed to withdraw the application and had the substantive matter adjourned to the registry.

Tabuchi said: “The application for injunction to restrain this morning’s (yesterday) sitting had to be withdrawn because the events had overtaken the application. We will reconsider legal avenues and take it from there.”

Former PM Peter O’Neill described the Parliament sitting as “illegal”.

“Last Friday, 57 members voted to adjourn Parliament to Dec 1. If the government has the numbers they can pass the budget on December 1,” he said.

“Unfortunately, they knew that more than half of MPs are out of Port Moresby and not able to attend Parliament.”

‘Why the rush?’
He accused Marape and Pomat of “making a mockery of our parliamentary system, the mandates of our people, the democracy that they have enjoyed for the last 45 years.”

He said any MP could move a motion for parliament to be adjourned.

“In fact (last Friday), Belden Namah moved a motion to suspend Standing Orders. When you do that, it means Standing Orders do not apply,” he said.

“The 57 members gave him (Namah) that authority to suspend standing orders.”

O’Neill said they were redrafting the application to the court to declare the sitting illegal.

“Today they (government) were trying to pass a budget which is not printed. It is illegal. Why the rush?”

The Pacific Media Centre republishes The National articles with permission.

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