PNG’s extension of return of writs date ‘unconstitutional’, says former chief justice

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Former Chief Justice Sir Arnold Amet
Former Chief Justice Sir Arnold Amet ... no constitutional provisions for a caretaker government. Image: Ramumine

By Miriam Zarriga in Port Moresby

The two-week extension on the return of Papua New Guinea’s general election writs date has been knocked as unconstitutional.

A former Chief Justice, Sir Arnold Amet, said there were no provisions in the Constitution for any extension of writs beyond the fifth anniversary of the date fixed for the return of the writs, which was yesterday — July 29.

He said also that there were no constitutional provisions for a caretaker government to continue beyond this date.

Sir Arnold’s stance came as uncertainty surrounded the extension of the deadline for return of writs to August 12.

The extension sought by Electoral Commissioner Simon Sinai was granted by Governor-General Sir Bob Dadae this week because electoral officials in more than half of the country’s 118 electorates had yet to complete counting and declare members of the new Parliament.

Government House has indicated the instrument for gazetting of the extension was signed on Tuesday, but by yesterday there was no formal notice of this.

According to Secretary for Department of Justice and Attorney-General Dr Eric Kwa, the fifth anniversary for the 10th Parliament fell yesterday – July 29.

Sir Arnold’s view
Said Sir Arnold: “And so if July 29, 2022 is the date originally fixed for the return of the writs, as being nearly as may reasonably be to the fifth anniversary of the date fixed for the return of the writs for the previous general election, which according to the 2017 calendar is July 28, then that is in sufficient compliance with the Constitution and Organic Law.

“The originally scheduled time and date for the calling of the first meeting of Parliament pursuant to the Constitution section 124 (1) and the Organic Law on Calling of Parliament for Thursday. August 4, 2022, was consistent with the ‘anniversary of the term of Parliament’.

“The extension of date for the return of writs to August 12 2022, to now extend the time for the return of the writs, as advised by the Head of State, acting on advice of the Electoral Commission, would now require the time and date to be fixed for the first meeting of Parliament to be ‘not more than seven days’ after August 12, 2022, which if not already fixed and advised shall be Thursday August 18 2022.”

Sir Arnold said the potential constitutional implications of this extension were that it:

  • Took the date fixed for the return of the writs to beyond the “as nearly as may reasonably be to the fifth anniversary of the date fixed for the return of the writs for the previous general election” by 15 days;
  • Took the term of office of the current members of Parliament, also 15 days, beyond the normal term of office of five years;
  • Extended the life of the current term of Parliament beyond the five years by 15 days to the return of writs and 21 days to the calling of the first meeting of Parliament, possibly on August 18, 2022.

Miriam Zarriga is a PNG Post-Courier reporter. Republished with permission.

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