Plan to block bill

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Opposition says bill is premature, Independent thinks bill needs amendments, both declare to vote against it

By Gary Hatigeva

MEMBERS of the Official Opposition and Independent groups have slammed proposals within the Constitutional (Amendment) (Electoral Reform) Bill 2018 and have vowed to vote against it.

The government has designed the bill to look at amending certain sections of the constitution especially on the functions of the Solomon Islands Electoral Commission (SIEC) under the Electoral Act in the constitution, and the Political Parties Integrity Commission (PPIC) under the Political Parties Integrity Act 2014.

The proposals includes, merging the SIEC and the PPIC under one body with changes to the functions and powers of certain officials, with the removal of the speaker as a party to the new commission.

Currently, under the electoral act, Speaker of the National Parliament is an automatic Chairperson of the SIEC after being elected.

The other proposals include addition of membership to the combined body, which will have increased the number from three officials to five, and the head of the commission to be called the Election Commissioner, replacing the post of the Chief Electoral Officer.

Under the electoral act, the Chairperson who is the speaker is head of the SI Electoral Commission and the Chief Electoral Officer heads the activities and programs of elections, while the PPI Commission has its own commissioner, who looks after the application of the political party system before, during and after elections.

However, move by the opposition and independent groups has caught the government off guard, knowing that in order for them (government) to make these amendments, it will need at least two-third majority of parliament to vote in favour of it.

But, both groups disagreed and have clearly expressed that a lot of matters highlighted within the bill are not reflecting the nature of Solomon Islands in many aspects, especially when it comes to elections and constituencies.

Debating on this during the second reading of the bill, Member of Parliament for Aoke/Langalanga and Chair of the Bills and Legislation Committee, Matthew Wale pointed out that while he supports a few changes, noted a lot should have been left untouched.

This includes the merger of the two commissions into one, the increase in number of members to the proposed merger, and the point of representation by individuals as candidates of constituencies, which he felt needs to be properly spelt in the bill.

He said this is to discourage the election of non-residence in constituencies as representatives especially, in Solomon Islands context who according to the Aoke/Langalanga MP, would not fully represent the people and lack the connection that would translate into all aspects of leadership in the political arena.

“Our system is at risk of producing representation that does not reflect the views, experiences, hopes and aspirations, and the base demographics of a constituency.

“The quality of true representation is retarded or deformed when the representative is unable to identify with the constituency they represent, or that the constituency does not feel that their representative is truly one of them,” the BLC Chairman said.

Also speaking out opposing the bill, Leader of Opposition and Member of Parliament for East Malaita, Manasseh Maelanga, chose to focus his debate on the merger of the two commissions, which he deemed premature and lacked rationale.

Maelanga shared that providing for political independence of both systems in the legal framework is vital, but stressed that keeping them independent of each other is necessary.

He said the bill in its current form fails to suggest or even point towards any safeguards against potential political manipulation or attacks against the electoral commission or vice versa under such arrangement.

And speaking on his side’s position on the bill, the opposition leader outlined two objects in the proposal, namely (d) and (e), which look to increases the membership of the electoral commission from 3 to 5, gives power to the new commission to deal with the registration of political parties currently undertaken by the PPC under the PPI Act.

The objects also push to establish a new position of Commissioner of Elections to oversee administration of SIEC, and the new position to act as the registrar of political parties under the PPI Act.

The issues highlighted, he said are the heart of the bill as they form the central pillars of the newly proposed merger, and that has taken away the sole purpose of establishing the PPI Act in the first instance.

“Sir, I guess the best policy choice for the Electoral Commission is to strengthen it as an independent, impartial, politically detached, credible and professional institution.

“We must ensure that SIEC is given political independence, has full authority over all elections and the electoral process, while also be given financial autonomy, adequately resourced, get the investment for professional development of its staff, and build public trust in the institution and the election process,” the Opposition Leader stressed.

He added that these are the types of developments the reforms should be focused on and not creating what he described as, some ill-thought policy choices that does little for the country and only gives benefits to others.

The groups then reiterated that the proposed merger is premature and maybe filled with risks and many aspects in the proposal needed thorough amendments so to better satisfy or suit Solomon’s context, and therefore cannot be supported.