By EDDIE OSIFELO
In a startling turn of events, the Parliament of the Solomon Islands failed to proceed with the first and second reading of the Constitution (Amendment) (Constituent Assembly) Bill 2023, after the bill did not appear on the order paper this week.
Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare has confirmed schedule for the bill when he read the statement of business last Friday.
However, Sogavare only went ahead with the second reading of the ‘Provincial Assemblies and Honiara City Council Electoral Bill 2023’ and ‘Electoral (Amendment) Bill 2023’.
Following this, he moved the sine die motion to allow all Members of Parliament to make their contribution before the 11th meeting concludes and Parliament stands sine die on Friday 22nd December 2023.
Speculations loom large regarding the last-minute withdrawal of the Constitution (Amendment) (Constituent Assembly) Bill 2023.
The controversy surrounding the bill has gained momentum as various organizations, including the Ministry of Provincial Government and Institutional Strengthening, Law Reform Commission, Transparency Solomon Islands, National Council of Women, Solomon Islands Council of Trade Union, and the Solomon Islands Chamber of Commerce and Industries, expressed opposition during their recent appearances before the Bills and Legislation Committee on Monday 11th to Tuesday 12th December, 2023.
Stanley Dick Pirione, the permanent secretary of the Ministry of Provincial Government Institutional Strengthening, underscored the necessity of meticulously evaluating the provinces’ preparedness for the transition into State Government.
With larger provinces such as Guadalcanal and Western Province expressing interest in attaining statehood, concerns have emerged regarding the capacity of provinces to manage their own affairs and financial resources.
Pirione emphasized cautious assessment to avoid potential detrimental effects on the country’s unity.
Meanwhile, President of the Solomon Islands Council of Trade Union, David Tuhanuku, and President of the National Council of Women, Afu Billy, echoed the sentiment that more extensive consultations and preparatory work are vital before presenting the bill in the Parliament, given its profound implications on the country’s Constitution.
As such, they called for deferement of the Bill until wider consultation is fully done on it.
The proposed Constitution (Amendment) (Constituent Assembly) Bill 2023 outlines a robust procedure for the repeal of the existing Constitution, establishment of the Constituent Assembly, and approval process for the Draft Constitution.
Notably, the bill’s fate hinges on the final decision of Parliament, which will either enact the Draft Constitution as the supreme law of the Solomon Islands or dissolve the Constituent Assembly if rejected.
As the controversy intensifies, it is evident that the future of constitutional reform in the Solomon Islands rests on navigating complex challenges and fostering inclusive dialogue among diverse stakeholders.