By passing amendments to the Environment Act, the government has put foreign companies above the law; allowed their commercial interests to trample all over the rights of Papua New Guinea’s traditional landowners; and undermined our democracy by removing the fundamental protection of the separation of powers.
On May 27th the government rushed through Parliament amendments to the Environment Act (see pdf document below) which give to the Secretary of the Department of Conservation new powers to approve activities by mining and petroleum companies without consulting traditional landowners or securing their agreement.
This is a fundamental denial of the traditional rights of landowners but the changes to the law do not end there.
FIRSTLY landowners are also being denied the right to challenge what the government allows mining and petroleum companies to do. The amendments allow the Environment Secretary to approve activities and any such approval is FINAL AND CANNOT BE CHALLENGED IN ANY COURT. So no matter how outrageous or unfair the approval, the people will have no way of challenging it.
SECONDLY, and worse still, the amendments state that when the company carries out the approved activities it cannot be sued, whether in tort or any other law and the activities cannot be an offence and cannot be unlawful.
This means that no matter what harm the company causes to any person or group of persons they will have no recourse to the law – even for an oil spill on the scale of that unfolding right now in the Gulf of Mexico.
These two amendments effectively take away all a citizens traditional rights (rights developed over tens of thousands of years); common law rights (rights that the courts have developed over hundreds of years); and removes any criminal liability.
Companies are effectively being given carte blanche to do what the hell they like and cause as much damage as they want and nobody can do anything to stop it or claim compensation.
As if this were not enough, the changes to the Environment Act effectively remove the last pillar of our democracy.
Democratic government is based on the separation of powers where the independence of the judiciary, executive and Parliament are closely guarded so that each can act as a check and balance on the other.
Already, in PNG we have seen a fundamental weakening of our democracy with the loss of the separation of the Executive (Prime Minister and National Executive Council) and Parliament. As the government controls so many MPs Parliament has long ceased to be an effective check or balance on the policy and legislation put forward by the Executive, and with the increase in the number of Ministries to 32 the Executive already holds the numbers to constitute a quorum in Parliament without even informing the rest of the MPs.
But our democracy survives, or has until now, because we still had recourse to the judiciary to challenge any action by the Executive or Parliament.
But now the Executive has decided, and Parliament has approved, some Executive decisions shall be exempt from the scrutiny of the courts and thus all individual rights in respect of those decisions have been removed. This is totalitarian, unjust and undemocratic.
The fact that the changes to the Environment Act were rushed through Parliament in a single day with no effective debate or scrutiny only serves to emphasize not only the loss of the separation between the Executive and Parliament, but also exactly why that distinction is so important in maintaining the other freedoms in our society and, crucially, protecting the independent scrutiny of the judiciary.
This is occurring not just because many of our politicians are too stupid to know what it is they are doing, it is occurring because the executive has been captured by powerful foreign interests, in this case the Chinese State which owns the Ramu Nickel Mine and Exxon-Mobil (the most profitable corporation in the world and one whose PROFITS are larger than the economies of ninety-three nations).