THE NATIONAL: PUPILS from the Salvation Army excitedly take their seats and have to be ushered in by several people.
They get a wave from NCD Governor Powes Parkop, and some wave back, happy a “big man” has recognised them. Parkop himself is standing deep in conversation with Member for Sumkar Ken Fairweather, who was first in the chamber but still late.
All across the chamber in little groups, standing or sitting down, members are greeting each other, laughing out loud, signalling to members of the press in the gallery or doodling. Not a single minister is in his chair, prompting a wry observation from a media man: “The questions are here, where are the answers?” Normally, the ordinary members question government ministers on various issues at this time.
From 10.15am, which is when Fairweather walked into the chamber, and out again at 10.45am, this scene is your chamber of Parliament yesterday – reduced to a market place or, perhaps, a man’s club bar.
At 10.45am, Speaker Jeffrey Nape slips in and, without taking his chair, directs the clerk of Parliament, while still standing, to count the quorum. A head count shows no quorum, so the speaker suspends Parliament to the “ringing of bells” and makes his exit.
Members mill about again for a further 30 minutes, by which time it is nearly 45 minutes to noon, before Parliament gets under way. Yesterday was not special. This has been the ordinary state of play in the PNG Parliament throughout last week and this week.
Parliament has convened invariably late each morning. The bell rings for about 15 minutes each morning, reminding all that Parliament will sit at 10am. Members of Parliament are supposed to be seated in shirt, coat and tie, or an appropriate dress for the only lady of the house, well before the mace is brought into the chamber, signifying that Parliament is officially in session.
Yesterday, as on most other days, the bell rang till 10am, and rang out. There was not a soul on the floor of Parliament. The sergeant-at-arms, accompanied by the chief of Parliament security, unlocked the safe and took the mace at a few minutes before 10, but it could not be brought into an empty chamber.
This is the disgraceful state of play that the people’s house has been reduced to now. Many times, members call for respect and dignity to be accorded to them but, in just this one matter of punctuality alone, they insult the dignity and sanctity of the institution of Parliament.
It is shocking. It is disgraceful. It is shameless.
To both the government and opposition, it appears that their separate caucus meetings take precedence over the meeting of Parliament because, on most occasions, they are still in caucus well past 10am. This is absolute nonsense and, again, makes a mockery of Parliament.
For the first time in the history of Parliament, the government musters a three-quarter majority among its own membership to do just about anything it desires in Parliament. Yet, Parliament has had to be postponed time and again last week, and this due to lack of quorum while urgent government business must be pushed further into the future.
Government has not been able to muster the number to pass important legislations as well, which, in itself, is a disgrace and shameful.
In other parliamentary jurisdictions, it is the duty of parliamentary whips in the opposition and government to ensure the membership gets a copy of the business of government or opposition well ahead of time so that daily caucuses are not necessary. Then, the same whips ensure their membership is in the chamber at the appointed time. It seems there are no whips or, if they are, they either do not understand their roles or are not doing them.
However, yesterday, members of the house showed little impressionable minds from the Salvation Army just how they approach the business of governance in this Parliament: Without purpose, concern or respect for time-worn traditions of parliamentary democracies.