Call to honour Constitution
An Independence Day Message
A Call to Honour the Constitution
- Paul Harricknen, Lawyer and President of Catholic Professionals Society
In an animated and passionate speech at the St Joseph’s Boroko parish Eucharist celebration on 16 September 2020 to mark the 45thIndependence anniversary of PNG Mr. Paul Harricknen, lawyer and President of Catholic Professionals Society of PNG called on the people and leaders of this proud nation to recognise and honour the country’s national Constitution.
He said, “as we recall the freedom our founding fathers and mothers worked at to bring our people and nation to where we are today it is also important to recognise and pay respect to our national Constitution. The Constitution was the key political and legal document our founding leaders and people worked so hard upon which the nation of PNG is founded.”
One of the important tasks for the Constitutional Planning Committee (CPC) was to produce a home-grown Constitution upon which the new nation of PNG was politically and legally founded on. The Constituent Assembly formally adopted the Constitution on 15 August 1975 to usher in Independence on 16 September 1975.
“A national Constitution is an important political and legal document of any independent sovereign State. Many developed nations such as France, India, and the United State with written Constitution revere its importance only next to the Sacred Scriptures and the word of God,” he said.
PNG Constitution faced many challenges over the 45 years. The Constitution has been tested time and again only for it to stand tall and firm through the high Courts of the country to correct Governments of the day, leaders and people of decisions and actions which were otherwise not in accord with the intent and spirit of the Constitution and against the common good of the people.
The Constitution has allowed for smooth transition of Governments after general elections and during votes of no-confidence. Where there were errors and challenges the Constitution was used to correct them. The unlawful takeover of the Somare Government in 2011 was corrected through the Constitution. The Constitution ensured that Wingti could not resign as Prime Minister to get re-elected the next day to extent his term in office and to avoid a vote of no-confidence.
Where there are human rights abuses the Constitution provides protection and relief to the abused. It remains the hope of the ordinary and common people to seek protection and relief from excessive and unlawful use of power against their human rights and freedom.
To the cheer of a captive audience Mr. Harricknen also pointed out that on the occasion of 45 years Independence celebration when we rightly honour and acknowledge the founding fathers for our Independence we must also acknowledge our women and mothers who stood beside the men and contributed one way or another to the founding of our beautiful nation. “Women are not behind or before, they are always beside the men” Mr. Harricknen added.
The Constitution experienced some good amendments and some bad ones. The first major amendment made in 1976 for the introduction of the Provincial and Local Government system to enable decentralization of political power to the provincial and the local levels helped to avoid fragmentation and maintain unity of our diverse nation of many tribes and languages, especially with Bougainville and the New Guinea Islands. We also experienced some poor and bad amendments such as the 2014 amendment to s. 42 to allow for the interest of Australia to accommodate the refugees and asylum seekers on Manus. The Supreme Court in April 2016 declared the decision and actions of both Australia and PNG Governments unconstitutional and inhumane against those people and closed down the detention centre.
Mr. Harricknen cautioned the Government of its intention to amend the system from focus on the levels of government under the present system to levels of service and economic development. It is a major call which the Government should allow for a wider consultation and debate on. The intention to amend s. 45 on freedom of conscience, thought, and religion in the push to Christianize PNG is also a major call, which requires proper and wider consultation and debate.
In fact any amendment to a Constitutional law must go through a process of wider consultation than it be a matter only for the elected representatives and the Government. Constitution must not be treated as an ordinary Act of Parliament. It holds and carries the wisdom of our founding fathers and mothers which we the latter generations must thread with respect and caution.
Emphasizing the importance of the Constitution Mr. Harricknen went on to propose for declaration of a “Constitution Day” which could be on the day of its adoption by the Constituent Assembly on 15 August for the people and nation to reflect on the importance of the Constitution and the wisdom of the founding fathers and mothers.
Mr. Harricknen reminded his Catholic audience that the Church through Grand Chief Sir Michael Somare, then Fr. John Momis, Meg Taylor, and Bernard Narokobi among many others behind the scene has contributed immensely in the framing of the Constitution. The Catholic Church was there hand in hand with Governments of PNG and Australia to help usher in Independence. The partnership of State and the Church has been the cornerstone of the nation’s founding. This partnership must continue and increase to a new level for positive and meaning development of our people and country. The Church cannot be a mechanism for service delivery only but an equal development partner to be consulted on policy and law. The Church already has the bitter experience of not been consulted on some major decisions such as, for example, the tuition fee free (TFF) policy and the severe funding crises with the Catholic Health services in recent times.
What we need is a renewed level of enthusiasm and zeal, which our fathers and mothers experienced at the founding of our independence both for the Church and State in PNG to generate passion and hope for our country.
May God bless Papua New Guinea.