|Registrar, Dr Alphonse Gelu|
By Dr Alphonse Gelu
Political parties are political organisations that are made up of likeminded individuals to pursue a common interests on a wide range of issues or on specific issues. In looking at the origins of political parties around the world, this has been the common characteristics of the origins of the parties. The formation of parties is different to the formation of other groups due to the outlook of those that forms parties. Parties operates at the national level and the focus for parties compared to the other groups is that they intend to contest the elections and win seats in the legislature at the national level.
There may be parties that are regionally/provincial based but for countries like Papua New Guinea, the formation of parties focuses on winning seats in elections and taking a place at the Parliament.
In this article I will provide some insights on how political parties are organised and some of the requirements that must be fulfilled as part of the political party culture in a democracy such as in Papua New Guinea.
The Organic Law on the Integrity of Political Parties and Candidates (OLIPPAC) provides for the establishment of political parties through the registration process which is carried out by the Registry of Political Parties.
Enlisting Membership into Political Parties
In PART III – POLITICAL PARTIES GENERALLY of the OLIPPAC, covered Sections on the membership of political parties; executive officers of political parties; public officer; requirement of political party to register; and qualifications for registration.
In terms of membership, party membership shall not be restricted on the basis of sex, race, religion or place of origin. However non-citizens cannot be members of political parties. And a person cannot be a member of more than one political party.
In order for a political party to be active, it must have members. The current practice in Papua New Guinea and even since 1968, political parties have not been able to recruit people to become its members. Political parties do not even keep records of its membership and this is one of the most obvious weakness faced by political parties in the country.
The Registry has continuously reminded political parties to recruit membership throughout the country. In 2013, the Registry designed a template to allow political parties to register their members and the Registry even offered the parties to maintain its register of membership within the Registry’s information system. To date no political parties have been able to do this.
The Registry since 2018 has been registering members on behalf of political parties. Some provinces and districts that the Registry has been able to do this was in Madang and Lae, in Sumkar and Bogia and in Alotau, all in 2018. Even during the party expo held in Port Moresby in November 2017, some parties that participated were able to recruit membership from the public that attended.
Enlisting membership is the main source of the party raising its own funds. The fees the members pay can be used to administer the affairs of the parties. In New Zealand in the last election, the Labour Party raised about $4 million from its members themselves. The same can be done in Papua New Guinea, it the parties can maintain a good record of its membership.
A group that the Registry is targeting are the women. The Registry is calling on all the interested women to join a political party. It would be an advantage to the women to join a party and when thinking of taking part in an election as a candidate, the party (ies) would readily endorse the women candidates.
Executives of Political Parties and Remuneration
The executive officers of political parties are the key individuals that manages the operations of the political parties. In Section 25 of the OLIPPAC, it stated that a political party must have the following executive officers; a president; a secretary; a treasurer; a parliamentary leader. Some parties using their discretions and including in their party constitutions have also included a position of Vice-President of the party.
The appointment of the executives are to be done in a democratic manner. The function of each of the executives of the parties are clearly spelt out in the respective constitutions of each political party.
Under the current arrangements, those political parties with members in Parliament are remunerated. The General Secretaries receives fortnightly salaries while the President and Treasurer receives monthly stipends. These are administered by the Registry of Political Parties. In 2013, I made a decision to cease payments of gratuity and leave entitlements to the General Secretaries due to the absence of an administrative and legal framework that would justify the payments of these entitlements. The General Secretaries are appointed by their respective political parties but are paid for by the State despite them not having any form of contract in place with the State. Gratuities are paid based on performance. As it currently stands, the General Secretaries do not report to anyone on their performance that would justify the payments of their gratuities.The Registry has since been in consultation with the Department of Personnel Mangement to sort this matter out.
In the programs conducted by the Registry since 2013, the General Secretaries have been the target of trainings. The trainings conducted since 2013 is to build the capacity of the General Secretaries so that they could effectively manage the operations of their respective political parties. The General Secretaries are the key people within the political parties. They are the ones that identify the various activities for the party, they liaise between the different groups in the party, they organise meetings, they brief the other executives on matters arising, they liaise closely with the Registry on matters faced by the party, and so on. They are also the first people that the Registry make contact with when it comes to important matters that the Registry want parties to know about.
Unity/Cooperation amongst the Executives and the Parliamentary Wing
The executives of political parties are made of two groups, the non-parliamentary wing and the parliamentary wing. Both groups are equally important for a political party, none is to be seen or claim to be powerful over the other. Once such mentality emerges than it would only create animosity and instability within the party. The relationship between the two groups are also clearly outline in the constitutions of the political parties.
One of the critical areas that is important to maintaining unity and cooperation within the parties is the relationship between the executives of political parties and the parliamentary leader or the parliamentary wing. This is so critical because once there is a breakdown in the relationship then this would greatly affect the operations of the party.
Conventionally, there must always be a good relationship between the executives. They must respect each other’s sphere of authority. There must be continuous line of communications between the two groups especially between the non-parliamentary wing and the parliamentary wing. An issue that has created problems for the political parties is the practice of the parliamentary leader claiming overall authority over the other executives. The parliamentary leader possess the same amount of authority just like the other executives who are non-members of Parliament. For many parties, this is clearly stated in the party constitution.
The parliamentary leaders must therefore see and treat the non-parliamentary executives with respect and to work closely with them for the interest of the party. While the parliamentary leader is busy with his duties in parliament and also in his/her electorate, it is the non-parliamentary executives that are responsible for the overall operations of the party.
The same goes for the other members of the party in Parliament. They must respect the non-parliamentary executives and cooperate with them in advancing the interests of the party. If there is any signs of disagreement, this must be settled in a manner that does not disrupt the overall functioning of the party.
National Conventions and Key Activities for Political Parties
One key activity that the parties and that is all the political parties must convene is the national convention of the party. Political parties are supposed to be mass based organisations. That is they must have roots in the communities. It is in the party conventions that would allow members of the parties regardless of their status to participate in the discussions.
This is one activity that political parties in Papua New Guinea have not done well with. It really defeats the whole idea of having a party in place because how are decisions made within parties and how can the members have some say in the affairs of the political parties.
Some of the critical activities that must be taken by the executives of the parties with support from the parliamentary members of the parties include;
- Organising party conventions to elect executives and also the presentation of the party’s experiences in the last election (2017)
- Awareness throughout the country about the party
- Enlisting members to join parties
- Fundraising drive for the party
- Working on the annual financial returns to be submitted to the Registry
- Continuous engagements between the executives and the parliamentary wing
- Revising party policies
- Attending to matters as directed by the Registry of Political Parties
- Establishing Women and Youth Wings in Provinces/Districts
The above activities are critical for the parties. There is plenty to do for the executives. Unfortunately at this stage, there is no legal requirement for the parties to report to the Registry about their roles and responsibilities despite the Registry requesting political parties to do this since 2013.
The Registry would continue to demand from the executives on their work plans which all the parties failed to submit to the Registry. As a result of this, the Registry has no idea on what the political parties are doing.
Political parties as political organisations have their own structures in place. The structure explains and show the relationship between the different groups within the party.
The parties are managed by a group of individuals who are the executives. The executives are both non-parliamentarian and parliamentarian. As shown in the article, it is important that the relationship between the two groups must be based on mutual respect in order to generate a peaceful climate for the party to exist in.
As the executives, they have the interest of the party in their hands. There are critical areas that the executives must try and do something about. These areas are critical to the survival of the party. We really don’t expect the executives especially the non-parliamentary executives not to conduct activities relating to the strengthening of the parties. They must see this as their utmost priority that is why they were elected in the first place. The mindset and the energy given to making the parties known throughout the country must be part of the culture of being an executive of a party. We really don’t expect individuals to be elected and sit around doing nothing.
The Registry of Political Parties had demanded the parties and their executives to report to it on their work plans however this has not been forthcoming. The Registry would still insist on this as this would really justify the salaries and the allowances that are paid to the executives that have members in Parliament and most importantly to simply strengthen the parties in the country.