Slashing DSIP/PSIPs to NO Reserve Seats – Why is James Marape so bold?

PC: business glitz.com

The Prime Minister James Marape boldly declared that there will be NO reserve seats for women under his watch, which means there will be no reserve seats come 2022. This follows slashing the DSIP/PSIP funds. He is not afraid of firing PNC MPs from his government, who were his colleagues, for 10 years or more. Apart from Pangu Pati’s 28 MPs, the second largest party that voted him as PM on 30 May 2019 was the 22 PNC MPs. In a coalition government like PNG’s, keeping party happy is integral for survival of the government.  Marape is content on violating this rule, by firing the second largest party that he was part of for more than 10 years. 

Why is James Marape so bold?

First Possible Explanation

There are two potential explanations. First, PMJM is as safe as any PM can be – the chance that there will be another vote of no confidence is non-plausible.  James Marape is secured from 30 May 2019 to November 2020, before he is exposed to vote of no confidence. After November 2020, the 18 months grace period expires, where a vote of no confidence is allowed. However, this gap lasts for less than less than 7 months. After the 7 months are over, the parliament enters the next phase of grace period. Twelve (12) months starting in July 2020, the government cannot be removed. 

What succeeding governments (prime ministers) have done is to adjourn the parliament so the next sitting can fall well within the remaining 12 months before elections (between July 2021 and July 2022), which makes it impossible to change the government via vote of no confidence. And this could be a possible explanation for James Marape’s boldness. He is as safe as any PM in a fluid environment as PNG can be. The adjournment will require a simple majority. All Marape needs is to keep the coalition numbers slightly above the combined opposition and PNC numbers, to stop the adjournment. James Marape may not adjourn the parliament, and there may be no attempt to challenge him 12 months from now. But it does give anyone in position such as Marape’s confidence to take bold decisions. 

Second Possible Explanation

It is possible that Marape is taking bold choices as a matter of policy choice. DISP/PSIP had to be slashed. Except for a few successful cases, these funds were the most wasteful portion of the budget (not public servants pay that government likes to use as a case for public wastage).   By 2013, PNG’s 89 districts MPs – open electorates – were entitled to K10 million each, Local Level Governments were allocated K500, 000 and the Governors’ were entitled to K5 million per district multiplied by the number of open electorates. A total of K1, 490 million was spent for these programs every year from 2013 onwards under a combined Services Improvement Program (SIP). The provincial component alone was K445 million each year, which was more than the amount that the provinces receive through functional grants (K398 million in 2013) (Howe et al., 2014).Functional grants are non-discretionary, which means the MPs cannot spend it at their discretion. The discretionary funds far exceeded the non-discretionary funds by 2013. When these discretionary funds began in 1984 as Electoral Development Funds, the discretionary funds were in equal proportion to the non-discretionary components. (Read full report here/ for a comprehensive discussion on discretionary funds see Dr Ketan’s work here)

IT HAD TO GO! At one point, whilst writing a piece for ANU’s Development Policy Blog in 2018, I remember pausing for a minute, and thinking to myself – DSIP/PSIP will never be slashed, given the significant role it plays in maintaining the ruling coalitions intact. I’m not sure these funds would have been slashed under another PM. Peter O’Neill temporarily reduced it in 2018, but given his habit of using this funds to manipulate MPs, he would have increased it again. Marape did what many analysts thought was not going to happen anytime soon.

What about the Reserve Seats?

The lack of women representation in PNG parliament is not a new debate, which is often attributed to an “unequal playing field of politics with undemocratic processes and embedded traditional norms that hinder women from representation in parliament”

(See this linkfor more). Women are disadvantaged for all host of reasons, ranging from financial difficulties, to volatile environment during election, and the cultural preferences for male leadership in PNG societies. 

As this study documents, “only 1.4 percent of women are elected out of 319 local level governments and 6,190 wards in the country. Compared to the last national election, three women were elected to Parliament (2012 -2017), and women represented 10 percent of elected officials at the LLGs and wards (2008 – 2013) (Department of Provincial and Local Level Government Affairs, 2018). This data clearly shows that we are not improving the number of women in leadership at all levels of government” (See this linkfor more). Woods (2018) recently published a blog that showed that women who “subsequently contest” elections do not necessarily lead to improved chances that they will win. 

The solution that was advocated for years has been therefore, to have temporary special measures (TSMs) where reserve seats are created for only women candidates to contest, in addition to the rights to contest the 111 seats nationwide. Because it is temporary, it can be abolished after, lets say, three terms – 15 years. The idea is that, by giving creating reserve seats in the 22 provincial seats, women will then perform, and over 15 years change the male preference attitude in PNG.

Is (TSM) Reserve Seats favourable in PNG?

I don’t mind having reserve seats for women, but what I do not agree is that the argument that the reasons why women do not win is because of an unequal playing filed (financial constraints, security etc.) or even male preference society. 

(For all womenfolk who follow Academia_Nomad, give me the grace to make my argument – I have the utmost respect for you all).

 The financial constraints, security concerns, etc. is NOT EXCLUSIVELY and female constraint! With the exception of incumbent candidates in recent years who amassed wealth as MPs to spend during elections, the lack of financial resources affects all candidates – male and female. There is no concrete study that suggests that females are financially more disadvantaged. If that is the case, even more male candidates are financially more disadvantaged, as statistically, more male candidates contest, than female candidates. So if you were to randomly select candidates, it is highly probable that you’ll end up with more “poor” male candidates. 

Security? Almost all election related deaths recorded in 2017 elections were males. If women were killed, again, statistically, it is way less than male numbers (Read the 2017 Election Report here). If violence prevented females from campaigning in a certain location, it prevented hundreds of male candidates from doing the same. Violence does not discriminate. It affects every body, regardless of gender. If location A is Uncle Pablo Eachobar’s stronghold, both Aunt Angela and Uncle Dwyne are equally not allowed to campaign freely. 

The emphasis on unequal playing filed and patriarchy takes the debate away from the real cause for election problems in PNG: lawlessness. There is a general breakdown in law and order across the breath and length of this country. It finds it finest expression during elections. You can have reserve seats, and after 20 years, abolish it, and women will still face security issues, if lawlessness is not dealt with. Security concerns, and other causes for unequal playing fields are not the “factors”, they are “symptoms.” You do not solve a crisis by addressing the symptoms. The government must first address lawlessness and create equal economic opportunities – for everybody.

The case often use by proponents of reserve seats is Rwanda. In 2003, Rwanda had 24 women MPs out of 80 MPs. Now 68% are females (see here). There are two fallacies here: first, you cannot use Rwanda, at least not yet. The logic of reserve seats is not necessarily the mere increase of women reps, which will always increase if you create reserve seats. But whether the increase of women MPs do actually lead to increased impact on policy – whether they are influencing policy decisions. Research on Rwanda’s case shows that increase in women MPs did not translate into increase women influence on matters of policy – the party leaders, who are male, dictate policy (we can go into the circus of male dominance of party leadership as the reason for lack of influence on policy etc. but the point is increase in female MPs does not necessarily lead to greater influence on policy). So if there is less impact on policy, how then are the people supposed to change their minds and vote female candidates after the 15 or 30 years expire? 

A more substantive reason why Rwanda should not be used (not yet) is: Rwanda is still in the experimentation phase. You can make a case for successful TSM if Rwanda had abolished reserve seats after years of practicing it, and the people voted another 68% women candidates because they were impressed with women over the TSM era. That is not the case. They are still in the TSM phase. What happens if Rwanda abolishes the TSM, and the people are not impressed, and the women number fall? Furthermore, Rwanda already increasing female representations after return to normalcy following the genocide. By the time they introduced reserve seats, they already had more than 20 women MPs out of the 80 MPs elected. This means they would still have continued to vote at least 20 women MPs on average if there were no reserve seats. It also means that if they vote more women after TSM is removed, it may be a natural trend. They were already voting 20+ female MP, remember?

So does Marape’s decision make sense? I would say yes. He must concentrate on creating equal economic opportunities, for all genders, and address law and order. These are the structural impediments to the PNG citizens’ Constitutional rights to free and fair elections, as candidates as well as voters.

Before I end, and be bashed for my position, I must say I have the utmost respect for female candidates, and advocates. Some of the smartest people I know are females, and that is why I think there should be increased representation. But I must respectfully state what I think, and that is what I attempted to do.

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Published by Academia_Nomad

Blogs on politics, economics and social issues in simple language.

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