How did Belden Namah go from volunteering to lead the State of Emergency as a Chairman of the Emergency Committee to arguing it is unconstitutional and invalid in less than 72 hours? But this is Namah-like, and you should not be surprised. But a much bigger question is, even if Namah appears to be a nuisance to many, does he have a point? Is he defending the constitution? What does his track record say about the man?
A little background: Namah has been pursuing a case in the Supreme Court, seeking the court to declare the election of Prime Minister James Marape on 30 May 2019 as unconstitutional and therefore invalid. PM James Marape and Deputy PM Steven Davis, and the Minister for Justice & Attorney General, countered this claim by first stating that election of the PM is governed by the Parliament Standing Orders which are non-judicial (not matters for the courts to decide), it is not constitutional matter which requires the courts’ involvement. Second the PM & AG argues that Belden Namah did not have the legal standing, that he was not eligible to pursue this case. PM and AG therefore wanted the case dismissed.
State of Emergency was declared before the Supreme Court ruled on this case on 23 March. Namah’s appeal to the PM to lead be the Chairman of the Emergency Committee was 24 hours earlier. James Marape did not give Namah the position, and assumed the Chairman position himself. The next day, as the nation went into lock down under James Marape as the Chairman of the Emergency Committee, the court ruled that Namah had legal standing to pursue the case that would potentially remove James Marape as the Prime Minister of PNG. Namah then raised another argument that the SOE was unconstitutional and invalid.
So far, Namah appears to be a nuisance.
Scenario One: James Marape appoints Namah as the Chairman of the Emergency Committee and 24 hours later the Supreme Court rules that Namah can pursue the case to remove the PM, who appointed him as the Chairman 24 hours earlier. Wouldn’t that be weird? Would Namah continue as the Chairman, reporting to the PM he intends to remove in the near future? Or would Namah just withdraw the case and retain his job as the Chairman? What was Namah thinking!
Scenario Two: James Marape appoints Namah as the Chairman of the Emergency Committee and 24 hours Namah realizes that the Committee he was appointed to lead is unconstitutional. Wouldn’t that be weird? Would Namah resign as the Chairman, and pursue the case to declare the SOE unconstitutional? Or would Namah be just silent and retain his job as the Chairman? What was Namah thinking!
OR DOES NAMAH’s ACTIONS MEAN MORE?
Part of the reason why the Supreme Court ruled in favour of Namah was because the judges thought the process in which James Marape was elected raises constitutional questions, not just a breach of Parliamentary Standing Orders. The constitution rises above everybody, even if the PM is beloved of the nation. The Constitution rules.
In the last decade, no MP has defended the constitutional more than Namah. Now bear with me as I provide reasons for this unpopular statement. When People’s National Congress led by Peter O’Neil had about 85 MPs, and almost all other parties and MPs under its coalition between 2012 and 2017, they amended about 14 provisions of the constitutions. They basically bulldozed amendments, legislations, budgets and just about any other decision in the parliament. The opposition, which was depleted, could not stop it. When nothing else was left to stop the carnage, Namah took on the fight individually.
He pursued until the courts ruled that the Manus Refugee Processing Centre was unconstitutional. The opposition could not stop it because they did not have the numbers. Namah had to stop it and reverse the parliament’s decision through the courts. When the grace period was moved from 18 months to 30 months, again the parliament could not stop it. Namah was among the others who pursued the matter in court until it was declared unconstitutional. The same goes for reduced parliamentary sitting days, and the number of MPs required to sign the motion for a vote of no confidence. And finally, when the parliament was adjourned in mid-2016 to avoid a vote of no confidence, Namah was among other MPs who sough the court’s interpretation. The court ruled in favour of Namah.
Despite all this, Namah is also known for orchestrating the overthrow of Somare as the PM in 2011, an action that the Supreme Court retrospectively ruled unconstitutional. He also burst into the Chief Justice’s chambers to arrest him.
It is difficult to say where Namah stands. Is he a defender of the constitution or a nuisance?