12 Jul 2017

Resigned PNG electoral committee opted for caution over judgement

8:04 am on 12 July 2017

A member of the electoral advisory committee which has resigned midway through Papua New Guinea's national election says they had to pull out to protect the integrity of the committee.

Polling in rural Morobe province, Papua New Guinea national election 2017.

Polling in rural Morobe province, Papua New Guinea national election 2017. Photo: RNZ / Johnny Blades

The committee has resigned only a month into its job, indicating the Electoral Commission has not allowed them access to information they require to perform their assessment of the election.

Richard Kassman said his committee could not responsibly do its job without being provided basic data and regular reporting from PNG's regions.

With many complaints surfacing during polling about a faulty electoral roll and irregular ballot distribution, there's pressure on electoral officials to declare a failed election in some electorates.

Mr Kassman said it wasn't their job to make judgements per se.

"It was our call to look at quite obvious regularities, add some numbers together and then raise that in our recommendations to the Commissioner, but give the opportunity for the commission to come back as well and clarify, for example, if we had incorrect figures."

He said this was why they felt the role of the committee would be in jeopardy if they continued without the basic data required, while declarations continued to be made.

In terms of being able to do its job, in the first instance, the committee required baseline data and regular reporting - it wasn't asking the Commission for anything outside the ordinary.

Then, Mr Kassman explained, the committee would start with what they called an issues register, and they would make enquiries.

"And where we identified issues, we would reclassify that as a case. And these would be the ones we would go into with a little bit more rigour," he said.

The committee had identified at least four in that short time it was operating which required further elaboration and investigation on its part.

"So we wrote specifically on two particular cases, saying can we get the commission's report on these ones. And we felt that was where then if it verified, if the information that came from the commission showed that this was an area of concern, then we could dig deeper into it."

However the commission appeared to be too busy to provide this information.

After the resignation of the committee's members, the Electoral Commissioner, Patilias Gamato said the commission had been processing the committee's requests.

Mr Gamato described the committee's resignation as "premature".

Many critics of the Electoral Commission's performance in this shambolic election are lamenting the resignation of Mr Kassman and his committee.

It was tasked by law as being the body which can assess where there might be grounds to fail Papua New Guinea's national election in certain electorates.

PNG law says it is up to the Commissioner to decide to declare an election failed, or to advise the head of state on whether to withdraw a writ.

"This is where the ambivalence is," said Mr Kassman, referring to his committee's function as the primary body to make such a recommendation to the Commissioner for a failed election.

"Or can it be construed that because it's only a recommendation the power... actually lies with the Commissioner," he mused. "So if there were issues, then he still can make that decision - if the prevailing circumstances were deemed such - to fail an election."

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