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By Francis Uliau

PORT MORESBY, Papua New Guinea (December 9, 1999 – The Independent)---Deputy Prime Minister John Pundari and his Advance PNG Party (APP) have been sacked from government, less than 24 hours after they helped the government pass the 2000 Budget and amid growing speculation of a major reshuffle within the next few days.

The K 3 billion 2000 Budget was passed by an absolute majority of more than 55 MPs on Tuesday night with Mr. Pundari’s group playing a pivotal role in getting their 16 members to vote for it.

Intense lobbying has begun with major coalition partners in government vying for the vacant deputy prime minister’s portfolio.

Pangu leader Chris Haiveta, who has the second highest number in the coalition of about eight, and the National Alliance’s Bart Philemon, and People’s Action Party’s Ted Diro are also strong contenders for the position.

The sacking also effectively means the withdrawal of the Home Affairs, Youth, Women, Churches and Sports ministerial portfolios previously held by Mr. Pundari.

No new appointments have been made to the posts. However, one is expected "shortly" when the prime minister meets with his People’s Democratic Movement party caucus and leaders of the government coalition.

Announcing this to journalists in Port Moresby yesterday afternoon, Prime Minister Sir Mekere Morauta said "the underlying objective of this move is to re-establish, renew and enhance political stability and credibility.

"The position of the deputy prime minister has been withdrawn from the leader of PNG Advance Party John Pundari," Sir Mekere said, adding: "He has also been replaced as the Minister for Church, Youth and Home Affairs.

"I still have to meet with leaders of the government coalition to decide on who to appoint," Sir Mekere told journalists.

Yesterday’s blow to the Pundari camp came shortly after speculations that the Morauta/Pundari government will, for the first time, make a major reshuffle within the government ranks as well as that of heads of departments and other organizations before the new year.

Sources said the move had been earlier shelved due to rumors of a possible budget blockage, and was set to accommodate demands put out by the various factions of the government.

Spread on the table are the ministries of Health, Treasury and those previously held by Mr. Pundari and several vice-ministerial portfolios which will be sporadically distributed on the basis of parties which have the bigger numbers (and are currently still in government) after yesterday’s announcement.

Mr. Pundari’s office, by late yesterday afternoon, was yet to receive an official notice on the sacking of the deputy prime minister from his post and subsequent withdrawal of Mr. Pundari’s ministerial portfolios.

Mr. Pundari refused to comment yesterday, explaining (through his officers) that he was yet to receive an official notice on his, and the APP’s, sacking from government.

"Taking that action (sacking of Pundari and PNG Advance Party) has not been easy and had not been taken lightly," Sir Mekere said.

The prime minister also explained that the structure of the coalition had been under review since July 14 when the government was formed.

"It is no secret that the current coalition was stitched together at the 11th hour.

"Since the change of government, the Opposition has not stopped its tactics of attempting to destabilize the coalition.

"I have been watching and assessing various moves, and will continue to do so," Sir Mekere said in a media statement issued at yesterday’s announcement.

"The country has suffered from lack of political stability for many years, and many of the problems we face now came from that," he told journalists.

"Political stability is essential, an essential ingredient to providing an environment that is conducive to investment and growth.

"I am confident that this move will produce an outcome."

The prime minister said the bottom line for the move was to "forge a coalition with which I and PDM are comfortable, with parties and people on whom we feel we can rely."

"(Political instability) has been a major factor in the inability of successive governments to implement their policies and deliver services to the people.

"I do not want to be running a nation and looking back all the time."

The prime minister also denied having used Pundari and his PNG Advance Party to pass the 2000 Budget.

"We haven’t used any party.

"It’s a nation’s budget and it is the parliament’s responsibility to decide on the budget," Sir Mekere said.

Yesterday’s sacking of AAP now leaves the coalition with Sir Michael’s National Alliance, People’s Progress Party, Pangu, Melanesian Alliance and People’s Action Party.

For additional reports from The Independent, go to PACIFIC ISLANDS REPORT News/Information Links: Newspapers/The Independent (Papua New Guinea).



PORT MORESBY, Papua New Guinea (December 10, 1999 – Radio Australia)---At least four small coalition parties in the Papua New Guinea government have amalgamated to form the country's newest political party, to be called the People's National Alliance.

The parties announced the new group in Port Moresby saying it was a direct response to the sacking of the Deputy Prime Minister John Pundari, by the Prime Minister Sir Mekere Morauta.

The new grouping includes the National Alliance, Peoples National Party, Melanesian Alliance, Movement for Greater Autonomy and independents.

Sir Mekere has said he sacked Mr. Pundari to ensure political stability to allow his government to smoothly implement the 2000 national budget.

But the member for Moresby-South and independent member of the new party, Lady Carol Kidu, says the government's coalition parties are shocked at the sacking of Mr. Pundari.

"I think all members of our grouping were shocked by the sudden sacking and particularly disappointed that we hadn't been consulted in anyway as a group that had remained loyal to the government, since it was formed in July."

For additional reports from Radio Australia, go to PACIFIC ISLANDS REPORT News/Information Links: Radio/TV News/Radio Australia.

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