SACKING A SURPRISE: FORMER PNG DEPUTY PM PUNDARI

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By Jack Metta

PORT MORESBY, Papua New Guinea (December 10, 1999 – The National)---The Advance PNG Party yesterday expressed surprise over its abrupt sacking from the Government, but said it accepted Prime Minister Sir Mekere Morauta's decision and conveyed its good wishes to him.

"We convey our best wishes to the Prime Minister Sir Mekere Morauta and his family," party leader John Pundari told a news conference yesterday, while describing his party's sacking as a "shocking, surprise Christmas present."

"We wish you the best with your family during this festive season and in your job as the prime minister," the sacked deputy prime minister conveyed to Sir Mekere through the gathered media representatives at Seoul House yesterday afternoon.

"The party accepts its termination from the Government with humility. We are not angered. We know it is the prime minister's prerogative. We are at peace. We are comfortable with ourselves as young leaders with common goals," Mr. Pundari said.

"We will move to the middle benches as a team and play our part for our number one priority, which is the people of this country."

He said that when they participated in the formation of the Government, it was for the sake of transparency, accountability, respect, good governance, good leadership, stability in government and the strengthening of institutions in the land.

"We have been cruelly treated after we formed the government. We were only given two ministries, but we stuck with the government because we believed it was our baby," Mr. Pundari said.

"We stood united as a team and I publicly affirmed to the prime minister that we would be loyal to the Government until 2002."

Mr. Pundari suggested that Sir Mekere may have been confused when he cited 'instability' as the reason for sacking him and his entire party from the Government.

"In any Westminster system of government, where you have more than one party in power, you have to hold regular consultations with your coalition partners to maintain a stable government.

"Decisions without consultations can cause instability," he said.

He said this had been the case with the major partner, the People's Democratic Movement, when the government was formed.

"If the reason for our termination is instability, the people out there and our supporters will know and understand that without us, Sir Mekere would not have become the prime minister.

"Without us, there would not have been a change of leadership."

He said he had learned a "cruel and sad lesson" from his experience as a first time parliamentarian and it made him all the more wiser in the unpredictable atmosphere of PNG politics.

However, he conveyed his gratitude to the prime minister for giving him the opportunity to serve the people and the country on behalf of his party. He also urged those whom he had served as minister -- the women, youth, sports institutions, churches and the staff of his former ministry -- to continue to be committed in their work for the benefit of the people.

Vanimo-Green River MP Micah Wes said he was sorry that his party was not able to play out its part in the process of resuscitating the economy, which was one of the main reasons for which they strove to change the government and the former leadership.

Tari MP Tom Tomiape said as leaders they will continue to be in Parliament and will stick together as a team to fight for greater benefits, not for themselves, but for the people who put them in Parliament.

Wosera Gawi MP Gallus Kipandi Yumbui let slip that if they have to be in the Opposition, they will, since the Opposition too needs a strong leadership. However, he was soon silenced by the rest of the team, with Mr. Pundari reiterating that the team would occupy the middle benches.

Laiagam Pogera MP Opis Papo perhaps summed up the party's stance best: "Instability is caused by the government of the day. If the major coalition partner does not consult its coalition partners, then it is causing instability."

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

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