A CYNICAL LOOK AT O’NEILL’S PNG ‘COUP’

Editorial

The National

PORT MORESBY, Papua New Guinea (Aug. 10, 2011) – In Papua New Guinea (PNG), new Prime Minister Peter O’Neill may have pulled off a coup last week but the Southern Highlander still has his work cut out for him.

With the announcement of his cabinet last Friday, already the grumbling has begun from one quarter at least – the Sepik bloc.

Three Members of Parliament (MPs) who sided with new government – Ronald Asik (Wosera-Gawi), Dr Moses Manwau (Wewak) and Peter Iwei (Telefomin) – have voiced their displeasure at being overlooked for mi­nisterial positions.

O’Neill has maintained that all stakeholders in his government were consulted and portfolios allocated after exhaustive consideration.

Nevertheless, one cannot escape the fact that this looks like a backlash for the nine years spent under the yoke of Sepik dominion.

At this stage, we are not sure how stable and secure the new administration may be but if the events of the past weeks and months is anything to go by, then no­thing is etched in stone.

On the ministries front, O’Neill has assembled a talented group of individuals who had been kept out of the limelight for so long it was refreshing to see their familiar names and faces grace the photo shoot at Government House last week.

There is no substitute for experience and in tried and tested campaigners like Sir Mekere Morauta (State Enterprises) and Bart Philemon (Public Service), the new government certainly will not suffer from a lack of sound advice or political wisdom.

But these two senior statesmen have gone on record saying this will be their last terms in office, which subsequently will leave the government minus two irreplaceable members.

The remaining ministers are a combination of incumbents, discarded former portfolio holders, bright prospects and several untested and unknown individuals.

O’Neill has dubbed this collection of Members of Parliament (MPs) as the "humble regime".

What that term means in this current political climate is really anyone’s guess but it is unlikely that this administration, in its present form, will last through the 2012 general election and come out intact.

And that is assuming it gets that far with the ousted National Alliance members having immediately sought legal redress over the matter.

So what everyone wants to know is why change a government at this juncture only nine months before the House is dissolved and all MPs return to their electorates to seek the people’s mandate?

Would it not have been better to form a new government after the election when you know where the cards are on the table?

This speaks to the motive of rushing to grab power at a crucial time presumably to halt the previous government’s wayward spending and curb other questionable practices.

Yes, there is a multitude of issues crying out to be heard, addressed and resolved but is the period between now and polling day sufficient time to do that?

Hardly.

Some of those issues on the laundry list include seeing through public investigation into the use of public funds such as the commission of inquiry into the Special Agriculture and Business Leases (SABL), the 125 million kina [US$54.5 million] worth of treasury bills used to fund development in Kokopo, the probe into alleged corrupt practices at the Department of National Planning and the mooted law changes to accommodate reserved women’s seats in parliament.

The elephant in the room is the Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) project and the surrounding landowner equity issues as well as the establishment of two new provinces in Hela and Jiwaka.

One would speculate that the real reason for such an abrupt change of government is simply to wrest control of the national purse strings in order to all but guarantee a return to power post-election.

This may be a crude and simplistic outlook but the stark reality is that this how elections are won and lost in PNG.

Ask yourself, what can our new government possibly accomplish in eight to nine months before it is time to go to the polls?

This could well be one of the biggest and longest electoral campaigns with the government righting the perceived wrongs and/or failings of the previous "mob" and in the process setting themselves up as the preferred choice of the people.

This would be too cynical a view but it could work out that way if not intentionally, then even by coincidence.

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