KUNDIAWA - It is now two weeks since nine members of the Pangu Party, including its leader Sam Basil, and four independents left the opposition in search of greener pastures in Peter O’Neill’s paddock.
It was a move that shocked Papua New Guinea.
Supporters of Pangu and ordinary Papua New Guineans had held Sam Basil in high respect for his personal stand against corruption and his often repeated condemnation of the corrupt government of Peter O’Neill.
They found it hard to swallow the new reality of Sam Basil’s u-turn to get into bed with O’Neill.
Social media commentators had a field day, calling Basil a Judas, liar, opportunist, pretender, hypocrite of the century and more.
In his self-justification through a media statement, Basil said O’Neill had invited him and Pangu to join the government and he had thankfully accepted.
“I want to thank the prime minister Peter O’Neill for seeing value in the calibre of Pangu Party MPs and inviting us to join the PNC led Coalition government,” he said.
It was clear then that it was prime minister O’Neill who had lured Basil and his party to join the government. If Basil had any other reason – for example, the failure to meet his desire for the leadership of the opposition – he did not make it clear.
All that was stated was that Pangu was invited by O’Neill to join the government.
O’Neill, for his part, in welcoming Basil and other opposition MPs into the government said there were no strings attached.
“I don’t think it’s about goodies,” he said.
So was Peter O’Neill really telling the people of Papua New Guinea, including the people of Wau-Bulolo and Pangu Party supporters, the truth?
Was it true that he didn’t throw any bait at Sam Basil and his followers? Can the people of PNG trust that O’Neill was being truthful?
I did not then and I do not now believe O’Neill’s words. It would not be the first time he has been economical with the truth.
My grounds for not believing O’Neill are that, prior to the move by Basil and 12 members of the opposition to the government, O’Neill didn’t have the absolute majority of 74 MPs he required to legislate laws in parliament, including the important ICAC – Independent Commission Against Corruption - bill.
Also at stake, and possibly facing an impasse, were the 2017 supplementary and 2018 budgets which meant that O’Neill’s government could get itself into deep trouble on the floor of parliament.
In other words O’Neill understood how insecure and shaky his government was and could see trouble looming.
Furthermore, O’Neill knew that losing grip of government and the position of prime minister would cost him so dearly. The impact would be disastrous for his political career and himself personally.
Undeniably O’Neill was confronted with a serious dilemma and the invitation to Sam Basil and his Pangu Party was a calculated strategy of buying badly needed numbers.
And, of course, the price had to be attractive. Without that, no one was going to jump ship.
So what was that price or reward that Sam Basil and his disciples will receive? The nation is still watching.
If they are hoping that over time we will forget the deal, we will not.
For someone like Sam Basil, who had publicly declared Peter O’Neill as his number one enemy (“friend to all, enemy to one, Peter O’Neill”) to twist his tongue the other way and marry O’Neill was a monumental back flip.
One would expect no lesser bait from O’Neill than to offer Basil the position of deputy prime minister (presently occupied by Charles Abel) as well as a host of other rewards for him and the other MPs who accompanied him across the chamber. This would naturally include ministerial portfolios.
In the two weeks since this all happened, Sam Basil and his disciples have patiently waited for O’Neill to give them their rewards.
There is no better time than now, in the few remaining days before the next sitting of parliament during which the 2017 supplementary budget and ICAC bill will be tabled.
Upon his return from the United Nation’s general assembly in New York, will the prime minister reward Sam Basil and the other MPs for giving him desperately needed numerical power?
Or will O’Neill continue to frustrate them, use them for his convenience and dump them when he doesn’t need them; a tendency he has demonstrated previously in his prime ministerial tenure?
But the stakes are higher this time. It seems he must play the right game. Surely he cannot continue to play footsie with highly educated politicians at a critical time when his sins are beginning to bear some ugly fruit.
A particularly ugly lemon has seen the government just bail out of its Oil Search shares at a loss estimated to be greater than K1 billion.
This story should be a wake-up call for those politicians who decided to jump the fence to O’Neill’s paddock.
The greener pasture they thought was there is already proving to be a messy mudheap full of unmanageable shit.