PORT MORESBY – Opposition members of parliament have deferred a nationwide strike in Papua New Guinea until Thursday of next week because the protest would have clashed with this week's Grade 12 examinations.
The boycott is to protest against the O'Neill government “colluding with overseas opportunists to steal from our people”.
At a meeting last night, the organisers decided to avoid the strike conflicting with the major national exam, which is sat by 28,000 students.
In the wake of the continuing ‘Maserati scandal’, Oro governor Gary Juffa, East Sepik governor Allan Bird and Madang MP Bryan Kramer together with former prime minister Sir Mekere Morauta, now an MP, issued a call to people to join in the strike by staying home in a show of a nonviolent defiance.
Their call resonated even louder today when The Australian newspaper revealed that three new Bentley Flying Spur limousines worth a total of over $960,000 (K2.5 million) had been added to the APEC luxury vehicle fleet. The newspaper had obtained an invoice for the Bentleys made out to PNG's APEC CEO Chris Hawkins.
“We are disgusted. We have heard [people’s] views and expressions on social media and we share the same concerns about the corruption and scandals led by the O’Neill government,” Mr Kramer said. "We could no longer sit back and watch you struggle to put your children through school in the hope of a job that will never exist.”
This afternoon the Opposition said it would use the week before the Thuesday 25 October strike to meet with union, civil society and church leaders to "solicit their support in protest of the systematic corruption crippling the country".
In a statement of his own, Sir Mekere (pictured) said: “Astonishing revelations in the last couple of days about the crooked contract to buy luxury Maserati cars for APEC, and then secretly sell them to private sector cronies is the last straw.
“People are right to be disgusted by the information that is now coming to light, and they are fully entitled to express their opposition to this blatant fraud.”
He also called for an independent inquiry into the Maserati fraud, which he said was “concocted by the APEC Authority and the O’Neill government”.
“It is not good enough for the prime minister, Peter O’Neill, and the APEC Minister, Justin Tkatchenko, to make statements in social media that are clearly incorrect, contradictory and designed to mask the smell of corruption and wrongdoing.
“The APEC Authority has broken its own laws with the purchase of the Maseratis and the prime minister’s proposed sale of them,” Sir Mekere said.
“The prime minister and minister Tkatchenko have connived with the Authority and are trying desperately to hide the truth. But we are not fools.”
Mr Kramer asked, “How can we call ourselves leaders? The degree of mismanagement and corruption is overwhelmingly out of control. If we are to wait any longer there will be nothing left to fight for.
“We also care about your children’s futures. All we can do is lead and empower you to take a stand for change. The moment has arrived. Let’s move this nation.
“Do your part, and spread the word to family, friends, neighbours, wantoks, tambus and workmates to join the national strike to bring Peter O’Neill to account,” Mr Kramer said.
Sir Mekere said Papua New Guineans, and politicians with a conscience, should join with respected MPs Bryan Kramer, Gary Juffa and Allan Bird to express their disgust by staying home from work on Thursday and Friday.
“This is just another chapter in the monumental abuse of APEC contracts, which I and others have exposed,” he said.
“Look at all the over-priced and unnecessary roads and buildings constructed by People’s National Congress cronies to glorify the prime minister.
“These projects, and the multi-million-kina Maserati scam, have proceeded at the expense of the health system, the education system, rural infrastructure, law and order, government finances, the economy and employment.
“Why are we importing luxury cars for Mr O’Neill and his wantoks to ride around in when children are dying of polio, tuberculosis and other preventable diseases?
“There is no medicine in hospitals and clinics. Schools are closing all over the nation, and teachers are being robbed of their pay by this Government.”
Sir Mekere said the O’Neill government’s corruption, waste and mismanagement had brought international shame on Papua New Guinea.
“The whole world is looking on and asking why Mr O’Neill, Mr Tkatchenko and others are spending this money when Papua New Guinea cannot look after its own children.
“We have become an international laughing stock. Corruption’s time is up.”