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Marape: Shaming of a loyal servant defied PNG cultural values

Gary Juffa - "When a Huli man pledges his friendship and loyalty, it is of utmost importance to him and is the most precious of gifts"


Many words have already been written by knowledgeable insiders and expert outsiders about former finance minister James Marape’s resignation from the O’Neill government a week ago. But to me independent national parliamentarian and Oro governor Gary Juffa provided the best commentary of them all - KJ

PORT MORESBY - Once more Papua New Guinea, the land of the unexpected, delivers. Yet again in politics. Surprise, surprise.

No one anticipated the resignation of one James Marape, senior government minister, People’s National Congress stalwart, favourite Hela son, leader and loyal lieutenant and confidante to prime minister Peter O'Neill.

No one saw it coming. Certainly not the Opposition, although I am that I don't speak for them Opposition and an official statement is yet to be released by opposition leader Patrick Pruaitch as far as I know. [It was eventually released four days after the event – KJ]

Along with everyone else, I was also taken by surprise. However, with some insight into the reasons surrounding Marape’s sudden resignation (an insight coming from his own resignation announcement) and having known James personally for most of my life, I am able to understand why.

This will be a short opinion. It is merely one of a minimum of eight million potential perspectives by other Papua New Guineans.

James Marape is a leader of the Huli people, possibly the largest tribe in Papua New Guinea. The Huli are steeped and immersed very much in a 30,000 year old culture that promotes honour and fearlessness in the protection of their tribe and its interests.

In Huli culture, the word of a leader is everything. When a Huli man pledges his friendship and loyalty through his word, it is of utmost importance to him and is the most precious of gifts and undertakings he can make to anyone. It is never given lightly.

That is what transpired when James Marape gave his word to Peter O'Neill in 2012 to serve him loyally as the prime minister of his government. In exchange for his word, Marape sought trust. He remained a faithful and loyal subject because he felt it secured that trust.

But recently he was stunned to find out that after seven years of loyalty given, he didn't have the friendship and trust of the prime minister he had so loyally served.

Marape has been a stalwart pillar of the O'Neill government, not simply within the government or within People’s National Congress but within the inner core of decision-making of the O'Neill government since 2012, serving loyally and with no complaint or rebuke.

He has been a loyal defender of the O'Neill government and has promoted the O'Neill Government with vigour and without exception.

So why now the sudden change of heart?

The answers are in his resignation announcement where, at a media conference, Marape informed his shocked staff and the nation that he was tendering his resignation, citing two fundamental reasons.

One, the prime minister's refusal or apathy towards his advice on issues of policy upon which they differed.

Two, a sense of distrust and a feeling of worthlessness.

We can only speculate on the first issue and assume that, since Marape had been by O'Neill's side since 2012, he had ample time to be offended by rejections of any advice he may have proffered. The fact he had not made a move previously would suggest Marape did not take this to heart.

However the issue of his word being discarded flippantly and a sense of distrust of his loyalty and commitment had possibly never before emerged.

Huli culture dictates that distrust triggers immediate withdrawal. The fact that Marape remained with O'Neill for seven years confirms that distrust was never an issue until the certain recent events that led to his resignation.

Marape found his word was no longer of any value to O'Neill in possibly the most terrible manner: through rumours and political corridor gossip.

This was evident when he became aware there was a letter in circulation, purportedly from O'Neill's office, which explicitly indicated his prospective demotion as finance minister to a lesser ministry, possibly education.

To have ones trust flippantly discarded after years of loyalty is no light matter for a Huli leader. It means that the word of all the people he represents is no longer of any value.

No one likes to feel that their loyalty and friendship is unwanted. No one likes to feel unwanted or rejected in any relationship.

Marape really had no choice. He had to leave. As a Huli man it was unthinkable to remain after this. What would his people think? How would this affect his standing in Hela and in Huli culture? What would his family think?

There was only one thing to do. Leave.

So now what?

Well in rapid succession a few interesting developments took place that are worth noting.

Philip Undialu, the governor of Marape’s Hela Province, openly criticised the recent Papua LNG deal between the O'Neill government and a consortium of developers led by Total citing that issues remain unresolved and declaring that the deal significantly marginalises Papua New Guinean interests.

Further, in an unprecedented mutiny, all four Western Province parliamentarians, of which two are in government and one a minister, applauded the win against the O’Neill government in a Singapore court by the PNG Sustainable Development Program, and urged O'Neill to refrain from further court action.

Could it be that government MPs are no longer willing to silently sit, watch and allow one man to control the entire government as he sees fit?

Marape’s statement begins with the statement "For God and Country….", a clarion call for other politicians - and they are heeding this.

They cannot be content to sit and watch the entire nation's future managed by one man who obviously does not trust them enough to heed their advice.

O’Neill’s trust is placed elsewhere, in a select crew of friends and cronies and minions who do his bidding. None of them are elected by the people nor do they care about the people.

Review their every decision that has cost this nation a fortune and there is no other conclusion a person of reasonable intelligence can draw. It is a sad fact.

Many, if not all, ministers silently resent the fact they are treated as cosmetic faces of leadership. The fact is their departments are run by a small trusted elite of non-elected leaders.

Ministers have had to endure the humility of pretending they matter and are in charge and have had to swallow their pride and watch as their ministries were run by a master remote controller.

Everyone knows this. The O’Neill crew is exceptionally powerful and trusted to advise the prime minister on what ministries ought to be doing.

This cannot be lost on the ministers who must surely be frustrated from having their decisions undermined and hijacked. It must also be a source of much bitterness to have to endure this humiliation of knowing they are trusted only to accept NEC [Cabinet] decisions and pass them but not have the power to manage their own ministries.

James Marape is a leader they trust and have held in high regard. His presence has managed to cool their tempers and sooth their frustrations. Many are good friends of Marape and, unlike the prime minister, they trust his word and hold it in high regards.

If O'Neill can distrust his most loyal member of cabinet, obviously other ministers can now be assured that their positions are inconsequential and their advice, intellect and intelligence are worthless to him. Surely they would be feeling foolish. No one likes to be made to feel that way.

I am confident that the coming weeks will see more resignations as further ministers refuse to carry on with this charade that they are actually part of the O'Neill government.

The fact is they are not part of this government, they never were. It was actually a government of a small elitist crew of non-elected people, packaging PNG and selling it off as quickly as possible. Taking out huge loans, mortgaging the future and ensuring our children and their children will be shackled by debt.

As the days wear on, the ministers will realise that Marape's resignation is confirmation of the grim fact that they have been used - just as he was.

To remain now would be to deliberately ignore this fact and accept a horribly demeaning situation.

No man is bigger than this country. Not even Peter O'Neill. Long live Papua New Guinea!


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Philip Kai Morre

James Marape's Huli culture demands trust, obedience and morality which is based upon the principle of the common good.

James Marape's reasons for resigning are valid - they were not for personal gain but for the common good that has a higher value.

It is now time for prime minister Peter O'Neill to resign, stepping down with dignity is better than being voted out.

Lindsay F Bond

So, severance between the 2014 Finance Minister and the (still current) prime minister may cause readers to revisit a Bal Kama (7/11/2014) commentary on “clarification from the courts in Papua New Guinea" where Bal argues "…the wording is 'mandatory', making it clear that the document is something more than an authorisation: it is an order, demanding obedience…”


Strikingly noteworthy, where in a society that for eons a man might pledge “his friendship and loyalty through his word” and the relationship established is ‘man to man’, a question arising from the PNG Supreme Court in 2014 is of the personification of nation.

Will the nation be bestowed with loyalty, as much and quite more, a pledging that reaches to all citizens and acts for those citizens, each as a person seeking to trust?

Lindsay F Bond

The wrest of the nation may not be within the capacity of those lending "humility of pretending they matter".

If "not part of this government, they never were", are 'they' sufficiently adept at national governance (that is, dare it be thought, less said) not mere recipients of 'retainer' funding.

Robin Lillicrapp

Within this expose, a pointed warning about Australia's innate neglect and complacency in its relationship lies with PNG.

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