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Shockwaves hit PNG as Marape resigns from ministry

O'Neill and Marape (PNG PM Media Office)
Peter O'Neill and James Marape - a strategic partnership critical to PNG governance has been blown up. Is it policy-driven, power-driven, money-driven or just a political stratagem?


KUNDIAWA – The resignation of finance minister and Peter O’Neill comrade in arms James Marape has sent shockwaves throughout Papua New Guinea and signalled a possible changing of the political guard when parliament resumes in May.

Marape, who is the member for Tari-Pori and a provincial colleague of O’Neill, also held the key post of leader of government business in parliament.

His resignation came three days after the government signed an agreement for the development of PNG’s second liquefied natural gas project to proceed, this one in Papua.

Reports that he has been joined in his resignation by defence minister Solan Mirisim, MP for Telefomin and like Marape a People’s National Congress member, have been denied by Mirisim.

But other Cabinet ministers may follow suit, leading to a possible vote of no confidence when parliament resumes on 7 May.

Marape made his decision public in a news release on social media early yesterday afternoon that immediately went viral.

In his statement, Marape said the continuous decline in trust between himself and prime minister O’Neill was the reason for his exit from cabinet.

“It is with great regret that I announce my resignation as a minister of state in the O’Neill-Abel government,” Marape said.

“This decision is not easy to make and, despite cultural and personal ties, the level of trust between prime minister and myself is at the lowest after his office and associates continue to send negative signals on their lack of trust in me.

“Whilst we don’t have any personal differences, we do differ on some work and policy related matters.”

Marape went on to list these as these as more local content in the resources sector, greater empowerment of PNG businesses, reconfiguration of resource laws, greater local wealth generation from resource projects, the failure to honour existing resource project agreements and the neglect of provincial governments and landowners as well as other issues.

“I have raised my views and concerns on those areas and have come to realise that most of my advice finds no traction and is none compatible with the prime minister’s world view, thus it is only fitting that I exit cabinet,” Marape added in what read as a pitch for the prime minister’s job.

O’Neill was in New Ireland when the news reached him. Speaking to EMTV news, O’Neill said Marape had not spent time with his electorate and on issues that were close to his people because of his ministerial responsibility.

In an apparent attempt to belittle Marape, O’Neill said Marape’s district required great attention from him for an improved level of services.

The resignation of Marape closely followed the government’s sign off of a $US12 billion LNG project with Total and its development partners ExxonMobil and Oil Search.

It is understood the agreement was done in defiance of expert advice from the Department of Petroleum regarding issues of non-compliance.

A letter dated 27 March 2019 from the department’s secretary to PNG chief secretary and powerbroker Isaac Lupari, highlighted non-compliance on the part of Total regarding a number of key requirements under the Oil and Gas Act 1998 relating to the petroleum development licence.

The letter highlighted eleven key areas that were not documented in the licence as required by law.

“None of the required documents have been submitted and the department of petroleum has no ability to verify any of the important economic parameters provided by Total in the economic analysis,” the secretary's letter said.

Among the matters not complied with, the letter revealed, was the failure to complete social mapping and landowner identification processes, which have been at the heart of often great community unrest over the operation of resource projects in the highlands.

This indicates that the government has not learned from, or simply ignored, the unresolved issues surrounding the first Exxon Mobil LNG project particularly landowner frustration and anger at non-payment of royalties and other promised benefits.

There is great suspicion in PNG that the government, or certain people in the government, are up to something and may have secret arrangements with the resource companies.

From Marape’s media release and the secretary’s letter, it can be deduced that something is very wrong with the Papua LNG agreement which Marape didn’t want to be part of. If so, more information is bound to surface in the days and weeks to come.

Marape’s resignation could also be part of a political strategy ahead of the coming vote of no confidence in the prime minister, but in light of O’Neill’s well-known trickiness, it could be a stratagem. Thus politically, it is really an unpredictable move.

There is no doubt that this issue has many twists and turns still to be revealed.


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Philip Fitzpatrick

I've got a copy of Frank Rickwood's book, Peter, but I haven't seen all of the social mapping done by ex-kiap Jim Jansen for the Kutubu Project.

I would point out that this was a different sort of project on a relatively small scale.

You could also say similar things about the PNG LNG Project where anthropologist Laurence Goldman, an expert on Huli and a speaker of the language, carried out extensive social mapping.

The Antelope/Elk Project (Papua LNG) has always been surrounded by controversy and InterOil was always suspected of trying to pull off a con job.

I did a bit of social mapping on it in the early stages of exploration and talking to the geologists came away with some concerns. If you look at the geology these concerns make sense.

A further exploration project east of Port Moresby that tried to link the geology of the LNG Project area to Antelope/Elk never went anywhere.

The Antelope/Elk project is based in sparsely and uninhabited country so in theory the social mapping should be easy.

Unfortunately this is not the case because claimants from the Southern Highlands have moved in on it. Many of them claim rights through convenient intermarriage. This is a favourite Huli trick and really muddies the water.

All that aside, I think Francis is right in suspecting a fracture in the ruling elite comprised of O'Neill's wantoks.

I also think that Arthur has a good point about Total being corrupt. They seem to be carrying on the InterOil tradition.

Philip Kai Morre

Is James Marape serious in his resignation or just making himself a yoyo just to get attention?

PNG is the land of the unexpected and anything could happen.

Arthur Williams

Guessing at Marape’s real reasons for resigning, many commentators have claimed it could be about the PNG Gulf project (cleverly politically redesignated as Papua LNG) which I have been watching for over ten years.

It has been a fascinating story and typical of the so-called ‘7-Sisters’, the cartel that developed in the 1930s. In his 1975 book of the same name, Anthony Sampson quotes Mr 5% Calouste Gulbenkian as saying: "Oilmen are like cats; you can never tell from the sound of them whether they are fighting or making love".

The Gulf LNG saga was certainly about fighting to wrest control of PNG’s rich second LNG project from a comparatively minor player InterOil.

In line with the Gulf people's wishes, the small company had promised them a floating refinery ship or FSPO, most likely in the Paia Inlet near Baimuru. This would have been a tremendous boost for the impoverished Gulf Province and a good catalyst for development.

Publicly and undoubtedly behind the scenes, Waigani elites led by Minister Duma seemed intent on doing everything to stop the Gulf LNG being a Gulf Province-controlled project.

Duma soon found ex-spurts quickly able to claim it would be impractical to do this in open seas and so a Sister or major player had to be brought in to manage the project.

This was despite InterOil having already got major companies Samsung and Flex LNG on board - the latter with many years in the industry. Today there are possibly over 300 FSPOs in operation.

Notwithstanding the oil industry companies having knowledge of this modern and less carbon footprint method of oil and LNG processing, Total was invited in by Waigani and soon got its hands on the Gulf LNG project.

Its boss was telling us that no site was better than Caution Bay once again demanding long pipeline needed to reach the first LNG production facility near Moresby.

This denial of Gulf citizens’ wishes saw (on 4 April 2012) Gulf governor Havila Karo being reported in the media by Patrick Tulu as saying: “Certain ministers in the current government have vested interest in the project and strongly opposed InterOil."

Duma who had praised InterOil while minister in the Somare government suddenly became its opponent under Oh’Neill and Namah.

Two months later, on 18 June 2012, the PM claimed, "I am also fully aware that the company has been deliberate in their desire to secure a recognised LNG development major as a partner for the project in compliance with internationally recognised corporate ethics and protocols."

I assume that advisers to the PM would have told him of Total’s murky past in the oil industry which he seems to have ignored.

Its biggest scandal was bribing Iraqi officials when it was able to buy 100 million barrels of oil sold in the notorious ‘Oil for Food’ scam of the end of the 20th century.

In 2016 it was fined for corruption which was an incredibly small amount because it had to be calculated at 1990s' currency rates.

In 2013, a US case was settled that concerned charges that Total bribed an Iranian official with $60 million, which was documented as a "consulting charge" and which unfairly gave them access to Iran's Sirri A and Sirri E oil and gas fields.

The bribe gave them a competitive advantage, earning them an estimated $150 million in profits. The Securities Exchange Commission and the Department of Justice settled the charges, expecting Total to pay $398 million.


That report by the SEC said, “Total attempted to cover up the true nature of the illegal payments by entering into sham consulting agreements with intermediaries of the Iranian official and mischaracterising the bribes in its books and records as legitimate ‘business development expenses’ related to the consulting agreements.”

The Hollywood style story is embellished on 2014/03/10 By Dr Patrick Onguglo at

I leave you to form your own opinion after reading that conspiracy theory or true-life story.

Q Can a leopard change its spots?

A Perhaps with a large amount of Zixo bleach or a whitewash!

Sori tumas for the Baimuru people let down by their leaders over too many years.

Francis Nii

Paul and Phil, the concerns you have raised are noted. I have also raised the same concerns.

But how can the problem be fixed if the political head continues to defy sound advice and do things to suit himself and partners?

Changes might not be possible if you keep following the same head. So one has to get out and cut the head off so changes can happen. This is what Marape and like minded leaders would like to prevail.

Regarding the Papua LNG agreement signing, from the little information I gathered, it appears that signing was done on the condition that the developer would meet all compliance requirements when it comes to lodging application for Petroleum Development License and perhaps that includes the social mapping and landowner identification.

The agreement appears to be intended for the developers' convenience to assist them source investment funds.

The question is will the developer comply fully to the regulatory requirements which includes environmental plans, social mapping and landowner identification which are something supposed to be seen in future.

If there are going to be changes, there has to be a new head. If the old problems are to be fixed, there has to be a new head. That's the subtle hint in Marape's explanation.

What do you boys think?

Peter Wohlers

Paul Oates/Philip Fitzpatrick. Have either of you read the Kutubu Discovery by Frank Rickwood? This book was published in 1992 and has quite extensive coverage of how Chevron, with Jim Jansen in charge, carried out extensive field surveys to map clan boundaries, identify landowners and record genealogies. Is it not possible that the correct social mapping was carried out but is now being conveniently ignored by disgruntled parties who feel aggrieved because their names/clans do not appear?
Just a thought!

Paul Oates

Francis, what you have suggested reminded me of a old Dusty Springfield song: 'Wishin' and hopin'.'

As both Phil and I have pointed out, instead of fixing the first problem with the distribution of landowner entitlements, PNG has instead initiated yet another scheme whereby the original problem is now doubled.

Is this, as Phil also wonders, together with the collusion of the resource company or just the daft ignorance or all those who signed off on the deal?

If indeed Mr Marape has resigned because he disagrees with the sign off arrangements, does he have another or better scheme in mind?

If so, why not say so and promote a better scheme for all to see and understand and eventually, one presumes, have his supporters vote for.

If however, the problem is that some of the real but possibly unseen beneficiaries of the new scheme feel insufficiently rewarded or have missed out, then as I've suggested previously, it's a case of 'the king is dead, long live the king' and the problems of PNG wealth distribution have just been doubled rather than resolved.

There is therefore the potential of magnifying the acrimonious dissatisfaction of many people in a highly volatile region of PNG.

Can someone, anyone please reassure me I'm wrong.

As Dusty famously crooned in 1964, "All you gotta do is hold him and kiss him and squeeze him and love him/Yeah, just do it!" - KJ

Francis Nii

Paul, as Daniel Kumbon has highlighted, Marape couldn't act alone. Certainly there are other players behind the scenes and if Peter O'Neill is ousted as expected, the first thing will be a clean up starting with corruption and that includes law and order. We wait and see.

Philip Fitzpatrick

It's unbelievable that the deal was signed without the social mapping and landowner identity studies being completed.

Not only does it make you wonder about the motives of Total et al but it also creates a whole new context for the same failure with the earlier projects.

Instead of being a matter of gross incompetency perhaps the lack of the completion of the same studies in that case were a deliberate act upon the part of the company, or the government, or both?

To what end one wonders.

I would have thought the problems with the earlier project would have prompted a review of the whole process but that didn't happen. Now its possible to think there was a reason.

Clearly, the idea of handing out of royalties to landowners doesn't work. The greed for money corrupts the whole process. Benefits need to be allocated on a different basis that doesn't see greedy people scrambling to get their hands on it.

Further, the concept of landowners retaining rights to minerals in their land needs to be reconsidered.

Pawa Ambiasi

As analysed by Francis, it is evident that no collective decision was made in every critical situation Papua New Guinea has gone through in the past years.

It was a one man show. It's very bad practice for Papua New Guinea as a big organisation.

Daniel Kumbon

I wrote the following piece for the Enga Politics Facebook page and there are all sorts of comments pouring in.....

What is the Huli Opone Brotherhood for?

I believe James Marape did not act alone to announce his resignation yesterday from a key ministerial post.

James Marape must have consulted many people including MPs from Enga Province.

He had to, since Huli and Opone are the sons of that great pariah - Hela.

This historical fact has always been maintained through the ages and even now in politics

The late Hela Governor Andersen Agiru and Enga Governor Sir Peter Ipatas signed a pact to maintain this relationship.

They agreed that students from Hela should receive their technical training at the new Huli-Opone Technical Institute (HOTI) at Akom between Wabag and Wapenamanda.

The late Andersen Aigiru allocated an initial K3 million to start construction but it remains incomplete.

Even James Marape received his primary education in Enga. He lived at Pindak SDA mission in Mariant LLG while attending Kandep Primary ‘T’ School.

So what am I saying here?

Am I talking about the prime minister's post?

Well, let me ask again – what is the Huli Opone brotherhood for?

Interesting times ahead.

Paul Oates

Francis has captured the key points that at a political level don't appear to be clearly defined.

The first is the obvious: 'Who actually benefits'?

The second is: 'Possible links between newly signed resource contract and that the social mapping (read properly defined owners of subsequent financial benefits) that will actually profit from such a deal have still not been resolved.

The third is: Is this the start of a political initiative that will destabilise the current PM in the Land of the Unexpected with a imminent parliamentary vote of no confidence?

And, finally, a murky fourth: How will this benefit PNG? (No real change in direction indicated as yet however could this potentially signal a change in direction in the PNG government's policies on corruption and law and order?)

Or will this be just another PNG exercise in 'the King is dead, long live the King?'

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