Yesterday’s political change shows revolution has just begun
Marape must look beyond his hausman to take back PNG

A genuine alternative - or could it be just more of the same?


PORT MORESBY - If and when Papua New Guinea’s ‘Alternate Government’ finally puts an end to the O’Neill regime, and it should be this morning, the celebrations could be short-lived.

Very serious questions need put to the opposition, which comprises two distinct political archetypes and presently holds a majority on the floor of parliament.

One is the original opposition – the Juffas, Birds, Kramers and others – which has steadfastly battled PNG’s institutionalised political and public sector corruption from a seemingly impossible minority starting point.

The second group comprises the opportunists – the Pruaitchs and Marapes – whose modus operandi is power (and money) and who are willing to float wherever the political wind takes them with acolytes in tow.

Both Patrick Pruaitch and James Marape were senior O’Neill government ministers and have now laid their own prime ministerial credentials on the table.

At different times, the pair has bemoaned O’Neill’s economic and financial management, conveniently ignoring that they were previously responsible for the treasury and finance portfolios.

Martyn Namorong wrote that the alternate government is working hard on its policy platform and that Papua New Guineans can be confident they “will save PNG from O'Neill's mess”.

But Namorong left no clues as to what shape these policies will take and there was a heavy subtext of ‘win at all costs’ – a disheartening shift of mindset from the former freedom fighter.

Like many Papua New Guineans, and many politically-inclined people the world over, the prospect of victory has caused Namorong to suffer sudden chronic memory loss when it comes to politicians. So let’s take a little walk down memory lane.

Pruaitch, as forestry minister, oversaw the controversy of the Special Agricultural Business Leases (SABL) land grabs and the rise-and-rise of the Rimbunan Hijau group.

For years the Ombudsman Commission chased Pruaitch with serious allegations of misconduct but he has been able to escape leadership tribunals through delay tactics, appeals and clever lawyering - possible only when one has deep enough pockets.

Prior to the 2017 election, after further stints as forestry minter and treasurer (twice), Pruaitch made his leadership ambitions clear, was relieved of his portfolio and crossed over to lead the opposition to the O’Neill-Abel government.

Despite several years responsible for the nation’s books, his parting shots to O’Neill focused on the government’s poor economic management.

This irony was not lost on his now-buddy Marape who said “it baffles my mind that he has the audacity to attack his own work, an admittance that he was wasting our national time in that office.”

Marape, like Pruaitch, spouts all the rhetoric of change, transparency and accountability, but his track record tells the story of a liklik O’Neill rather than benevolent bigman.

After all, he was until recently O’Neill’s finance minister and privy to much of the government’s wheeling-and-dealing, including personally signing-off on the scandalous UBS loan to buy a 10% stake in Oil Search, which may have broken as many as 15 laws in PNG.

Pruaitch and Marape aren’t just alternate prime ministers – they are alternate Peter O’Neills.

The alternate government, which may soon be the new government, will be compromised from the start, however the presence of some strong, independent voices provides a glimmer of hope.

Once the pragmatism of the numbers game has settled down, PNG will rely on Bird, Juffa, Kramer and Kua to hold their colleagues accountable and continue to change perceptions about Papua New Guinean politicians.

We await on the words of Namorong and others on what the policy direction will be, but policy is not enough on its own. PNG has enough lofty visions and development plans filled with jargon, buzzwords and motherhood statements.

To convince anyone that genuine change is afoot (or, as Belden Namah would say, 'on-foot'), a new government will need demonstrate it has the appetite for the type of policy that can circumvent PNG’s present tendency to kleptocracy.

At the very least there needs to finally be real steps taken towards clamping down on corruption and depoliticising the public sector.

This was the job Taskforce Sweep did so well that it caught Peter O’Neill. We’ll see if a new prime minister is willing to risk being hoisted on his own petard.


Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.

Bernard Corden

"We hang the petty thieves and appoint the great ones to public office" - Aesop

Will Self

"Meet the new boss,
Same as the old boss...."

- The Who

William Dunlop

PNG citizens - I have today watched the antics of your parliamentarians during the election of your new prime minister James Marape.

Masterfully choreographed by Peter O'Neill, master puppeteer reincarnater.

Not one agenda has changed.

Philip Fitzpatrick

In a comment on an earlier article listing the then makeup of the opposition I said:

"On my count there are about eight members who are honest and trustworthy.

The rest of them are either unknowns or known crooks and conmen.

I wonder whether those eight can keep their dubious fellow members under control."

Surprise, surprise, the vote for Marape for PM was 101 to 8.

Think about that, in this Parliament of Thieves there are only 8 honest men.

Rashmii Bell

One can aspire to write commentary of this standard.
Brilliant. I stan.
Thank you, Ernst.

Peter Sandery

Apart from early on dragging a clearly ill Member for Milne Bay into the lime light, the Member for Alotau appears to be strangely silent in all of this.

Lindsay F Bond

Now, nation puts all eyes on pretenders, paraders and pricks.
PNG is a nation highly worthy. Let it not be led by spiv(s).
Let's see more of ting tru. Well put, Ernst.

Philip Fitzpatrick

A great, clear-headed summary Ernst.

I used Pruaitch as a model for my corrupt politician in the first of the Inspector Metau books.

I could just as well have used Marape, Duma etc. etc. etc.

If Marape is elected new prime minister PNG loses again - so sad.

Chris Overland

Ernst Mundua is right.

The acid test for the new government will be its willingness and immediate action to create a powerful, independent and well funded investigative body to detect, root out and relentlessly pursue through the law any and all who corruptly exploit public office.

It is no exaggeration to say that PNG is confronted with a national emergency due to corruption and the government needs to act on that basis.

There is no clearer test for the bona fides of this government.

Failure to act will be clear evidence that this government is, in fact, just the usual suspects mouthing the usual platitudes.

Paul Oates

Thank you Ernst, I couldn't have said it better.

Is this just moving the deckchairs around the Titanic prior to the ship sinking?

The same people who helped oversee the current state of affairs are now claiming they will do things differently. The instances you raise of past performances are really only the tip of the iceberg.

A cynic might suggest the leaders of this breakaway group were just annoyed they weren't allowed enough of the cake that was being handed out and wanted to be the ones deciding on who gets a bigger share.

Those worthy members who have stood up for what is ethical and honest will have their work cut out to make sure the PNG people aren't sold out yet again.

Verify your Comment

Previewing your Comment

This is only a preview. Your comment has not yet been posted.

Your comment could not be posted. Error type:
Your comment has been saved. Comments are moderated and will not appear until approved by the author. Post another comment

The letters and numbers you entered did not match the image. Please try again.

As a final step before posting your comment, enter the letters and numbers you see in the image below. This prevents automated programs from posting comments.

Having trouble reading this image? View an alternate.


Post a comment

Comments are moderated, and will not appear until the author has approved them.

Your Information

(Name and email address are required. Email address will not be displayed with the comment.)