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.