PORT MORESBY - It was a deadly blow that was inflicted on prime minister Peter O’Neill’s government when the United Resources Party defected to the opposition on Friday, swelling the ‘Alternate Government’s’ numbers to 62.
URP leader and state enterprises minister William Duma brought with him 11 MPs to the opposition’s Laguna camp –including higher education minister Pila Niningi and police minister Jelta Wong.
Many of the ministers who had defected to the opposition took out full-page newspaper advertisements to give different reasons why they left O’Neill’s People’s National Congress-led government.
Duma’s main reason was the controversial K3 billion loan with the Swiss bank UBS, taken in 2014.
“I have never come out publicly, but I can say that I was one of those that opposed the UBS deal,” Duma said.
“My colleagues, Don Polye and Kerenga Kua, we were terminated for speaking out. We were not terminated for incompetence.
“I forgave our prime minister and I served him. But I have come to a point where I cannot serve this prime minister anymore.”
Duma defected amidst intense coverage and debate of the UBS loan saga after a report compiled by the Ombudsman Commission was leaked to the media.
In March 2014, then Treasurer Don Pomp Polye was sacked by O’Neill for not signing prepared documents for the loan which was arranged to purchase 10.1% of the shares in Oil Search Ltd.
Polye’s Kandep people wondered why he had risked his senior Treasury portfolio and chairmanship of the board of governors of the World Bank and International Monetary Fund.
In 2012, Polye and Belden Namah had assisted topple the Somare-Abal government to install O’Neill as prime minister and together they had formed a new government after national elections.
Immediately after his sacking in 2014, Polye explained why he did not sign the loan instruments.
“The loan was unnecessary and would place a huge debt burden on the economy and would take generations to repay,” he said.
“Economic conditions will worsen and the people will become poor and forced to live below the poverty line.”
Polye firmly believed that the people would never benefit from the rich resources with which God had blessed all Papua New Guinean citizens.
“I expressed my views in our national executive council (cabinet) meeting of 6 March 2014, but the prime minister did not respect my views as a senior state minister.
“Instead, he tried to entice me to sign it [the loan agreement] before he flew on the Kumul Falcon jet to Singapore. Before he left, he told me ‘there is something in it for us.’
“When it dawned on me what he implied, it hit me like a ton of bricks. I was forced to choose between self-gain through a corrupt deal or protect the long-term welfare of PNG.”
Polye applauded the brave men and women who joined him to relentlessly speak against the UBS loan and the deep-rooted corruption entrenched in all facets of PNG life.
“They are the cream of PNG’s educated elite, the top brains the country has proudly produced, but who else will our government receive advice and constructive criticism from?
“I do not claim to be a perfect individual but the way the constitution was trampled on to effect the UBS loan defies logic.”
Polye said he was duty bound to express his views on behalf of the people, “but the prime minister accused me of causing instability in government and sacked me.”
Polye had argued in the national executive council meeting and in an official letter to the acting secretary of the Treasury that the loan did not promote prudent economic management policies instituted by the government.
He had warned that the extra loan would increase PNG’s total debt to K6 billion in 2014.
But the prime minister had bulldozed the loan through.
“We had the NEC meeting on 6 March, I wrote the letter to acting Treasury secretary on Sunday 9th, got sacked on Monday 10th and the loan was signed the very next day – Tuesday 11th,” Polye said.
He said there was no real prospect for PNG with the massive loan in place.
“I feel sorry for the cabinet ministers and the government because the UBS loan never went through the proper process.
“The cabinet meeting of 6 March was highjacked by one man with the submission of the K3 billion UBS loan proposal and imposed on the cabinet ministers around midday.”
The submission went to the governor-general for approval before 6pm the same day.
Polye said it had never gone through proper procedures involving parliament, Treasury, the National Petroleum Company and the Attorney General’s office.
“I went an extra mile to reveal how it was bulldozed through,” Polye said. “I got sacked in the process.”
Polye unsuccessfully took the matter to the courts at his own expense in an attempt to prevent what he called the growing culture of lies, deception and depletion of state funds by skillful manipulation of the system, a culture which he said had to end.
“I value honesty, truthfulness, sincerity, generosity and genuine love for the people and not abuse their trust to become over-night millionaires and billionaires through corrupt deals,” he said.
“I ask my people of Kandep to bear with me during these trying times. One day you will understand why I was sacked. I will keep on fighting for our rights and the future of our children.
“Only time will tell when it comes to reaping the fruit of the K3 billion UBS loan investment, prime minister Peter O’Neill has secured for us in Oil Search Ltd.”
Polye’s Southern Region deputy leader of his THE Party and minister for labor and industrial relations, Mark Maipakai, was also dealt the same blow.
Then four THE Party members - three cabinet ministers including Sir Leo Dion who was the deputy prime minister - resigned from the party to join O’Neill’s PNC.
Meanwhile, Don Polye lost his seat in parliament in the 2017 general election.
Later, Polye’s Kambrip people of Gini village were involved in a year-long tribal war with the Akul tribesmen of his arch political rival, Alfred Manase.
More than 100 people were killed in the fight and millions of kina worth property was destroyed.
Another devastating blow came when five of Polye’s relatives plunged to their deaths in the middle of the night when the 10-seater they were travelling in crashed into a river in Jiwaka Province.
They had been returning home after attending a graduation ceremony at the University of Technology in Lae.
“I take these as challenges in my life. I know life keeps on ticking, it doesn’t reverse. There are more horrific disasters but people overcome them,” Polye said.
“I know, after the clouds have cleared, the sun always shines.”
Note: Some of the historical information attributed to Don Polye is extracted from my book, ‘I Can See My Country Clearly Now’ published in 2016