NOOSA – Last Thursday, when James Marape despatched his bureaucrat Ken Ngangan to advise the public through the Post Courier newspaper that all 111 members of parliament will get vehicles from the APEC fleet “for their electoral duties”, he must have anticipated there would be a strong reaction.
After all, the purchase of the vehicles a year ago had triggered a story that travelled around the world a few times before hitting the ground as yet another example of the greed and excess of the O’Neill government – which Marape and his brothers deposed in May bringing hope to the nation.
Now, to all intents and purposes, O’Neill’s problem of abusing public funds has become Marape’s – and it seems to be a problem of his own design.
Hapless finance secretary Ngangan told the newspaper that Marape himself would be the recipient of a Bentley Flying Spur, half a million kina's worth of luxury grunt, while 40 ministers would have to put up with 40 Maserati Quattroportes (K350,000 apiece) and 70 lesser MPs various but still shiny, leather-cushioned marques presumably with block-out windows.
Having recently ditched Facebook, a decision necessary for my mental health, I haven't seen the reaction to this information in Papua New Guinea’s social media, but I imagine it’s been brutal.
So has the response received here at PNG Attitude. By Monday morning the story had reached 5,000 readers and on Twitter had a hefty 11% engagement rate.
Dr Shailendra Singh, writing from Fiji, addressed the question of “how PNG MPs tackled the problem of luxury cars bought for APEC but lying idle since the meeting”. The witty Dr Singh had the answer: “They gifted the cars to themselves.”
Other commenters were not so amused.
“This is one big 'up yours' from Marape and his cohorts,” wrote reader David Kitchnoge. “The goddamn country is broke. The government should be in a sell mode. Everything it does not need must be sold - starting with these luxury cars.”
And David provided some examples of what being a broke country means:
“Public servants who work for these politicians have been told to accept partial payment of their salaries or no payment at all. The newspapers recently reported that a teacher in East New Britain has been going without pay for years.
“My cousin who has entered teaching this year has been teaching in Lae without pay since she started. My brother who works in the finance department is paid a token 'living allowance' every fortnight instead of his full pay.
“Schools, hospitals, roads etc all need funding. This is not the time to reward anyone. Certainly not the useless politicians who've brought our country to its knees.
“We will be watching to see if people like Bryan Kramer, Allan Bird, Gary Juffa, Sir Mekere Morauta, Dr Allan Marat and Kerenga Kua accept one of these cars.”
We will indeed, David, and late yesterday, we were still awaiting some indication of their response to this demonstration of hubris and excess.
I’m really interested to learn what the more sensible and progressive MPs think of this arrangement and whether they’ll be accepting the vehicles or disposing of them for funds that may assist their electorates or pay off some of PNG’s debt.
“I will be sorely disappointed if they do accept those vehicles,” said Hani Rawali. “This is clearly a black and white matter.”
While Wilhemina (Wiz) Beki wrote: “This leaves a really bad taste in my mouth. What a slap in the face.”
“Bunch of self-serving idiots,” Jeremy Carroll exploded. “By accepting these vehicles you are pretty much endorsing corruption and the mismanagement of public funds”.
And Peter Lavoy added that the announcement was “not reassuring for a population that lives largely at the subsistence level”.
But when was the last PNG government in office that put the people before its own desires?
Bernard Corden answered that question with a quote drawn from the writings of Alexis de Tocqueville in relation to the USA: "The surface of American society is covered with a layer of democratic paint but from time to time one can see the old aristocratic colours breaking through".
“The Christian, rich, black bullshit should have been a warning of what to expect,” thundered Phil Fitzpatrick. “Marape needs some serious mentoring before he goes too much further I suspect. Sharing around the Bentleys and Maseratis is one really dumb move.”
“Wow!” exclaimed Iso Yawi. “As a minimum wage earner, it's disappointing when taxpayers' money is spilled on the luxury egos of politicians.”
“The sweet sound of Marape's choir has lulled many to sleep at the gates,” Wiz chimed in. “For those not asleep, they are transfixed by both the sweet sound and words of the choir that promise a great and glorious future. Meanwhile, Wiz added, “Wild pigs, still awake, roam freely, plundering gardens. Be alarmed. “
“Taking back PNG by getting all APEC luxury vehicles and giving it back to all the MPs for free!” exclaimed Sandy Kipan. “Wow prime minister James Marape, you're living your wildest dreams!”
“And the usual expected corruption just keeps rolling along in PNG,” penned Sorj Dogimab-Bonit.
Davida Eri made a similar comment: “Round and round we go ... just perpetuating the vicious cycle. Different but SameSame.”
But the last word goes to Alexander Mel: “Are we really that surprised though?”