NOOSA – It seems Papua New Guinea's prime minister James Marape is joining the global elite as the owner of a near new Bentley super-luxury Flying Spur.
And the people of PNG have every reason to feel betrayed.
The starting price of a Flying Spur in Australia is K510,000. Marape’s is one of three purchased along with 40 Maseratis and scores of other luxury vehicles for last year’s Asia-Pacific summit, APEC.
A government report has estimated hosting the APEC summit cost PNG around K460 million.
It is not known whether servicing and other support capabilities exist in PNG for the Bentleys and 40 Maserati Quattroporte supercars, valued at more than K350,000 each, which were bought to ferry delegates around Port Moresby for the summit.
It was a controversial and much criticised purchase in the near-broke country and the New Zealand prime minister was reported to have refused to be driven in the luxury vehicles, as a symbolic protest against the excess, while many other leaders brought their own conveyances.
At the time then prime minister Peter O’Neill said the luxury cars would be sold to the private sector following the summit to recoup their costs. This never happened.
Some of them remained on the Port Moresby wharf while others were parked inland near the Bomana prison. Another 300 vehicles "disappeared" until police tracked them down.
Marape, who since taking office in May has vowed to clean up PNG politics and promised to make the country “the world’s richest black Christian nation”, will receive one of the three top marques of the high-end cars.
The scandal resurfaced on Thursday when finance secretary Ken Ngangan told the Post Courier that all 111 members of parliament will get vehicles from the APEC fleet “for their electoral duties”.
"Cabinet made a decision recently to have members of parliament presented with a vehicle each so that they can use [them] here in the capital city [and] for their electoral duties," he said.
One of three Bentleys purchased will be made available for the office of the prime minister, Ngangan said.
At the time, former prime minister and now Marape supporter Sir Mekere Morauta, then an opposition MP, raised questions about the Bentleys, including whether the cars had been procured using a competitive tender process.
Sir Mekere said O’Neill should explain why the government had spent so much on APEC “including many wasteful, extravagant items such as luxury cars, at this time of suffering and hardship”.
So, after just five months in office, the Marape government seems to be showing its true colours – and they seem to be pretty much the same faded shades as those of the O’Neill government it deposed.
The continuation of the sad modern tradition of elective politics in PNG being a ticket to great riches seems to be very much intact.