SHILA YUKULI PAIA
ADELAIDE - I am a proud Papua New Guinean who will always stand very tall and speak boldly, loudly and clearly knowing that PNG is one of the best democracies.
In this context I have some observations to make on the saga of the attempted arrest of former prime minister Peter Charles Paire O'Neill, another critical moment in the history of PNG’s political development.
Unfortunately, we once again see heightened evidence of corruption and power manipulation at the expense of PNG’s potential to develop and to fully use its natural, human and social resources to become a prosperous country.
According to available evidence, O’Neill had a calculated personal agenda when he entered the doors of PNG’s parliament in 2002 as the member for Ialibu Pangia in the Southern Highlands Province.
O’Neill was soon entrusted with the portfolio of labour and industrial relations by the government of Sir Michael Somare. But the new man had other ideas and was transferred to the post of public service minister in 2003.
His ambitions worried Somare ahd O’Neill was dropped from the ministry in 2005 whereupon he took his People's National Congress out of government, later that year emerging as opposition leader.
He tried a vote of no confidence in Somare and lost it - but O’Neill was never one for giving up and changed tactics. After the 2007 general elections, he rejoined the Somare government and regained his public service ministry.
O’Neill was on a mission of his own and no road block was going to stop him. There was a land of milk and honey out there and he was determined to land on it. It came a lot closer in 2010 when he was appointed finance minister.
Then, in 2011, Somare fell seriously ill and was hospitalised in Singapore for many months. The decent Tei Abal took over as acting prime minister but, wary of O’Neill, demoted him to the works ministry. But Abal was no match for the wily Southern Highlander.
O’Neill now was more determined than ever to secure the top job and joined a movement to unseat Somare, succeeding in tipping out of office the convalescing prime minister, 94 votes to 70. Somare challenged O'Neill in the supreme court, which ruled that Somare was the legitimate prime minister.
This precipitated a constitutional crisis when O’Neill refused to step down and for several months PNG had two prime ministers, two police commissioners and political chaos. The governor-general intervened and called an election in 2012, from which O’Neill emerged victorious as head of a coalition government.
There were still challengers in the ranks who sought to depose him, but by deft use of his ability to expand the ministry and reward local MPs with large grants, O’Neill remained in power. He was tough, ruthless and always did his groundwork. He was now seated on what he believed was his rightful throne.
But a turning point came in 2019. It could have been that O’Neill became too much the autocrat. It could have been that some powerful colleagues believed he had gone too far in enriching himself. It could have been that the country was hurtling into bankruptcy. But whatever the cause, a turning point was reached.
James Marape - previously a close confidante - baulked, and quit his position as finance minister.
O’Neill reacted by trying to recast his ministry with loyal supporters, sought to forge new alliances, using parliamentary procedure to try to thwart those seeking to oust him, resuming his usual practice of using the courts to force a pathway, exerted his dwindling authority on the media and even ‘promising’ to resign in favour of an ageing acolyte. All the while he ignored the constitution as he fought to retain his job.
It was all too late.
In his defeat on the floor of parliament, O’Neill fought to the last breath. He had reached the promised land and touched, tasted and accumulated the milk and honey. This last fight was for his ego.
Peter Charles Paire O'Neill’s tenure at the top was accompanied by dealings the PNG public are entitled to know about but O’Neill has thoroughly buried much of the detail. What evidence exists is for royal commission, police and courts to dig up.
He accomplished his mission. He played his game efficiently. He has his milk and honey. But now his ego is scratched and his friends are few and we Papua New Guineans, who have been the losers, want to see justice and fairness and prosperity return.
Is O’Neill above the law? None of us is above the law.
My war cry - as it should be for all young Papua New Guineans - is that this time, for once and for all, O’Neill needs to be prosecuted.
And we call on him to comply with legal proceedings.