Never before has there been a Papua New Guinean parliamentarian quite in the same mold – or league – as Belden Namah.
For a first-term member of parliament, his rise from the backwaters of his electorate, Vanimo-Green, to a backbencher in Sir Michael Somare’s previously strong National Alliance government, to being a key player in the political coup which ousted the Chief, and then ascending to being the Parliamentary-leader of the PNG Party, as well as becoming the Deputy Prime Minister – all within five years – has been nothing but extraordinary.
It is difficult for me to even think of somebody else in PNG politics who has managed to achieve politically, what Namah has been able to do so in one term.
This is not at all surprising, as politics in PNG is a complicated and challenging game of continuously keeping flaky coalition partners happy – a process which due to the relative weakness of the state – is a money, time consuming and effort-vanquishing vacuum.
But that does point to the political influence Belden Namah now possesses and utilizes - an influence not nurtured by a long dedicated political career proven by trials and triumphs, but an influence primarily based on his ability to interfere with the natural politics of the day due to his substantial wealth.
It is important to remember that Belden Namah only became a significant player in PNG politics prior to and after the events of August 2, 2011 – when Sir Michael Somare was the victim of a brutal political coup. The timing of that episode cannot go unnoticed.
It was 11 months out from elections. Sir Michael’s deputy, and Acting-PM, Sam Abal was under severe pressure from the public and media to disclose the details of Somare’s three-month hospital admission. Parliament was under pressure too. MPs were restless with the first instance of uncertainty in four years entering the once impregnable National Alliance.
MPs also had eyes on the upcoming election, strategizing on who could they rely on for support if the Grand Chief didn’t come back. Who had the financial base to help them succeed for another stint in the Haus Tambaran?
The Opposition under Sir Mekere Morauta, Bart Philemon and Sam Basil also played a key role here – and with Peter O’Neill and Belden Namah, they found two partners that were able to sway the majority of National Alliance to simply stroll across the floor to form a new government with O’Neill and Namah at the helm.
I do not for one instance think that Morauta and Philemon could possibly have foretold the stress that Namah has since brought Papua New Guinea, the Government, and the PNG Party under – and even though Morauta, particularly, has astutely defended Namah’s character, he has never once denied the sometimes outrageous behavior of his successor.
Belden Namah has since rebranded the PNG Party with the fresh slogan “A new direction with young, vibrant leaders“. And it is precisely this ‘new direction’ with young ‘vibrant’ leaders that is concerning.
This week’s events which yesterday saw Belden Namah personally take the lead in an all out assault on the Supreme Court, is the crowning example of what has now been a long string of simply unfathomable, ludicrous and detestable decisions, actions and words by the deputy prime minister.
What is also concerning, and what has gone relatively unnoticed and unreported, is that it wasn’t just Namah illegally leading and commanding the security operation to arrest Chief Justice Sir Injia Salamo. Also with him was another young ‘vibrant’ leader of the PNG Party – Jamie Maxtone-Graham.
The actions of these PNG Party strong-man, and particularly the holder of the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister, has drawn significant condemnation from the PNG public, with the spokesman for Transparency International PNG, Lawrence Stephens, yesterday stating:
“We were horrified to hear that the deputy prime minister invaded the court house and the actual court in which the Chief Justice was hearing a case. We can’t understand under what authority a member of parliament or deputy prime minister would behave in this manner, and we find it just appalling.”
There is no doubt that Belden Namah is a passionate Papua New Guinean. He is an acute businessman. But he is also a very emotional individual easily swayed and enticed into making irrational and unwise decisions which, holistically speaking, carry huge repercussions, and in the PNG context, have damaged PNG’s reputation time and time again.
All throughout this, Peter O’Neill has refused to touch Belden Namah – opting to not even once remand his deputy on what Papua New Guineans see as behavior unbecoming and unfit of the deputy prime minister and a member of the House of Representatives.
There is growing unrest within Papua New Guinea about having an individual such as Belden Namah at the helm of the nation – especially as the country heads into a new era of potential economic growth and prosperity.
With news that O’Neill’s People’s National Congress and Namah’s PNG Party signed an agreement last Friday to continue the partnership they started on August 2 when they toppled Somare’s administration, and which affirms each other’s support to form a government post-election, it is quite plausible that Belden Namah will be walking the corridors of Waigani in PNG’s 9th Parliament.
The only question now is whether Papua New Guineans, and the people of Vanimo-Green, will opt to return him for just his second term?