Where is the PNG Debate on Manus Island?

•August 17, 2012 • 18 Comments

With the successful passing of legislation by the Australian government to reinstate offshore processing in the Pacific, it is likely that Papua New Guinea and Nauru will be receiving Australia’s asylum-seekers within a month.

The Gillard government was so confident in achieving this outcome – a total back flip from its 2007 stance of abolishing it – that it confirmed that it had approved advance parties consisting of Australian Defense and Government officials who would be visiting Manus and Nauru – before the legislation had even passed.

That advance party touched down in Manus late yesterday afternoon.

The announcement that advance parties were being sent to PNG also indicated that an agreement of some sort had been in place between Julia Gillard and Peter O’Neill for some time – and most certainly well before the 2012 National Elections.

The speed by which developments have taken place to date, and in particular the dispatch and acceptance of Australian officials to PNG has been surprising, and to some degree – frightening.

Surprising and frightening – because our newly elected parliament has yet to even sit for its first official session of parliamentary debate, which has been announced to take place on Tuesday, August 21.

Furthermore, apart from the election of a prime minister and the announcement of a cabinet, PNG is still waiting for the official election of a Leader of the Opposition to take place.

It is imperative that sensitive issues like asylum seekers, which have important international ramifications and domestic obligations too, be discussed in full and with the participation of PNG’s entire House of Representatives.

One of the main functions of the the Office of the Opposition is its role in scrutinizing the decisions and operations of the Executive – but how is that possible when that office remains vacant and the Parliament has yet to sit?

Furthermore, it is impetuous of Australia to have us believe that the problem of asylum-seekers is a regional issue, and that therefore, the Manus Detention Centre is a partnership between PNG and Australia helping to address this issue.

This so called partnership consists of nothing more than Australia funding the detention centre and PNG providing the location and a band-aid solution to a problem that is Australian.

In reality, the PNG government and Manus’ new MPs are not particularly worried about Australia’s boat people but support it because they view the detention centre as a boost for Manus’ stagnating economy – and very possibly for Peter O’Neill, as a favor in return to Julia Gillard for her support of him as PNG’s legitimate prime minister over the past 12 months – under the guise of enhancing our bilateral relations, which it will most certainly also achieve.

And it seems that my view is shared by some senior politicians – albeit former cabinet ministers.

Former Attorney-General Sir Arnold Amet has come out today blasting Australia:

“Australia has debated this over many years as to whether they [asylum-seekers] go to Malaysia or go to Nauru or come to Papua New Guinea.

We cannot overnight be expected to rubber-stamp. It’s like a patronizing attitude towards Papua New Guinea and we cannot simply be expected to do this. And I think that Australia has handled this very poorly.

Struggling Pacific island states cannot be presumptuously treated like Australian territories with the token gestures of development dollar for removing this problem from Australian soil.

This is a moral dilemma. We can’t simply be forced upon to take these people.

They’re Australia’s problem, they want to go to Australia.”

But the reality is that Australia would not be sending its asylum-seekers to PNG had our government not consented to the request in the first instance.

And it is precisely Peter O’Neill’s consent which is concerning – because there has been no consultation outside of NEC chambers; and no opportunity for sincere and transparent debate to occur on the floor of our parliament.

Manus’ new MPs – Governor Charlie Benjamin and Manus Open MP Ronny Knight – need to re-look at the re-hashed economic argument which seems to trump humanitarian concerns time and time again when asylum-seekers are concerned.

Instead of profiting from the misery of others in the short-term, Benjamin and Knight should creatively be thinking of sustainable ways to generate organic economic growth for the people of Manus. It is no wonder that some Manus citizens have come out publicly stating that they are happy to receive Australia’s asylum seekers.

Their people’s statements that it will be good for them economically says it all.

Is there a culture of Plagiarism at the Post-Copier – eh, Courier?

•August 15, 2012 • 14 Comments

Papua New Guinea’s “Number 1 Daily” – the Post-Courier – and its award-winning political reporter, Gorethy Kenneth, have found themselves in the shameful position of committing the number one cardinal sin in journalism – plagiarism.

It is a most serious offense and goes against the Media Council of Papua New Guinea’s General Code of Ethics for News and Media – which the Post-Courier subscribes to, or claims to do.

On August 9, 2012 – in their 11,000 Edition since 1969, the Post-Courier ran a story on their front page titled “O’Neill delays Cabinet line-up” and with the sub-heading “Leo Dion is deputy PM”.

In that front-page article, Gorethy Kenneth quoted The Garamut and plagiarized a line from a post I had written and published on August 8, 2012 regarding Peter O’Neill’s appointment of Leo Dion as deputy prime minister, all without attributing the quote or plagiarized line to The Garamut.

In objection to the Post-Courier’s blatant plagiarism of my blog post, I wrote a letter to the Editor, Frank Genaia, and Editor-in-Chief of the Post-Courier, Blaise Nangoi.

I also sent a copy of the letter to Mr Peter Chegwyn – the Chairman of South Pacific Post Ltd, the company which owns the Post-Courier, and also to the author of the offending piece of journalism, Gorethy Kenneth.

I have yet to receive any response to my letter.

In addition to writing the letter, I also posted a thread on the popular PNG Facebook group Sharp Talk – which to date has generated 107 ‘Likes’ and 255 comments.

An interesting facet of posting my concerns on Sharp Talk was the general feedback received that it wasn’t the first example of plagiarism by the Post-Courier. Other people too mentioned that they had their work copied and pasted by not just the Post-Courier, but also by other media in PNG too.

One of the most concerning examples must be the Post-Courier’s inexplicable copying and pasting of an article by Australian journalist Oliver Milman, who recently wrote a piece on deep-sea mining in PNG for The Guardian on August 6, 2012.

Ironically, that article was published on the Post-Courier’s front page too – but on August 8, 2012 (Edition 10,999) – one day before bits of my blog post made their way to the Post-Courier’s cover to be distributed around the country.

It was also ‘written’ by the same journalist in question – Gorethy Kenneth.

Fellow PNG blog, Papua New Guinea Mine Watch, picked up on the fact that the Post-Courier and Gorethy Kenneth had incredulously copied large sections of Milman’s work for The Guardian and claimed it as their own original piece of journalism without an iota of recognition whatsoever.

That blog post was consequently picked up by The Guardian which responded by publishing their own story shaming the Post-Courier in one of their columns on August 13, 2012, while highlighting the connection between the Post-Courier and Rupert Murdoch’s phone-hacking scandal:

“But the broom, we fear, hasn’t quite swept clean other parts of the Murdoch empire, where still there are alleged transgressions that would worry Lord Justice Leveson. One such is a big story that appeared last week on the front page of Murdoch’s Post-Courier in Papua New Guinea.”

It is one thing for the Post-Courier to be pinged for plagiarism by a blogger, and another thing altogether for the same paper to be publicly embarrassed by one of the largest newspapers in the United Kingdom.

Furthermore, two cases of plagiarism in consequent editions, by the same author and published on the front-page as the paper’s lead story of the day is beyond alarming – it’s a signal that something is not quite right with the Post-Courier.

The Post-Courier’s brazenness at copying and pasting large portions of other people’s words is truly gob-smacking; and their passing on of this work as their own without any relevant attribution or recognition is utterly disgraceful and is simply unacceptable.

At the end of the day, the buck stops with the Editors of the paper, and it appears in this instance – and without any sort of response or apparent effort expended to defend their paper’s integrity or reputation – that both Editor Frank Genaia and Editor-in-Chief Blaise Nangoi are not just accepting of the practice – but by publicly seen to be doing nothing about the issue, are passively encouraging the practice to fester.

NOTE: Read my letter to the Post-Courier here.

O’Namah becomes O’Dion – Namah set to Lead 17 Opposition MPs

•August 14, 2012 • 11 Comments

As the dust settles over what has been a stampeding electoral process, PNG’s 111 MPs are slowly finding their feet in their respective positions.

While the Parliament has elected Prime Minister Peter O’Neill to lead a 94-strong government based on the principles of ‘reconciliation, unity and trust’, it has yet to decide who will be the alternative prime minister.

When the 9th Parliament resumes for its first sitting on August 21st, it is expected that former Deputy Prime Minister Belden Namah and leader of the PNG Party, will be elected as Leader of the Opposition.

The core of the opposition will be made up by his PNG Party, which has 8 MPs, followed by former Attorney-General Dr Allan Marat’s Melanesian Liberal Party and fresh-faced Joseph Lelang’s brand new Coalition for Reform Party – which each brought in 2 MPs.

Rounding up the team will be one-MP parties – PANGU Pati, led by Ludwig Schulze who unseated Arthur Somare; and the PNG Constitutional Democratic Party, led by Tobias Kulung.

There are also two other MPs who have opted to do the ‘PNG Shuffle’ – and switch their allegiances from the parties which endorsed them to that of PNG Party. Governor-elect of West Sepik Province, Akmat Mai, has chosen Namah over Polye; and Member for North Bougainville, Louta Atoi, has ditched Peter O’Neill for Namah too.

Namah’s band of 17 have their work cut out. Their most experienced member is Dr Allan Marat, who is in his 3rd term and who I expect will be elected as the Deputy Leader of the Opposition. This is followed by 11 others who are all in their 2nd terms – including Jim Kas who beat Sir Arnold Amet to take Madang Provincial. The remaining 5 are first-term MPs.

Despite this, Belden Namah has already signaled what sort of opposition he wants to lead. In his speech during the first session of the 9th Parliament when a prime minister was elected, Namah stated:

“I will provide a vibrant opposition with my team for this country. Let me assure the people of this country, we will fight against corruption, we will fight it without fear or favor and we will fight it because we love our country Papua New Guinea.

I wish you all the best of luck, and I look forward to a mutual working relationship between yourself as the Prime Minister and in the next couple of days when we elect the new Opposition Leader, I believe we will form very good governance in PNG.”

And I agree with Belden Namah. I think he will provide an efficacious opposition. My Twitter followers will be aware of my view in terms of this issue:

Belden Namah’s biggest deficiency right now is that he lacks the political experience and finesse to be prime minister. His push to be prime minister was premature. Namah is a leader in his own right – there is no doubt about that. He is a passionate leader with strong opinions and has his own style.

The real challenge for Namah is to channel this passion toward the national good while following due process. In order for this to happen, Namah needs the political support around him to advise, coach and to some degree manage him if we want the best out of him for the country.

Sir Mekere Morauta tried his best when he was still with the PNG Party – but Namah needs more than one senior statesman – he needs a number of them.

And that will be a hurdle for this opposition, as Namah will be viewed upon by his colleagues as being a senior member of the band of 17. Whether Namah recognizes too that he does need political advice and direction is another issue he will need to address if he is serious about being the alternate prime minister.

Duma Gets Petroleum & Energy – Groans Heard Around the World

•August 10, 2012 • 9 Comments

With Peter O’Neill revealing who his 33 Ministers are, and what portfolios they will hold over the next five years, it is only fair that we take a closer look at some of our Ministers.

The Ministerial position which has probably caused the greatest interest – after the top posts of Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister – and most certainly from an international perspective, would have to be the post of Minister for Petroleum and Energy.

My Twitter followers would have observed a constant stream of tweets leading up to the announcement of Peter O’Neill’s National Executive Council, highlighting the fact that I was being bombarded with requests as to who would fill this post.

And naturally, the world of business entrenched in the petroleum and energy sectors, have indeed been watching with interest developments in our national politics – courtesy of PNG’s significant resource wealth.

One of the more interesting observations justifying this statement is the amount of traffic The Garamut has been receiving via online finance forums from around the world – it has been impressive.

But not all of this attention is good news.

There appears to exist a genuine concern, and maybe even apprehension from these speculators and investors, as to the possibility of William Duma regaining his portfolio – which he has since managed to do.

The Minister for Petroleum and Energy is an important position directly relevant to the future success of PNG from an economical perspective and fiscal position. It is imperative that the right person is in the job.

It is understandable that William Duma, who is leader of the United Resources Party – which managed to net 7 MPs (the third highest total for a political party in O’Neill’s coalition), was given the portfolio as a result of his contribution of MPs to O’Neill’s Government – and also because of his experience.

But we all know that where there is smoke, there is fire.

Party politics in PNG, and the continuous attention needed by the prime minister of the day to continuously exert time and energy in monitoring and managing domestic political fires, means that the country does miss out on a meritocracy-type Cabinet – where the best person for the job, gets the job.

The question Peter O’Neill should be asking himself as he kicks off his first full term in power as prime minister – is whether or not he believes William Duma is the best man to manage this portfolio – not with his own political ambition in mind – but with the national interest at the forefront.

Peter O’Neill’s 2012-2017 Cabinet

•August 8, 2012 • 35 Comments

After a brief wait, Prime Minister Peter O’Neill has finally revealed his 33-Member National Executive Council (NEC) – or Cabinet.

The line up is heavily dominated by O’Neill’s winning People’s National Congress which boasts 13 Ministers. This is followed by Don Polye’s THE Party which has 4; William Duma’s United Resources Party has 3.

Patrick Pruaitch’s National Alliance, Sir Julius Chan’s People’s Progress Party, and Peter Ipatas’ People’s Party all have 2 ministers each; and Our Development Party, United Party, People’s Indigenous Party, People’s Democratic Movement, and Social Democratic Party are all represented by 1 ministerial post each.

Rounding up the 33 are 2 candidates who ran as Independents in PNG Election 2012 – Hon Richard Maru and Hon Kerenga Kua.

Of the 33, only one is a woman – Hon Loujaya Toni of Lae who will most likely take over Dame Carol Kidu’s old portfolio, Community Development.

In addition, it is interesting to note that of the 33, ten are first term MPs while twelve have served three terms or more in the Haus Tambaran. The remaining eleven are all in their second term.

Geographically, 10 are from the Highlands Region; 10 are from Southern; 8 are from Momase; and 5 are from New Guinea Islands. ‘Regionalism’ has again played a part in the decision-making of O’Neill and his coalition partners.

There are six party leaders in the 33, with three others – Sir Julius Chan (PPP), Paias Wingti  (PDM) and Peter Ipatas (PP) – all opting to not push their claim for ministerial portfolios, but instead have nominated younger MPs to take their places.

Furthermore, there are two coalition partners who have totally missed out on a ministerial portfolio – both Anderson Agiru’s People’s United Assembly (PUA) and Ronny Knight’s New Generation Party, although having pulled in 3 MPs and 2 MPs respectively for O’Neill, have not received a portfolio.

In observing this, it is important to note that currently two of the three PUA MPs – Anderson Agiru and Ati Wobiro are Govenors, and the third, Member for Pomio – Paul Tiensten, will be a candidate to replace Hon Leo Dion as the new Governor of East New Britain – courtesy of Dion’s elevation to Deputy Prime Minister.

Here are the 33 – I’ve listed them very loosely in what I perceive to be the pecking order based on their experience, background and standing in their respective political parties:

  1. Peter O’Neill (PNC) – 3rd Term; Ialibu-Pangia Open
    • Prime Minister
  2. Leo Dion (THE) – 3rd Term; East New Britain Provincial
    • Deputy Prime Minister & Minister for Intergovernmental Relations
  3. Don Polye (THE) – 3rd Term; Kandep Open
    • Minister for Treasury
  4. James Marape (PNC) – 2nd Term; Tari Open
    • Minister for Finance
  5. Rimbink Pato (UP) – 1st Term; Wapenamanda Open
    • Minister for Foreign Affairs & Immigration
  6. Charles Abel (PNC) – 2nd Term; Alotau Open
    • Minister for National Planning
  7. Kerenga Kua (Independent) – 1st Term; Sinasina-Yongomugl Open
    • Minister for Justice & Attorney General
  8. Dr Puka Temu (ODP) – 3rd Term; Abau Open
    • Minister for Public Service
  9. William Duma (URP) – 3rd Term; Mt Hagen Open
    • Minister for Petroleum & Energy
  10. Patrick Pruaitch (NA) – 3rd Term; Aitape-Lumi Open
    • Minister for Forestry & Climate Change
  11. John Pundari (PP) – 4th Term; Kompiam-Ambum Open
    • Minister for the Environment & Conservation
  12. Mao Zemming (PNC) – 4th Term; Tewai-Siassi Open
    • Minister for Fisheries & Marine Resources
  13. Ben Micah (PPP) – 3rd Term; Kavieng Open
    • Minister for Public Enterprises & State Investment
  14. Byron Chan (PPP) – 3rd Term; Namatanai Open
    • Minister for Mining
  15. Jimmy Miringtoro (PNC) – 2nd Term; South Bougainville Open
    • Minister for Communication & Information Technology
  16. Francis Awesa (PNC) – 2nd Term; Imbonggu Open
    • Minister for Works & Implementation
  17. Ano Pala (PNC) – 2nd Term; Rigo Open
    • Minister for Transport
  18. Benny Allan (PNC) – 3rd Term; Unggai-Bena Open
    • Minister for Lands & Physical Planning
  19. Mark Maipaikai (THE) – 3rd Term; Kikori Open
    • Minister for Labour & Industrial Relations
  20. Loujaya Toni (PIP) – 1st Term; Lae Open
    • Minister for Community Development, Religion & Family Affairs
  21. Boka Kondra (PNC) – 2nd Term; North Fly Open
    • Minister for Tourism, Arts & Culture
  22. Paru Aihi (PNC) – 2nd Term; Kairuku-Hiri Open
    • Minister for Education
  23. Steven Kamma (URP) – 2nd Term; Central Bougainville Open
    • Minister for Bougainville Affairs
  24. David Arore (THE) – 2nd Term; Ijivitari Open
    • Minister for Higher Education, Research, Science & Technology
  25. Jim Simatab (NA) – 2nd Term; Wewak Open
    • Minister for Correctional Services
  26. Dr Fabian Pok (URP) – 2nd Term; North Waghi Open
    • Minister for Defense
  27. Micheal Malabag (PNC) – 1st Term; Moresby North West Open
    • Minister for Health & HIV AIDs
  28. Richard Maru (Independent) – 1st Term; Yangoru-Saussia Open
    • Minister for Commerce, Trade & Industry
  29. Davis Stephen (PP) – 1st Term; Esa’ala Open
    • Minister for Civil Aviation
  30. Nixon Duban (PNC) – 1st Term; Madang Open
    • Minister for Police
  31. Tommy Tomscoll (PDM) – 2nd Term; Middle Ramu Open
    • Minister for Agriculture & Livestock
  32. Paul Isikiel (PNC) – 1st Term; Markham Open
    • Minister for Housing & Urban Development
  33. Justin Tkatchenko (SDP) – 1st Term; Moresby South Open
    • Minister for Sports & the Pacific Games

Dion Becomes Deputy Prime Minister with ‘Regionalism’ in Mind

•August 8, 2012 • 17 Comments

In a surprise move which will generate a wide range of reactions across the nation, Prime Minister Peter O’Neill will announce today that his Deputy Prime Minister will be Hon Leo Dion, Governor of East New Britain Province.

It’s an interesting move – particularly because Leo Dion is a senior Member of Don Polye’s Triumph Heritage Empowerment Party, the party which returned 12 elected MPs – the second highest of any party after Peter O’Neill’s People’s National Congress.

It is precisely because of this that many were tipping Don Polye to be given the post of Deputy Prime Minister.

As leader of THE Party, it was a claim that was rightfully his. In addition to Polye’s experience and quality, it was a decision that should be quite straight forward.

However, it appears that Peter O’Neill after consultation with his coalition partners – including Don Polye, have agreed to nominate and support Leo Dion to the second highest office in the country.

Although Leo Dion is a quality choice too – he has the experience, respect and leadership qualities required – from the perspective of purely the numbers’ game which is so crucial in PNG politics, it is a rather illogical decision, and one that must have been made with a few distractions in mind – most importantly in this instance – the idea of ‘regionalism’.

Governments in PNG have crumbled in the past because of their lack of wisdom in terms of balancing ministerial allocations and state agency and institutional appointments in line with the commanding idea of ‘regionalism – which is ingrained in every Papua New Guinean. It is an expected corner-stone of PNG politics.

It would be fair to say that Don Polye, although deserving of the post of Deputy Prime Minister, would have been very much aware of the implications of having two MPs from the Highlands Bloc occupying the top two posts in government.

This scenario would have been too easy a target for what appears will become a Belden Namah-led Opposition – and for any opposition for that matter – including the populace of the country’s other three regions.

Despite this, the Deputy Prime Minister will still come from Don Polye’s THE Party, and Don Polye will still retain its leadership while picking up the prize Treasury and Finance Portfolio – ironically the same one he was stripped of by Peter O’Neill late last year.

Although I think this decision will be sustainable in the short-term in terms of government stability, the true test of this allocation will be when the window for votes of no confidence opens after the initial 18 months of Peter O’Neill’s government based on the principle of “reconciliation, unity and trust” is over.

Most importantly here too will be how Don Polye’s electorate of Kandep reacts to the decision now – and also over the next five years. They, out of all Papua New Guineans, would feel the most slighted after this decision as it would very much be their view that their man should have been Prime Minister by now – and most certainly, Deputy Prime Minister in 2012.

New Speaker Signal of Trust in O’Neill’s Coalition

•August 4, 2012 • 2 Comments

Papua New Guinea has elected our Prime Minister of the 9th Parliament. Peter O’Neill returns to the Prime Minister’s post, in the most legitimate manner a prime minister can be chosen, and assumes the country’s top post exactly one year on from when he first replaced Sir Michael Somare via a parliamentary coup.

In doing so, Peter O’Neill remains the 7th Prime Minister elected by the Parliament in an official capacity, and simultaneously demonstrates that he is control of PNG with an impressive win of the parliamentary votes available – 94 in favor and 12 against.

But it wasn’t just O’Neill’s overwhelming win which took center stage yesterday. One of the more interesting developments was the election of the Speaker – the Member for Finschhafen, Hon. Theo Zurenuoc.

My followers on Twitter would know that I was tipping the Member for Unggai-Bena, Hon. Benny Allan, to be put forth as O’Neill’s choice for the role of Speaker.

Benny Allan ticked all the boxes, and out of all of O’Neill’s men, he suited it best:

He’s a strong and independent leader. He had the experience – he’s entering parliament for his third term. He holds a relatively safe seat – which would make the task of Speaker easier to bear. He’s from the Highlands Bloc. He also wasn’t a Minister in O’Neill’s previous Cabinet, so there were no commitments or ‘unfinished business’ holding him back.

And most importantly, he’s a People’s National Congress’ man (following a defection from William Duma’s party for the election) which would have worked out well for O’Neill’s coalition without conceding too much ground to PNC’s partners in what can be a volatile environment.

But that’s exactly what happened – Peter O’Neill conceded ground to one of his coalition partners – Sir Julius Chan’s People’s Progress Party, via quite the unusual move of nominating Theo Zurenuoc as his choice for Speaker.

Although an unusual move, it’s also a move that signifies just maybe how the new government may operate. And if this is the case, then the signs are good.

My view was further validated by the PNC-endorsed Member for Moresby North-East and first time MP, Hon Micheal Malabag, who posted on his Facebook wall today:

“Finally it is over n PNG has a new Government under the leadership of Peter O’Neil.

Many people may not like this coalition arrangement but time will tell as this new Govt sets about its business of managing this Country.

Based on trust PNC Party did not push for the speaker’s position but I am sure the new speaker will restore the decorum of Parliament n protect our Democratic Institutions.”

Theo Zurenuoc comes from an established family of political and public service leaders. Although he may lack the experience, he has the leadership qualities required to aptly fill the function and duties of the Office of the Speaker of the National Parliament.

Although his election was indeed a surprise, it is a good sign for the future of Peter O’Neill’s coalition. Hopefully, PNC’s trust is repaid in full over the next five years by People’s Progress Party,  so our people will enjoy a government which we deserve.