Election Focus: Peter O’Neill’s Key Policies

•June 4, 2012 • Leave a Comment

The People’s National Congress (PNC), which current Prime Minister Peter O’Neill leads, has released a number of videos to be used as television commercials outlining the Party’s 5 key policies.

PNC’s 5 key policies include Healthcare, Education, Infrastructure, Law and Order, and Economic Growth.

You can view the 5 videos below:

Will Simon Sia be PNG’s First Asian MP?

•June 1, 2012 • 13 Comments

I recently wrote an article about how anti-Asian feeling could threaten the stability of PNG elections after an ugly incident happened in Rabaul last month between a Chinese-migrant shop supervisor and senior statesman Sir Ronald ToVue of East New Britain.

There is no doubt that there exists within PNG serious strands of anti-Asian feeling – and for understandable reasons, as the above incident demonstrates.

But to state that all Asian migrants are bad for PNG is incorrect and it ignores the considerable investment and contribution of those old and new Asian-migrants who have indeed played a constructive role in the development of PNG.

One such new Asian-migrant is Simon Sia, a Malaysian-Chinese migrant who has been in the country since the 1990’s, and is currently standing as the PNG Party candidate for the Eastern Highlands Regional seat.

Sia arrived in Goroka from Malaysia to try out his entrepreneurial skills and has since established his now famous and successful retail-centric Bintangor Trading business empire.

Part of the reason why Simon Sia is so popular in the Eastern Highlands is because of Bintangor’s sponsorship, since 2004, of the Goroka Lahanis – the provincial rugby league team which took part in the semi-professional national competition, the B-Mobile Cup, and now the Digicel Cup.

After winning his first championship as sponsor of the Bintangor Goroka Lahanis in 2010, Simon Sia stated:

“I’m now a celebrity. I didn’t not know that I would end up being elevated to the status of a celebrity, you know, I read and was aware of what rugby league does to a person. I thought that was for the players, I’m only [the] sponsor, the background, out of the limelight kind of person, but the Lahanis victory has really moved me. Its really touching”.

But Sia isn’t without controversy either.

In April 2009, the millionaire businessman was arrested and charged by the Organized Crime Squad for the alleged murder of a 16yr old girl in 2001 – after it was alleged she was beaten and locked in a freezer for stealing a sausage in Bintangor Supermarket in Goroka.

Later that year, Sia almost pulled Bingtangor’s sponsorship of the Goroka Lahanis after incumbent EHP Governor, Australian-born and also self-made millionaire Malcolm Smith-Kela (who Sia is now running against), publicly suggested the removal of Asians from PNG following a spate of anti-Asian riots in 2009, including in EHP.

Sia responded angrily to the suggestion and retorted:

“Not all Asians are bad people, some of us have been here, got married with kids and have followed normal business procedures to do business in the country and you as a Governor responsible for the people and affairs of EHP cannot go public and make comments like that.

If Governor Smith can come out publicly in the media, then why should the people of Goroka ask me to sponsor their rugby league team or any other social groups within the province?

The Governor has the power and not us [Asians]. We cannot do anything and coming out to the public like this is a slap in the face for some of us who had contributed so much for the development of Goroka and PNG.

The Governor has to do something for Lahanis now because he has the power and as governor he can look back to his people and help.

I might waste my time helping the people of Goroka and Eastern Highlands when somebody from above like Smith makes comments like that”.

A number of eyebrows were also raised when Simon Sia was granted PNG citizenship last month on May 18 – the same day as registrations closed – which allowed him to stand for elections for the first time.

Simon Sia is a very popular figure in the Eastern Highlands Province, but will be up against three very prominent individuals gunning for the regional seat.

This includes two-term and current governor, Malcolm Smith-Kela, Henganofi local and prominent businessman Noreo Beangke, and former governor, Peti Lafanama.

If Sia does indeed manage to win the regional seat – PNG will have its first Asian-born Member of Parliament.

Kilim Dai Tasol – Abusing Parliamentary Conventions & Constitutional Processes in PNG

•May 31, 2012 • 1 Comment

When the swearing-in of Peter O’Neill as prime minister hit a snag yesterday due to Acting Governor-General Jeffery Nape unexpectedly suspending the ceremony, it was almost laughable to hear Nape’s justification:

“I will study the documents and then conduct the the ceremony. The swearing-in is suspended”.

Such a simple yet clear one-liner, hopefully uttered with the intention to adhere to PNG’s parliamentary conventions and constitutional processes, with the purpose of ensuring that everything was in order, was music to the ears.

Of course, we don’t know whether it was indeed Nape’s intention to follow due process, but to observe what could be the most important swearing-in PM ceremony of this parliamentary term (there have been a few – I count five), being unhinged by the most technical of reasons – particularly after witnessing the blatant disregard for due process by all political actors involved, including the Acting-GG, over the past 9 months – was nothing short but ironic in its purest sense.

Although it has been widely accepted within PNG that yesterday’s swearing-in of Peter O’Neill has ended the political impasse, there are some legal issues all associated with parliamentary conventions and constitutional processes which are still outstanding.

Perhaps the most questionable abuse of process thus far – or the most extreme – has been the recalling of parliament to sit after its prorogation.

Prorogation of a Parliament results in the termination of a parliamentary legislative session or term. Parliament then stands prorogued until the opening of the next session. Like the summoning and dissolution of Parliament, prorogation is a prerogative act of the Crown (via the Governor-General), taken on the advice of the Prime Minister.

The principal effect of ending a session by prorogation is to terminate business. Members are released from their parliamentary duties until Parliament is next summoned. All unfinished business is dropped and all committees lose their power to transact business, providing a fresh start for the next session.

No parliamentary committee can sit during a prorogation and parliament itself can not sit, unless recalled in a State of Emergency, which has clear parameters to abide by as per the Constitution.

And despite how O’Namah have framed it, a State of Emergency in the National Capital District can not be implemented, nor is it justified, by a so-called ‘threat’ posed by a Supreme Court judgement handed down by one of the three arms of government – the Judiciary; and the perception of rouge police.

Although I think it fair that Peter O’Neill and Belden Namah are taken to task for their abuse of parliamentary conventions and constitutional processes, the fact of the matter is that the current Executive have not initiated this practice. Sadly, this has been happening for some time.

On commenting on the practice championed by O’Namah earlier this year to use parliamentary majority to pass questionable retrospective laws to legitimize itself, Professor Ron May of the ANU observed that it seriously compromised the integrity of the government:

“Mind you, the slope was slippery even before August 2011 [when Somare used to] “adjourn parliament to avoid votes of no confidence, manipulate parliamentary processes and executive dominance, etc.

“Once politicians have seen they can do this, it will be hard to stop them in future, unless some strong leaders with integrity emerge from the election.”

It is extremely concerning that there seems to be a growing tendency for the Executive in power in the Haus Tambaran to trod over relevant parliamentary conventions and constitutional processes in order to accommodate favorable political outcomes.

There are reasons why we have such conventions and processes in place, and that is to keep in check the infringement of specific arms of government onto the rights of the people of PNG as an independent and democratic nation-state.

The more we simply ignore and/or twist these conventions and processes, the more likely we will unnecessarily run into more strife and trouble.

How PNG’s Politicians are using Social Media to Campaign

•May 30, 2012 • 4 Comments

I have previously written about how PNG General Election 2012 will be a milestone election on a number of fronts. This obviously  includes the much vaunted accolades directed toward the potential and opportunity for PNG to enter a new era of economic growth, but it also includes, what I term – the opening up of “PNG’s consciousness”.

And this opening up of “PNG’s consciousness” has social media and technology to thank, for although the desire to effect change has always been present in PNG, the means to do so in an organised manner aimed at achieving a strategic political goal, apart from waiting for the traditional five-year parliamentary cycle to end, has not.

I also noted that it hasn’t just been one way traffic either – with PNG’s political parties also breaking into new territory by planning on how best to use social media to their advantage.

The PNG Party, headed by current Deputy Prime Minister Belden Namah, is taking the lead by being the first Papua New Guinean political party to have a Facebook page and a Twitter feed.

Recently, the PNG Party also launched an impressive website which sets out in full its vision and policies, calendar of campaign rallies and even a Flicker account showing the latest photos from the Party’s campaign trail.

Not to be outdone, current Prime Minister Peter O’Neill also released a very well-done TV commercial addressing the nation which went live across the nation right before the first State of Origin game on May 23:

Peter O’Neill’s party, People’s National Congress, has also since launched a Facebook page, a Twitter feed, and also a polished-looking though not as comprehensive, website.

In addition, Peter Ipatas, Member for Enga Regional and Leader of People’s Party, also has a Facebook page while his party also recently launched its own website too.

It is fair to say that there are quite a number of both sitting and aspiring MPs on Facebook, with the most notable incumbents being Don Polye (Member for Kandep Open and Leader of the T.H.E Party), Powes Parkop (Member for NCD Regional and Leader of the Social Democratic Party), and Sam Basil and Charles Abel (both PNG Party strong-men and Members for Bulolo Open and Alotau Open respectively).

There have also been two particular aspiring MPs, both Independents, who have caught on to social media and who have been using it well: Jon Yogiyo (standing for Eastern Highlands Regional) and Robert Agorabe (standing for NCD Regional).

Both Yogiyo and Agorabe have their own respective websites too, with Agorabe also using Facebook to keep in touch with potential voters.

To date, we have seen these candidates inform potential voters of their whereabouts, provide information regarding upcoming campaign rallies/events, answer questions, as well as argue certain points on the events of the past month regarding the latest political events in PNG.

Although certainly not comprehensive, these candidate’s usage of social media has set the benchmark for a new era of candidate-voter relationship in PNG whereby the candidate can inform, and the voting public can become informed – like at no other previous election.

UPDATE: To view the a complete list of PNG political parties and candidates online and using social media, click here.

‘Namahcracy’ Discredits & Jeopardizes Papua New Guinea

•May 25, 2012 • 8 Comments

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?

PNG Supreme Court Judgement Embarrasses Judiciary & Compromises Elections

•May 24, 2012 • 18 Comments

It would be an understatement to say that the Supreme Court’s May 21 judgement reinstating Sir Michael Somare as Prime Minister has caused a certain degree of angst among Papua New Guineans.

Just when the country had breathed a national sigh of relief with the announcement that elections would go ahead, and observed that verbal commitment backed-up by tangible evidence – most notably the issuing of the writs by the Governor General, the Supreme Court has once again thrown an unwelcome spanner into the works.

Despite this latest development, the good news is that elections will go ahead due to the fact that Parliament has already risen and the writs have been issued – essentially no one has the power to defer the elections.

But some serious underlying issues have been revealed by this latest Supreme Court judgement which are quite concerning – and this does not bode well for PNG’s immediate future.

Firstly, it would be wise to note that public perception of the substance of the five-bench Supreme Court final judgement has been split evenly, with supporters arguing that Chief Justice Sir Injia Salamo has stood up for the Constitution, and detractors claiming that the judgement was laced with judicial bias.

The most damning indication that something is not quite right with the Supreme Court’s judgement is the reaction from the five-bench panel itself, with Deputy Chief Justice Gibbs Salikoa and Justice Bernard Sakora opting to disqualify themselves from the verdict based on ethical grounds.

On making what little comment they did make, Deputy Chief Justice Salika abstained from reading his decision, saying his “conscience dictated” he could not be part of it, while Justice Sakora used tougher language, saying to participate would be to “disregard (my) judicial oath, legal ethics and the laws of the constitution”.

Their self-disqualification was based on themselves, along with all other members of the Supreme Court bench, being instigators and recipients of a February email which described Peter O’Neill’s government as being illegal and unconstitutional.

It is one thing for the judicial arm of government to be questioned by the Executive and segments of the public, and it is another thing altogether when it begins to question itself.

And already, some senior lawyers have called on the Chief Justice Sir Salamo Injia, and judges Nicholas Kirriwom and Les Gavara-Nanu to retire from the bench in order to save the face of the country’s judiciary.

Senior state-constitutional lawyer, Loani Henao, said while there is no issue with the decision of the court, the manner in which the decision was reached is of concern with possible bias, or at least the perception of bias:

“As long as they remain in office, they will be faced with nothing but distrust, lack of confidence of the people in them and lack of integrity, and it’s proper and a most honorable thing for the three learned judges to do for the sake of the independence of the Judiciary, and for the people of this country, is for them to retire and retire immediately.”

Meanwhile, Peter O’Neill has responded to the judgement by stating that he will appeal the Supreme Court decision because he believed the decision was mischievous and judicially biased.

His ignoramus deputy, Belden Namah, has gone a step further and demanded that unless the three judges whose decision favoured Sir Michael immediately resign, they will be arrested and charged with sedition.

Order 10 of the Supreme Court judgment declared that it was the duty of all persons, including the Governor-General, and the Speaker of Parliament and all other members of the Exective government officers, bodies and agencies to comply with the decision which is binding.

The Governor General has also publicly distanced himself from the current political/judicial stand-off and has refused to attend any political appointments or swearing-in ceremonies until after the elections.

Name Recognition not an Issue for PNG’s 4000 Aspiring Politicians

•May 21, 2012 • 6 Comments

Last month Samson Chicki wrote a letter to the Editor of The National  strongly urging Papua New Guineans to stop using foreign surnames and to stick with our traditional names.

It was an interesting opinion piece which highlighted some of the benefits of, including name recognition when running for public office, retaining the traditional family name.

Papua New Guinean names aren’t always the easiest to pronounce correctly, even for us native speakers, but Chicki’s letter did highlight the issue that name recognition isn’t really a problem for aspiring PNG politicians, particularly those standing for the open seats.

There have always been colorful names associated with PNG politics and elections, including the issue of ghost names on the electoral roll, some of which it was revealed in 2007 included names of kings and queens and Elvis Presley himself.

Taking this into account, the PNG Positives Blog recently analysed the list of candidates for the 2007 election and observed that it made for interesting reading.

The presumption is that the upcoming election, with some 4000 candidates, will also provide as entertaining an analysis:

“Some old historical names appear – it looks to me like some old campaigns may be fought again in the new Parliament if the following get elected; either NAPOLEON SAEVARU [Alotau Open] or NAPOLEON B. LIOSI [Milne Bay Provincial] will obviously not get on well with either of WELLINGTON GEBA GERORO or WELLINGTON KABORO [both standing for Ijivitari Open].

We may also find the odd old English statesman resurrected – like GLADSTONE JARUGA [Sohe Open]. We assume also that long-departed English royalty isn’t rising again in the seat of Chuave Open in the person of GEORGE KING YAUWE?

There may be problems with two old Scottish rivals clashing in Central Provincial, namely ROGER McKENZZIE DIGGA and MANU McFEE GENOMALU.

There will be some obvious Ministry allocations if any of the following get elected:

Minister for Emergency Services: JOE AGO ANDREW FAIYAMAN [Komo-Margarima Open]

Minister for Agriculture: DIDIMAN GODFRIED SAVI [Usino-Bundi Open] or RODERICK FONOVI KOFIMAN [Unggai-Bena Open] or perhaps SIMON PAGLAU FARMAH [Kundiawa-Gembogl Open]

Minister for Education: JOE TINE WERAKE (TISA BOI) or HENRY WAIM TISA[both Kerowagi Open] or

TISA JORIFA YUBIKO [Kainantu Open] or even TISA HENI SOTO [Unggai-Bena Open]

Minister for Forests: DEWE ENN FORESTRY [Kerowagi Open]

Minister for Police: MATHEW JONATHAN POLISMAN [Sinasina-Yonggamugl Open] or LUHUKOPA POLISMAN ZATARO [Goroka Open]

Minister for Health: DOKTA GABRIEL POSING KULWAUM [Manus Open]

And even a candidate for whichever Ministry oversees the Weather Bureau – in KEN FAIRWEATHER [Sumkar Open seat]

Some candidates will obviously fit in anywhere –  such as SUAL TIENE RIGHTMAN [standing in Nawae Open].

IAN BUSMAN SINGKEPE [Eastern Highlands Provincial] is obviously declaring his roots back in the village.

We’re not quite sure what SELWYN BISKET TOTAVE [Okapa Open] is declaring?

Seems to be quite a few candidates with musical backgrounds, such as BUAGE BUAFEC ILAI (BEE GEE) [Sinasina-Yonggamugl Open], as well as ARNOLD UMBA RASTA [Kundiawa-Gembogl Open] and INDIA RASTA PUPUKAI [Kandep Open] – at least we hope that’s the case, and the latter two candidates aren’t really campaigning to legalise anything controversial?

Various family references are found, such as the pair in  Karamui-Nomane Open – PAUL PAPA NIME versus  MAX TABEL BRO – and JAMES MINI TALA UNCLE [Chimbu Provincial] – although this could be the typical loose use of these terms in PNG [but I’m not sure the term “mini-uncle” is widely used!].

Personal characteristics are there also – we all know that MALCOLM SMITH KELA [Eastern Highlands Provincial] is definitely very bald – but not being familiar with either YOMBA MIGHTY ABAUNDO [Chimbu Provincial] or JOHN PAGLAU STONHET [Kundiawa-Gembogl Open] we suspect some slight exaggeration!

NOAH KOOL YALBAH [Chimbu Provincial] is obviously a laid-back candidate!

We hope that if elected the Gulf Provincial candidate RIDDLER KIMAVE’s maiden speech will be in plain language?

We have a plethora of parties also – most have obvious connotations, but perhaps not the MAPAI LEVITES PARTY?  We may also have an undeclared Communist candidate in CRIMSON T. TAVIO [Kainantu Open].

We hope that the Madang Open candidate DAVID LAS doesn’t live up to his name.

And last but certainly not least – if anyone can suss out what HEITCH HAIWAY KARROT [Daulo Open] is likely to be promoting in the next Parliament if elected, please advise me.”