BY DAVID ELLERY
LUCY BOGARI, the woman named in June as Papua New Guinea's next high commissioner to Australia, has had her appointment revoked.
Charles Lepani, the current high commissioner who has lived in Canberra with his family since early 2005, has also had his appointment as PNG's next ambassador to the Americas scrapped. Both postings were due to have taken effect last month.
Sources have said Ms Bogari would have been the first female PNG high commissioner in Canberra. Senior PNG bureaucrats have been quoted as saying it is was "unprecedented'' for such appointments to be changed once public announcements had been made.
The about-face is said to be a source of embarassment for Mr Lepani whose promotion to Washington was common knowledge in Canberra's diplomatic circles early last month. Neither Mr Lepani or Ms Bogari could be reached for comment.
The confusion over who would be representing PNG diplomatically in Canberra has come at a sensitive time in the relationship between the two countries. Preliminary negotiations over the reopening of the asylum-seeker detention centre on PNG's Manus Island were only resolved in a memorandum of understanding signed in Port Moresby last Friday.
Insiders have told The Canberra Times PNG's current Ambassador to the Americas, Jeremy Paki, had threatened to take legal action if he was recalled to make way for Mr Lepani.
The PNG government - already enmeshed in controversy over choosing a successor to the ailing prime minister, Sir Michael Somare - had chosen to run with the status quo. A senior PNG official said yesterday this was not the case.
Stephen Barampataz of the PNG Foreign Affairs and Immigration Department said the decision to retain Mr Paki, a lawyer and a Harvard graduate, as ambassador to the United States, Canada and Mexico, was the result of a July cabinet reshuffle. He did confirm Mr Paki's contract had only been renewed in 2010. Mr Paki has held the prestigious post since 2003.
Mr Barampataz said Ms Bogari, currently PNG's deputy secretary of foreign affairs and trade, had been named High Commissioner to Australia in June at the same time Mr Lepani's posting to Washington was made public.
"(After the July cabinet reshuffle) the government decided to reverse the decision to remove Paki,'' he said. "Charles Lepani was reassigned back to the High Commission in Canberra.''
Mr Barampataz said Mr Lepani was expected to occupy this position for the "foreseeable future''. Ms Bogari was reassigned to her old job.
Earlier this month Sam Abal, the man appointed acting prime minister while Sir Michael Somare was undergoing medical treatment, was dumped. A new government, headed by Peter O'Neill, is now in office.
A former radio journalist and PNG high commissioner to the Cook Islands and later New Zealand, Ms Bogari has been forced out of top jobs before. In March, 2007, the PNG Cabinet appointed her secretary of the Department of Foreign Affairs.
This was not acted upon and on April 19, 2007, the incumbent, Gabriel Pepson, had his term extended by another three years. Ms Bogari, by then a deputy secretary in the department, was suspended by Mr Pepson that August. The PNG National Court ordered her reinstatement in September 2008; a decision it took another month and the threat of further legal action to enforce.
Ms Bogari, who is widely regarded by PNG observers, was the acting secretary of Foreign Affairs only weeks before the decision to post her to Canberra was announced.
Keith Jackson, a long time PNG watcher who was the first to report Ms Bogari's posting to Canberra on his website, said pragmatism and personal relationships drove much of what happened in government circles in that country.
"They call Papua New Guinea the land of the unexpected,'' he said. "Few things (of this nature) come as a surprise.''
Source: The Canberra Times