AS the ninth Papua New Guinean parliament came to a close and the country prepared for elections. I want to take this opportunity to thank Peter O’Neill for his performance in leading our country.
I also want to review his scorecard that began when he usurped power in 2011. While he did not take all of us to the moon, it was still a remarkable ride.
On legitimacy of government, I give him a score of 3/10
Firstly he did not defer the 2012 elections although, with the majority he had in parliament, he could easily have done that. I also compliment him in allowing a vote of no-confidence against him in July 2016 (albeit ordered by the Supreme Court) and congratulate him in defeating the motion with an overwhelming majority.
The score is balanced against him, though by the abolition of Task Force Sweep and the failure of the justice system to pursue Paul Paraka in the Paragate scandal. As I reminded him in parliament prior to the vote, ‘while you continue to have the overwhelming confidence of parliament you have lost a nation’.
This is now more apparent as we see the Treasurer accusing O’Neill of wrecking the economy and stating his refusal to work with him again as head of a coalition government after the elections.
The battle for the hearts and minds of voters began on 22 July 2016 when Comrade Ben Micah broke ranks with him following the shooting of unarmed demonstrators at the University of PNG by a section of the police force loyal to O’Neill. The protest followed his refusal to subject himself to police interview regarding his role in the Paraka scandal.
On 22 July 2017 we heard the rational voice of Kelly Naru and the emotional voice of Comrade Micah on the arrogance and insensitivity of the government under O’Neill’s leadership in failing to hear the pleas of the people in subjecting himself to the rule of law.
The reason for growing dissatisfaction with his leadership is attributed largely to increasing cynicism among the younger social media generation over concerns about the legitimacy of governments following the conduct of parliamentary elections.
In 2012, for instance, O’Neill’s seat of Ialibu-Pangia was the first to be declared ahead of all other seats in the country, thereby influencing the outcome of that election as voting was still in progress in many parts of the country.
There is also growing concern about the lack of transparency in the conduct of the national elections and strengthening perceptions that those in parliament today have bought their passage by manipulating the electoral roll and compromising electoral officers and security personnel during the voting and counting processes.
While the prime minister had the opportunity to bring major reform to our election processes through the introduction of technology such as electronic voting and counting and improving transparency and reducing the cost of elections, he chose an anti-people option by trying to increase nomination fees and security bonds on election petitions.
The refusal by parliament to allow this manipulation of the electoral process at the end of the ninth parliament confirmed the view that O’Neill’s mandate to rule is over. There is also growing concern about the lack of electoral reform and the hope that a new government will address this issue.
While I acknowledge that the conduct of national elections is vested in the independent constitutional office of the Electoral Commissioner, the funding is controlled by O’Neill as the minister responsible for the way elections are conducted.
He has failed the people of our country by not giving us a more transparent election process in his term as prime minister.
On political development, I give him a score of 4/10
Since the Rand Corporation’s note of 1989 on the political situation in PNG, the county has not made any significant progress in addressing law and order, political instability, economic deficiencies and the real threat of Bougainville seceding.
In fact literature on PNG’s prospects points to the country balanced on a tight rope and making no progress. PNG continues to shoot itself in the foot with lost opportunities in the resources boom. We are still going the same way with LNG revenue, the UBS loan and no sign of the much promised sovereign wealth fund.
The recent looting of shops in Boroko and similar incidents in our main cities and major towns are becoming regular and confirm the fragile and volatile situation of a fragile nation with the noose of growing unemployment tightening around its neck.
Squatter settlements in our towns and cities are packed with unemployed youths and adults both male and female who pose a real threat to law and order. This situation needs to be turned around through a major intervention program.
The introduction of the District Development Act and the introduction of district and provincial services improvement programs in rural PNG have been a success and members of parliament who used their DSIP and PSIP funds wisely will be returned to parliament.
The prime minister as the architect of the program, building on an earlier prototype expounded by Sir Peter Lus, needs to be congratulated. The need for additional oversight on expenditure and audit cannot be stressed too much to put an end to abuse and to ensure the integrity and continuity of the program.
On economic development, I give him a score of 5/10
The PNG economy needs an injection of US$130 billion by 2030 in direct foreign investment to generate an annual budget of K23 billion to support our growing population. While the former National Alliance government delivered the LNG project at a cost of US$19 billion, no investment of similar magnitude occurred on O’Neill’s watch.
His role in nationalising PNG Sustainable Development, however, earned him respect. The attempts by Sir Mekere Morauta to attack him over Oktedi and his possible re-entry to politics continues to raise eyebrows.
While the re-opening of Panguna looks positive, PNG awaits the verdict on how the Frieda mine and future resource development projects will be negotiated. PNG will require six more LNG-type projects by 2030 to keep ahead of our population growth.
On agriculture, I give him a score of 0/10
Peter O’Neill will be seen as the prime minister who built infrastructure in our urban centres at inflated prices, incompletely and with poor workmanship. He will be judged as doing nothing for agriculture. In fact, K100 million allocated for agriculture was squandered during his term in office.
His announcement on the eve of the elections of the establishment of the National Plantation Management Agency to revive the plantation sector was too little too late. No program was put in place for small to medium sized agricultural enterprises.
For the future, districts should be directed to start allocating funding for agriculture projects through their district services improvement programs.
His education program through the Tuition Free Education scheme is a success having introduced more than one million girls into the education system. The country acknowledges your contribution in this area and salutes you.
But I ask if O’Neill and his ministers and top bureaucrats have sufficient confidence in the quality of our national education system to send their own children through it.
On health, I give him a score of 6/10
His strategy in supplying free healthcare is acknowledged although the appointment by cabinet of Borneo Pharmacy as the major supplier and distributer of drugs proved erroneous and costly .
I again ask if O’Neill, his ministers and top bureaucrats have enough confidence in our doctors and health facilities and whether they use those facilities.
On investment in major Infrastructure and assets, I give him a score of 0/10
Let me remind Peter O’Neill that while he successfully hosted the Pacific Games and ACP Leaders meeting and invested in sports stadiums in his term as PM, he did not give the nation the equivalent of the Yumi Yet Bridge program introduced by Mekere Morauta that upgraded our roads system and inspired a nation.
Apart from maintaining the highlands highway, the country must build future national assets that will be game changers for our nation. PNG needs to provide electricity to all its citizens to bring the nation up another notch which begs the question of why the government is building a small hydro power plant in south Chimbu and has not considered planning the construction of the Purari hydro project.
In terms of transport, I would also like to see consideration of railways for movement of freight. I would also ask why he is making cosmetic changes to Jacksons Airport when we should be building a new International airport between Brown River and Vanapa in Central Province. In terms of telecommunications, why haven’t we put a communications satellite into orbit to help reduce the cost of internet accessibility.
On the conduct of foreign policy, I give him a score of 6/10
We note O’Neill’s successful meeting with the president of Indonesia in 2015 and his handing of the West Papuan issue which can only lead to the more positive integration of our two economies. In his term we concluded a US$6 billion loan from China although details of this borrowing remain opaque except for the high cost contracts going to China Harbour Engineering Company, a company blacklisted in many places because of the culture of corruption associated with the way it wins contracts.
Your term as PM also saw the establishment and likely closure of the Manus Detention Centre, the latter representing a real loss to the Manus economy. Perhaps he will propose to Australian prime minister Turnbull the establishment of a naval presence in Manus.
The government also asked for Australian aid to be tied to the national budget but was knocked back by the Australian government.
When Peter O’Neill came to power in 2011 his own provinces of Southern Highlands and Hela were unmanageable with warlords controlling the government machinery including its payroll. Under his leadership the government presence and the rule of law was re-established in the two provinces although control remains fragile in Hela.
As the country goes to this election, it will be guided by his performances and the performances of the sitting members of his coalition in the way they have expended improvement funds. If they have managed these wisely, O’Neill will be again invited by the Governor-General to form the next government.
In the event that the Governor-General sees fit not to do this, I hope the positive gains of the O’Neill government will be preserved, particularly in the DSIP and PSIP programs and Ok Tedi, by him being able to form a new government with his comrade Ben Micah of PPP and Treasurer Patrick Pruaitch.
This will to continue to provide stable leadership and continuity of policy in health and education that the country deserves and O’Neill will continue to play a supporting role to prevent opportunists from recently minted parties such as GRUF from taking control of the country and its resources.