IN A sensational slap-down of the O'Neill government, in which he is Treasury Minister, Aitape St Ignatius alumnus Patrick Pruaitch has admitted that Papua New Guinea's economy is being managed appallingly.
Mr Pruaitch is leader of the National Alliance Party which is in coalition with Peter O’Neill's People's National Congress and other minor parties.
In a speech in which he distanced himself from and plunged a dagger into the heart of the O'Neill administration, he said the government’s economic strategy has resulted in massive debt and a plunging growth rate.
“All Papua New Guineans would be better off today if the current government had given more consideration to the quality of its spending than in promoting extravagant projects built at highly inflated costs,” he said.
Mr Pruaitch was speaking at a pre-election National Alliance Party event in Port Moresby attended by members of parliament, party executives, intending candidates and former prime minister and National Alliance leader, Sir Michael Somare.
"Patrick is at last showing his hand, which has been coming for some time now," an observer of Sepik politics told me. "The way he is going he will be the next prime minister."
The Treasurer is an ex-student of St Ignatius Secondary School in Aitape, one of the top schools in PNG. He's been the member for Aitape-Lumi since 2002.
Mr Pruaitch said the economy had grown strongly until two years ago, which he attributed to the sound economic management of the National Alliance-led coalition under Sir Michael which was in office from 2002-11. He said the country’s economic growth had severely eroded since.
“For a macroeconomic record as bad as this we have to go back to the days of the previous People’s National Congress-led government.
"People had lost all hope for an economic recovery and the PNC legacy was that PNG was often described as a failed state.
“Since the economic boost induced by the LNG project negotiated and commissioned by a National Alliance government, it seems the economy has virtually fallen off a cliff under the present government.”
Mr Pruaitch added that the mismanagement of the economy has resulted in a K13 billion borrowing which has taken total debt this year to K21.6 billion.
He said despite the spending spree, formal employment has fallen by 5.7% since its peak in 2014.
He also revealed it was a myth that the debt to GDP ratio had been maintained below the 30% figure legislated under the Fiscal Responsibility Act.
“Our current government had been proudly boasting in its speeches that PNG was going to have the highest growth rate in the world,” he said. “It failed to correct itself when this did not eventuate."
Three days ago, speaking in Hong Kong, Peter O'Neill said he had delivered "policies and progress" to PNG and that his government had kept "every commitment we have made".