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03 May 2018

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We are living in a time of corrupt leadership. A civil war may not be too far off. Perhaps they will listen then.

It has become a common practice adopted by the PNG prime minister to downplay any critic or comment with data presented by independent assessment of the nation’s economy.

We have witnessed such derogatory remarks and mere excuses from the Prime Minister over the years. Even MPs in the opposition providing counter policy advice and criticism are simply turned down by the PM.

The scapegoat in his blame games is always pointing to the former PNG governments, the fall in the global economy, the decline in the prices of oil and gas, and even accusing career bureaucrats of gross corruption or accusing business houses of evading taxes.

The real crux of the overall downfall in PNG economy is in the keys and hands of a few political elites, which the PM himself is part of.

He can either start economic reform or indulge himself in the cause and ignore better warnings and policy options offered by experts and think tanks in the country and abroad.

An obvious case is the promised royalty payments for the PNG LNG project over the last 4 or 5 years of operations. Where is the money, is a question for PM to answer. At one time he said it was safely kept in a trust account with BPNG; another time he referred it to being kept in Singapore.

With the recent earthquake disaster in Hela, SHP and WP early this year, this money would be better put to use if the royalty payment arrangement with landowners was in place.

In the near future, the landowners from the PNG LNG project sites who were affected by the earthquake and aftershocks will really want to know what happened to their promised royalties.

This pending payment may seem a trivial task for the government, but it is a major treachery to the landowners as far as their value and linkages to their motherland is concerned.

It is a sleeping time bomb, it can flare anytime (landowners will rise against the government and project developers). We have witnessed such case with BCL in Paguna in the 1980s.

Everyone and their dog in Hela are claiming to be landowners. Sorting out the right landowners is a nightmare.

The anthropologists that the government have sent in to do the work have even been sucked into some of the claims.

Even the basis of what constitutes a landowner in Hela culture has yet to be fully established. Brand new systems of 'traditional' inheritance have been invented in an attempt to get a piece of the royalty cake.

In this sense, the legitimate landowners have been compromised by the dishonest people in their own society.

Sorting this mess out is rightly the responsibility of the project developers, Exxon Mobile, Oil Search and the other partners.

Why the PNG government allowed these companies to shift the responsibility onto them is a mystery. Unfortunately it's not the first time this sort of thing has happened.

The Australian company, Oil Search, is the only one out of this whole sorry saga that has tried to do the right thing and has actively contributed to social development in the province. If not for them the whole thing would be a lot worse, if that is possible.

Mr O'Neill has got another potential Bougainville on his hands. And it is likely to come to a head just as he is refusing to acknowledge the will of the people in that province expressed in a referendum.

Last week in Australia he unequivocally stated that the PNG parliament would never vote for Bougainvillean independence.

2019 is going to be a very interesting year in PNG. If the appalling situation in Manus is still going on, Australia will be hamstrung in its reaction and will not be able to help.

PNG is currently speeding towards a gigantic train wreck and nobody in Australia gives a stuff.

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