BY KEITH JACKSON
IN PORT MORESBY this afternoon the central figures in yesterday’s successful plot to overthrow the Somare government were rewarded with senior positions.
New Prime Minister Peter O'Neill announced the line-up of his new caretaker government with former opposition leader, Belden Namah, now deputy prime minister.
Amongst the 11 new ministers also sworn in were ex prime minister Sir Mekere Morauta, former foreign minister Don Polye and former petroleum minister William Duma. No portfolios were announced.
Mr O'Neill said his government would not introduce any major policies before next year's general election.
Earlier, former acting prime minister Sam Abal said the appointment of the new prime minister was illegal. He said the speaker of parliament "hijacked the process" and "committed an illegal act".
Mr Abal says he will challenge the legality of the appointment in court.
He has support for his view from constitutional lawyer Peter Donigi, who said the ousting was unconstitutional because the position of prime minister wasn’t vacant in the first place.
“If Mr Abal is successful in his court [case] and is reinstated, the question is how can he manage the purse of the nation, in view of the fact that he does not muster the numbers,” said Mr Donigi.
“The opposition, led by Mr Namah, would make it very difficult for him to perform. And therefore we will have a constitutional crisis.”
But Mr O'Neill says he is not concerned by the challenge. "We are very confident that any challenge of any legal nature will be defended fully," he said.
"Very confident that we will succeed in that defence." Mr O'Neill says the former government should be responsible and accept yesterday's outcome.
The director of PNG's Institute of National Affairs, Paul Barker, has told Radio Australia that frustration had been building among MPs.
"There had been a lot of discontent in the opposition and some government members had been looking for a way for some time to show that they wanted change," Mr Barker said.
"Parliamentarians were frustrated by, among other things, the very limited amount of time that they have had over the last year or so actually in parliamentary sessions."
Mr Barker said Peter O'Neill “seemed to be doing a good job” when he was treasury and finance minister.
He was one of the key drivers of a sovereign wealth fund, which aims to ensure all revenues from the mining and gas boom are saved for future generations in a transparent way.
Mr Barker said department staff had found Mr O'Neill "good to work with".
"He is from the Southern Highlands Province, his mother is from Southern Highlands, his father was a kiap. He's certainly an able, a determined, bright individual, and an astute politician, and certainly ambitious."
Mr O'Neill was the subject a corruption inquiry in the late 1990s that investigated one of his businesses. No charges were laid and Mr O'Neill denied allegations he acted illegally.
Mr Barker said Mr O'Neill only had a short time to prove to the PNG public that he is the right person to lead the country ahead of the next election.
"Well, they're going to have office, effectively, for only eight months. If they want to be able to secure office next year, they've got to demonstrate that they can run an effective government, hopefully a transparent government that focuses on what the public really is crying out for.
"The public has been upset over the last period of time because they've been hearing about the high growth rate, the good government revenue, and yet they're not seeing improvements in their lives in terms of roads and services.
"So if this current government in their short term can demonstrate they can actually move a few things in the positive direction, they will get brownie points for that, and it'll probably help them during the next election.”
Photo: A cheeky poster doing the rounds of the internet
Sources: ABC News, Radio Australia, Radio New Zealand International