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Wheel of Peace

Is foreign investment obsession eroding democracy in PNG?

Peter O'NeillM P | Oxford Human Rights Hub

OFTEN described as “an island of gold floating on a sea of oil”, Papua New Guinea is one of the top ten resource-dependent economies in the world. But robust economic growth rates have not led to any decrease in PNG’s poverty rate over the last 20 years.

Although the benefits of economic growth are not reaching the vast majority of the population, Prime Minister Peter O’Neill has repeatedly cited the need to create a stable political environment to boost foreign investor confidence.

Since ascending to power, O’Neill has endlessly promoted “political stability” to justify a daunting array of anti-democratic measures which cynics perceive as a thinly veiled attempt to prolong his own leadership.

First, he has amended the Constitution to extend the period during which any vote of no confidence against the prime minister is prohibited, from 30 months previously to now a total of 43 months out of the 60-month (5 year) term between elections.

A second change has been to reduce the minimum number of parliamentary sitting days to just 40 days per year, and to increase the number of MPs who must sponsor any motion for a vote of no confidence.

A further proposed constitutional amendment would require that in the event of a vote of no confidence against a prime minister, the subsequent prime minister must be a member of the same political party as the outgoing prime minister.

Further measures include sacking the Treasurer and Attorney-General, as well as Ministers for Petroleum & Resources, Higher Education and Industrial Relations, all within the last three months.

Although such action could be perceived as undermining political stability, the reason given in each case was the need for stability. In the case of the Treasurer, his sacking followed his opposition to a proposed loan that would raise national debt to a level he felt to be irresponsibly high.

In response, O’Neill appointed himself Acting Treasurer and unilaterally approved the loan. The Ombudsman has since referred O’Neill to the Public Prosecutor for alleged misconduct in bypassing proper parliamentary processes for approving the loan.

The Attorney-General was sacked for opposing O’Neill’s proposed Constitutional amendment relating to votes of no confidence. Just days earlier, O’Neill had commended the Attorney-General as one of the best-performing ministers.

More worryingly, O’Neill has also disbanded the anti-corruption task force he had himself set up. This occurred immediately after it recommended police action on evidence that O’Neill had improperly authorised approximately $US30 million in payments to a law firm.

O’Neill further sacked the Police Commissioner and Deputy Commissioner who signed the arrest warrant against him. The National Court recently granted a permanent stay against the disbandment of the task force.

O’Neill’s fixation on political stability is all the more curious given that he took power in controversial circumstances which precipitated a constitutional crisis. The Supreme Court had ruled that O’Neill had failed to meet constitutional requirements when claiming the prime ministership.

In response to this decision, O’Neill imperilled the separation of powers by increasing parliamentary power to remove members of the judiciary. However, he repealed this legislation after a public outcry and the resolution of the constitutional crisis at the 2012 election.

In any event, O’Neill now enjoys unprecedented support on the floor of Parliament, and the Opposition retains only three seats out of the total 111. Several former Opposition members have crossed the floor since the election, stating that it was necessary because O’Neill made it difficult for opposition MPs to access funds for their constituencies.

By punishing any traces of dissent within the ranks of government, dismissing senior officers exercising independent oversight of prime ministerial action, and removing any effective voice of Opposition on the floor of Parliament, O’Neill has seriously curtailed the public’s right to information which could properly influence their vote.

In the words of Article 25 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, each of these measures appears to be an “unreasonable restriction” on the right to “free expression of the will of the electors”.

Adhering to human rights principles of transparency and accountability is particularly crucial in a young and fragile democracy seeking to strengthen the rule of law.

Foreign investors have responded to this ongoing corrosion of democracy by continuing to call for “stability” – no doubt music to the Prime Minister’s ears, but a setback for the country’s adherence to human rights.

Comments

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Mathias Kin

We have a lot of money around now, that is the reason O'Neill and his government are able to throw it around.

In the last four decades, the different governments did not have the luxury of money.

What is wrong now is that Peter O'Neill is making a lot of mistakes and he is doing it in the open, without any fear of being caught.

In the name of stability, he changes our constitution to hang on to power.

When the police or ombudsmen are on his tail, he quickly uses his position to sack people and appoint others, again to remain in power.

This is the worst government and the worst CEO I have seen in over 39 years.

All friends here, we are heading towards very troubled waters....

John Kaupa Kamasua

Peter my good friend you are putting forward a lot of generalizations here.

I would like to see more educated citizens like yourself approach national issues and topics with a lot more balance than your comments here.

By the way, the Village court magistrates are still waiting for their first pay in many areas of PNG!

Barbara Short

Thanks Peter Anage. Glad to hear that there is progress right down to the village level in some parts of PNG.

I can see that effort is being made to improve the roads.

Michael Dom

I'm all for optimism...

http://asopa.typepad.com/asopa_people/2014/10/png-economy-faces-challenges-as-growth-to-soar-by-20.html

Michael Dom

Peter, and in other news...

http://asopa.typepad.com/asopa_people/2014/10/k7-billion-png-road-investment-but-maintenance-the-challenge.html

Michael Dom

"I have never seen developments taking place at this current rate over the last 40 years since Independence nor over the last 10 years"...

Precisely.

Don't count your chickens before they hatch.

Peter Pirape Anage

Contrary to a few negativities posted here, I have never seen developments taking place at this current rate over the last 40 years since Independence nor over the last 10 years when the last government was making supplementary budgets one after another.

For the first time ever, we are seeing and experiencing developments taking place in all sectors of the economy including infrastructure, health, education, etc and there is so much optimism in the air for many good things to come and I hope we should give credit where it is due.

For the first time ever, money is now going directly to individual ward levels, LLGs, districts, etc right across the country and its having a huge impact in the rural areas.

Village councillors, kiaps, village court clerks, peace officers, etc are now been put on payroll.

This to me is progress of a kind never seen before and this is cause for optimism and therefore to those cynics and critics alike, you should do well by giving this government the benefit of its full term and and we all can judge the performance after the completion of this term and hopefully another as well. God bless all.

Barbara Short

I think the title says a lot - "Foreign Investment Obsession" is the problem.

The Wewak district once had 40 aid posts but now half of them are closed. You might even be able to say that half of the aid posts of PNG are now closed. Health services have declined despite the huge profits from the mines etc.

I'm sure Agricultural Extension Services have also declined. I know educational standards have declined. I could go on and on. The "get rich schemes" involving foreign investment do not deliver anything of value to the ordinary village people.

In fact the village people just get neglected while the people, who get rich out of foreign investment businesses, accumulate wealth, buy houses in Australia, invest in Australia, send their kids to expensive schools and universities etc etc etc.

Please, can somebody start thinking of the village people of PNG. Heh! they are still there. They still live in their traditional ways, doing the washing down at the creek, living on sago, which is not very nutritious, women often dying during child-birth, trying to get to a market where they can sell their produce to make a little money income.

They are the ones that we need to be thinking about, not, "how to keep the foreign investors happy".

Mathias Kin

O'Neill must be stopped.

Michael Dom

Where investors are concerned Papua New Guinea is still like a nubile young whore working the local streets. Every guy on the block has a round now and again, but few would admit they've 'been there' let alone dream of taking her home. Business is done in the back alley bent over trash cans or up against a wall. And the pimp is...

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