“THE best ever PM the country has ever had since independence,” claimed a commentator to PNG Attitude. The majority of us Papua New Guineans thinks otherwise.
The father of the nation, Michael Thomas Somare, had his cold days. Between 2002 and 2011 his government was engulfed in rumours of widespread corruption and nepotism.
The people were frustrated with Somare’s children and some handpicked ministers, called the ‘kitchen cabinet’, who were dominating all decisions of the executive.
Then many Papua New Guineans became unhappy with the Grand Chief’s prolonged absence when he was hospitalised in Singapore.
His illness facilitated the 2011 political impasse which allowed Peter O’Neill to ascend to the top post supported ably by ex-defence force officer and Vanimo Green MP, Belden Nema.
This was interpreted by many people as unconstitutional and a coup. However, due to its prolonged dissatisfaction with the Somare government, the public generally supported the change.
After the 2012 election, O’Neill became prime minister of the coalition government. Subsequently, during his current term in parliament, corruption, scandal and deceit reached levels never seen in the history of this country.
The O’Neill government has been accused of rendering irrelevant the institutions of parliamentary democracy and, because of this, it seems his government might be immovable.
It has even tampered with the national constitution to bolster its position by making it difficult for the opposition to move a motion of no confidence. The opposition has attempted such a vote four times without success.
O’Neill appointed a commander of the defence force from his own district of Ialibu-Pangia and currently there are accusations that 70% of the new recruits into the army are from that relatively small part of PNG.
So far he has appointed three police commissioners (he’s big on the ‘hire and fire’) and one is in gaol. And he has appointed cohorts to other key agencies including the central bank. He has the backing of and is prayed to by prominent Pentecostal Christian pastors.
He disbanded Investigation Task Force Sweep, an anti-corruption unit he set up to investigate corruption in government agencies. When the team began investigating him, O’Neill quickly trashed a unit that had just been too effective.
When Sweep got a court order to remain in business, O’Neill countered this by cutting off its funding. Chairman Sam Koim worked for a year without pay but that couldn’t go on forever.
Among the issues that form the shadowy picture of Peter O’Neill are the National Provident Fund rip-off, the Paul Paraka K71.8 million ‘fee’ saga, the K3 billion UBS loan, the K144 million LR Group Generators deal, the expropriation of Ok Tedi, and tendering issues around the K2 billion Pacific Games and the K160 million Kumul fly-over.
Not one of these matters satisfactorily answered.
These are far too many issues for any one politician and in any democracy. A prime minister presiding over such controversies in any democratic country have listened to the voices of the people and stepped aside. But not PNG’s Peter O’Neill.
Many times O’Neill has been accused of not telling the truth on important national issues. For example his words on the so-called forward fixed sales contract for PNG LNG sales. He also told the nation that revenue from PNG LNG would not be affected by the oil price slump. Then he said the PNG LNG revenues were kept safe in a trust account in the central bank.
It was revealed later that the money has been directed into an escrow account in Singapore to service the K3 billion UBS loan.
These deceits and intimations of corruption have created a major and continuing public outcry in PNG such as we have never seen before. Many Papua New Guineans are demanding O’Neill’s resignation.
Since 2012, Peter O’Neill has come up with two policies - free education and free health care, both now in serious trouble – but there has been a consistent let down in strategic vision and planning. Plans are talked up and unfailingly fall apart in implementation.
Much education and health funding goes missing and is not reaching the intended population. For example, at the end of 2015 and in 2016, schools were complaining that their ‘tuition free fee’ components were not received. Also budgeted funds for health programs in the provinces were also not fully received in 2015 and 2016.
On 8 June 2016, a highly trained group of the PNG police, the Special Services Unit, fired on a peaceful protest by students of the University of PNG. More than 30 casualties resulted and two are reportedly still fighting for their lives at Port Moresby General Hospital.
The prime minister and his coalition using their numerical strength to suspend parliament in the very same hour students were being shot.
A few minutes prior to the move for adjournment, O’Neill accused the students of inciting trouble and played down the issue. Some MPs even yelled, “Ol husa!?” (a contemptuous ‘Who are they?’), referring to the students.
The police commissioner also blamed the students as instigators and said the police had a constitutional duty to protect people and property. So they can shoot live bullets into a crowd of peaceful and nonviolent students?
Condemnations of the shooting poured in from all over the world including the United Nations. O'Neill and commissioner Baki didn’t care.
I would hardly call prime minister Peter Charles Paire O’Neill the “best ever PM the country has ever had since independence”.
In reality, most Papua New Guineans regard him as our worst prime minister ever.