BRYAN KRAMER MP
LAE - On 1 September, I posted an article confirming rumours of a split in the Pangu Pati in which eight members, led by the party leader Sam Basil, made the decision to cross the floor of parliament to join prime minister Peter O’Neill’s government.
Seven other members, including me, decided to remain with the opposition.
The decision had been made at a secret meeting convened at the Lae International Hotel the previous day.
When contacted by the media about what had happened, I replied that the best person to answer that question was party leader Sam Basil and the members who supported the decision to move.
In other words I wanted to hear his response his before I made mine.
However, when Basil was contacted to confirm or deny the rumour, he refused to comment saying, “If anything [happens] we will call a media conference".
It wasn’t until 10 days later on 11 September that Basil and O’Neill staged a press conference at parliament house in Port Moresby confirming the move of 10 members of Pangu.
So, if the decision was initially made on 31 August, why did it take Basil and O'Neill 10 days to formally announce it?
What the public didn’t know was that following the meeting in Lae these members all went to the bar at the Lae International to celebrate their decision and wait for O’Neill to fly in from Port Moresby to stage a press conference.
However O’Neill did not show up. He said he would fly the next day.
On the following day, Basil and company travelled to Nazab Airport to welcome O’Neill. Again O'Neill was a no show.
It was rumoured through political grapevine that members of the government ranks opposed the plan for Basil to join the government. A deal had been cut between O’Neill and Basil without their knowledge or consent.
So how did this come about?
Following the formation of the new government on 1 August, Basil and O’Neill were in constant contact for Pangu to join government.
A week later Basil flew to Singapore to secretly meet with O’Neill where they cut a deal that Pangu would move to join the government and receive four senior ministries.
It is alleged the deal also included a substantial financial incentive, an issue I’m currently looking into.
My view as to why O’Neill would be keen for Pangu to join government is that he was concerned about William Duma, who held the balance of power with nine members in his United Resources Party (URP).
After the recent election and before the split in Pangu, the opposition had 48 members, the governor of Eastern Highlands was on the middle bench and the O’Neill government had 61 members.
The majority needed to form government was 56 (being half of the 111 seats in parliament).
URP was the second largest party in the government coalition second to O'Neill's People's National Congress Party. URP held the balance of power, meaning if it defected to the opposition 48 + 9 would equal 57 O'Neill would be removed as prime minister.
This explains why URP was able to hold key ministries in government - state-owned enterprises, police and petroleum & energy. Having the balance of power means one can dictate terms.
To neutralise Duma's influence and threat of defection, O’Neill needed to bring a counterweight - a party with equal numbers to still maintain a majority in the event URP defected.
O’Neill initially approached his former friend and staunch ally, leader of the National Alliance Patrick Pruaitch. However Pruaitch refused, knowing too well O'Neill's word wasn't worth the paper it was printed on.
Sadly the politically naive Basil – over-ambitious to become prime minister - was easier to mislead.
The problem O’Neill faced was how to make available the four senior ministries promised to Basil, which included works held by Michael Nali and energy held by Fabian Pok, without dividing his own governing coalition.
The answer was he couldn’t, hence the 10 day delay in announcing the move.
So why, in the end, did Basil cross without any ministries?
After a third failed attempt to join government, I made it known to Basil through a third party that I would write an article exposing the plan and the embarrassing fact he was being rejected by a corrupt government.
The very next day Basil and O’Neill staged a press conference announcing that Basil and nine other Pangu members had joined O’Neill government.
I can only assume Basil and O’Neill were concerned about both of them looking desperate and that this forced Basil to move without securing the ministries.
It is important to note that Basil's decision had nothing to do with opposition leadership, or a power play over Pangu's leadership following Sir Mekere Moratau’s decision to join.
It had to do with Basil’s ambition to be prime minister, confirmed in my own discussion with him.
He made it clear he was sick of being in opposition and deciding who in the government would be prime minister. He emphasised he made Peter O’Neill become prime minister, he made Belden Namah, and Don Polye become opposition leader and almost made William Duma prime minister on 1 August 2017.
"The prime minister will always come from government side and not the opposition," Basil told me.
This explains why he was keen to join the O’Neill government. The irony is that, while Basil is right if there is a split in government, it is always the opposition who decides which candidate in the government will be the next prime minister.
What he failed to understand is that the 27 members in opposition will decide and I can assure him it won’t be him.
Now I understand there will be a few members in both the government and opposition who will take issue with this article. What they need to understand is I didn’t seek elected office for financial incentive, political convenience or the opportunity to one day be prime minister.
It was to save this country from the corrupt people running it into the ground.
The future of our great country lies in the next generation and I will be doing my part to ensure they are afforded a better foundation to succeed us.
Just as I was able to overcome a corrupt electoral system and election rigging to finally get elected, I intend to share every experience and skill I have to help others who share the same passion, value and principles achieve the same.