“O’Neill-ocracy” screams this morning’s Post Courier (Thursday 5 June, 2014). What could possibly have foreshadowed such a politically unrestrained newspaper headline? Asks PNG Echo
Proposed parliamentary reforms that, according to the Prime Minister, have been put forward by the Registrar of Political Parties (and not by himself or members of his party) are causing unnecessary chagrin, not least of all amongst members of the mainstream press who display a pitifully tenuous understanding that has produced a knee-jerk reaction.
In particular, newspaper editor, Alexander Rheeney, led this morning’s Post Courier with the hysterical headline “O’Neill-ocracy”.
Rheeney’s main concern is about the proposed restriction of candidates for Prime Minister, (in the case of a successful vote of ‘no confidence’) to members of the sitting ruling party.
Rheeney claims, that this will benefit the current ruling party – in this case the PNC.
Exactly – so far so good – so what’s wrong with that?
The PNC have almost a large enough membership to rule without any coalition partners. The people have spoken.
Besides, were O’Neill rolled and another of his party made PM, how would this make PNG an O’Neill-ocracy – he’d have been sidelined – kaput?
And if he were rolled, it would, of necessity, mean that he had lost the confidence of his party. It would not mean that the ruling party had itself lost the confidence of the parliament, so why should it be penalised?
Leaders of parties are replaced all the time (often by an internal party vote) without seriously threatening the intrinsic make up of government.
In this case, the new PM is ALWAYS sourced from the ranks of the ruling party.
Look at the Gillard/Rudd struggle for the Prime Ministership of Australia – it was never, and could never have been, about installing a member of the opposition as PM – only an election could do that. (If we ignore the anomaly of November 1975)
But, then again, Australia has a strong two-party parliamentary system and PNG’s system is “Big Man” politics writ large while masquerading, badly, as democracy.
This has to change if the people of PNG will ever be equal participants in their national life.
The proposed reforms are the beginning.
Prejudice taints sound judgment. An O’Neill-ocracy is little more than an unsustainable and fanciful notion – a populist ruse (maybe to sell newspapers – or am I being unnecessarily cynical?)
…the political situation in PNG has been screaming out for it. Yet when it’s proposed it’s resisted, even though the current political scenario is a breeding ground for corruption.
Leaders pay for support and the main occupation of parliamentarians is how to stay in power.
Parties are weak, plentiful, have no ideological rudder and breed no loyalty
Members flip-flop between government, opposition and middle benches depending on the personal incentives involved (read: bribes).
Independents are not really independent at all but ‘floaters’ who are often for sale to the highest bidder.
This is NOT democracy, it’s ‘Big Man’ politics writ large – and it’s what PNGeans understand, even as they rail against the injustices. (Don’t get me started on DSIP funds)
Former Chief Ombudsman, Sir Charles Maino observed many years ago:
“…in the Highlands we have a ‘big man’ system. This is a system whereby anyone from scratch, so long as he is wealthy, [becomes] a leader — he’s a big man…has this sort of mentality had any effect on the current leadership at a political level? And I’m afraid to say, it tends to be.”
It is why in August 2011, – with the aid of the money Belden Namah had made from logging in his “backyard” a political coup was effected so easily. Namah bought the parliament of PNG.
Even as I write this, long after the fact, it still sends a chill down my spine that a nation can be bought. It’s repugnant.
However, Namah did not buy loyalty – at least not for long – and that’s a fact of history that needs no embellishment.
How ludicrous can you get?
Parliament needs reform not only to free it from ‘Big Man’ politics but also to rid it of democratically ludicrous situations.
At present, the government of PNG is a coalition government (as it always has been). The leading coalition partner of the PNC in this government is the THE Party – party leader: former Treasurer Don Polye.
Recently, Polye was sacked from his ministry and ejected from the government – he was told (although he resisted) to sit on the opposition benches.
In a democratic scenario this is unthinkable.
How can the leader of the major coalition partner of the government – from whence comes its Deputy Prime Minister – have their leader in opposition?
In order for GoPNG to retain democratic principles, THE Party either needs to replace Polye or move away from government, otherwise there is a considerable and unconscionable conflict of interests.
One is forced to ask: to whom are the party members faithful, their leader or their Prime Minister? It’s a question that shouldn’t have to be asked.
A political party can never divorce itself from politics to this extent.
Then there is the Opposition, the leader of which calls himself “the alternate Prime Minister”.
Sure, he would be, were he in a two-party system – he’s not. In reality he’s as far away from the Prime Ministership as any other party leader (as the current situation stands.)
Should the position become vacant (before the proposed changes), he would not assume the position but merely take his place in the queue – and that would probably be behind most other party leaders and several members of the PNC.
The new reforms proposed moves PNG closer to a system that honours its parliamentary parties.
I am of the firm belief that it is only this that will free PNG from the politics of personality: of the ‘Big Man’ and closer to a system where ideas, policies, loyalties and, most of all, people, matter.
Give a dog a bad name and hang him by it
Corruption and power mongering is so rife in PNG that the public sees its hand at every turn. Sadly, they are not often wrong. However, sometimes, just sometimes, corruption and the grab for power acts as a smokescreen.
For me, the burning question is whether it is the role of government to become an investor?
This question was never debated, not in parliament and not in the media (although some NGOs did express this concern) – and, in the finish, what do I know? O’Neill’s position has been vindicated (at least for the moment) by the considerable profit already made on these shares.
Lately O’Neill has become everyone’s Bête Noire: the repository (but not the “suppository” – as Tony Abbott would erroneously and hilariously say) of all the social and political frustrations of the people of PNG.
He is the Prime Minister and the buck stops with him.
However, has it become a case of ‘give a dog a bad name and then hang him by it’? Sometimes, just sometimes, proposed changes are for the better (maybe in spite of O’Neill or even thanks to him.).
If only PNG could divorce policy from personality it may be able to see the forest for the trees.
In my opinion, this parliamentary reform does not go far enough – and it has precious little to do with what parliamentarian reaps the benefit because in the final analysis these sort of reforms will benefit Papua New Guinea and hopefully emancipate it from the tyranny of ‘Big Man’ politics.