Rhetoric over substance: O’Neill not always to blame

“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.

Photo:  Front page 'Post Courier' 5 June 2014
Photo: Front page ‘Post Courier’ 5 June 2014

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.

Gillard and Rudd - a battle royal for the role of Australian PM
Gillard and Rudd – a battle royal for the role of Australian PM

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?)

Parliamentary reform

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.”

The August 2011 politcal coup government that had come seriously unravelled within a year.
The August 2011 politcal coup government that had come seriously unravelled within a year.

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.

Don Polye directed invoices be paid
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.

UBS-small-business-loan-fundTake the UBS loan for example, while every body is looking for some illegality in the set-up of the loan, the real questions that should be asked are going begging.

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.

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6 thoughts on “Rhetoric over substance: O’Neill not always to blame

  1. And you believe O’Neill??

    Whatever on earth would the Registrar argue as the rationale for the preposition??

    • Ganjiki, I believe you’ve missed the point. Please read again. All I’ll say (again) is it’s not about O’Neill – if he’s rolled, he’s rolled. It’s about the strengthening of parties (i believe) that will take away the temptation to ‘buy’ parliamentary votes. The people voted in the PNC as the ruling party – while every Tom, Dick and Harry thinks he can pay for a chance at the being PM, he’ll do so. Hasn’t history taught you this?

    THURSDAY, 05 JUNE 2014
    Port Moresby: Kandep parliamentarian and the leader of
    T.H.E. Party Don Pomb Polye wants one commitment from
    the people to save the pace of the country.
    And that they should take ownership of national issues
    affecting the socio-economic and political landscape of PNG.
    Mr Polye declared that PNG has gone into a state of anarchy.
    And he fears the worst is expected which will cause the
    entire population to suffer.
    “Official corruption has been bred into the system by the
    current top leadership where transactions involving huge sum
    of money have been done in top secret and the constitution
    and important legislations have been deliberately violated.
    “Prime Minister Peter O’Neill has facilitated and defended
    corruption and there is fear that the country has begun
    losing foreign investor confidence,” he said.
    He said PM O’Neill has commenced on a wrong path in
    managing the country and it is a bad precedent.
    “Our institutions and law enforcing agencies should be
    respected and such organizations should be left free of
    interference from performing their constitutionally
    independent duties and responsibilities,” said Mr. Polye.
    A worried Polye added: “There is great fear that PNG’s
    younger generations will fall into practice left by Mr O’Neill.
    The country has been run by incompetent people who have
    mismanaged the PNG’s promising economy. The economy is
    blooming but the kind of leadership demonstrated by the PM
    will definitely lead the country into socio-economic crisis.
    There is no doubt that such a situation was experienced in
    the year 2009, therefore PNG should do all she can to avert
    repetition of the same by this PM.”
    “The Ombudsman Commission (OC) is an independent
    ‘watchdog’ and it performs its constitutional functions and
    responsibilities. The PM as head of the country has breached
    the constitution, protocols, systems and processes and
    deliberately interfered into the work of the OC.
    “It is sad that PM has forced himself and interfered into the
    OC and the investigation has been comprised. He has no
    right to interfere into the OC’s work. Indeed this is the work
    of desperate leaders who fall into a dictatorship which is not
    conducive for a culturally diverse country like PNG,” he said.
    If it is true that the first interest payment was paid despite
    the moratorium placed by the OC, it was a breach of
    Constitutional laws and the OC is constitutionally tasked to
    make the PM responsible for his actions, said Mr. Polye.
    Mr. Polye said every human being make mistakes and the
    important practice is to make corrections and cease
    continuation. It is sadly the reverse where the PM O’Neill
    continues to make mistakes and defends his mistakes. It is
    disappointing as if PNG is operating isolation with the rest of
    the world.
    The PM’s actions have shaded negative implications on the
    roles and functions of other constitutional offices, institutions
    and state agencies. For example Provincial administrations
    and Departments can easily follow the PM’s set precedence
    against any constitutional directives given by the Public
    Services Commission, the Electoral Commission, the Police
    Commission, etc.,. His interference will lead into break-down
    of functions of such organizations and there will be an
    absolute failure in governance, said Mr. Polye.
    “I caution the PM as a colleague leader to understand the far
    reaching implications of his ill-motivated and short-sighted
    decisions”, said Mr. Polye. “I appeal to all responsible bodies
    and members of parliament to act appropriately to stop
    further breach of the constitution and other laws to rescue
    this country,” added Mr. Polye.
    Approved for release
    Hon. Don POMB POLYE, CMG, BE (Civil), MBA, MIEPNG
    (Reg), MP
    Member for Kandep and Parliamentary Leader of T.H.E. Party

    • Many issues ARE about the Prime Minister, I don’t believe this particular issue is. And ah yes, Don Polye. There is just one word to describe this man – disgruntled. I’m sorry, but coming from this source, I have a problem with integrity. There are a few politicians that I’m wondering when they’ll meet their Waterloo – for Polye, I’m guessing, it’s not far away (and no, I’m aware that he’s not the only one).

  3. Regardless of who the PM is and when there is a vote of f no confidence in the Prime Minister, it is against that political party and it’s coalition hence it needs Parliament mandate.
    In all sense the policies, programs and administration is questioned because the vote is against the Leader and the whole party.
    Otherwise, before a vote is taken the party should correct it internally to reshuffle to bring confidence.
    Otherwise, the whole lot guys and so this amendment is without merit and will promote bad governance and allow bad management to continued

  4. Sick mentality and culture of the ‘Big Man’ system..The Big Man/Chieftaincy proper is that he Protects and Safeguards his People within his Tribe/Clan.That,however,is not the same with Politics in PNG.The Chief/s get in to ‘up’ themselves and end up being Investors and Middlemen to Foreign Investors instead of Protecting and Safeguarding their People who happen to be the 7mil plus Citizens of PNG! Get to the root cause of this whole twisted Political Big Man Governance -the OLIPPAC,the CLRC,Registrar of Political Party Office,Electoral Commission etc..Absolutely twisted conneections not making any sense and the very bunch who got these Legislators-cum-Investors etc are the Citizens of PNG.After 38 years of Governance,surely something has got to be done,not in the interest of Politicians-cum-Legislators and Affiliated Parties BUT it is the Citizens they serve in their Electorates who must be Priority.