Not all foreign political commentary is impeccable

By PNG Echo

Papua New Guinea has had 40 years of political independence - independence of thought is also encouraged.
Independence of thought to be encouraged too.

The recently published article of Dr Bill Standish entitled PNG politics after the boom, does not deserve the wholesale acceptance it has received in PNG.

Firstly it is intended for an international readership so glosses over much and while it has the air of being balanced and authoritative, close scrutiny reveals it to have considerable flaws and an undercurrent of governmental disapproval.

Unbiased journalism – no such thing

Perish the thought that journalism is ‘unbiased’. Indeed some journalism, such as opinion, requires the writer to be anything but. Nevertheless, most journalist/writers aim to be fair and provide balance. Yet, bias tends to manifest itself anyway. A writer doesn’t write in a cultural vacuum and what is one writer’s ‘terrorist’ is another’s ‘freedom fighter’

It’s all in the chosen word: so when Dr Standish, writes that:

In 2015 the Ombudsman Commission urged [my emphasis] the public prosecutor to make O’Neill face a leadership tribunal…

we start getting a glimpse of what Dr Standish’s language may be telling us.

oc-logoThe Prime Minister was ‘referred’, the Ombudsman’s Commission (OC) did not ‘urge’ anything. That the OC ‘urged’ suggests the charge is so serious that the OC is taking a particular and inappropriate interest. It’s not.

Dr Standish makes the accusation of the Prime Minister seeming “defensive” because of his banning of two Australian journalists and the PMs stance (taken effect this month) on foreign advisors. He calls this a “restriction on international oversight” whereas the Prime Minister believes he is merely restricting undue outside interference and taking back Papua New Guinea.

It’s all down to semantics again, Dr Standish’s ‘oversight’ is the Prime Minister’s ‘interference’

Furthermore, Dr Standish’s words subtly reveal a covert governmental disapproval when he talks of how

…O’Neill defunded the Investigative Task Force Sweep, [ITFS] which had gained several [my emphasis] major convictions…

Exactly how many are several? The word certainly implies that the ITFS enjoyed considerable success. But did it?

In the figures that Sam Koim (ITFS Chainman) provided the PNG public recently  he claimed to have registered 350 cases – 93 that were ITFS initiated of which 12 were successful.

Paul Tienstien convicted by TFS of official corruption
Paul Tienstien convicted by TFS of official corruption

Those figures neither take into consideration that the conviction of MP Francis Potape (one of the two major convictions of ITFS – the other being MP Paul Tiensten – twice) was successfully overturned on appeal nor that some have mooted that this may be the fate of other convictions.

For now, it stands at 11 out of 93, or 11.83% success rate! Based on the cases registered (350), the success rate comes out at 3.1%. Indeed, a full 50% of ITFS cases have not made it past committal.

Weighing it up – ITFS has not been the success that the mention of its “several convictions” in isolation suggests.

False Premises and the sins of omission

Dr Standish posed a question in his first paragraph where he writes:

As long as PNG’s mining boom lasted, Prime Minister Peter O’Neill could build parliamentary support by allocating constituency funds to each member of parliament’s (MP) district. So how will restricted funds impact upon O’Neill’s political position and the stability of the government?

The Prime Minister
The Prime Minister is not a sole arbiter

He’s talking of DSIP funds, I presume.

The question rests on an incorrect assumption: that the Prime Minister arbitrarily allocates these funds and that he’s the sole arbiter of who gets what. There is more to a government than merely a Prime Minister.

The funds are prescribed and applied to every constituency –so the answer to that question is: not at all, how could it?

The only impediment to the MPs obtaining these prescribed funds are in the timing –many have had to wait until funds become available and there have been accusations of the government manipulating the process for political ends – an accusation denied. This could be what Dr Standish is referring to – if it is, what he’s actually said is misleading – almost right, but not quite.

Then again, when Dr Standish speaks of Paraka’s “unauthorized invoices” and alludes to the fact that the UBS loan did not “seek the necessary approval of parliament” he is skating on very thin legal ice – both of these ‘allegations’ being currently tested in the PNG courts.

Moreover, according to Dr Standish’s analysis: “Two more ongoing legal cases could have a major impact on PNG politics in 2016” and he cites the opposition challenge to the blocking of two attempted votes of no confidence and the Namah challenge to the Manus Island Detention Centre.

Don Polye with the paperwork for his attempted vote of no confidence
Opposition Leader, Don Polye with the paperwork for his attempted vote of no confidence

Not really – the worse that could happen with the court challenge to the blocking of the vote of no confidence is that the vote is allowed to go ahead.   There was an overwhelming vote of confidence taken on the floor of the parliament in response to the attempted vote of no confidence and the status quo is unlikely to change.

PNGs opposition, even if joined by those on the middle benches, is miniscule; the attempted negative vote was always a nuisance tactic with precious little chance of success. The Opposition knew that and of this I was told by one of the signatories.

As for the case against the Manus Island Asylum-Seeker’s Centre by Belden Namah: if precedents are anything to go by, any case led by Namah is unlikely to proceed.

Who can forget the Star Casino incident? Namah apparently
Who can forget the Star Casino incident? Namah apparently

Absolutely nothing has been heard of the defamation cases he is allegedly prosecuting against the Sydney Morning Herald and the Samoa Observer, for example. Prime Minister O’Neill once said that all Namah had to offer PNG was his big mouth – and he should know.

Besides, PNGeans are less passionate about the issues surrounding the Centre than people in Australia where the subject is a political ‘hot potato’.

Finally, Dr Standish presents Don Polye, erstwhile Treasurer and current Opposition Leader, completely without context. Although Don Polye is quoted as saying “..our country is on the verge of kleptocracy,” Dr Standish fails to mention the many allegations and accusations attached to Polye himself that make Polye’s statement just a little ironically comical.

Who is Dr Bill Standish

The signing of the Treaty - including Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser, PNG Prime Minister, Michael Somare and Queensland Premier, Joh Bjelke -Petersen
The signing of the PNG Treaty (Torres Strait Islands) part of the process of decolonization – including Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser, PNG Prime Minister, Michael Somare and Queensland Premier, Joh Bjelke -Petersen

Dr Bill Standish is described as a ‘Researcher’ based in Canberra. The Development Policy Centre’s blog, for which he writes  describes him as a “Research Associate in the School of Culture, History and Language in the ANU’s College of Asia and the Pacific [who] has watched PNG politics closely for 45 years

It gives the reader a clue as to how, and from where, Dr Standish’s opinions have been formed (for surely he must have many after a 45-year study

Political paradigms are changing in Papua New Guinea and it’s not surprising that those who have had a long, arms-length relationship with the country may be uncomfortable with the current turn of political events. But Papua New Guinea has been a sovereign nation for forty years now and perhaps it is only right that the incumbent government should be ridding the country of the last vestiges of colonialism. Now it just remains to clear those vestiges from the minds of PNGeans too.

And in case you’re wondering, the irony of this writer also being a foreign political commentator hasn’t escaped her.

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3 thoughts on “Not all foreign political commentary is impeccable

  1. At last we have TFS results without media bias or Koim’s spin. I pity all those whose reputation has been damaged by Koim without him proving any wrongdoing. Not to forget the deception of Koim claiming that he and his lawyers were working for nothing when the truth is they had secret funding from an anti- O’Neill politician: Kerenga Kua. The sooner they get rid of TFS and start the ICAC the better.

  2. Every one seems to be reading between the lines.

    How about stop the school yard – he said / she said – and help to get the country going? Put aside your differences and fight to get the country moving forward.

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