The Inaugural VONC Awards

By PNG Echo

To recognise outstanding achievement in matters concerning the Vote of No Confidence the committee (me) would like to make the following awards. In the category of

KNaru_ResizedBest Speech the winner is:
KELLY NARU
– the Governor of Morobe who displayed a profound understanding of the issues surrounding this vote and articulated them with a razor sharp analysis – especially in that which concerned the ‘Separation of Powers’.

1609803_10152547043623574_471502395_nThe Yeah Yeah Yeah award also goes to Morobe and is won by:
SAM BASIL– who displayed none of the above but whose words inspired the next award.

The Mispronunciation award, that goes to the word:
OPPOSHISHUN closely rivalled by DESHISHUN

In the ‘Best Dressed’ category the award was unanimously voted as going to:
BEN MICAH – Was his suit a political statement or does he just look good in yellow?

 

0317np2The Let’s Keep Them Guessing award goes to:
PAIAS WINGTI – who kindly kept the whole nation entertained for seven days playing ‘Where’s Wingti’?  He was in Port Moresby and voted with government.  Who got it right?

 

James-MarapeIn the category of Best Comeback the award goes to:
JAMES MARAPE – whose quick and incisive replies floored a couple of prominent members of the Opposition including Kerenga Kua, the practiced litigator.

 

5160696-3x2-940x627Best timing goes to:
THEO ZURENUOC: – the Speaker of the House whose call for a vote was a relief to most (see the ‘Yeah, Yeah, Yeah’ category that proved to be a strongly contested award) and that prompted the following category of…

 

Namah styleBest Tantrum and was won by:
BELDEN NAMAH – who is poised to make this category his own with his foot-stamping, fist thumping rhetoric – “Give us a chance to debate – I will not sit down until I debate.” He must be still standing because in the next category…

6a00d83454f2ec69e2017c32c40800970b-800wiBest Sense of Humour, …where the winner is, once again, Speaker of the House:
THEO ZURENUOC – He presided over the proceedings with good humour, a ready smile and who wisely responded not with sanctions, but with amused laughter at the above recalcitrant.

Peter+O'NeillBut the Gold VONC goes to the Honourable PETER O’NEILL, Prime Minister of Papua New Guinea (then and now) for his decisive win of 85 to 21.

Hail the Chief.

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The Rejects’ Shop – aka: the Opposition

By PNG Echo

13699546_10153959384506865_1414274448_o (1)
The ‘Little Shop of Horrors’ with Namah, significantly (?) in the second tier.

In most western democracies – certainly ones with a two-party system – the Opposition opposes the Government primarily on political ideology. That ideology provides the guiding principles for their policies.

In Papua New Guinea that has a 40-something-party (and goodness knows how many independents) system, the leading political ideology is self-serving pragmatism with a nod to expediency – so what exactly does the Opposition oppose?

The raison d’être

In the main, they are in Opposition because the Government doesn’t want them. In fact, the Opposition ranks (and they are meagre) consist of the rejected, swelled by the disaffected. And this is where the ‘alternative Prime Minister’ of Papua New Guinea will be sourced?

They’d all be still with the O’Neill Government if they had not either been unceremoniously dumped and/or O’Neill had not thwarted their ambitions, within the Government.

Many (and more, it seems, to come) have slunk into the Opposition ranks, tail between their legs, venting their spiteful spleen, like rejected lovers.

In fact, I’ve heard tell that the ultimate politically rejected lover is shuffling behind O’Neill, with his begging bowl, exhorting O’Neill to take him back. I’ve also heard tell that O’Neill is resolute in denying him.

The major players

Beware the Ides of AugustDon Polye:
Stripped of the Ministry of Finance, then the Treasury portfolio and then expelled from Government by O’Neill. Ordered by the Prime Minister to sit in the Opposition benches, after initially resisting, he finally complied – ousting Namah as Opposition Leader.  As leader of THE Party, Polye does not control his members. A large section of his Party stayed with government, including the Deputy Prime Minister – many defected to the Prime Minister’s party, PNC.

Belden Namah:
The ultimate cuckold. O’Neill’s coalition partner going into the 2012 elections, O’Neill found he did not need Namah – neither as far as numbers were concerned nor did he need the controversy and shame that Namah had brought to the high office when he was Deputy Prime Minister.  Eventually, all deserted Namah with the last being the perpetual deputy, Sam Basil – and now he’s gone too.

Kerenga Kua:
Former Attorney General – did he jump – or was he pushed? Certainly things were not going swimmingly for him in the government ranks. He never made it. Now he is the leader of the disgruntled (oh, and some resurrected and obscure political, one-man party.)

eight_col_Sam_BasilSam Basil:
Even the perpetual deputy whose fortunes rose and fell with Belden Namah has decided that Namah is too much of a liability and has resurrected the Pangu Party as its leader and even managed to get himself one follower in the guise of Little Willie Samb of Goilala.  To my knowledge though, he is still deputy of the opposition – but I wonder for how long now that the Opposition has swelled its number of wannabes.

In the comments, please feel free to add an Opposition member and elaborate how they have been rejected by government and why they are disgruntled.

PNG-Public-Enterprise-and-State-Investments-Minister-Ben-Micah.Which brings us to Ben Micah: Rumour has it that O’Neill would not give him the Deputy Prime Minister’s job and removed his portfolio. So welcome to the disgruntled, Ben. You’ll need to fight with Kua to have the title of ‘leader’ of that bloc but you certainly have the advantage in the weight stakes if not necessarily the political weight stakes. (BTW Ben, you forgot to take the Chans with you!)

Micah’s sins and indiscretions are legion. They are the stuff of dissertations and I have no time to go into them now. But you know what they are anyway – feel free to share in the comments. We’re all interested.

Slim pickings

IMG_1284
Symbolically, Micah leads Polye into the chamber

The Opposition’s rejoicing at Micah’s defection reminds me of the time when Namah, as then Leader of the Opposition, proudly announced his newest defection to the ranks – Paul Tiensten, that is, after he’d been convicted but before his sentence had been handed down. For all of you who missed it – Tiensten is in Bomana (I wonder if he’s still in the Opposition and whether he can vote?)

I do understand that this outlook for an alternative Prime Minister is depressingly bleak – but I have been fomenting an idea that could work. I’m going to sleep on it – I’ll get back to you soon. After all, we’ve only got seven days.

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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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No debate, early adjournment: It’s cause and effect.

By PNG Echo.

Parliament of Papua New Guinea
Parliament of Papua New Guinea

This week, the Government of PNG rushed through legislation, including the budget with little or no debate. Afterwards, parliament was adjourned early and will not reconvene until the end of March 2016 – which could put them in breach of the rules regarding sitting days.  It will also put them outside the window of opportunity where a vote of no confidence is possible.

With the superior numbers in the government ranks they can do that.

It’s not an ideal situation but the voting behaviour indicates that there is significant confidence in this government, which was also shown by the earlier vote of confidence.

Nevertheless, the issue that dominated this sitting of parliament was the mooted and twice attempted ‘vote of no confidence’ against one of the strongest governments in PNGs national history.

This notwithstanding, it is more probable than possible that what happened these last weeks in parliament (the lack of debate, the parliamentary adjournment) was the government attending to its duties while avoiding the motion – no matter how remote the chances of its success.

Government detractors have said that the government is “scared”. I think that ‘cautious’ may be closer to the truth.

Vote of no confidence

The Leader of the Opposition, his Deputy and a ring-in,
The Leader of the Opposition, his Deputy and a ring-in, Oro Governor, Gary Juffa, who was needed if the Opposition were to get the required signatures to table the motion

While I am all in favour of democratic checks and balances of which the vote of no confidence is one, I am not in favour of how the opposition has used it.

This government’s numbers aren’t only superior, they are overwhelming.

This vote of no confidence was a simple let’s-suck-it-and-see exercise with the opposition only just managing to scrape in the bare-bones number needed to table the motion.

In the final analysis, the opposition gave the government no choice but to do what it needed to do to ensure its power base wasn’t eroded. It would be an extremely cavalier administration that would risk (however small the risk) submitting itself to such a speculative process when there were legal and legitimate ways to avoid it.

For had the motion been accepted, this would have given the opposition seven days to do its worse – more horse trading.

I mean, do you really think that the opposition would have attracted government MPs to vote with them because of their charisma, integrity and the strength of their alternate policies?

Do you think that no laws would have been broken in that seven days – no monetary gains promised in the pursuit of power?

And that’s the point.  It would need a government with a particularly stupid person at its head to think that that the vote of no confidence would be a fair fight and O’Neill is far from that.

Solutions

Michael Somare seconded the motion.
Michael Somare seconded the motion.

The only way to stop these speculative motions (as opposed to using the motion in the spirit that it was intended) is by heavily penalising the proposer and seconder of the motion if they cannot obtain significant numbers during the vote – numbers very close to winning.

Otherwise votes of no confidence are going to be abused whenever the opportunity arises and will remain an unnecessary distraction that will only prove to stymie parliamentary debate as the government is forced to direct resources into guaranteeing its own survival – resources that could be better utilized.

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Is payback the only game in town? Votes of No Confidence

By PNG Echo.

A vote of No Confidence
A vote of No Confidence

Unless it is sure that a Vote Of No Confidence (VONC) will be successful, I doubt that any one MP, with the exception of those already on the opposition and middle benches, will vote for it – and numbers there are miniscule – not nearly enough for a successful outcome.

Voting against a government that you are a part of displays disloyalty and NO party/coalition ANYWHERE will put up with vipers in their ranks – and rightly so.

A ruling party needs to be able to count on the loyalty of its members or get rid of them. How can a government be effective if they are at constant risk of getting a knife in their back, wielded by someone from their own ranks?

Don Polye - Out on his arse
Don Polye – Out on his arse

Polye found this out, to his detriment.  There is no room for Mavericks in a ruling party/coalition trying to form policy.

Polye lost out big time.  He lost his Ministerial portfolio, his membership of the ruling coalition and also the loyalty of his party who chose to let him go his merry way, without them.

So, if there are plots within O’Neill’s own party/coalition – and that’s probably just idle speculation – they had better be VERY sure of their success or they may find themselves in competition with Polye for the Opposition Leader’s role.

This is the reality of the political situation – and it doesn’t differ elsewhere. 

Australia for instance: Those who backed Abbott are now relegated to ‘no man’s land.’ You want to play power politics, you need to understand the rules of the game. Wishing and hoping is not reality. (Note to Sam Basil).

Juffa, free to swing whatever way he pleases - nothing to lose from the middle benchs
Juffa, free to swing whatever way he pleases – nothing to lose from the middle benches

Gary Juffa is right when he pointed out that it will take a lot of money to effect a VONC in this particular political context.

Some day that may change. That day’s not here.

Besides, I shudder to think of those who’d put their hand up to replace the current PM.

Instead of constantly trying to wrest power it would be more useful if everyone helped the mandated government to govern – there are democratic mechanisms, why aren’t they used, or used more effectively?

Is payback the only game in town?

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It’s vote-of-no-confidence time again.

By PNG Echo.

Prime Minister Peter O'Neill - unlikely to be rolled
Prime Minister Peter O’Neill – unlikely to be rolled

Papua New Guinea is, once again, finding itself looking through one of those windows of opportunity whereby the government can be defeated and removed on the floor of parliament by a vote of no confidence.

This window is smaller this year because of legislation that increased the grace period from 18 to 30 months. It will be back to normal next year, the legislation having been deemed unconstitutional by the Supreme Court.

But why is it expected that because it could happen that it should?

What’s more, why do people expect an attempted vote of no confidence as a matter of course?  And do people really consider that the politicians most desirous of wresting power would be a suitable replacement or have the wherewithal to effect the overthrow of the government anyway? Continue reading It’s vote-of-no-confidence time again.

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