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Prime Minister O’Neil Has to Demonstrate to the Nation that He is Not What Sir Mekere Think He is

By Lucas Kiap
Before Leaving Office, Prime Minister O’Neil Has to Demonstrate to the Nation that He is Not What Sir Mekere Think He is 

Over the last few days, the people of PNG have been caught surprisingly in a crossfire of war of words between two prominent figures in the country with Sir Mekere Morata claiming to represent the interest of the people of Western province while Peter O’Neil claiming to represent the interest of the country. The two men are different persons with different personalities. But both have one thing in common. Sir Mekere Morata was the former Prime Minister of PNG and Peter O’Neil is the current Prime Minister.

As the war of words rages on between the two men, at the centre are the landowners and people of Western Province. Their livelihood has been destroyed beyond repairable by the catastrophic and unforgiveable environmental damage due to the operations of the Ok Tedi Mining Limited. The environmental destruction is a worst terrorist act that can only be justified by economic justification. 

Jumping into the bandwagon, some are supporting the former Prime Minister while some are supporting the current Prime Minister. Leaning either way are those who can’t decide as they don’t know who is telling the truth with both men deserve a certain degree of respect. 

Observing not far but somewhere very close is the former operator of the Ok Tedi Mining Limited, BHP. Courtesy of Sir Mekere Morata, BHP has exited through the “golden door”, immune from any legal implications for the unforgivable environmental damages. With O’Neil trying to wrestle control over the mine now, BHP may be very concerned of what is happening as the spillover could affect its comfort zone. 

At the helm of a nation with a cash strapped government desperate for cash, Sir Mekere Morata opted for a deal to free BHP of any legal implications of the environmental destructions but continue the mining operations. Perhaps a very difficult decision for him as the PM with a cash strapped government. With the advice of BHP, he established PNG Sustainable Development Program (PNGSDP), from which revenues from the mine would be kept as long term funds to compensate the landowners and people of Western province for the destruction of their environment. 

Knowing what was brewing at home and afraid could one day spillover when he was no longer around as Prime Minister, Sir Mekere decided that the funds under PNGSDP were to be located offshore and independently manage under strict regulations and guidelines, far from political interference. 

Now with a whopping US$1.4 billion cash in the offshore trust fund, Sir Mekere Morata is claiming credit over the decision. But it is not clear what the real benefits of his decision are to the Nation as the resources belong to the Independent Sate of Papua New Guinea with any cash derived from it after BHP exited. However, he did prevent political interference and corruption. 

Ok Tedi Mine waste pumped into the River system. ABC Photo
Instead of closing down the mine and asked BHP to compensate for the massive environmental damages caused, Sir Mekere had allowed BHP to walk away free after making billions from the mine. His decision to continue the mining operations has resulted in more destruction to the environment. 

If anyone one would have predicted PNGSDP would one day be the subject of a new government, the only person would be Sir Mekere Morata. The former Prime Minister didn’t realize that it would take a man like Peter O’Neil to undo his decision and make him has sleepless nights. 

Just into two years as Prime Minister after wrestling power in a coup like power struggle from his predecessor, Grand Chief Sir Michael Somare in 2011, and formally reelected again after the 2012 general elections, Peter O’Neil has proved he has what it takes to undo major decisions and polices of all past governments, some of which he himself voted for when he was just an ordinary MP. 

Leading a government with only a few MPs in the opposition, Mr. Peter O’Neil don’t want to waste the numerical strength of his government. Whether controversial or not, whether right or wrong, fully backed by the big numbers of his government, he is slowly changing the political landscape in PNG by amending sections of the constitution, passing key bills and major policies all within the space of two years. 

Now the people of PNG understand the importance of having a government with big numbers. The red tape by Sir Mekere has now been removed by the current PM Peter O’Neil and cemented it by legalizing its takeover from the PNGDP, exposing BHP for possible legal suits for the environmental damages. 

The actions of the current PM are seen by some as a true patriot son of PNG as he is not bowing down to outside pressure. Now that he has got back the keys from Sir Mekere’s “golden door”, the next thing most Papua New Guineans are expecting from their patriot Prime Minister is to open a “black door” for BHP to return and account for the destruction caused to their environment. 

It may be difficult for the Prime Minister to take BHP to court over the environmental destructions given all its kickbacks, but he has to prove himself what he preaches as some people, including Sir Mekere are accusing the Prime Minister’s move of taking back PNGSDP as sinister, only after the US$1.4 billion to have his dirty hands on the long term funds. 

Despite the good intentions and assurances from O’Neil and his government, most people are fearing that the takeover of a profitable mine by the government with more than US$1 billion in its trust funds, the funds would disappear quickly and Ok Tedi would end up like the struggling Tolokuma mining and other State Owned Enterprises (SOEs). These SOEs are all State liabilities and have been used as cash cows by any government and manage by their political cronies over the years. 

Sir Mekere Morata is critically right by pointing out to the Prime Minister that there is no cure in sight for these SOEs as millions of Kina have been reportedly stolen every year under the watch of political leaders in the country, most of them in the current O’Neil government. 

Now Prime Minister Peter O’Neil has to demonstrate that he has the cure for these SOEs. Before he leaves office, the Prime Minister MUST turn all SOEs into profitable, well manage and performing State owned enterprises and prove to Sir Mekere Morata that he is not what the former Prime Minister think he is.

By Lucas Kiap
PNG Anti-Corruption Movement for Change (PNGACMC)
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