Sunday, 12 May 2019

“Leaders must put people first”

The Opposition is urging Papua New Guineans to implore their local Members of Parliament, who continue to support the Peoples National Congress (PNC) led Government of Prime Minister Peter O’Neill, to join the Opposition camp.

Opposition Leader Patrick Pruaitch said “The Prime Minister was asked by the Honourable Member for Kavieng and Shadow Treasurer, Ian Ling Stuckey, why he had chosen not to resign as Prime Minister and Leader of PNC. After a mass exodus from the party, only a person desperate to maintain power at all cost, would fail to place the reigns of leadership in the hands of other capable leaders, such as former Finance Minister James Marape.”.

The Opposition believes that unless the Prime Minister is removed in a vote of no confidence, his leadership will continue in an authoritarian manner that stifles the voices of other elected leaders mandated to represent their people and threaten our vibrant democracy.

Mr Pruaitch said, “The PNG economy, apart from the resource sector, has gone backwards relative to its underlying growth path. The most likely explanation for this sad outcome is PNG has slipped again into poor policies associated with the ‘resource curse’. During the O’Neill/Dion government, PNG descended into very damaging economic policies of a bloated budget and PNG’s largest borrowing and deficits ever, making investments in areas such as Oil Search, which was of no value whatsoever to the people of Papua New Guinea. The independence of PNG’s economic institutions was badly harmed. With the over-reliance on the impacts of the PNG LNG project and the burden of excessive public debt, important parts of the nation’s infrastructure and delivery of services were neglected.

“These are perilous times for Papua New Guinea. The Governments continued mismanagement of the economy has impacted our people directly. We must make as stand as their elected leaders. The Prime Minister can selectively use economic indicators to create a misleading impression we are ok, but this just confirms he doesn’t live in the same world as the average Papua New Guinean. He clearly has no idea of the struggles faced by families all over the nation.

“He is out of touch,” said Mr Pruaitch.

He added, “On the floor of Parliament during question time last Tuesday the Prime Minister attempted to muddy the waters in relation to the UBS Saga, which is currently being investigated by Swiss authorities. He attempted to deflect attention from his involvement in the saga, by speaking of his government’s economic performance record, and citing indicators provided by the National Statistical Office.

“Let’s talk about the challenges our people face, as spelt out by Mr O’Neill’s beloved World Bank in their PNG Economic Update of January 2019. The February 2018 earthquake had a devastating impact on the economy and the population of Papua New Guinea, because of Mr O’Neill’s failure to diversify the economy from its current dependency on the extractive industries sector:

“The 7.5 magnitude earthquake led to a temporary disruption in the production of liquefied natural gas (LNG) and other mining activities concentrated in the highlands area, leading to a contraction in the extractive sector which almost fully suggest that real “GDP growth slowed from 2.8 percent in 2017 to 0.3 percent in 2018. This latest estimate stands in contrast with a pre-earthquake growth projection of 2.5 percent for 2018. The earthquake also had far-reaching effects on many communities in the highlands area. The disaster is estimated to have claimed over 100 lives, affected over half a million people, and caused extensive damage to basic infrastructure. In the immediate aftermath of the earthquake, the government established the Emergency Controller to oversee relief supplies and the restoration of services in the affected provinces, and international donors and the private sector mobilized financial resources and humanitarian aid to support the affected communities. However, recovery efforts have been hampered by the delay in establishing a dedicated Restoration Authority to oversee the disaster recovery and reconstruction, despite parliament having passed legislation to create the authority in March 2018.”

Pruaitch said “The people directly impacted by this catastrophe are responsible for the wealth of this nation. Access to their land allows us to extract the resources that are the backbone of the economy – and over a year later they are still waiting for Mr O’Neill’s Government to send help to rebuild. Getting production up and running was the operator’s problem, putting the people back together is your problem Mr O’Neill. Nevertheless, it is remarkable that the operators have done much more to help the impacted people in Hela and Southern Highlands than the entire efforts of the National Government.

“The Opposition continues to believe that benefits of PNG’s resource wealth can be tapped to enhance the health and performance of the overall economy. This approach requires different leadership with a different way of thinking, and most importantly very different choices by our country’s leaders. Right now, Papua New Guinea lacks the strong governance and institutions required to deal with the powerful resource sector lobby, all because of the centralized way of doing business introduced under the O’Neill regime, that has empowered this special interest group at the cost of our people.

“Just yesterday, ordinary Papua New Guineans were hit with an increase in the cost of petrol, diesel and kerosene. The flow on effects of this are enormous. The cost of a Kwik Kai tray of chicken in Port Moresby has risen by more than 30% in recent years to K13-14 but once you head out to villages in the Central Province that can be reached by road, the cost increases to roughly K17.

“In the reverse direction, the cost of Bananas, Yams and fish sold in Port Moresby markets by the people of Central Province has also increased directly impacting the cost of living to households. When our rural people attempt to raise the price to be a true reflection of their costs, our urban people simply cannot buy because there hasn’t been a salary increase in recent years to combat the increased cost of living, so they are forced to sell at a price that is high for consumers, yet hardly enough to cover their costs,” said Mr Pruaitch.

He said, “We don’t need to look far to see how Prime Minister O’Neill has failed the nation. We all have a family, a wantok and neighbours who are impacted by a lack of adequate healthcare, substandard education, late public servants salaries, and yet Mr O’Neill has the audacity to say we are better off than we have ever been. As leaders, our personal needs and wants must come second to the good of our country, our children, and their children’s children.

“As parliamentarians, we cannot make decisions based on what portfolio we have been promised, or what committee we will be appointed to. There comes a point when our own conscience must prevail! I for one, cannot continue to see my people suffer. This Prime Minister has continuously put the interests of cronies, and multi-nationals before the interests of his own people, and the processes of Government. It’s true – the rich are getting richer, while the rest struggle to survive.

“The time for change is now, and popular support for the Prime Ministers leadership is waning. Social media is rife with anti-O’Neill sentiment. Before Mr O’Neill dismisses the frustrations Papua New Guineans have been airing on social media, we challenge him to show us any other medium that allows ordinary Papua New Guineans to directly communicate with their elected leaders?

Mr Pruaitch said “In any other country, the leadership would have changed from within through a leadership challenge after the string of defections to Opposition from O’Neill’s ruling PNC Party. Here in Papua New Guinean we have a Prime Minister who refuses to resign, who is unwilling to share power with anyone, nor the institutions tasked with managing the business of Government. PNG needs a new development path that is more inclusive and able to deliver more benefits to the people. The O’Neill regimes current resource led path is failing in terms of economic welfare and our people are worse off today than they were forty years ago.”

The Opposition believes that there are better development options available, that will benefit the people and not just multi-nationals and special interest groups. Real human capital development has been lagging and investment in the renewable resource sector must increase in order to combat the resource curse.

After months of revelations about Australian Government contracts on Manus Island being awarded to companies with links to the O’Neill regime and PNC members, never before has the stench of corruption been so strong in the halls of Parliament House.

Pruaitch said “The Opposition is not for sale, this country is not for sale, and the special interests of political cronies that have continuously interfered with the business of government during the O’Neill regime must end now.”