Abal is no ‘political softie’

Editorial, Normal

The National, Wednesday, June 8th 2011

BY his actions last Friday, Samuel Tei Abal removed an unwelcome but quite common tag that he is the “chief’s boy”, a “political softie” who will toE the line and who will not ruffle feathers.
Ruffle feathers he did when, last Friday, he sacked Don Polye, the deputy leader (highlands) of his own National Alliance party and the leader of the second coalition partner in government, William Duma, of the United Resources Party as ministers of state.
The action was drastic and unexpected that it brought shock and incredulity to all.
Sacking two ministers, who are both architects of the present governing coalition and who are both said to be in the good books of Prime Minister Sir Michael Somare, must have taken nerves of steel and long hours of deliberation.
He would have had to consult many parties, not the least of them the Chief himself and, most certainly, the National Alliance party executives as well as coalition partners like the URP.
If he had not done so, he is most foolish indeed and the next few weeks would determine just how foolish the move might have been.
But, win or lose, Abal had most certainly put paid to that tag “political softie” forever in one full sweep.
Those who thought Abal a “softie” do not know the man well. Silent waters do run deep and this diplomat son of the uneducated but legendary pre-independence politician, Tei Abal, has his father’s hot blood surging through his veins.
He told Australia last year in Alotau: “No more aid. Let us talk trade and commerce. Aid perpetuates aid and dependence while trade and commerce promote mutual growth and interdependence.”
He separated immigration from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and made one of the most notorious and corrupt agencies of government into an efficient and smooth running organisation inside a year.
In his Wabag district, the man had introduced the Lusim gan na holim sapol policy, a simple dictum which had turned an age-old mentality around.
The people have turned their wasteful aggression and violence against each other towards fruitful and positive gains by working the land for their own good.
It is the measure of a man whose long and rumbling conversations were often mistaken for indecision and weakness.
But, is all of that experience sufficient to take on the role of chief executive of the land?
Will he make the decisions that will begin the process to cleanse the public sector of the corruption that is today endemic, a cancer which has grown roots so far and deep the country is terminally ill with it?
Is this first action a knee-jerk reaction to a personal political challenge or part of a cohesive concerted strategy to stabilise politics and government?
The action is not exactly unexpected but the timing has taken everyone unawares.
It seems as if he acted alone, but we think not. He would certainly have had the support of highlands NA MPs and would have consulted the URP at the very least. The chief is very sick but would need to have been informed. And, Abal would have had to inform the NA party executives.
Since he was named deputy prime minister, the NA party executives had not spent much time with Abal.
Indeed, it is common knowledge that the party machinery had chosen instead to be closer to its deputy leader highlands and Abal’s arch rival and distant cousin, Kandep MP Don Polye.
How the party sits with the sacking of Polye now becomes a critical question.
Abal had charged Polye with insubordination, a most serious charge, indeed, if it is true.
How does the party view it?
Other regional factions of NA – Momase, NGI and Southern – should welcome this disturbance in the camp of the faction that provides the strongest challenge to the leadership of the party if ever the Chief were to retire or throw in the towel. Indeed, it is curious that deputy leader Mamose in Aitape-Lumi MP and Minister Assisting the PM, Patrick Pruaitch, had chosen to be with Polye and Duma at their press conference when the acting prime minister had just touched down and was in the airport lounge a few minutes earlier.
Pruaitch, who is in the running for the leadership of the party too, stands to gain from any destabilisation in the highlands camp.
In Abal, NA solidarity and stability is safe. He is no challenge to the prime minister if he should want his job back.
He will not contest the leadership of the party so long as the Prime Minister is in hospital.