The National, Tuesday 29th November 2011
THE feud between Minister for Public Enterprises Sir Mekere Morauta and his predecessor, suspended member for Angoram Arthur Somare, goes back to about this time of the year in 2001.
Reshuffling his cabinet, Sir Mekere sacked Arthur’s father, Grand Chief Sir Michael Somare as his foreign affairs minister alleging a conspiracy to engage in backstabbing which, in PNG, comes by the more respectable description, “motion of no-confidence”.
Whether Sir Mekere’s allegation was fact or conjecture will never be known now but, incensed by this slight to his father, Somare called Sir Mekere, the then prime minister “an insecured little man” on the floor of parliament.
And the war began – with great lulls in between.
It has been intriguing these past few weeks to watch the fierce animosity flare up again between the two.
Intriguing as it may be, this tussle, personal or professional, does have a huge bearing on PNG – let us say to the tune of several billion kina and bearing with it much, if not all, of the most important public services.
With meticulous consistency and persistence, Sir Mekere, since his commissioning as minister for Public Enterprises three months ago, has been unravelling all that Somare has set in place in the ministry and policies relating to state-owned enterprises.
The Department of Public Enterprises has been annulled and its staff scattered. The National Petroleum Company of Papua New Guinea has had its wings broken with its roles divided between the IPBC and the Department of Petroleum and Energy. There remains a shell company.
Somare was all for restoring to profitability state-owned enterprises such as Air Niugini, Telikom PNG and PNG Power.
Sir Mekere sees quite the opposite and has announced, from day one, that non-performing SOEs will have to go.
We neither support one nor the other in all of these accusations and countering allegations. But, we are worried. We must be.
If the Supreme Court were to decide against the O’Neill-led government in a week’s time, whatever is to become of the changes that have been wrought upon the public enterprises landscape?
Were the former government to be restored, might we not see wholesale changes to restore everything to what they were only weeks back, a situation which might, quite realistically, confuse the living daylights out of all concerned?
Might it not have been better, given the important question before the courts, to have waited until after Dec 9?
The enormity of some of the claims is staggering. The LNG deal and, particularly, the financing of it has gone over the heads of most people, including people one might expect to be in the know.
Revelations by Sir Mekere that the deals done under Somare’s direct tutelage might have short-changed Papua New Guinea to the tune of K900 million. That is horrendous to contemplate.
Allegations that Somare allowed K100 million worth of people’s assets in MVIL to be put at risk or that K31 million was invested under Somare’s watch in the failed US merchant bank Lehmann Bros, or that the Somare regime left behind a K31 million bill for the Falcon jet are all worrying.
Still, it is difficult to distinguish in the absence of other government voices, whether this is part of the Morauta-Somare feud or whether it bespeaks something far more sinister that has happened in the political and financial management of our country.
The cacophony of voices last Friday in parliament should inform both
Sir Mekere and Arthur Somare that the type of tit for tat media war the two have been having is neither enjoyed nor welcomed by many people, including those in government.
Housing and Urbanisation Minister Ken Fairweather said state entities like water, electricity, communication and other important state-owned enterprises ought not to be “used as a football for political point-scoring games”.
He said: “We cannot move forward if we play politics with the SOEs and we can’t play football with the people’s needs like water, health, education and transport facilities.”
NCD Governor Powes Parkop said: “We are just a developing nation and we should not compare or introduce policies from outside that will not work in the country like privatisation to vital service delivery entities as it will affect the lives of the people.”
It is time this debate was depersonalised. It is not about Sir Mekere and Arthur Somare. It is about Papua New Guineans and their welfare.