Paying the price

Weekender

Brief profile of Don Pomb Polye

By DANIEL KUMBON
DON Polye arrived to a rousing welcome by thousands of supporters, relatives and well-wishers in Kandep after the high court declared him winner on June 30 following the recount of the 2017 ballots in Kundiawa.
There was celebration everywhere when he went home for the first time after an exhaustive prolonged court battle which took over three years to reach a decision.
In July 2017, the National Court had ordered a recount within 60 days but it was delayed until James Marape ousted Peter O’Neill in a parliamentary vote of no confidence. His government allocated the necessary funding for the Electoral Commission to conduct the recount.
For this reason, Don Polye thanked Prime Minister James Marape and Governor Sir Peter Ipatas in front of thousands of people in Kandep for making it possible for him to return winner.
He polled 1,204 votes more than Alfred Manase’s 21,033 final votes. Many ballots had been destroyed during counting in Wabag including Polye’s Gin village ballot box. The destruction was telecast on national television, appeared in mainstream media and went viral on social media.
Many people from Wabag, Wapenamanda and Kompiam have started giving him pigs and cash to help him pay compensation for deaths that occurred in a tribal war which threatened Wabag town when Alfred Manase was declared winner.
Don Polye’s popularity has shot to national prominence not only because of his recount win but something else the people will remember him for a long time – his stand against the controversial K3billion Union Bank of Switzerland (UBS) loan saga currently under investigation by the Royal Commission of Inquiry under chairmanship of former Chief Justice Sir Salamo Injia.
Don Polye had been sacked for opposing the loan proposal when it was suddenly introduced on the same day of a NEC meeting on March 6, 2014.
Polye said former Prime Minister Peter O’Neill did not respect his views as a senior minister when he refused to sign prepared instruments to effect the loan to purchase 10.1 per cent shares in Oil Search Ltd.
Four days later Peter O’Neill sacked him from the high profile Treasury portfolio on Monday, March 10, 2014.
“He enticed me in private to sign it before he flew on the Kumul Falcon jet to Singapore by saying ‘there is something in it for us.’ When it dawned on me what he implied, it hit me like a tonne of bricks. I was forced to choose between self-gain through a corrupt deal or protect the long-term welfare of PNG,” Polye said after he was sacked.
He had argued that it was costly and wrong to fore-spend the K3 billion loan together with a previous loan amounting to an estimated K4 billion – K6 billion in anticipation of the PNG LNG revenue flows.
Polye warned the Government had to be very careful on such ambitious public spending because the consequential implications would be significant given the financial crisis of the early 1990s.
At that time, expected revenues from mines had been forward spent in an expansionary fiscal policy framework which dried up the coffers of government triggering a financial crisis.
True to Don Polye’s warning the K3billion UBS loan which was three thirds of the national budget at the time has had a significant dent on public finance, and has crippled the national economy and this has had serious negative impact on the lives of people nationwide.
The anticipated gains from the PNG LNG project have been channeled to service the UBS loan facility. While the people including landowners have suffered, UBS, Oil Search and individual key players have benefitted in the lucrative billion-kina project.
Commentators to this day have proven Don Polye right.
When Peter O’Neill sacked Polye as Treasury minister, his appointment as chairman of the combined board of the World Bank and International Monetary Fund (IMF) also went out the door.
His Southern Region deputy party leader and Minister for Labor and Industrial Relations, Mark Maipakai was also sacked.
Then four of his party members – three cabinet ministers and one former minister resigned from the party to join another party saying it was in the best interest of their people.
As if that was not enough five of his relatives plunged to their deaths in the middle of the night when the 10-seater they were travelling in crashed into a river in the Jiwaka province. They were returning home from attending the graduation ceremony at the University of Technology where Polye’s first son, Solo graduated with a degree in civil engineering.
“I take these as challenges in my life, knowing full well that life itself cannot reverse but it keeps on ticking. There are more horrific disasters but people overcome them,’ Polye said. ‘Think of the Malaysian Airlines Boeing 767 which disappeared with all those people on board, the World Trade Center bombing of 911 and many such
disasters all over the world. But I know that after the clouds have cleared, the sun always shines.”
The sun did shine again for him on April 15 this year when the Supreme Court declared Polye member for Kandep following the recount.
During his recent visit, he announced that all major projects that had been initiated by Alfred Manase like the Kandep Hospital, Kandep town power supply and major road upgrading would continue.
Polye, like the new member for Moresby-North West Lohia Boe Samuel have not much time when preparations were already under way for the 2022 national elections.
Polye has been a cabinet minister under three prime ministers to date, and was briefly deputy prime minister from July to December 2010.
He was first elected in 2002 as a member of the National Alliance Party. He was the Minister for Transport and Civil Aviation from July 2006 to August 2009.
In that capacity, he introduced an “open air” policy ensuring that Air Niugini faced competition from other airlines starting from 2007. Polye was rushed from a political rally in his Kandep electorate in June 2007 after shots were fired from a helicopter.
Polye was removed from office on Aug 14, 2009 when the National Court determined that his victory in the 2007 general election was invalid. The judge’s ruling included the observation that it was hard to believe that some polling stations had returned a 100 per cent votes for Polye.
The by-election for the seat took place on Nov 9, 2009 but he was successful in regaining his seat with an absolute majority yet again.
In July 2010, he replaced Puka Temu as deputy prime minister, when the latter tried unsuccessfully to unseat Prime Minister Somare through a motion of no confidence. Polye himself was removed as deputy prime minister on Dec 7, 2010 in an impromptu reshuffle conducted under what Australia’s ABC News called “unusual circumstances”.
Change of government
However, he was appointed as foreign minister later in December 2010, and held that position until another cabinet reshuffle in June 2011. Member for Wabag, Sam Abal effected those changes when he was acting prime minister. Grand Chief, Sir Michael Somare was sick in a hospital in Singapore at the time.
Consequently, Polye collaborated with the Opposition and wooed Peter O’Neill to be prime minister and brought down the government through a motion of no confidence in August 2011.
He was appointed Minister for Finance by new Prime Minister Peter O’Neill. In October, the National Alliance Party consequently sought to expel him from the party, but was prevented from doing so by a court order.
In January 2012, he announced that he was de-registering the National Alliance Party, despite the existence of a rival faction claiming to be the legitimate party. Polye and his faction launched a new party, the Triumph Heritage Empowerment Rural Party (“THE Party”), ahead of the June 2012 general election.
On Feb 27, 2012, O’Neill relieved him of the Finance portfolio, citing “the continuing lack of ability by the department and ministry to contain expenditure overruns outside of the budget appropriations”.
Polye retained the Treasury and Border Development portfolios.
Following the 2012 general elections, Peter O’Neill’s PNC Party and Polye’s THE Party formed government in Alotau where O’Neill appointed him Treasurer yet again in a new cabinet.
While Treasurer, Polye was appointed chairman of the joint board of the World Bank and International Monetary Fund.
“It was a shockingly pleasant news,” Polye said of his appointment. It is a humbling experience, an honour for me personally. And a recognition of PNG as an active member of the international community able to contribute immensely to the global economy, a chance to showcase leadership in the region. I will not fail PNG.”
That appointment was the pinnacle of all his accomplishments. But just when he was preparing to go to New York to perform his maiden duties, O’Neill the man he helped twice to gain power, sacked him.
Polye did not mind, reassuring himself that his life was not an experiment nor was it a biological mistake for him to have been born. He believes God formed him in his mother Akim’s womb for a divine purpose which he now seeks to fulfill.
Don Pomb Polye married Sharon, his childhood sweetheart in 1990 soon after graduating from university. They have two girls and four boys. Having been baptised into a Christian denomination in 1980, he likes to think that he is a Christian while admitting that he is not entirely perfect in God’s eyes.
During public rallies he always urges people to change their attitudes, go to church and live to enjoy life on this earth.
Fluent in four languages including Melpa, the language he picked up growing up among the Anglimp people of Western Highlands, he draws crowds with magnetic flare.
“I am satisfied, I have achieved so much. I must give credit to God who I believe wants me to be an agent of change among his people. I must promote gender equality, fight poverty, encourage peace and unity, promote economic development and encourage people to respect each other’s cultural identities.
“I would like to remind children everywhere, especially those from Kandep to embrace education tightly.
“Remember that some people mock us by referring to us as ‘Kandepeans’ but now I am changing that deceptive name tag to ‘Kandepions’ derived from the word ‘champion.’ Yes, become champions of education. It is through education that I earned a living before I became a member of parliament over twenty years ago.
“If I, from an isolated backwater district have done it, you can too. Nothing will stop you from reaching your goals.”
But will Polye himself be stopped by opposing candidates, especially Alfred Manase who tasted power for only three years come 2022?
It is up to the people of Kandep to answer this question.

  •  Daniel Kumbon is a freelance writer.

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