A POLITICAL storm is brewing in Waigani after Prime Minister Sir Michael Somare told his coalition partners yesterday that a Cabinet reshuffle was imminent.
And in a day of high drama for the National Alliance party, the Highlands block moved quickly to take advantage of the impending change by re-electing Works, Transport and Civil Aviation Minister Don Polye as deputy leader of NA (Highlands).
Mr Polye replaces Education Minister James Marape, who relinquished the post last night in a meeting at a Port Moresby hotel.
Asked if Mr Polye’s return was linked to the impending Cabinet reshuffle, a Highlands NA adviser downplayed this, saying they were ‘stabilising’ and only completing a process which started prior to the Kandep Open by-election last November.
Earlier, the Prime Minister met his coalition partners and told them they could expect changes to the makeup of the Cabinet.
Ministers, party leaders and deputy party leaders of parties on duty travel to their electorates had to cut short their commitments and rush back to Port Moresby for the meeting.
“I can confirm that we met with the Prime Minister for almost two hours and he told us changes will be made to Cabinet,” a party leader, who asked not to be named, told The National last night.
The meeting took place at the Prime Minister’s office at Morauta Haus in Waigani.
The Prime Minister told the leaders he planned to make the changes to Cabinet next week, a source said.
While the changes are largely to affect members of the current coalition, members of the Opposition may also be considered for a role in a new-look government that the Prime Minister is pondering.
The source said some ministers in the front bench who have been enjoying the limelight may be relegated to less glamorous portfolios, or to the backbench altogether.
A political observer said the Prime Minister has become increasingly concerned about criticisms and controversies involving certain members of the Government and the National Alliance party, which have discredited the government, and he (Sir Michael) has decided to put his foot down.
“There will be major surprises in the shake-up, and who knows what’s in store beyond that,” the observer said.
Reporters in Mendi caught wind of this political storm brewing in Port Moresby when Mr Marape (Tari-Pori), the Opposition’s Francis Awesa (Imbonggu), and Sports Minister Philemon Embel (Nipa-Kutubu) abruptly left the provincial budget session yesterday and flew back to Port Moresby “for urgent political business”.
Mr Awesa is the deputy leader of the PNG Party and is an influential figure in the Opposition. He holds the key to any discussions with the Government.
They could benefit from factional infighting within NA.
The islands faction of NA, led by governors Leo Dion (ENB) and Peter Humphreys (WNB) want Planning Minister Paul Tiensten sacked as minister and deputy leader of the party.
They may be granted their wish, a source close to the Prime Minister said.
Finance and Treasury Minister Patrick Pruaitch’s future in Cabinet and as deputy NA leader is uncertain following the appointment of a leadership tribunal yesterday to inquire into allegations of misconduct against him (See separate story).
Ministers who could lose their jobs include John Hickey (Agriculture and Livestock), Sasa Zibe (Health), Mark Maipakai (Labour) and Tony Aimo (Correctional Services).
A legal source contacted about the move last night said the Prime Minister would be taking a risk if he proceeded with the proposed changes.
“The biggest threat to him (Prime Minister) comes from within than outside. A vote of no-confidence is possible when Parliament sits next. The cracks in Government may allow the Opposition to take full advantage. Also, the Speaker’s role in the whole exercise is key,” the legal source said.