Resignation of O’Neill as Prime Minister


Peter O’Neill resigned as Prime Minister yesterday because of the looming motion of no confidence. This is two part piece, our commentator on national issues FRANK SENGE KOLMA traces the history of this provision of the Constitution and how it has affected Papua New Guinea.

THE framers of the constitution knew from studying the time frames set by most other parliamentary jurisdictions, that a period of four or five years was long enough for the policies of the incumbent government to bear tangible results.
They also knew that five years was not too long to allow a corrupt government to run amok and cause irreparable damage to the institutions and organs of state.
The founders of the Constitution also took cognisance of the fact that the form of government imposed upon our people was foreign and that it would take time for the majority of the people, including many members of parliament, to come to grips with the philosophy, principles and finer workings of the parliamentary system we adopted modelled on the British Westminster variety.
To prevent deliberate or inadvertent decisions that could endanger the State there was introduced a provision in the Constitution for a motion of no confidence (MoNC) at Section 145 to prevent serious subverting of the principles of good government and also to prevent a mentally incapacitated person from occupying the post of Prime Minister.
In practice, the MoNC provision has itself become the subversive element in the frequency of its use across the years. Subversive, that is, in preventing any Government from really realising their policies and programmes.
More time has been taken by this single provision in the Constitution and a lot of national good has been sacrificed, starting with a state of constant political instability that reigned from 1979 to 2001, when the Integrity of Political Parties and Candidates law was introduced to prevent grown adults (MPs) jumping like fleas all over the political landscape.
This is a period of 22 years or four parliamentary terms, four medium term planning periods and 22 national annual money plans (budgets).
The waste, equated in monetary terms runs into tens of billions of kina, in development terms, the cost is immeasurable.
In hindsight we can say this was a dark period of mostly wasted time, wasted planning, and wasted resources.
We must always be careful when apportioning blame armed with the knowledge gained in hindsight but I feel I can confidently state here that PNG politics must shoulder a large share for the deepening shadows that spoiled the bright of day for a new nation which had everything going for it to sail onto the dry shore of developed nation status.
A quick dip into history makes this point crystal clear.
The first successful motion of no confidence was moved in 1980, just five years after Independence.
The People’s Progress Party’s Sir Julius Chan replaced Prime Minister Sir Michael Somare’s Pangu Pati in Government.
Sir Michael had served for only two years after the 1977 elections and Sir Julius was to serve only two before Sir Michael was returned in the 1982 national elections.
The only useful elements of that period, if they can be called that were the mobilization of the Kumul Force to put down Jimi Stevens’ rebellion in Vanuatu and give that Melanesian country Independence, the purchase of the Dash 7 aircrafts, and the Diaries Affair which saw the successful operation of the Leadership Code for the first time.
Of course, Sir Julius will have a longer memory but unfortunately we, the people, remember what we remember.
The rest is cast in the currents of history and often forgotten.
He just did not have time for any policies and programs to be realised before the madness of the 1992 elections set in and erased everything.
Sir Michael marched back triumphant as the choice of the people at the head of a revitalized Pangu Pati with, I think, over 40 MPs.
Unfortunately he too served only two years before two motions of no confidence motions were introduced in 1985, the first in March by his friend John Momis which was beaten back but the next in November was successful and Pangu Deputy Paias Wingti took the reins on a Sir Julius nomination with Pangu Pati deserters and PPP.
In the process the People’s Democratic Movement was formed by Wingti.
There was no time for Wingti’s policies and programmes to also take effect because politicians were on election-1987 mode within a short six months.
Fortunately for Wingti, coffee rust – the bane of the crop that had wiped the industry in Ceylon in the 1050s- was discovered in Sogeri and parts of the highlands and there was introduced a national state of emergency to save the industry in PNG.
Wingti rode back to office on the back of the state of emergency following the 1987 elections.
Unfortunately, he too was removed from office after Sir Pita Lus and Sir Rabbie Namaliu performed the spectacular feat of demanding that Sir Michael step down as Pangu Pati leader and installing Sir Rabbie as leader.
On July 4, American Independence Day, Sir Rabbie removed Wingti as Prime Minister and Pangu once again ascended the throne.
Sir Michael went out into the cold and would eventually form the National Alliance with his friends. Wingti and his PDM waited on the wings to plot a come-back which he did four years later in 1992.
There is an important aside here that must be mentioned before we move on.
The Bougainville Copper Agreement was signed in 1974 with an important proviso that the agreement be reviewed every seven years.
That fell due in 1981 but it was not reviewed.
That happened to the consternation of all Bougainvilleans, who felt quite rightly at the time that the mine was bankrolling PNG.
Regional Member John Momis vowed during the 1982 elections to “kill the Bougainville pig”.
When the review fell due a second time in 1987 and there was still no national agenda for a review, Francis Ona raided the armoury of BCL at Panguna and the resulting revolt did “kill the Bougainville pig” but a lot more lives than was ever envisaged or intended were lost as a consequence and the angst, misery and suffering introduced continues to this day.
Saner minds might have persisted and better judgement employed were it not for chaotic politics that occupied the national psyche during the time.
A lot might have been avoided and many good programmes and projects introduced had that been the case.

  • To be continued tomorrow