Resource owners decry sacking of key LNG minister

National, Normal

The National, Monday, June 6th 2011

THE alleged sacking of senior government ministers William Duma (petroleum and energy) and Don Polye (foreign affairs) has left Southern Highlands oil and gas landowners confused over the type of politics being played out along the corridors of Waigani in the nation’s capital.
Chiefs and clan leaders from Hides and Moran PDL5, PDL6 and the gas pipeline sections of the multi-billion-kina liquefied natural gas (LNG) project said yesterday that the sacking of these senior  highlands politicians, especially Duma, would unsettle parties involved in the initial LNG agreements signed between 2009 and last year.
Hides PDL1 landowner chief Stanis Talu and chairman of JPKarai Hides Association and Hides Gas Resource Ltd Willie Wandiya and their Moran PDL5 and PDL6 and gas pipeline colleagues Pape Punga, Mark Philip, Akipe Pai and David Irakali said Duma and his colleague government ministers Patrick Pruaitch, Paul Tiensten and Arthur Somare had been the key state players in progressing the LNG deal.
“During the umbrella benefits sharing agreement (UBSA) meeting held in Kokopo in July 2009, Duma, as the minister responsible for the Oil & Gas Act, made commitments to certain landowner representatives to pay them business development grants, with more than K115 million committed and was endorsed for payment by Pruaitch when he was minister for finance and treasury,” the leaders said in a joint media statement yesterday.
“With Pruaitch now holding another ministerial portfolio and Duma sacked, we fear that the commitments made at the UBSA and the licensed-based benefits sharing agreements (LBBSA) will not be looked at seriously, or not even considered and progressed further.”
The Hides and Moran leaders’ statement said cabinet then endorsed the commitments through NEC decision No.96/2010 and a total of K93 million was approved for payment.
“In the 2010 supplementary budget, NEC approved the ministerial commitments to be captured for payment. This was done and an Appropriation Bill was also passed for funds to be allocated (ministerial commitments).
“As such, there is no point in acting Prime Minister Sam Abal, Treasurer Peter O’Neill and Southern Highlands Governor Anderson Agiru hijacking the payment of LNG funds as these and other project-related funds do not come under their responsibilities,” the statement read.
They claimed that Prime Minister Sir Michael Somare had directed Duma, in a letter dated March 13, 2011, to take full control of administering all oil and gas-related matters.
“The prime minister made the decision after realising that there was so much confusion and uncertainty caused by different ministers taking carriage of the same oil and gas-related issues.”
The rumours over Duma’s sacking also came as a surprise to the village leaders, who said the Hagen MP and United Resource Party (URP) leader had been a loyal coalition partner of Prime Minister Sir Michael Somare and the National Alliance.
“With Duma and Polye now out of the way, other politicians can now have a field day with landowners’ funds as they count down the days towards the general election,” the statement read.