Time for some straight answers

Editorial, Normal

The National, Wednesday October 9th, 2013

 CLAIMS by a former prime minister that the National Government hardly spent any of the billions of kina it received from the Ok Tedi mine on the host province are astounding but not surprising.

Sir Mekere Morauta revealed this week that the government had received K11.2 billion in proceeds from the giant mine in the remote Western province over a 10-year period. 

He challenged Prime Minister Peter O’Neill to tell the nation, especially the people of Western, what has happened to the government’s share of the Ok Tedi mining proceeds.

“From 2002 to the end of 2012, the national government received a net K11.2 billion from the mine – K6.9 billion in taxes and charges and K4.3 billion in dividends. On a pro-rata basis, the O’Neill Government would have received almost K2 billion between August, 2011, and August, 2013,” he said in a statement.

Sir Mekere, the embattled chairman of the PNG Sustainable Development Program (PNGSDP), said there was very little to show in Western for these vast sums.

He has been at loggerheads with O’Neill since the government took over the operations of Ok Tedi Mining Limited (OTML) last month through legislation, which removed him as chairman of the OTML board.

Sir Mekere may have a bone to pick with O’Neill but he has posed a billion-kina question that needs some straight answers from the prime minister and his treasurer.

“The question is: Where has all the national government’s money gone? The people of Western province are entitled to an answer.”

O’Neill was a member of the National Alliance-led coalition government from 2002 to August, 2011, when he and other party leaders broke away to form a new government, which was returned after the 2012 general election.

O’Neill served in various portfolios, including finance minister, under former Prime Minister Sir Michael Somare and was considered a key member of cabinet.

Therefore, he should not be excused or exempted from the financial meanderings of the former regime. 

He will need to explain, with a little help from former treasurer Patrick Pruaitch, how the consecutive National Alliance-led governments spent the proceeds from the Ok Tedi mine, totalling K9 billion. 

Pruaitch, the NA leader and member of the current coalition government, should shed some light on this matter as he was considered a very influential member of the Somare cabinet.

As the nation’s chief executive, O’Neill should have a bigger say in the way proceeds from Ok Tedi mine are spent by his government.

Therefore, the prime mi­ni­ster should dispel any doubts created by Sir Mekere’s statement by telling the nation exactly how the mo­ney was spent.

In particular, O’Neill should explain what his government has done for the people of Western in the past two years with the proceeds from the Ok Tedi mine.

The reality is that Western continues to be one of the least developed provinces in Papua New Guinea, despite the billions of kina that pour out from the mine.

While other resource-rich provinces are undergoing so­cio-economic transformations, time seems to have stood still in Western.

There is little tangible development in the province, with hardly any road network, bridges, sea ports and other key infrastructure. 

Even the provincial capital of Daru, in the underdeveloped South Fly district, is little more than the government outpost it was during the colonial era.

It seems successive na­tion­al governments have only been interested in reaping the benefits from the Ok Tedi mine without giving Western a bigger slice of the national cake. 

PNGSDP was regarded as a shining light for the people of Western until the recent takeover of OTML.

Is there still light at the end of the Western tunnel?

The prime minister thinks so and has assured the people of Western that their better days are yet to come.

As one of our readers said in the letters page yesterday:

“Successive governments that have used the same tactics to deceive the people of Papua New Guinea, such as the People’s Democratic Movement and the National Alliance, have never survived.”

It would be wise of the ru­ling People’s National Congress to take heed of that in its pursuit for political and economic dominance.