WEST New Britain can expect a host of new and perhaps unbudgeted projects to be announced this week when the National Executive Council meets in Kimbe tomorrow.
That is, if we are to go by the precedence set by the Somare Government. Previous Cabinet meetings held in provincial capitals have yielded tens of millions of kina worth of projects for the host provinces, many of which were unbudgeted.
Pledges totalling K300 million were made in Wewak when Cabinet met there last year. Many of the pledges are yet to materialise into actual projects a year on.
Actual checks amounting to about K150 million were handed out to the six districts in Enga when Cabinet met in Wabag.
Enga Governor Peter Ipatas took out a court order restraining all districts from spending the money until proper documentation and accounting procedures could be ascertained.
The districts, supported by their open Members, took up the legal fight to the governor, claiming that the money rightly belongs in the districts and that Mr Ipatas had his provincial budget and would not lay his fingers on a toea of the money.
Following a protracted case, the governor lost the battle. The money can be spent in the districts and it is highly unlikely that the Finance Department will ever get a proper acquittal of how the money has been spent.
And now it is West New Britain’s turn.
It might not get as good a measure as the other hosts before it because the trust funds are now quite dry, we hear. Still, we can expect to hear some announcement of certain important projects in the province.
Deputy Prime Minister and Lands and Physical Planning Minister Sir Puka Temu is expected to arrive in the province today with other Cabinet ministers while Prime Minister Sir Michael Somare will fly in tomorrow. While goodies might titillate the senses somewhat, this Cabinet meeting is expected to produce some quite unpalatable concoction as well – for some at least.
Membership to the Cabinet itself, for instance, might be changed.
Attendance at the meeting should reveal who gets the boot and who will be a new face in Cabinet. Sir Michael has been promising a change in the line-up of his ministry for weeks and it is expected tomorrow’s meeting might seal the fate of some and open new doors for others in the Government back bench.
No doubt, it will have been an excruciatingly difficult for the Grand Chief this past fortnight. Dependent upon the changes he makes now might hang the future of his Government.
With a Supreme Court decision soon to come which will declare whether or not the Organic Law on Provincial and Local Level Government is consistent with the Constitution, the Prime Minister is in murky waters all of a sudden.
If the court decides in favour of the law, the Prime Minister will just have a number of disappointed ministers who will gripe for a few days and then toe the line. If the court should void the law, then there is likely to be a big backlash from the Government backbench which have been talking, albeit in whispers thus far, about how a few influential ministers seem to have been having the lion’s share of project funds.
Cabinet will also need to deal with the matter of law and order problems arising in LNG project areas such as at Komo, Tari, Samberigi and more recently, at Portion 152 Petroleum Park, Konebada.
Each of these incidents might appear isolated but taken together they can be quite alarming for any investor who has strung together US$15 billion from credit agencies around the world.
This Government must not afford to rest on its laurels and think that final investment decision for the LNG project last December will mean it is all systems go. Already early works has been delayed by two months and such delays can have a knock-on effect.
It is time the Government got real serious with the law and order problem in the country. The army has been doing nothing and it might be as opportune a time as any to call out the PNG Defence Force as is allowed under the Constitution.
Related to this, the Internal Security minister will have to reveal to Cabinet and to the rest of the country the goings on at the Bomana maximum security unit and why high profile politicians and heads of security forces have been visiting the most wanted criminal in PNG.