Young guns take over the fight

Editorial, Normal

The National, Wednesday, May 11, 2011

A SUBTLE, yet significant, ceremony took place earlier this week in the hallowed confines of Waigani’s Haus Tambaran – the country’s seat of political power.
Veteran parliamentarian, former prime minister and PNG Party and opposition leader, Sir Mekere Morauta, officially handed over the reins to a group of younger politicians led by Vanimo-Green MP Belden Namah and his deputy, Bulolo MP Sam Basil, to take the shadow government into next year’s general election.
Sir Mekere also relinquished his leadership of the PNG Party to Namah.
Sir Mekere endorsed the changing of the guard, saying he was proud to hand over the leadership to “young and vibrant leaders”.
“Today marks an end of the old guard and beginning of a new guard to keep parliamentary democracy vibrant and alive to serve the interests of the 6.7 million people by keeping checks and balances on the government,” he said.
The picture in The National yesterday told a story on its own with the newly re-assembled opposition posing for a picture. In it, Namah sat with Basil on his left and Markham MP Koni Iguan on his right and Namatanai MP Byron Chan and Anglimp-South Waghi MP Jamie Maxtone-Graham on the flanks. At the back, standing, were Goroka MP Thompson Harokaqueh, Western Governor Dr Bob Danaya, Lae MP Bart Philemon, Abau MP Sir Puka Temu, Telefomin MP Tony Iwei and Moresby Northwest MP Sir Mekere Morauta.
It was a deliberate move to symbolise the passing of the torch to the next generation of leaders. In Namah and Basil, the people have two outspoken and dedicated first-term members who have proven in their four years that they will not shirk the load or wilt when carrying out their roles as the government’s critic or when offering alternative policies and plans.
Both men are in their 40s and have interesting backgrounds.
Namah’s roots are in the military and forestry while Basil’s had been in business.
The two have not been afraid to take on some of the government’s leading men, particularly the father and son combination of  Prime Minister Sir Michael Somare and Public Enterprises Minister Arthur Somare on the floor as well as in the media. These are prerequisites for an effective opposition.
An opposition that can be seen to be active and not the passive or meek offerings from the left side of the house we have seen in the past. Basil enraged a normally reticent Sir Michael last year when he had a heated exchange with the grand chief. To his credit, Basil did not take a backward step or flinch in a stare down with the “old man”. Namah is of the same mould and has repeatedly engaged the government on their various perceived shortcomings or failures.
Sir Mekere, 65, stepped aside and with him another senior member of the opposition in 66-year-old former treasurer Bart Philemon. Both gentlemen have served their electorates, provinces and country diligently and with commitment over the years as public servants in the earlier part of their careers and then as politicians.
Both have served with distinction, particularly in the area of finance in government and in the public service. One can say they led by example, navigating their way through the morass of Melanesian power struggles and political expedience that is the rule rather than the exception in the nation’s corridors of power.
Throughout their storied careers, they held fast to their principles and values which we can say they have not deviated from. Ideologically, the Morauta and Philemon of 30 years ago would not be greatly separated from the senior statesmen that we have now. Both advocated fiscal reform and tighter financial control on spending and were concerned with the plight of the ordinary Papua New Guinean while holding onto ideals that they believed would unshackle the country from its struggle to develop and progress.
In opposition, they lent their voices in the purveyance of providing a counter balance to government policy. They have now sounded to all and sundry that their public life is coming to a close.
We wonder if Sir Michael will take the cue from his old adversaries and do likewise by naming a successor and stepping aside permanently.
The old lion will probably hold his decision until the very last moment but he would do well to follow the path less trodden by gracefully leaving on his own terms.