last updated: August 2017
Table of Contents [hide]
- 1 Introduction
- 2 Who Are The Key Actors In Politics And The Bureaucracy, And How Is This Likely To Change In The Future?
- 2.1 Peter O’neill
- 2.2 Charles Abel
- 2.3 Other Influential Members Of Government
- 2.4 Sam Basil
- 2.5 Sir Mekere Morauta
- 2.6 Patrick Pruaitch
- 2.7 Other Influential Members Of The Opposition
- 2.8 Formation Of Coalition Government
- 2.9 Key Actors In Bureaucracy And Regulatory Institutions
- 2.10 Issac Lupari
- 2.11 Other Important Actors
- 3 How Are These Actors Likely To Shape The Legislative And Regulatory Environment?
- 3.1 Weak Parliament
- 3.2 Legal System
- 4 Recommendations And Conclusion
Papua New Guinea entered its 2017 National Election after a tumultuous period in the country’s politics and economy, and there remains much uncertainty about the election process, with significant implications for the country’s future. In the last ten years key political, bureaucratic, and regulatory institutions have struggled and in some cases, failed. These struggles have been more profound under the O’Neill government despite some tangible advances in the country’s ambitious Vision 2050 roadmap.
There is a widespread desire across the country for robust and independent institutions to ensure economic gains are transparently and sustainably managed. The ultimate question for many voters in the 2017 general elections was not who would form the next government, but who would be the most credible leader. With elections now over, and the O’Neill government returning for a second term, what does Papua New Guinea expect of the new government and those in power?
This analysis attempts to address how key trends in PNG’s politics will impact upon both the bureaucracy and regulatory environment. It will identify some of the key actors and how they are likely to change. It will discuss current political trends, their impact on the regulatory and legislative environments and how likely they are to continue in the future. Finally, it assesses the prospects of continuing dysfunction in PNG politics, the further marginalisation and deterioration of the bureaucracy, and how this destructive course might be avoided.
Who Are The Key Actors In Politics And The Bureaucracy, And How Is This Likely To Change In The Future?
Prime Minister Peter O’Neill has been the most dominant political player in PNG politics this decade. The dramatic events of the 2011 constitutional crisis resulted in the unexpected elevation of O’Neill into power. He quickly became revered among his peers as an experienced combatant of the country’s hostile politics.
O’Neill maintained strong populist support in the early years of his government by promising free health and education programs and infrastructure development, backed by a strong anti-corruption focus in the form of the Investigative Task Force Sweep. However, his prolonged resistance against his arrest warrant for official corruption has contributed to the deterioration of regulatory and enforcement institutions as well as reducing confidence in his political longevity.
With mounting allegations against him, O’Neill influenced key political allies and swayed the appointment of key bureaucrats whose loyalty helped consolidate his grip on power.
O’Neill’s influential political allies include William Duma, Dr Fabian Pok, Peter Ipatas, James Marape and Mao Zeming. Playing into existing regionalist sentiment within PNG politics, O’Neill maintains a firm inner circle of Highlands MPs and ensures that controversies involving them are subdued. Other key players in O’Neill’s ascension include former Prime Minister Pais Wingti, Speaker of Parliament Theo Zurenouc, Don Polye, Patrick Pruaitch and Ben Micah. Polye, Pruaitch and Micah were key allies in the early period of O’Neill’s government and were rewarded with senior ministerial portfolios until their falling-out with O’Neill led them to the Opposition. Don Polye and Ben Micah lost their seats in the 2017 election.
O’Neill’s political party, the People’s National Congress (PNC), also suffered losses of influential political figures such as the former Deputy Prime Minister Leo Dion, Mao Zeming and Theo Zurenouc. The latter two were critical, as in the past they leveraged support for O’Neill from MPs in the mainland coastal region (Momase).
Unlike his previous government, O’Neill initially faced an uphill battle against a resurgent Opposition group with 46 MPs. However, some members in the Opposition have defected to join O’Neill since his election as the country’s Prime Minister in August 2017. With the looming vote of no-confidence in the next 15 months, O’Neill will do whatever he can to retain support.
The appointment of Charles Abel as Deputy Prime Minister is an attempt to retain support from the coastal MPs as well as redirect attention from O’Neill to a competent partner. In the last government, O’Neill played a prominent role while the Deputy Prime Minister was almost non-existent on the national scene. However, that is likely to change.
Abel has already been proactive in engaging with national issues and will be using his experience in trade and commerce to try and restore investor confidence. While Abel reports to O’Neill, he should be able to influence the Cabinet unlike his predecessor Leo Dion. Being relatively young and from the coastal region, Abel may also challenge and foster consensus among his peers and outspoken MPs in the likes of Gary Juffa, Allan Bird and Bryan Kramer in the Opposition, reducing the attention on O’Neill while presenting a credible image of O’Neill’s government.
Other Influential Members Of Government
Peter O’Neill has appointed a Cabinet of 33 members, the largest in Papua New Guinea’s history. Key Ministers within his Cabinet include James Marape, a loyal lieutenant who retains his finance portfolio; William Duma, a controversial figure who brought with him critical numbers to the government; Justin Tkatchenko, who holds the portfolio of Lands & Physical Planning; and Puka Temu, a leader of the ‘Papuan Bloc’ who holds the health portfolio. Other key members of government include Sir Julius Chan, a former Prime Minister and Governor of New Ireland province who crucially sided with PNC soon after the election. Job Pomat was also appointed speaker of Parliament, a position which brings with it significant influence. Pais Wingti and Peter Ipatas join Sir Julius Chan as senior politicians providing clam and stability among O’Neill’s alliances.
Basil’s leadership in the Opposition and strong voice on important national issues has initially gained the respect of both sides of parliament. He led the resurgence in one of the oldest parties in Papua New Guinea, Pangu Pati, with the highest number of MPs in The Alliance, and hoped to be nominated as Prime Minister by the opposing coalition camp in the event of a change in government.
However, the elevation of Patrick Pruaitch as the Opposition Leader unsettled his ambition leading to his defection to join O’Neill in the government. Since a key campaign platform for Pangu Pati during the 2017 national election was to remove O’Neill, Basil’s defection together with 14 other Pangu Pati MPs, appeared to discredit Pangu Pati’s image among loyal supporters.
But Basil’s move may also be strategic to support any move within the government to unseat O’Neill. A common reason provided by all who have defected, including Basil, is the challenge in accessing the electoral development funds as an Opposition MP. While that continues to be an issue, Basil’s standing and the timing of his move is disappointing for the resurgent Opposition.
Sir Mekere Morauta
The return of Sir Mekere Morauta from retirement to national politics presents a significant threat to O’Neill’s continued dominance. Morauta’s intellectual leadership and statesmanship inspires unity among the parties opposed to O’Neill. Morauta and fellow Independent MPs have recently joined the Pangu Pati, allowing Pangu the highest number of MPs in the Opposition before the defection of its members to the government. The official position of Pangu Pati is unclear as its members in both the government and the Opposition claim to represent the party. Morauta inadvertently assumes leadership of the Opposition faction of the party.
Morauta leads a ‘redeeming plan’ that starts with the replacement of O’Neill. However, his long vendetta against O’Neill over the PNG Sustainable Development Programme (PNGSDP) funds, which O’Neill has sought to control by removing Morauta as Chairman, may invite closer scrutiny of Morauta’s past controversies.
Patrick Pruaitch is the party leader of the National Alliance (NA), the second most well-established political party to Peter O’Neill’s PNC party and the current Opposition Leader. Founded by Sir Michael Somare, the NA-led government stayed in power for two terms prior to O’Neill’s takeover in August 2011. NA is well financed, with close links to foreign logging companies. However, partners in the Opposition doubt NA as trustworthy due to alleged mismanagement of the country during their term in government. It is one of the likely reasons for Sam Basil’s defection to join the O’Neill government after Pruaitch was elevated as the leader of the Opposition. It appears the appointment was more out of convenience to keep the NA Members in the Opposition.
While NA has publicly stated its opposition to O’Neill during their fallout in February 2017, key elements within the coalition continue to question Pruaitch’s leadership. Pruaitch was part of the infamous ‘kitchen cabinet’, alleged to be responsible for the country’s mismanagement during Somare’s reign. He was also Treasurer in the final years of O’Neill’s first term, when the economy was considerably mismanaged. Newly elected and well respected MPs Allan Bird and Walter Schnaubelt promise to instil some credibility in the NA party but this will not be immediate.
Other Influential Members Of The Opposition
Kerenga Kua is outspoken on complex legal issues associated with governance in PNG’s highly litigious environment. As one of the country’s most senior lawyers, Kua commands the respect of both parliament and the general public. A change in government would see him reignite anti-corruption efforts and ensure the completion of investigations against O’Neill. Kua’s ascension will likely see a restoration of confidence in the legal system.
Gary Juffa commands strong populist support and addresses issues such as unscrupulous foreign businesses, illegal immigrants and the West Papuan conflict with patriotic overtones that sometimes may appear contentious.
As a former army captain revered for his role in ousting the Sandline mercenaries, Belden Namah may come across as undiplomatic at times, but many regard his straight-shooting approach as necessary to ensuring accountability in a highly predatory political environment.
Another player, Bryan Kramer, is PNG’s most influential blogger with a significant social media presence due to his anti-corruption campaigns. Elected for Madang Open, Kramer is likely to be a leading voice for reform while engaging directly with the public on the inner workings of parliament and the government systems.
Formation Of Coalition Government
The existence of multiple political parties has meant that O’Neill had to form a coalition government, as has been the case for all governments since independence. There are at least three key drivers that influence MPs in the formation of government, in order of importance:
- Which ‘camp’ has the numbers to form the new government?
- What can I gain from joining a ‘camp’?
- Is the proposed Prime Minister a credible person?
By this hierarchy, the credibility of Peter O’Neill as a Prime Minister is the least consideration for MPs despite outstanding serious criminal investigations against him. For some MPs, it is assumed that leadership will change during the term of the parliament through a vote of no confidence or other permissible means. The primary concern for MPs is to be in government rather than in the Opposition. Joining the Opposition means a loss of privileges, including the potential for ministerial portfolios, as well as difficulties in accessing the electoral development funds (District Service Improvement Program and Provincial Service Improvement Program).
The process of choosing the Prime Minister continues to be undermined not only by accusations of manipulation and inducements but increasingly it tends to be about what the MPs gets in return for their support, not the people of Papua New Guinea. With a high level of fluidity in MPs’ movements, this trend only adds to the anxiety that in PNG politics, ‘there are no permanent enemies or friends, only permanent interests’.
Key Actors In Bureaucracy And Regulatory Institutions
Some key players within the bureaucracy and state institutions have been able to exert power and have direct impact on political outcomes and the regulatory and legislative environment.
The Chief Secretary to the Government, Isaac Lupari, oversees the entire public service machinery and is one of O’Neill’s most trusted allies. He is an important asset for the government, with extensive experience and networks within the echelons of PNG bureaucracy.
However, Lupari’s position is untenable. He was implicated in the Finance Inquiry, which uncovered a multimillion fraud syndicate involving very senior public servants, MPs and private companies associated with the Department of Finance. The Commission recommended Lupari for criminal charges but none have yet been laid.
Using his insights into the public service machinery, Lupari influences O’Neill and his Cabinet in the appointment of departmental heads. Lupari continues as Chief Secretary under the O’Neil government although a potential change in government may affect the pending criminal investigations against him.
Other Important Actors
Other key actors directly contributing to or affecting the regulatory and legislative environment include:
- Police Commissioner Gari Baki
- Judges and Lawyers
- Defence Force Commander Brigadier-General Gilbert Toropo
- Ombudsman Commissioners
- Public Prosecutors
- The Secretaries of Finance, Treasury and Planning
- Provincial and District Administrators
The following analysis identifies these actors, considers their impact on institutions and the resulting trends. In the last ten years it appears that having influence within the security forces is imperative to the continuation of political power. Further, having access to funds through the finance, treasury and planning departments, and local government administrators assist in the misuse of public funds. The conduct of the Ombudsman Commission, the Public Prosecutor and those within the judicial system appears to be relatively robust, but assisting them in addressing their many challenges will enable them to operate more effectively in a politically volatile and highly litigious environment.
How Are These Actors Likely To Shape The Legislative And Regulatory Environment?
The key legislative and regulatory agencies in Papua New Guinea include the parliament, the police, the Ombudsman Commission, the courts, and departmental agencies such as the Financial Intelligence Unit (FIU) within the Department of Finance. Political actors have been able to influence these agencies with a common purpose of limiting their impact on political and personal agendas. There are weaknesses in each of these institutions, which need to be addressed in order to bolster the integrity of PNG’s legislative and regulatory framework.
The Papua New Guinea parliament was envisaged to play a ‘central role’ in shaping the country’s democracy both through its law-making function and as the leading forum for debate on national issues. Papua New Guinea’s parliament has been complimented for its stability in recent years, but this has come at the cost of robust debate.
The parliament has been riven with controversy since the 1980s when the vote of no confidence scheme was first activated, leading to significant parliamentary instability. Successive governments have used their numerical strength to thwart the legislative process as well as suppress fair debates and parliamentary proceedings in order to, not only remain in power, but also maximise predatory political interests knowing they might not retain their seat in the next election.
As parliamentary stability has resumed, the PNG Supreme Court has observed over the years a growing trend to “bulldoze legislation through because there [has been] an absence of Opposition or their voices not entered in Parliament”, cautioning that “Parliament … should never be a ‘rubber stamp’ for the executive, and that any legislative programme of the executive should be subjected to the closest scrutiny”. Similar assertions were made of O’Neill’s government when overturning the changes made to the Constitution in the Manus Island detention centre case.
The Compromised Role Of The Speaker
The Speaker of Parliament has been a prime cause for weakening the parliament. Because parliamentary proceedings are non-justiciable (meaning they cannot themselves be a cause for litigation), the Speaker is left unrestrained to engage in questionable practices. In the 2011 constitutional crisis, the Supreme Court found that “the Speaker [Jeffery Nape] contributed enormously to the crisis” by failing to remain “neutral and impartial”. The Court noted that “the actions of the Speaker appeared to have been motivated by power and political expediency” and were “harsh and oppressive”.
Backed by his contentious spiritual beliefs, the Speaker under the O’Neill government, (now ousted) Theo Zurenouc, is credited with restoring some credibility to the parliament, but his conduct has not escaped similar accusations of bias. This issue is most likely to continue in the new government with even Zurenouc admitting that it is a “dangerous trend [that] needs to be proactively addressed”.
Vote Of No Confidence Threatens Stability
Under the PNG Constitution, a government can be subject to a vote of no confidence after 18 months in power. The threat of a vote of no confidence often immobilises ‘normal executive and legislative functions’ leading to increased ‘corruption and patronage’ despite appearances of stability. Former Prime Minister Sir Julius Chan confessed that the vote of no confidence system means a prime minister “has to spend a quite disproportionate amount of his time and energy keeping individual politicians ‘happy’”. The Speaker can manipulate the proceedings in order to give unfair advantage to a party. While this system remains in place, incoming governments continue to face instability after the grace period.
Papua New Guinea has never had a strong political party system, and with 45 political parties participating in the 2017 elections, this continues to be a challenge. Once in parliament, political parties exist “solely as parliamentary factions” without firm ideological premises and party discipline. It allows MPs to hop between parties — leading to tradition of instability and growing urgency to address it.
An attempt was made in 2010 under the Organic Law on the Integrity of Political Parties and Candidates (OLIPPAC) to control the movement of MPs but the Supreme Court declared it to be unconstitutional on the basis that the penalties prescribed under the law against MPs were harsh and oppressive of their freedom to make political decisions. As evidenced by the near doubling of O’Neill’s PNC party during its first term in government, this trend will likely continue. The Registry of Political Parties has prepared an amended version of the OLIPPAC but is yet to be passed by the parliament.
While the country remains vulnerable to ‘party-hopping’, some key indicators, however, suggest that this is likely to change over the next decade.
First, voters over the years have developed an increased awareness and sensitivity to political parties. In the 2012 elections, Somare’s NA party lost more than three-quarters of their seats as voters became distrustful of the party. In 2017, O’Neill’s PNC party faced similar challenges, losing almost half of its MPs while some of its serving MPs ran as Independent candidates or even refused to state on their campaign posters that they were endorsed by the PNC. In contrast, newly revived political parties, such as Pangu Pati, campaigned successfully on the platform of being the oldest and reliable political party without the backing of wealth or senior political figures.
Second, because voters are becoming more sensitive to political parties, they are quick to hold their MPs accountable for their choices in joining a political faction. This was evident in the 2017 election where many voters expressed their dissatisfaction over their MP’s decision to join O’Neill.
Third, political parties are becoming more established and well connected to businesses and government opportunities, which means there are incentives, both inside and outside of politics, for MPs to remain committed to a party.
Fourth, major political parties are becoming wealthier and have the ability to induce and retain their MPs, and to finance new candidates in increasingly expensive election campaigning.
Despite these trends there will still be a strong focus on election candidates to run as independents so that if they are to win they can ‘keep their options open’ and extract the greatest benefit from a political party. More than half of the candidates in the 2017 election ran as independents.
Using Electoral Funding To Control MPs’ Behaviour
A primary factor in PNG’s political stability in recent years is the government’s control and distribution of the electoral development funds under the District Service Improvement Program (DSIP) and Provincial Service Improvement Program (PSIP). The Vice Minister for Provincial and Local-level Government Affairs has made clear the reason why multiple attempts to change the prime minister have been unsuccessful:
“The reason is because DSIP is there that’s why we will be in the government and support the O’Neill-Dion government. It’s not about your number of qualifications you have to lead the government, so long as you have the money, you will master the numbers.”
The annual funding for districts (DSIP) is currently K10 million, with provinces receiving K5 million for each district within that province (PSIP). The funds are intended for service and infrastructure developments, but the implementation of these programs in many electorates is highly questionable. The legislation provides for the funds’ allocation, but the amounts, and their timing, is at the discretion of the executive government through its influence on the state’s finance department.
This discretion allows the executive to influence MPs’ behaviour. This trend is likely to continue but will vary according to the government in place. While the system may be unsound and undemocratic, the funds restrain the movement of MPs, thus minimising political instability.
Lack Of Political Will At The National Level
Due to strong localised pressure and expectations from tribal, district and provincial forces, a majority of the MPs are committed to representing these interests at the national level than investing in addressing national concerns. This leaves a vacuum for a handful of political elites to take advantage at the national level. As long as they can keep the locally focused MPs ‘happy’ with what they need for their electorates, then they can have them bandwagon on any policy decisions, legislations or reforms.
This behaviour is slowly changing as local expectations are increasingly connected to national issues and as people become more informed through platforms such as social media on the importance of their MPs addressing national issues. But until that is fully realised, local pressures will continue to affect an MP’s behaviour, which, at times, can be detrimental to the national interest.
Papua New Guinea is one of the most litigious societies in the world. While the trend to suppress high-profile cases casts doubt over the efficacy of the legal system, courts continue to play a pivotal role against a powerful executive government. The Supreme Court has reinforced its unwavering intention that “abuse of power by the [Executive] NEC must not be tolerated by the Court”.
The PNG judiciary comprises the Village, District, National and Supreme courts, with the National and Supreme Courts forming an appellate structure with jurisdiction over serious cases including constitutional matters. The judiciary currently consists of 39 judges, including two on secondment from the Australian Federal Court, an increase from the initial 34 judges in the last ten years.
Chief Justice Sir Salamo Injia aims to have between 80 and 100 judges on the bench by 2020. This positive development would increase the number of resident judges in the country’s 21 provinces, as well as judges serving in the proposed Court of Appeal, a new court to sit between the National and the Supreme courts.
Parliament has yet to approve and legislate the proposal. The proposed Court of Appeal hopes to decrease congestion in the court system and increase judges’ specialisation, but “staffing such a structure with judges of suitable ability and experience would be difficult for Papua New Guinea alone at its present stage of development”. Some fear that an extra layer of the courts may increase unnecessary appeals, already rife in the current system, although this would not be insurmountable for a robust and independent judiciary.
The Court has taken an active approach against what it perceives as a ‘creeping tyranny’ in parliament, when it granted ‘standing’ to the Opposition Leader and senior public servants in 2014 to challenge constitutional amendments in Court. The Supreme Court allowed former Opposition Leader Belden Namah to prosecute the Manus Island detention centre case after he failed to defeat the constitutional amendment that sanctioned the Australia–PNG bilateral arrangement in parliament.64 Such is unheard of in comparable democracies but the Court has deemed it necessary against the fundamental inefficiencies of the Parliament. This precedent is likely to continue.