O'NEILL SET TO FACE HIS BIGGEST CHALLENGE YET AS PRIME MINISTER

A political analysis by VINCENT MOSES
The week that just ended has been an interesting one with so many political undercurrents at play. These political undercurrents have produced a couple of interesting events which this post will seek to discuss.
The surprise appointment of Goilala MP Hon William Samb as Minister of State assisting the Prime Minister on Sports, Bougainville Affairs & Constitutional Matters was a culmination of certain events that have happened in recent weeks.
Facebook was buzzing with two interesting news articles that were contradictory to each other. One was the case of TFF owing to schools where Chief Secretary to Government Isaac Lupari blamed the Education Department for not releasing funds on time even though he claims those funds were being held in trust accounts at the Central Bank.
His claim was refuted by Education Minister Nick Kuman that there were no such funds being held in trust accounts at the Central Bank. This contradiction may seem like a simple matter of confusion within government but it is not.
Chief Secretary Lupari is one public servant who takes his directions and instructions directly from the Prime Minister. He acts as defacto Deputy Prime Minister or a "Super Minister" speaking out on issues in place of Ministers, overriding them and regularly issuing statements on their behalf which are often contradictory to the truth.
In this instance, Minister Kuman may have had enough so he hit back at Lupari, the Minister of Everything, exposing yet another lie invented by PM O'Neill.
The other contradiction happened between the Prime Minister himself and his Deputy Charles Abel. This was in response to the release of the first report by Jubilee Australia on the PNG Economy where the report stated PNG would have been better off if the PNG LNG project did not go ahead.
O'Neill responded by rubbishing that report as "fake" whereas his deputy and Treasurer Charles Abel agreed with the report and admitted PNG did not fare as well as it should have despite the grand promises of the PNG LNG project.
A week after these contradictory news items came out in the media, we had some further interesting turn of events.
Pangu Pati executives of President Patrick Pundao and General Secretary Morris Tovebai, who are recognised as legitimate executives by the Registrar of Political parties made an announcement that they had sacked Sam Basil as party leader. The next day, PNG received news that Deputy Pangu Pati leader and Goilala MP William Samb had been given another Ministerial Portfolio by O'Neill bringing the number of Pangu ministries to two.
These events may seem unrelated but political insiders have pointed out that there is a rift within the ruling PNC Party. The issuing of contradictory statements by Education Minister Nick Kuman and DPM Charles Abel to Chief Secretary Isaac Lupari and Prime Minister O'Neill respectively points to deep resentments these Senior Ministers have towards Prime Minister O'Neill and his way of running NEC and the country with an iron fist, often denying the very obvious such as the worsening economic, cash flow and forex crises.
Apart from O'Neill overriding his Ministers through the Chief Secretary, he also overrides DPM and Treasury Minister Charles Abel by dealing directly with Secretary Dairi Vele. This has been going on for sometime and became obvious during the LR Generator purchase saga where O'Neill contradicted himself by openly lying about his direct dealing with Vele in Parliament.
Former Treasurer and current Opposition Leader Patrick Pruaitch has hinted at this direct control the PM has over Secretary Vele in his recent media release where he states many decisions made during his tenure as Treasurer were not his but were PM O'Neill's, dealing directly with Vele.
Another public servant who takes orders directly from the PM when he is supposed to be independent is Central Bank Governor Loi Bakani. When such lines of independence are blurred, a worsening economic crisis is the result.
So how are all these events related? Well, O'Neill now feels insecure that his once loyal Ministers have had enough of his continuous lies which are hurting the economy of the country and having a devastating impact on the lives of the people. He is seeking to strengthen this weakening position by the offer of a second ministry to Pangu Pati.
The Ministry is in fact a Vice Ministry position or as many Facebook commentators call it, "the Assistant Prime Minister". It is a desperate attempt by a desperate man who knows he has lost the trust, respect and support of his own senior PNC MPs and Ministers in the likes of Marape, Maru, Abel and Kuman who are openly opposing his continuous lies.
The real test from all these will now fall on Sam Basil and Pangu Pati whether they will stick to their election promise of fighting corruption by opposing O'Neill or they will shrug their shoulders and say "it is not their responsibility" and continue dining with him at the table of corruption.
It is now a real test of character for Sam Basil and interestingly, he has already come out more than once in the media openly pledging allegiance and loyalty to O'Neill for the term of this Parliament.
Regardless of which way Basil and Pangu move, a change of government is imminent and if they are not smart, Pangu Pati may end up being the biggest losers and find themselves sitting in the opposition benches with Peter O'Neill when MPs who have had enough of the lies that are destroying this country decide to dump O'Neill and form a new coalition government.
Such is the fluidity of PNG politics. The days and weeks ahead will be very interesting as we watch events unfold.
Will Peter O'Neill's cunning tactics win out in keeping him in power and further sinking PNG down the slippery slope of corruption or will sanity prevail and PNG finally see our mandated leaders truly stand up and place their people's interest above and beyond their own interests?