James Marape- The 8th Prime Minister. A year in Review
Twelve months ago who among us would have predicted the rise of a much under rated James Marape as the 8th Prime Minister of Papua New Guinea putting an end to eight years of tumultuous rule by Peter O’Neill and his PNC Party. In this article we profile the achievement of James Marape over the last 12 months and lay out the challenges both for Marape as Prime Minister and for the country he now leads and contrast that with the Style and achievements of Peter O’Neill, the man he replaced as Prime Minister.
James Marape continues to intrigue and surprise us with the array of tools he is deploying from a Pandora box of politics. Intrigue because from a base without money or support of big businesses or a regional based political party he was able to effect a regime change in PNG, a feat that will be hard to repeat for a long while. Surprised because the man he replaced is no political midget and to successful pull the rug from under O’Neill’s feet is a master stroke worthy of study by both Practitioners and students of PNG Politics.
Did he do it through smoke and mirrors? Or did he indeed find the Achilles heels in O’Neil’s amour and used it to destroy Peter O’Neill and what was that weak spot? The answer lies perhaps in the attitude bordering on contempt that O’Neill has for all those who owe their appointment to high office through him. Having come to power by force in defying the highest Power on the land exercised through the Supreme court which ruled his election as Prime Minister illegal Peter O’Neill would go on in his 8 years rule to ridicule the institutions of State bordering on contempt. O’Neill’s years of power is characterized by his contempt of the institution of States and society in general having traverse a path of hardship growing up in his formative years as an illegitimate son of a white father. Having defied the Supreme Court, Peter O’Neill would go on in his term of office to appoint and dismiss at will Constitutional Office Holders and making sure all Departmental heads know very fast where their bread and butter came from.
When Police commissioner Kulunga requested for O’Neill to come to Police H/Q for questioning over his role in the Parakagate Scandal it did not take long for Commissioner Kulunga to find himself on the street and without a job. Oneill would also go on to subdue and side line important state actors and institutions that tried to challenge his rule. The Offices of the Public Prosecutor, the Ombudsman Commission and Task Force swift found their offices starved of resources rendering them impotent with the incumbent heads receiving vile threats of not being re appointed.
Ombudsman Rigo Lua and Sangatai found that out when they began to question the US$1.2 Billion UBS Loan and the message was not lost on others. All his departmental heads report directly to him and not their Ministers or lose his support when their ministers want them replaced. He never forgot those that crossed his path. Many including the former Chief Justice would attest to his leadership style when he found himself replaced as Chief Justice although he had an age eligibility of another 10 years to serve as Chief Justice of PNG. He was quickly replaced by Justice Salika who was the leader in the minority decision that recognizing the election of Peter O’Neill in the 2011 impasse and who would subsequently replace Chief Justice Injia for his part.
By the middle of 2016 his major Coalition partner have had enough of his style of leadership. In a investment exposition in Paris in March or 2016 where he had directed all the leaders of his Coalition to attend as a bonding exercise ahead of a much anticipated VoNF directed by the Supreme Court on a petition by Don Polye , he abandon Pruaitch, Ben Micah and William Duma during the entire time in Paris where no State Businesses were even discussed. O’Neill was instead lured away by the opportunity to tie personal business deals and spent most of his time drinking and dinning with his Irish clansman Dennis O’Brian the owner of Digicel to tie deals for his Remington group. He also spent considerable time without his ministers wooing Total the France Multi National to enter the PNG Hydro Carbon Market.
What was negotiated to entice Total to enter the Hydro Carbon Market in PNG can only be left to our imagination but would directly result in the decision taken by the little unknown James Marape to walk out of the O’Neill Cabinet 2 years later when the Cabinet was asked to endorse the Papua LNG project headed by Total. Peter O’Neill we are told personally sat down the night before NEC with the CEO of Total and initial all the 300 pages of the Development Contract with the State after he had fired the state negotiating team. Peter O’Neill’s Business deals rode on the back on Crony Capitalism of which he was the master where the line between State and personal interest was often blurred with inflated State contracts going to mates and friends in the true crony capitalism style.
Major decisions during this period of his rule included the Purchase of the Curtain Brothers Port Facility at Motukea for over 1 Billion Kina, The use of tax Credit Schemes to refurbish the Pineapple Building given to his mate L& A Brick Layers, the Purchase and transfer of Prime Ela Beach Hotel Land from the Indian Sangramaniam to MRDC, Contract for the Building of Sports Stadiums using Tax Credits that ended up poorly constructed and unfinished and are still being Fixed today. We also remember the excesses of funds committed to the 7.5 Mega Earthquake that rocked Southern Highlands and remain unaudited to this day.
We also recall the blunder by the ADB to award tens of Millions of infrastructure development funds paid to Wild Cat Ltd a company associated with O’Neill to buy influence away from the Chinese which resulted in a large number of incomplete and abandon bridges in West New Britain Province. We also remember over US$6 Billion of Chinese Soft Loans negotiated at the time and having a transforming effect on the land scape of Port Moresby and lae. What is however not reported are the whispers in the corridors of Power where it is reportedly commissions amounting to tens of million in payment received by an infamous Chinese madam who had in turn purchased a number of luxury homes in Australia and handed over these property to our leading Politicians on the back on contracts award to friends and mates. The crowing litany of all the excesses of the O’Neill era are vestiges left over of 2018 APEC that included Conference halls unsuitable for use and expensive Maserati’s unsuitable for use on our roads.
Instead of APEC 2018 being seen as the crowning moment and a celebration of Peter O’Neil Prime ministership where we played host to world leaders and show case PNG to the world , the rampages and sacking of Parliament by an unruly APEC Security team for none payment of allowances and the broken Glass windows of Parliament house will remain etched in our memories for ever marking the failure of APEC 2108 and the house of cards built by O’Neil over the 8 years of his rule. The usurpation of Power by O’Neill and the 8 years of living dangerously under O’Neill was not lost on James Marape and the team of young Turks that supported him 12 months ago in pulling one of the biggest political coup in the region. Below we review the performance and achievement of James Marape over his 12 months of Office and contrast that with the leadership style of Pater O’Neill
Marape the 8th Prime Minister.
The contrast in leadership style between Marape and Oneill cannot be more pronounced, while O’Neill fought for his survival growing up as a child abandon by his biological father at an early age, Marape grew up with love and comfort of loving and caring parents where his Pastor Father would no doubt have instilled into the young Marape the fundamental Christian values of sharing and serving with love and humility in the formative years of his life. These values were strong enough to force him walk away from the perks of Cabinet and Privilege when he realized that there is a fundamental flaw in O’Neill’s leadership centered on Crony Capitalism which informs on most Government decisions. Marape did not have the sense of insecurity and depravity growing up to hoard resources to create a safety net for himself as a person and a leader something which is sadly missing among our mixed race Members of Parliament.
We see this in the way he invited the best people in Parliament to join his Cabinet after he was elected Prime Minister and the good word he had for the man and the Party he replaced. He also invited ministers who had served under O’Neill to remain in his Cabinet and extended the same to top civil servants including the notorious Chief Secretary to Government Isac Lupari and Secretary of Treasury Diari Vele and Secretary Finance, Secretary Planning and Secretary Works together with the head of MRDC and Kumul Petroleum to share in his good fortune and to share the dream he had for PNG. His acceptance speech to Parliament of Taking Back PNG and making it the Greatest Black Christian Nation on Planet Earth in a parliament of equals sounded hallow and rhetorical when first announced reminding us of speeches made by leaders of military coups in far away Banana Republics in Africa. However over the last 12 months we have witnessed the depth of his vision culminating firstly in him taking over the Pangu Pati and absorbing the values shared by this iconic Political Party , values as expressed through the 8 point improvement plan and the National Goals and Directive Principles of our Constitution.
Many observes gave Marape the benefit of the Learning Curve and considered him naive when he failed to take action against his political opponents and were waiting to see him slip in the first 12 months of Power, the pressure on him to find the money to support his first budget and to boost up our foreign exchange reserves was his first major test as Prime Minister. While Peter Oneill went to the international Bond Market to raise PNGs first successful Sovereign Bond of US$500m with the help of Credit Suisse to ease pressures on our Foreign Reserves Marape would use his Christian heritage to spend one week going to Foot Ball games in Austraila with his counterpart Prime Minister Scott Morison to secure the Aus$300m that help saw us through in fiscal 2019/2020. He also followed this up with rebooting links with the ADB , the World Bank and the IFC by re engaging the United State and Australia on naval Based support to counter the heavy dependence on China Soft Loans in financing our infrastructure development that Oneill was perusing . This power play by Marape saw the ADB recommit to funding the rehabilitation of the Highlands highway and from the World Bank and IFC a commitment to support Agriculture in PNG.
The inflow of funds from these important bilateral partners means that our Foreign reserves will stay healthy and see Marape ride smoothly into 2021 and 20122 fiscal year. The down side of this policy shift short of an IMF inspired Structural Adjust Program was the abandoning of the Popular Free Education and free Health Policy of his predecessor which remains popular among the Rural masses and of which the recent win by the PNC Candidate in Menyamya has confirmed. On the health front, With the arrival of COVID 19, the maturity in the approach taken by Marape to impose a SoE to deal with the Pandemic on hindsight was stern particularly in the banning of all domestic and international Flights with the cost to the economy yet to be measured however we can be proud of the fact that the stern approach taken by Marape resulted in zero Death in our Country from COVID 19 under his leadership. As we end the end of the first 12 months of Marape.s reign, his earth shattering announcement not to renew Barricks lease on Porgera is currently being played out and evaluated in board rooms all over the world where a number of mega projects financed through Foreign Direct Investment are being considered for development. These projects included the US$13 Billion Papua LNG Projct, together with the Pnyang Project, The Pasca Project valued at between US$300 - 500 million , the New Crest Wafi Golpu project estimated at US$ 5Billion and the Pan Aust Frieda Project also estimated at US$5Billion.
Below we look at the challenges facing Marape and PNG as we move into the Post Covid 19 World against the backdrop of the recent decision for the state to take over the Porgera mine amidst the rise of Resource Nationalism in PNG.
The ANZ Bank In a briefing to its corporate clients on PNGs prospect in the immediate term projected revenue in the PNGs resource sector in the next decade to reach US$23 Billion per annum from 2030 and that PNG will have to attract US$112 Billion of foreign direct investment over the next decade to achieve that. Current mega hydro Carbon and Mining Projects in the pipe line is only a third of what is required. PNG will require additional Mega Projects to be developed possibly outside the current Foreign Direct Investment model to reach the ANZ projected outcome. One of the leading black Female Economist of our generation Dambiso Moya has outline a road map that black developing nations like our can follow to lift its people out of Poverty and it does not necessarily have to depend entirely on Foreign Direct Investment but a combination that includes the mobilization of domestic savings and Capital and the use of Export Credit Financing to develop Mega infrastructure and agriculture Projects that can transform a nation.
In the PNG context it would mean taking the offer made by the United States and Australia to meet 70 % of all the Electricity needs of PNG by developing the Purari Hydro Power project that has been on the GoPNG books since 1973 to generate the entire current and future Power needs of the Country and to sell excess electricity and Water from the Purari Hydro Scheme to Australia where they critically need it. The Purari Hydro Scheme is an important national transformational infrastructure Project and meets all the criteria for funding under Export Credit Financing using Australian, American, Japanese and Chinese Government Support together with domestic capital from sources such as Sir Mekeres long term Singapore Ok Tedi Fund to develop this project. In fact PNGSDP and Sir Makere have been involved with this project for some time and he should be given carriage of this project.
The Development and launch of the PNG Kumul Communications Satellite System to improve and transform our communications infrastructure is also very important for our country and the recent NEC decision to put our Satellite into Orbit before 2022 is welcomed. The Kumul Satellite will be developed using financing from German and EEC Led Export Credit Agencies. The next important infrastructure Development is the development of our agriculture and road/rail infrastructure and this can be achieved through current export Credit Financing using the China Belt and Road initiative by extending the road infrastructure project to link all Momase Towns with Jayapura and excessing cheaper connectivity with the World via Indonesia and Asia for our Agriculture and Tourism Products. In this context the mobilization of current saving through our super funds for Large Scale Commercialization of Rice and other cereal crops must be seriously considered.
Finally like China we must aim to use the windfall from the export of our resources to improve and modernize our 10,000 villages to make it more comfortable so all of us can find it enjoyable to go back and live in a villages with modern amenities including improved health and educational felicities.
The recent announcement by the PM to mobilize our youths under the leadership of the army for nation building is welcome. We also welcome the announcement to repatriate the unemployed back to their villages from our towns and cities. The country is waiting for the details of this two important initiative.
While Marape ticks all the Boxes of a nationalist leader in the making, the jury is still out as to whether PMJM can deliver on his promise to give Economic Independence to PNG and importantly on how he will proceed to deliver on that promise. Will he take us on the revolutionary path of Gadhafi and Saddam in his handling of our resources? or will he follow Suharto and Lee Kuan Yew? Will he emulate Paul Kagame of Rwanda or Thomas Sankara of Burkina Faso and avoid the pitfalls of Idi Amin and Robert Mugabe? Important for all of us as stack holders in the future of PNG are the need to see the details in Marapes plan.
So far his handling of Politics is neither that of Sun Tzu and his Art of War or Machiavelli’s The Prince. Neither is it Kautilya,s Arthashastra . It would seem Marapes Modus Operandi follows the dictate of the God he believes in and his Book the Holy Bible. He is stern but also compassionate just like the Prophet of old. When he said he was going to help Australia in the recent bush fire many of us where left wondering how a third world country like ours would assist. His solution to send a well discipline team of our PNGDF to perform that role is a credit to him the PNGDF and the people they assisted in the small towns in rural Australia. This small act of compassion and Christian kindness in the use of our limited State resources to assist those in need sets him apart and allows us as a nation to believe in Marape and in his humility and humanity and that we know he passionately cares for the collective wellbeing of his nation when he says NO ONE WILL BE LEFT BEHIND.
Wewak May 15th May 2022
Post Script as this article goes to Print ,the Courts in PNG are yet to determine the validity of the election of James Marape as Prime Minister and on the Porgera take over by the State, the courts are yet to endorse the rights of the State to take over the Porgera Mine following the expiration of the lease.