Why the need to take overseas trips whether it is state funded or free?
by DAVID LEPI
In the realm of political discourse, especially on social media platforms, the travel habits of Prime Minister James Marape have sparked a fiery debate. His latest expedition, a journey to San Francisco for the APEC Economic Leaders meeting from November 11-17, 2023, is no exception. This trip, like others, involves an extended entourage, raising questions about the necessity and implications of such frequent overseas engagements.
The role of Papua New Guinea (PNG) in forums like APEC cannot be understated, especially considering the country's dire need for foreign direct investment amidst looming budget constraints and the impending vote of no confidence. Full representation in these international forums seems imperative. However, this brings us to the question of the Prime Minister's travel prerogatives. Indeed, as the leader of the nation, travel is part and parcel of the job, with a designated budget for such engagements.
Yet, the issue transcends mere budgetary allocations. The crux of the matter lies in the discernment of these travels - are they a matter of necessity or convenience? The Prime Minister's travel entourage often raises eyebrows, with the inclusion of figures like the controversial foreign minister, his family members, and other associates, all of whom incur expenses covered by the state. These costs, encompassing food, lodging, car rentals, and other incidentals, are borne by the taxpayers.
Comparatively, former Prime Ministers like Sir Mekere Morauta and Peter O'Neill exhibited fiscal restraint in their travel decisions, prioritizing national financial stability. Similarly, GC Sir Michael Somare, Sir Rabbie Namaliu, Sir Julius Chan, and Pias Wingti were known for their judicious travel choices, often accompanied by minimal delegations.
In stark contrast, Prime Minister Marape’s tenure has been marked by frequent and seemingly unceasing international travel, earning him the moniker of a globetrotting head of state. This raises questions about the nature of these trips. Are they driven by genuine diplomatic or economic necessity, or do they serve as convenient distractions from domestic issues? The perception that these travels might be leveraged for personal political gain or to placate political adversaries cannot be ignored.
As the nation observes the Prime Minister’s travel patterns, the discourse naturally gravitates towards the principles of leadership and moral obligation. A leader of high moral standing would arguably weigh the pros and cons of each trip, considering both the monetary cost and the opportunity cost, prioritizing the national interest above all.
While the Prime Minister's right to travel is indisputable, the necessity, frequency, and intent behind these travels warrant a closer examination. The balance between representing PNG on the global stage and addressing domestic concerns remains a delicate one, demanding not just fiscal prudence but also moral and ethical discernment. As PNG navigates these complex dynamics, the role of its leader in the international arena continues to be a subject of intense scrutiny and debate.