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  • Papua New Guinea
  • Alphonse Gelu (bio)

Papua New Guinea solidified its position in the region in 2005 by hosting the Melanesian Spearhead Group meeting in Goroka as well as the Pacific Islands Forum in Port Moresby. Both of these meetings were held in the month of October. Despite its reputation as one of the most dangerous countries to visit, many regional leaders were impressed by the beauty of Papua New Guinea and its people.

More significantly, Papua New Guinea celebrated thirty years of independence as a sovereign state. Many commentators noted that this journey has not always been pleasant, mainly due to the declining state of the economy, infrastructure, and the provision of basic services such as health and education. However, Papua New Guinea stands out as one of the few former colonies that have managed to maintain democracy. There have been [End Page 413] a few challenges to democratic rule in Papua New Guinea but constitutional rule has always triumphed in the end. This is particularly notable given the social and cultural diversity of the country.

Papua New Guinea has developed a political culture of surprise and unpredictability. The year began with the idea of a grand coalition proposed by Prime Minister Sir Michael Somare. On the 31 December 2005 "Year in Review" program on EM TV news (Papua New Guinea's national television service), Somare announced that his party, the National Alliance (NA), would go into a grand coalition with the Peoples National Congress (PNC), a party founded by Bill Skate but later led by Peter O'Neil. The proposal emerged from the events of 2004, when the parliamentary system fell into chaos as a result of members of Parliament testing the new Organic Law on Integrity of Political Parties and Candidates.

Somare's grand coalition idea did not go down well with members of his own party. Don Polye, the deputy leader of the National AllianceHighlands Region, argued strongly that taking the Peoples National Congress on board would further weaken the Opposition, and that the current ministers were performing exceptionally well. A veteran of thirty years in politics, Somare knew that his grand coalition was unlikely to happen, like similar initiatives that had foundered in the past.

Three deputy prime ministers had been dumped in 2004, and by April 2005 no new appointment had been made. MP Luther Wenge, the governor of Morobe Province, criticized Somare in Parliament for not acting on this (PNG Post-Courier, 21 April 2005). At the end of May, Wenge asked the court to declare that Somare was constitutionally bound to appoint a deputy to fill the position, which had been vacant for twelve months (PNG Post-Courier, 30 May 2005).

In February 2005, Sir Bill Skate (who died in January 2006 after suffering heart failure) decided to leave the Peoples National Congress he had founded, and join the middle benches to support the government on its initiatives. Sir Bill stated that the time to play petty politics was over and that he would concentrate on helping his electorate and the government.

A Supreme Court reference was withdrawn by Chief Ombudsman Ila Geno, after he questioned the legality of a five-month adjournment of Parliament (National, 22 April 2005). Geno went to court after the government, faced with an imminent vote of no confidence, adjourned Parliament from 21 January to 29 June 2004. Geno argued that the adjournment breached the constitutional requirement that Parliament sit for at least sixty-three days. He withdrew the order after Parliament made up for the days that had been missed. The long adjournment of Parliament is a tactic used by governments to avoid votes of no confidence that have become the norm in Papua New Guinea politics.

In a workshop organized by the Institute of National Affairs on the theme "Understanding Reforms," two national academics, Dr David Kavanamur and Dr Henry Okole, argued that the reforms actually undertaken by successive governments provided [End Page 414] the least benefit to the economy, while the ones promising the greatest benefits were avoided. The academics concluded that election years coincide with budget blowouts because public funds are deliberately channeled to end up in the hands of members of...


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