Making a clean break from former prime minister Peter O’Neill was the pivotal factor in Papua New Guinea’s government bringing a group of opposition MPs to the coalition.

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As one of the seven MPs who joined the government yesterday explains, they want to help the new prime minister stop a decline in economic and social conditions across the country.

East Sepik governor Alan Bird and six other MPs, mostly from the National Alliance party, joined the government of James Marape yesterday amid a cabinet reshuffle.

As part of the reshuffle, the opposition’s Ian Ling-Stuckey has come over to replace Sam Basil as Treasurer, while Mr Marape has booted out the People’s National Congress party of his predecessor Peter O’Neill.

Opposition MPs built a good rapport with Mr Marape earlier in the year during lobbying that preceded the removal of Mr O’Neill as prime minister in May.

While most in the National Alliance voted for Mr Marape to be prime minister, the party stayed in opposition while the new coalition government was formed, including Mr O’Neill’s PNC.

Degeneration

Mr Bird said he and the other MPs moving across couldn’t stay in opposition, watching the country degenerate.

“The economic conditions are falling apart and much of it I think due to a lack of confidence from the private sector,” he said

“That is leading to disaffection in many parts of the country. Crime is going through the roof. So, it was irresponsible for us to sit on the sidelines, fold our hands and hope the whole thing falls apart.”

PNG PM Peter O'Neill

Former PNG prime minister Peter O’Neill Photo: AFP / Peter Parks

Mr O’Neill and the PNC had stayed on in the new government coalition after his removal in May, but a toxic dynamic was festering within the National Executive Council.

This week the axe fell on the PMC’s senior-most minister, Richard Maru, from the National Planning portfolio, while Mr Marape has shown his former party the door.

Mr Bird said Mr O’Neill’s removal was a prerequisite for the MPs moving across, as they believe he had been undermining the new government.

“Everybody knew PNC was constantly undermining the Marape government. They were fighting in cabinet with the Marape government,” Mr Bird explained.

“So, it was degenerating. Things weren’t really over the last three months, so it made sense that you had to put in a circuit breaker somehow, and I think you could say we (the seven moving across) are the circuit breaker.”

Apart from Governor Bird and Mr Ling-Stuckey, the other MPs moving to government are Walter Schnaubelt, Timothy Masiu, William Nakin, Gary Juffa and former prime minister Sir Mekere Morauta.

Two of the MPs (Masiu and Nakin) are from Bougainville, the autonomous PNG region which is to have an independence referendum in November.

National Alliance not split

Five of the MPs moving to government are part of the National Alliance party, which has been the main opposition party since 2017.

Mr Schnaubelt echoed Mr Bird in saying that the National Alliance had not split, despite some of its MPs remaining in opposition.

National Alliance leader Patrick Pruaitch said the faction of his party was joining the government ranks with his blessing.

“The National Alliance believes that as Treasurer, Hon. Ian Ling-Stuckey, will drive a rational economic agenda that will be in the best interests of all Papua New Guineans.

“As a party we have spent considerable time working on an agenda for economic recovery and some of those policies can now be implemented.

Mr Pruaitch said the majority of NA MPs had agreed to support him as Opposition Leader – Mr Schnaubelt also confirmed Mr Pruaitch remained party leader with the backing of its MPs.

Consultative approach

Mr O’Neill has criticised the move to bring Mr Ling-Stuckey over as Treasurer, calling it a gross insult to other members of the government.

According to the former prime minister, Mr Marape was elected to parliament when he was a member of the PNC which was the country’s ruling party until May.

“Now the Prime Minister has chosen to reject the people’s choice and join another party, that is his prerogative, but it seems preposterous that he has created a post for the very man who opposed him numerous times in parliamentary debates on financial and economic matters.

“It seems the Hon. Ling-Stucky has had the last word,” Mr O’Neill lamented in a statement.

James Marape the member for Tari Pori is the new prime minister of Papua New Guinea. May 2019

James Marape Photo: Post Courier Newspaper

However, according to the East Sepik Governor, Mr Marape is a different kind of leader to Mr O’Neill, a “consultative” one who listens to others and is neither repressive nor vindictive.

Mr Bird described Mr Marape as a good prime minister with PNG’s interests at heart, who needed the help of committed and forward-thinking MPs to move the country forward. /radionz