20 Responses

  1. Bal Kama
    Bal Kama April 17, 2015 at 9:54 am

    Hi Jan Kees van Donge

    With respect, it is very unfortunate that you refer to being a “foreigner”, hence the weight of potential mistakes. I don’t think such imputation is necessary. Please read my comment. It does not mention, either direct or indirectly, your citizenry or imply anything of that sort. (I do not think that of you or any other fellow academic for that matter. Please don’t make such assumption. It will do no good but only subvert what should otherwise be an objective discussion).

    The three arguments you’ve pointed out are indeed critical and your article should be commended for taking a rare stand or pointing out the other side of the ‘coin.’ My comment below does not dispute any of these. I only noted that the facts which now “appear to be in dispute” (as argued by Sonja) need to be re-looked. It seems you have done that now. I will leave it to those that raise the issue of facts to respond.

    Indeed, while a ‘detached’ and objective intelligentsia is needed in such perilous time, we are also reminded that those who appear to be one must also act responsibly.



  2. Jan Kees van Donge
    Jan Kees van Donge April 15, 2015 at 9:10 pm

    Dear Sonja (and Bal),

    First and foremost: It is irritating when a foreigner makes mistakes such as misspelling of names. Such mistakes can be considered inexcusable, but such a mistake does not affect the argument made in my contribution to the blog. In fact, none of your accusations of misinformation affects the argument in my blog, which consists of three main points. First, O’Neill, in a fractious political culture, has managed to keep a broad coalition together. Second, he has shifted political alliances in ways that went against the people who brought the O’Neill/Namah government to power. Third, O’Neill deflects his criticism from corruption issues to a discourse on development. I made these arguments without declaring whether I found this a desirable or an undesirable state of affairs. The blog does not question the validity or sincerity of moral concerns about the O’Neill government. However, it pleads for observation and analysis in addition to such emotions. It tries to formulate, on the basis of observation, a logic that is manifest in the present political situation in PNG. As none of the criticisms made affect the argument, there is little intellectual gain to be made in debating the details mentioned. However, the criticisms doubt my intellectual integrity. These suggest that I wrote the blog off the top of my head without concern for sources. That is not true, and I will illustrate this in some points that deal with the central issues in my argument:

    (a) The size of the opposition consisted, according to you, immediately after the elections of 17 seats and not four seats. I do not understand where the figure of 17 comes from. My sources: On the official website of the parliamentary opposition, four members are mentioned: Belden Namah; Sam Basil; Allan Marat; Ross Seymour. In November 2014, they were joined by Don Polye and his followers: “PORT MORESBY, Papua New Guinea (PNG Post-Courier, Nov. 19, 2014) – Sacked treasury minister and leader of the Triumph Heritage Empowerment Don Polye has moved over to the Opposition bench, bringing three members of his party to beef the number of the Opposition to seven.” Even if the opposition were of the size mentioned by my critics, the size would be minute.

    (b) I remembered the mutual accusations between O’Neill and Somare from an editorial in the National after the post-elections reconciliation. I may be wrong to have assumed this to be in the public domain. However, there is no doubt about the shifting of alliances. The return of Arthur Somare as an influential consultant is the main point for my argument. I got this information originally from a personal source (a high-ranking ex-member of the judiciary who is a personal friend of Arthur Somare). There are more sources: It is found as a rumour on the internet (here and here); Arthur Somare’s sister Betha, the former government press officer, did not, however, deny the rumour (accessed 14 April 2014). See also his self-promoting interview in Business Melanesia in May 2014, accessible here.

    (c) The most serious accusation against me is that: “it glosses over the facts and when it does deal with this issue of widespread and continuing allegations of corruption and the activities of the PNG authorities in regard to this its language is wishy washy.” Because of these matters, the article is considered “worthless” and an “insult”. I definitely do not gloss over facts: Above I mentioned for example the importance of discussing the position of Arthur Somare. That is an issue which is glossed over far too often. Whatever one’s feelings may be, O’Neill has thrown down the gauntlet to all institutions that are expected to bring him to account. To date, it is not clear whether any of the institutions mentioned will be able or willing to stand unequivocally up to O’Neill. That seems to me a fact. Sam Koim and the Task Force Sweep did impressive work up to January 2012 under the O’Neill/Namah government. Thereafter it stagnated however, and definitely so after it challenged O’Neill in the Paraka case. Task Force Sweep has no foundation in law and can be ignored by those in power. The ultimate authority in prosecuting corruption is the DPP, and this is a prime ministerial appointment. This power is used because there are prosecutions for corruption under O’Neill. The latest one is the case against Ronnie Knight, which showed clearly the power of the DPP: “Mr. Knight was referred to the Leadership Tribunal by Public Prosecutor acting on the referral and findings by the Ombudsman Commission (OC).” Bryan Kramer: “Post analysis-Ronnie Knight guilty of misconduct in office”. Whether we like it or not, the prosecution of corruption is embedded in the game of politics: I am trying to bring out how it plays in the power structure. That has to be analysed.

    Finally: Corruption is a word that arouses overwhelming interest and emotion in PNG. That is laudable, but PNG also needs an intelligentsia that is detached and can analyse situations

  3. RSawagi
    RSawagi April 14, 2015 at 7:20 pm

    PM has at least done something good if you look at it carefully. He needs us all to contribute ideas…

  4. Steven
    Steven April 14, 2015 at 10:13 am

    I have a narrow interpretation of the article, as I am of the view that the underlying idea I gathered from the article is that Peter O’Neill is a skillfull politician. Despite some factual errors regarding names, and chronoolgy of events, the point made is not without basis. He has outmanouvered his opponents. Of course, there is existing allegations against him, and the methods used to win and maintain political support rasies some eyebrows. However, he played his cards well to maintain and remain a prime minister despite all the adversity. That demonstrates that he is a skillfull politician.

  5. Bri Olewale
    Bri Olewale April 13, 2015 at 3:12 pm

    O’Neil certainly has been very adroit in maintaining his grip on power and dealing with any attempts at removing him from the leadership. In many ways it is similar to the recent NA hegemony with Somare at the forefront of that leadership group and ruling with a grand coalition….

    He has in effect continued the de-parliamentarization started by Somare and his party (check Matthew Shuggarts blog for some discussion on this)

    No engagement with Parliament is probably critical to such politicians who yearn to such periods of uninterrupted rule.

    For me as I read this article my gut reaction is who cares… In this day and age and with the requirements for developing and growing our country how does being a skilfully politician “advance the civilisation”?

    Both Somare and O’Neil had enough opportunity to build this nation up and take us to a different level of freedom and property… However despite the record budgets not much has changed in rural PNG where the bulk of the population lives.

    It’s interesting having this article to read as we think about the leadership style and traits of LKY of Singapore however no comparison is possible.

  6. Sonja Barry Ramoi
    Sonja Barry Ramoi April 10, 2015 at 12:37 pm

    I am sure most people interested in and knowledgeable about PNG Politics would have detected a number of errors when reading Professor Jan Kees van Donge’s recent article entitled ‘Peter O’Neill’s statecraft: a skilful politician’; however since Stephen Howes, a Development Policy Blog editor, has basically invited me to identify some of the errors, here is my assessment in brief as follows:

    1. The Professor stated: “The opposition is minute and, immediately after the 2012 election, consisted of only four seats.”

    My response: Immediately after the 2012 election, the Opposition did NOT consist of only four seats. The Opposition, immediately after the 2012 election consisted of 17 seats.

    2. Professor: “This increased when four members of Don Polye’s T.H.E party joined the opposition after being expelled from the government coalition. It was striking, however, that they were very reluctant to join the opposition and defined themselves initially as being on the middle bench when O’Neill dismissed Don Polye as minister of finance.”

    My response: At the material time, Prime Minister O’Neill did not dismiss Don Polye as Minister of Finance because James Marape was the Minister for Finance and still is the Minister for Finance. Don Polye at the time he was dismissed was the Minister for Treasury.

    Furthermore, Don Polye initially was silent about the reason why he was sacked and chose to stay on in government until after the UBS Deal was exposed by the then Opposition Leader Belden Namah. To my knowledge Don Polye was forced to move on his own to the middle bench, without any of his T.H.E Party members beside him, where he stayed for months (March-November) until his move to the Opposition with his remaining party members.

    3. Professor: “The three ministers belonging to T.H.E. stayed on.”

    My response: The professors’ comment implies that T.H.E party had three Ministers in government who stayed on as Ministers after T.H.E Party Leader Don Polye (Treasury) and Kikori Open MP Mark Maipaikai (Labour & Industrial Relations) were sacked, however there were four T.H.E party MP’s (and not three) who stayed on as Ministers: Deputy Prime Minister & Inter-Government Relations Minister Leo Dion, Labour and Industrial Relations Minister Benjamin Poponawa, Forest Minister Douglas Tomuriesa and Higher Education Minister Delilah Gore. Prior to this, three T.H.E Party members who were ministers had already been sacked – firstly T.H.E Party member David Arore was sacked followed by Don Polye and Mark Maipaikai. Although the member for Ijivitari David Arore lost his portfolio he decided to stay on in government by also joining PNC. Eventually after T.H.E Party acquired the distinction of possibly being the first political party in PNG to get thrown out of government (in late August/early September 2014) it seems that the remaining members of T.H.E Party had no choice but to join their Party Leader Don Polye. Five of them, including Don Polye, moved to the Opposition in the November sitting where I believe, based on legal advice (as per the Constitution & OLIPPAC), Don Polye then proceeded to have himself illegitimately elected as the Leader of the Opposition…but that’s another story.

    4. Professor: “Michael Somare’s National Alliance also defined their position as on the middle bench when they formally left the coalition.”

    My response: National Alliance never “also defined their position as on the middle bench when they formally left the coalition” because National Alliance never moved to the Middle Bench. National Alliance never formally or informally left the coalition. The parliamentary leader of National Alliance is Aitape-Lumi MP Patrick Pruaitch who replaced Don Polye as Treasury Minister. Former NA Leader Grand Chief Sir Michael Somare moved to the middle bench late last year at the end of the November sitting but not National Alliance.

    5. Professor: “O’Neill quickly dismissed William Duma as minister of mines and established dominance in the resources sector.”

    My Response: At the time, Hagen Open MP William Duma was Minister for Petroleum & Energy. Namatanai Open MP Byron Chan was/is the Minister for Mining.

    6. Professor: “William Duma was succeeded by Francis Potape, whom Duma had succeeded in 2011.”

    My response: The Professors comment implies that Francis Potape replaced William Duma as the Minister for Petroleum & Energy. This is incorrect. Madang Open MP, Nixon Duban took over the Petroleum & Energy portfolio from William Duma.

    7. Professor: “Polye was sidelined as minister of finance when O’Neill clinched the major loan from UBS to buy the shares in Oil Search.”

    My response: The Professor’s comment is not entirely correct because Don Polye was the Minister for Treasury at the time.

    8. Professor: “Most notable is the ten year prison sentence imposed on Paul Tientsen.”

    My response: Paul Tiensten was not sentenced to ten years imprisonment. He was sentenced to nine years; however four years was suspended on condition he repays the money he was found guilty of misappropriating (by writing a foot note) so in fact he received a 5 year sentence but that’s a moot point.

    9. Professor: “O’Neill has in fact taken control of the anti-corruption bodies, and that could be an important incentive to conform in PNG’s political culture.”

    My response: I believe that what the Professor stated as a fact when he claimed “O’Neill has in fact taken control of the anti-corruption bodies” is completely false. It is absolutely not true plus what were you trying to say at the end, Professor by suggesting “that could be an important incentive to conform in PNG’s political culture”?

    I received a number of comments, publically and privately, regarding the Professor’s article after I posted a link to his article.

    One commentator said:

    “As another person commented – it glosses over the facts and when it does deal with this issue of widespread and continuing allegations of corruption and the activities of the PNG authorities in regard to this its language is wishy washy. Examples: “controversial politician”. “Controversial issues surrounding predatory behaviour.” “Governance issues”. If Development Policy Blog is going to serve any purpose then let’s have the full truth and nothing but the truth. This is the article’s biggest error. It is the sin of omission and the giant one which makes it truly worthless. But there are others – and another one is an error of fact that insults everyone involved in the fight for truth and justice against official corruption. The article states that “O’Neill has taken control of the anti-corruption bodies.”

    NO HE HAS NOT. The Ombudsman Commission remains independent. The judiciary remains independent. The vast bulk of the police force remains independent. Development Policy Blog owes them an apology. There are other equally ridiculous statements in the article, but I can’t really be bothered debating them.”

    Regarding typographical errors (typos) in the article I noticed only three typos. Former Prime Minister Pais Wingti’s name was incorrectly spelt “Pius Winti” plus former Pomio Open MP Paul Tiensten’s last name was incorrectly spelt “Tientsen”. I could of course dispute other comments made by the Professor apparently based on his own perception of Peter O’Neill’s performance as Prime Minister but that would be time-consuming and pretty much a waste of my time. However, I will pose one more question to the Professor which maybe he can take the time later to answer:

    Professor: “He seemed to be in an almost existential struggle with Michael Somare in 2011-2012 during the O’Neill/Namah government. Each argued that the other should be in jail.”

    My response: Perhaps the Professor made his comment based on TV journalist Kathy Novak’s interview of Sir Michael Somare in which Sir Michael said “I’m not going to let it go. Peter will go to jail.” Where and when did Peter O’Neill argue or even say that Sir Michael Somare ‘should be in jail’? After Sir Michael Somare entered parliament during the political impasse and served court orders to the Speaker?

    Overall, I found the Professor’s article interesting; however if I was to grade it for objectivity I would give him a “D” because of all the errors which I find inexcusable especially coming from a Professor of Political Science when the correct information is out there in the public domain and of course information could have been easily cross-checked and corrected in his article before publication. We all make mistakes, but I believe the Professor made one mistake too many in his article, an article which I note journalist Rowan Callick recently quoted part of in his article: ‘Peter O’Neill: PNG’s champion of progress’ published by The Australian.

    1. Stephen Howes
      Stephen Howes April 11, 2015 at 6:37 pm

      Hi Sonja,

      Thanks for taking the time to make this detailed response. I’ve fixed the typos you pointed out, and will leave the issues of substance to the author.

      Just a point not about this comment but to everyone considering contributing to this discussion: we very much welcome your comments, but, as per our blog and comments policy, we won’t publish personal attacks.

      Regards, Stephen.

    2. Bal Kama
      Bal Kama April 12, 2015 at 3:08 pm

      Hi Sonja

      It is commendable of you to take time and deliberate a detailed response. You mention Rowan Callick’s article at the end. Perhaps he should be alerted to your response so he can cross-check some of these facts that appear to be in dispute.

      Regards, Bal

    3. Michael Kabuni
      Michael Kabuni April 14, 2015 at 6:42 pm

      Professor Donge did get several facts wrong. However, his central argument that O’Niell is a skillful politician cannot be dismissed easily. O’Niell’s actions has invoked overwhelming criticisms and many failed to see the political genius he appears to be. How has is been possible for him to maintain his government despite controversial decisions and firing close associates? Lack of accuracy in facts should not dismiss the central argument: O’Niell appears to be a clever politician!

  7. Wilson Thompson
    Wilson Thompson April 10, 2015 at 11:39 am

    The article describes the nature of the PM. He is skilful by playing political parties and groups and provinces against each other. Also dangles carrots and lollies such as aged care free health or education to gain support and popularity from vulnerable majority of population… popularity policies may be a drain on the economy and cannot backfire.

  8. Apo Gairoe
    Apo Gairoe April 9, 2015 at 10:07 pm

    I just had a glance at the blog and I decide to post this point for you to ponder over:

    What you have said may be true about Peter O’Neill’s political skills. But this does not show that he is truly straight. He made sure his rival candidates for prime-ministerial post are eliminated: Paul Tiensten is in jail; Beldan Namah out of the way; Don Polye relegated to opposition; Mark Maipekai thrown out in the cold; and lately Richard Maru cautioned to stay out off the limelight.

    O’Neill was able to get into power. The events that unfolded during the last national election saw that he made sure his electorate of “Ialibu-Pangia” was the first electorate poling took place and that he was declared winner even before any other electorate polled.

    So O’Neill had the upper hand in shaping the outcome of the national election that led to the formation of his government.

    Check out the dates and the time (—etc;) and draw your conclusion from there.

  9. budy max
    budy max April 2, 2015 at 10:46 pm

    Nothing to be gained by going against him? Have you not considered the fight for the rule of law by Sam Koim, Kauba, Eluh, Damaru, Gitua?

  10. X-UPNG Political junkie
    X-UPNG Political junkie April 1, 2015 at 3:26 pm

    Professor, after reading your above article I can summarise that the said regime and rule unmistakeably resembles “Qualities of a prince” chpt 14-19. (Niccolo Marchiavelli-The Prince).

  11. Sonja Barry Ramoi
    Sonja Barry Ramoi April 1, 2015 at 2:37 pm

    Professor Jan Kees van Donge. Your article is full of errors – incorrect statements; not entirely correct statements/incorrect information plus typo’s. A copy of your article was shared with our admin team earlier today and I advised a co-admin not to share it on PNG NEWS (PNG’s largest social media news forum where we now have more than 102,000 members) because of all the errors. I believe it has already been deleted from The Voice of PNG – another large & popular PNG forum on Fb. Personally I am surprised that any Professor of Political Science could publicly make such errors and I am surprised that the Blogmaster of this site never detected all the errors and went ahead and published it.

    1. Stephen Howes
      Stephen Howes April 3, 2015 at 7:47 pm

      Hi Sonja, Thanks for your comment. I want to respond as one of the editors of this blog, We publish articles representing all points of view, as long as they are of a good standard. I would be surprised then if this article was full of errors as you claim. We also proofread all the articles we publish so I would also be surprised if there were lots of typos. At the same time, we always welcome feedback, and we would be very grateful if you could point out some of the errors you think the article contains, whether they are errors of substance of typos. This would also strengthen your argument. It is not convincing to say that the article if full of errors but not to give any examples.
      Regards, Stephen Howes.

  12. Koni Poiye
    Koni Poiye March 29, 2015 at 8:57 pm

    I Koni Poiye from Simbu would like to say that Peter O’Niell is the most influential figure in the political system of our country, who has the nature of changing position of the “BIG BOYS” whenever he feel that something will go wrong. He did this just for the good of the people of this country, but some of his actions are good and affect others positively and some are bad and affect others negatively.

    But I think he must follow the will of God to lead the country forward, because when the righteous rule the people rejoice. The welfare of the people and future of the country is very important, and therefore must be guarded well through critical thinking and evaluated decision making.

    DWU SRS1
    Simbu Stone.

  13. Peter
    Peter March 26, 2015 at 11:49 am

    Ok. If bribery and bullying are the way to go in demonstrating political mastery. Then I guess you’re right.

    It is well known that the price of Political Mastery is K10-K15 million in DSIP and related funds per year, per pollie and … yes … if you sit in the opposition your chances are somewhat diminished in getting anything at all with which to help along your re-election.
    So, yes again, not a popular seat.

    Politics without Principle was one of the deadly sins leading to downfall for a nation according to Ghandi. Not to mention Wealth without Work and Commerce without Ethics. I guess things have changed and now these outcomes are worthy of respect in PNG, even by academia.

    Bribing the pollies with the parallel govt. system of DSIP and the populous with handouts and confusing and badly thought out free education and health policies is not too hard if you have your hands on the public purse and feel like throwing out lollies. No-one (who counts) will argue.

    Ensuring the political appointment of heads of the public service, I guess, is another recent stroke of mastery. That potential source of free and fair advice and leadership is now also no threat to political agendas. Disbanding Task Force Sweep and the steady weakening of the “justice” system also brilliant, I suppose. There are very few checks and balances left. Rumours in the media suggest the existence of the Ombudsman Commission is even threatened. Unbelievable.

    I wonder how the economic and social dynamics of seeds that have being planted in recent years will pan out in future years. Cartels and cronyism are the name of the game and will be a bigger problem than blatant corruption. It would be an interesting social exercise to trace the connections between the “successful” businesses around the country, the boards of statutory bodies (from the Bank of PNG down) and their relationships to political personalities.

    Businesses are not thriving through innovation, competitiveness, quality and value for money. They are growing through political patronage, being in the in-crowd and their growing wealth and emerging family dynasties a la Indonesia and the Philippines are funded through public funds. Even through overseas development funds in many instances.

    Projects to award, materials for schools and health facilities, scholarships for higher education students … the funds for these are now often in the hands or under the influence of the pollies and their “executive officers” instead of strong public systems. So those who care about social justice are not only challenged to ensure the “poor” have the same opportunity as “the rich” … we have the added complication of the politically marginalised. Happy days for the cronies, their families and employees – but not a recipe for a healthy economy or society. At least, not when I went to school.

    One thing observers, commentators and even the politicians themselves seem to forget is that this current government is not a new government. The faces around the table making the decisions are mostly those that were in past governments. It’s just a game of musical chairs.

    I guess I’ll go now and start teaching my kids how to really get ahead in this world. Thanks for the lesson.

  14. Mark Davis
    Mark Davis March 20, 2015 at 11:08 am

    Any discussion that blatantly glosses over O’Neill’s corruption, as this one does, is a worthless discussion. This is a gross insult to all those individuals, institutions and organisations that are fighting the overwhelming evil of corruption in PNG.

    1. Lawrence Yurus
      Lawrence Yurus March 21, 2015 at 8:40 pm

      O’Neill has mastered the art of diverting attention all the time. When he is allegation against him/his government for being corruption he quickly comes up with some mega development strategy or major changes in government or policy shift to quickly divert attention.

      O’Neill is also very luck the PNG politics is heavily based on personality and tribalism. People vote you because of personality and because the tribe is satisfied that you are the best person to represent them, No emphasis is placed on your person integrity, morals, or honesty. That is for PNG to worry about, not your tribe.

      On a national scale, he can’t be removed as a leader because he has the power of influence over his tribe/clansman as the best person to represent them. The only way to get rid of this controversial politician is by the laws of this country. We have to enforce the laws without fear or favour to ensure O’Neill is removed from Parliament and PNG politics for good.

      It would take a selfless Chief Ombudsman, Public Prosecutor, Police Commissioner and the rest of PNG to apply enough pressure on O’Neill to make him succumb.

    2. Jan Kees van Donge
      Jan Kees van Donge March 28, 2015 at 3:40 am

      Greetings Peter,
      You may benefit from reading my blog again. I argue that after the elections of 2012 there was a restoration of old forces in PNG politics that had been under attack in 2011-2012. So, you agree with me when you say that “The faces around the table making the decisions are mostly those that were in past governments.
      Jan Kees
      Dear Mark Davis,
      Again, I think that some rereading of my blog would be good. I write about O’Neill being a controversial politician, I write about accusations of predatory behaviour. I do therefore not gloss over these. However, the reason that I wrote this blog is that there is too much emotional condemnation at the expense of observation.
      Jan Kees.
      Dear Lawrence,
      I differ in opinion with you on the tribal nature of O’Neill’s dominance. He has managed to become more of a national politician than any other in his generation. I agree with you that the country needs an aggressive anti corruption/misgovernance culture. However, I do think that any leadership that emerges will have to operate in an environment that compromises have to be made in this field: there is no group or movement that can take over.
      Jan Kees,

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