THREE MONTHS AGO IN AUGUST I published an article entitled Cabinets of mendacious Curiosities which offered a commentary on the pscyhology of lying and deceit that is so much part of politics. The article was inspired by prevailing disagreements over the legality of a deal brokered between the PNG Government and a consortium of companies to produce liquified natural gas (LNG) over the next 50 years. The deal promises to bring into PNG an anticipated annual revenue of about K2.76 billion.
The disagreements came to light when the State company, Petromin, was left out from participating in the deal. If Petromin wanted to participate, it must find its own money to purchase its share of equity. The PNG Government was to be represented by another organisation called Independent Private Business Corporation (IPBC) that comes under the Ministry of Public Enterprises currently governed by Arthur Somare who is also the son of the Prime Minister, Michael Somare.
The decision to appoint IPBC as the representative of the State in the gas deal was made through an executive cabinet decision chaired by the prime minister and promoted by his son who is also a minister in the cabinet. At the time of that cabinet decision, no legislative instrument existed to legitimate the transfer and the management of the States equity participation from Petromin to IPBC. Arthur Somare cited economic feasibility as the deciding factor. Stories have emerged that a certain minister exerted political influence to get the billion dollar deal organised even to the extent of retaining state officers to work on in the curious hours of a night.
As a legally constituted entity, Petromin saw its exclusion as unconstitutional and after a series of media campaigns it instituted legal proceedings to force its entry into the gas deal. This caused politicians to go up in arms against Petromin. One minister in particular, Paul Tiensten, who is responsible for National Planning and Government Business, saw Petromins legal battle against IPBC as an assault on the prerogatives of the Cabinet. There was no reason for the ministers outburst except to demonstrate his loyalty and affection for the Somare family. A truce of sorts was established and Petromin was made to withdraw the case.
IPBC is headed by a Mr Glen Blake whom we have now learnt that he also manages the private businesses of the Somare family. Undoubtedly the Somare-Blake combination have found favour in powerful places. A legislation is being developed to give legal mandate to IPBC to act as the State representative in the gas deal. The legislation is expected to be passed soon and this will secure the State equity through a bond arrangment financed by an Arab investment company. Arthur Somare and Glen Blake negotiated this bond arrangement following their return from United Arab Emirates.
While the Somare-Temu government is preparing the law to mandate IPBC to represent and execute the State interest in the gas deal, a group of concerned landowners are challenging the constitutional basis of the entire deal. Aside from whether or not the case is prosecuted successfuly, the process of litigation itself will demand that the gas deal is suspended until the legalities are sorted out. So the process must return to where it should have started.
It seem evident that the Somare Government subsribes to a philosophy of defeatism whose moral thrives on using ends to justify the means. An end may be good and virtuous but the means of securing such an end must be held in some measure of proportional alignment. If the LNG project is like building a house, we cannot build a good house under bad weather conditions and using bad materials. I do not understand why the Somare Government has to overtake procedures by getting their objectives in place first before discovering that it needs to cover its tracks. One thing is clear is that the Somare family is already very rich, wealthy and very powerful. Recent reports of their acquisition of luxurious homes in Australia validates this. However, its style of politics has shown no respect for the rule of law and general good taste. This family has grown rich and powerful from the privileges of political offices it has enjoyed over time since the 1960s but sadly it is also arrogant and indifferent to the interests of common people.
The rule of law is threatened when an oligarchy raises its ugly head. I do not know if an organisation such as the Ombudsman Commission can use its powers to examine the administrative procedures of law-making in particular and the general spirit of democracy based on the separation of powers? The triumph of an oligarchy reveals that the sanctity of the Parliament-as the seat of peoples power-has dwindled into an institution that manufactures and radiates mistrust and suspicion amongst its people.
Constant legal cases that contest the moral and validity of executive decisions attest to the fact that the moral neutrality of Parliament cannot be stabilised because the values it has and should stand for have been overtaken by the executive arm of government that is driven on the whims of an oligarchy. If politics and vested interests accelerate the merging of the separate arms of government, especially the Parliament and the Executive, the ideal of democracy will dissolve into a political climate that glorifies the dictatorship of the rich and powerful.