By JEFFREY ELAPA
THE United Resources Party yesterday swelled its numbers to 16, making it the second largest party in the coalition government of Prime Minister Sir Michael Somare, The National reports.
Five members from opposition leader Sir Mekere Morauta’s PNG Party and New Generation yesterday announced their defection, which effectively meant that URP leader Anderson Agiru can stake a claim for the deputy prime minister’s job in what could be a Somare-Agiru government.
It is common practice in a coalition government for the second largest party to be given the second highest post in cabinet.
Agiru’s newfound political strength was the result of the five MPs – Francis Awesa (Imbonggu), Isaac Joseph (Mendi), John Garia (Chimbu), Ferau Orimyo (Henganofi) and Steven Kama (South Bougainville) – deserting the opposition to be part of the government so
that their people would benefit from services currently on offer.
Neither the prime minister’s office nor the opposition had commented, but Agiru announced his new-look URP to the media at parliament house yesterday.
It was not without incident as URP deputy leader William Duma, the petroleum minister, barged into the meeting claiming he was not consulted.
Duma entered the B2 conference room alone, stood at the doorway, and announced that he did not authorise the conference.
Duma also said the five did not follow the proper process to join the party.
He then retreated and left. Duma’s action stunned his party members, journalists and members of the public who were present.
Agiru, who had earlier delayed the conference by 45 minutes, trying to contact Duma to attend, said there seemed to have been a misunderstanding between party officials and the leader about the timing of the press conference.
To date, other MPs who had also joined the URP from the opposition ranks were James Lagea (Kagua-Erave), Puri Ruing (Dei) and Patrick Kondo (Daulo) while James Lagea (Kagua-Erave) dismantled his one-man party in government to join force with Agiru.
Defections had been more common in recent months after the Organic Law on Political Parties and Candidates was declared null and void by the Supreme Court last July.
Komo-Margarima MP and Climate Change Minister Francis Potape, who is also assisting the prime minister on LNG matters, said the mass exodus was a sign of confidence in the URP and thanked and welcomed the defecting MPs to the government.
The five MPs said in a joint statement their decision was, importantly, to be in government to fast-track and give top priority to the
They said the highlands region deserved the best road network as it was home to most of the major national resource projects and agricultural commodities such as coffee and tea, while noting that the region contributed three-quarters of the nation’s coffers but no due recognition had been given to its leaders.
They said that after several months of hard decision-making, they saw the enormous potential the URP had in the running of the nation in the near future.
URP was a party which had members drawn from all the regions of PNG, making it an institution that would unite everyone.
Agiru welcomed the addition, saying that it was a good sign of stability and hope in the Somare-led coalition government.
“The United Resource Party is an institution that belongs to the people of PNG, based on the value of resources, including the natural resources, and, most importantly, the human resource which is the greatest of all resources.”
He stressed that the MPs had joined the URP at their own free will.
“There was no indulgence or promises for the credible leaders to join the party.
“They are credible leaders who have decided to join the party and we respect their decision,” he said.
“I must make it clear that URP and NA will still be partners in government until the next election,” Agiru said.
But observers said the URP move, and the imminent arrival of others in government in support of the prime minister, meant “sacrifices” would have to be made to accommodate them.
“All the prime minister has to do is pass the 2011 budget in November, and he gets into the safe period. Then, he can sacrifice men, likely from within NA, to accommodate those coming in.
“This will be done with the future in mind,” an observer said.