Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Any gains from globe-trotting Prime Minister?

Editorial in The National, Papua New Guinea’s leading daily newspaper


PRIME Minister Grand Chief Sir Michael Somare does seem to have travelled much in recent times.

Since the Bali environment summit, he has been on official or semi-official trips which have taken him to Africa, the US, Australia, the Philippines, China, Indonesia again last week and this week to Japan.

Each of those trips cost a fair size of taxpayers’ money and the gains are not immediately visible.

Still, in all fairness, the case of the globe-trotting Prime Minister must be put in perspective.

Are the businesses which the Prime Minister leaves unattended by his absence those that only he can perform and perform well?

Are they urgent?

Has the nation suffered by his frequent absences from office?

Similarly, are the businesses he chooses to attend overseas such that only his personal presence would bring the greatest amount of good for this nation?

Are such businesses important and urgent for the well-being of the nation of PNG?

In this age of international terrorism, is our Prime Minister not endangering his life by frequent trips?

There is yet another line of inquiry and that is that a wandering Prime Minister might actually be signalling that he has lost interest in the affairs of State.

Let us examine each of these closely.

The type of government we practice in PNG ensures that no position is left unfilled if the incumbent leaves it temporarily. When the Prime Minister or indeed any other minister is called away on business, there is always another minister who is appointed to act in his or her place.

In the case of the Prime Minister, it is always the Deputy Prime Minister and if both are away, the most senior minister would normally do the honours.

Deputy Prime Minister Dr Puka Temu has shown himself on the occasions he has been acting Prime Minister to act decisively and responsibly.

So in the time that the Prime Minister has been away, has any serious affair of the State been mishandled or mismanaged?

To our knowledge the Prime Minister’s regular trips overseas have not resulted in any serious mishandling of affairs of the State back home.

He is not missed – and in politics that can be read negatively too.

If his presence in country was not missed, of what importance were the trips that the Prime Minister has chosen to take personally rather than delegate his ministers, most immediately his Foreign Affairs Minister Sam Abal?

The Prime Minister’s personal presence at the global conference on the environment at Bali, Indonesia, had immediate appeal and put PNG on the map.

As a small country, PNG has always been a keen supporter of environmental issues from a nuclear-free Pacific to the Kyoto Protocol but nowhere has it made the impact that its position on the environment at Bali did.

The environment is today the most important issue on the agenda of most governments. To be on top of environmental issues and to be recognised as a leader can bring tremendous goodwill and tangible benefits. There the Prime Minister has done well to be personally involved.

And as always, only heads of Governments can attend a Commonwealth Heads of Government meet, so the PM can be excused there. All the other trips could have been delegated to other ministers, many of them first timers who need the benefit of international exposure.

The Prime Minister does not need the experience and should only attend those conferences where his personal stature and seniority can gain PNG maximum benefit.

In this age of international terrorism, frequent trips by our Prime Minister abroad places him at greater risk of being involved in an incident and that would be a calamity that should be avoided.

The other matter is, of course, the cost of any one of these travels.

We would like to invite the Government to publish regular details of the cost of travels by any one of our important leaders, both public servants and politicians.

Along with this information, we would like to know what benefits there are that have come off these trips.

And finally, can we read in these frequent trips signs of a Prime Minister who is weary and perhaps no longer interested in the affairs of the State?

There is a thought but we are not qualified to answer this question either way.

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