Monday, June 20, 2011

Senior cabinet posts remain unoccupied

ACTING Prime Minister Sam Abal has yet to make ministerial appointments for the Foreign Affairs and Petroleum and Energy portfolios, The National reports.

By yesterday, no new appointments had been announced as lobbying heats along the corridors of power at Waigani.

Abal is believed to be under pressure from his National Alliance party and coalition partners who are vying for the key jobs leading into the elections.

Sources close to the acting prime minister said he was still consulting his NA party members, regional groupings, party executives and coalition partners to fill the two vacancies created by the sacking of Don Polye and William Duma.

Last Friday, the opposition called on Abal to immediately appoint the new ministers to give investor confidence in government.

Anglimp South-Waghi MP Jamie Maxtone-Graham said during grievance debate in parliament the appointments were taking longer than expected.

He urged Abal to stand his ground and not bow down to pressure from his party.

Maxtone-Graham said the acting prime minister "must stand firm in the face of adversity to make decisions for the good of the country".

Juha landowner leader Hengebe Haluya has called on Abal to immediately appoint new ministers for petroleum and energy and affairs given the importance of the LNG project.

"Abal is taking too much time in making new appointments," he said.

"If Duma and Polye have done nothing wrong, then reinstate them instead of destabilising the government."

Haluya said if Abal could not reinstate them, "then appoint former treasury and finance minister and Aitape-Lumi MP Patrick Pruaitch to the important petroleum and energy portfolio".

"We, the landowners, want Pruaitch back as minister or reshuffle cabinet and give him back treasury and finance," Haluya said.

He said the MoA and ministerial commitments had been delayed for a long time while "Waigani politics takes over".

Hides PDL1 landowner chief Stanis Talu said Duma and his colleague government ministers Patrick Pruaitch, Paul Tiensten and Arthur Somare had been the key state players in progressing the LNG deal.

"During the umbrella benefits sharing agreement (UBSA) meeting in Kokopo in 2009, Duma, as the minister responsible for the Oil & Gas Act, made commitments to certain landowner representatives to pay them business development grants, with more than K115 million committed and was endorsed for payment by Pruaitch when he was minister for finance and treasury," Talu said.

"With Pruaitch now holding another ministerial portfolio and Duma sacked, we fear that the commitments made at the UBSA and the licensed-based benefits sharing agreements (LBBSA) will not be looked at seriously, or not even considered and progressed further."

He said cabinet had endorsed the commitments through NEC decision No.96/2010 and a total of K93 million was approved for payment.

"In the 2010 supplementary budget, NEC approved the ministerial commitments to be captured for payment. This was done and an appropriation bill was also passed for funds to be allocated (ministerial commitments).

"As such, there is no point in Abal, Treasurer Peter O'Neill and Southern Highlands Governor Anderson Agiru hijacking the payment of LNG funds as these and other project-related funds do not come under their responsibilities," Talu said.

"With Duma and Polye now out of the way, other politicians can now have a field day with landowners' funds as they count down the days towards the general election."

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