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Jul 19, 2018 Last Updated 2:12 PM, Jul 19, 2018

Unity the key for Vanuatu

LAST month’s Vanuatu report in these pages saw the Kalsakau Opposition ready to stymie the Salwai Coalition Government. However, in the wake of a Chief Justice ruling which declared the parliamentary sitting termination by the Opposition “a disaster”, the Constitutional Review Committee begins its first sitting next week.

Constitutional review is what caused the ructions a month ago. And the Leader of the Opposition will be on the new committee. Working together presently seems to be the order of the day. The Opposition Leader has latterly even applauded the new restrictions on the usage of G cars by civil servants. Lands Minister Ralph Regenvanu is the chairman of the Constitutional Review Committee. MP Johnny Koanapo, who has been heading the Recovery Committee following Cyclone Pam, is vice chairman.

They will be making use of the expertise of many people from a variety of walks of life and following consultation with the electors of the country. Chairman Regenvanu told Islands Business that the CRC’s first report will be ready by the end of August. It should then be known whether a national referendum will be necessary.

The hope of all is that such agreement could be reached by the CRC membership that the expensive undertaking of a national referendum could be avoided. Chairman Regenvanu said the Government would only proceed to the tricky amendments to the Constitution after agreement had been achieved in the CRC.

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Red flag day

Police seize freedom symbol

ONE phone from the Indonesian Embassy in Suva was all it took for Fiji’s security apparatus to go into overdrive. Police officers descended on the Pacific Conference of Churches Secretariat and seized a Morning Star flag which had been raised in direct view of Jakarta’s Suva mission.

Around the same time the prime ministers of Papua New Guinea, the Solomon Islands, Vanuatu, and Fiji were meeting in Honiara. On the agenda were decolonisation and independence – including the right to self-determination in West Papua. Back in Suva, civil society organisations had organised activities in support of West Papua’s bid for full membership of the Melanesian Spearhead Group.

On July 12 the Morning Star flag – symbol of West Papuan independence from the Netherlands in 1961 – was raised on PCC property. The next day young activists took part in a display of poetry and art at the Fiji Museum under the auspices of the Pacific Network on Globalization (PANG). Indonesia responded by sending officials to the museum to take pictures of the artwork and the activists.

Fijian Ministry of Defence officials also took pictures at the museum. Minutes earlier the Indonesian Embassy had made an official complaint to the Foreign Affairs Ministry which in turn called Defence. Later in the day intelligence officers watched from across the road as young people gathered at a peace vigil to pray for the people of West Papua and an end to human rights abuse.

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Problematic Panguna

THE MINERALS in Panguna are owned by the people of Bougainville as they shed blood over them and it is certainly possible Panguna mine, once a major producer and one of the largest open pit mines in the world will not reopen, if landowners oppose it, or if Bougainville Copper Limited (BCL) don’t return and alternative developers can’t be found. BCL once operated the Panguna mine, which sparked a decade-long civil war in 1989 and remains a source of tension between the autonomous island of Bougainville and the Papua New Guinea (PNG) mainland.

Given the tortured history of the Panguna mine it would be completely unacceptable to virtually all Bougainvilleans if that 53 per cent equity were to be transferred to the National Government. It would be political suicide for the ABG, and potentially a source of conflict, if the ABG were to agree to the National Government becoming the majority shareholder in BCL.

The suggestion of conflict is a serious one, considering the large number of weapons still on the island and the highly factionalised population. Achieving agreement on revenue sharing with the island is vital because it was one of the prime reasons for conflict over the mine.

“The key issue is not Panguna reopening or any commercial consideration involved. In fact, given both low commodity prices and sovereign risk issues, there is little likelihood of reopening for a long time.

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Nation under siege

THE pressure from a nationwide university student unrest, union unrests and vote of no confidence against Prime Minister Peter O’Neill would not be as high if the economy were stronger. PNG’s economy is one of the most heavily resource-dependent in the world and the unforeseen collapse in commodity prices resulted in a 20 per cent drop in revenue in 2015.

In an attempt to protect the government’s big-ticket policies core services such as education, health and infrastructure were all cut by more than 30 per cent. Facing a significant cash crunch, the government is under growing pressure to live up to its lofty election commitments, and the strain on primary service delivery is hurting Papua New Guineans.

Had commodity prices remained high allegations of corruption and fiscal management, not to mention the major foreign exchange shortages now facing the country, would have been far more muted as the government continued to ramp up expenditure. For O’Neill, in a time when core services are being slashed, the dissatisfaction with government excess at the expense of everyday Papua New Guineans has become far more acute.

Poor physical management of the country’s economy formed part of the students’ petition calling on the Prime Minister to step aside, also citing multiple criminal investigations against him and attempts to shut down the police force’s corruption unit rendering him unfit for office.

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O’Neill survives vote

PNG PRESSURE Political turmoil, student unrest and strikes cripple economy.

PRIME MINISTER Peter O’Neill has convincingly defeated the vote of no confidence in him to remain in office despite uncertainties created by nationwide protests and strikes by pilots, transport workers, and doctors. The opposition moved a motion of no-confidence in his leadership but only managed to secure 21 votes – well short of the 56 required.

Parliamentarians debated for around 90 minutes in a special court-ordered sitting, broadcast throughout PNG. After more than two years of political crisis over a long-running corruption investigation culminated in police shooting at students at a protest last month, the parliament sat on June 22 to determine the future of Peter O’Neill.

The opposition leader, Don Polye, had been nominated as an alternative leader but both he and O’Neill were prevented from speaking after the parliamentary debate was shut down. The Supreme Court had ordered the parliament to be recalled to vote on the opposition’s motion, and huge crowds of Papua New Guineans queued on that Friday morning to attend. Police had been placed on high alert.

This was the opposition’s fourth attempt to hold a vote of no-confidence in Mr O’Neill but in the end it couldn’t convince enough governments MPs to switch sides. The Prime Minister has been under pressure since early 2014 when a warrant was issued for his arrest.

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