Sat, Jun 08, 2019 - Page 6 News List

Papua New Guinea leader announces reformist Cabinet

WIN FOR THE COUNTRY:James Marape named a petroleum minister who has been critical of foreign firms’ deals and vowed to review deals with them


Papua New Guinea’s new prime minister yesterday unveiled his Cabinet, naming a harsh critic of international gas projects as his petroleum minister and an anti-corruption campaigner to head the police.

Papua New Guinean Prime Minister James Marape had been widely expected to name a continuity government after taking over after his predecessor, Peter O’Neill, resigned last month rather than face a no-confidence motion in parliament.

However, the 33-member Cabinet named yesterday signaled that Marape intended to follow through on pledges to review multibillion-dollar resource deals with major multinational companies that have been criticized for failing to benefit the population.

It included Kerenga Kua, one of only a handful of lawmakers who voted against Marape for prime minister, who was named petroleum minister.

Kua, like Marape, had been critical of a deal signed by O’Neill in April with ExxonMobil and Total for a US$13 billion liquefied natural gas project, saying that it did not offer sufficient benefits for local communities.

In announcing Kua’s appointment, Marape said that he wanted to encourage continued foreign investment in the resource sector, but added that joint deals also had to be “friendly to our country.”

“I am investor-friendly, but I also have to win for 8 million [citizens] of this country,” said Marape, who comes from the rough but resource-rich highlands province of Hela.

Analysts saw Kua’s appointment as part of a major shakeup of the government, one of Asia’s poorest countries, despite its resource riches.

“While the extractive industry may be sweating a bit, it is a good sign for the country,” Lowy Institute analyst Jonathan Pryke said.

“He is talking a big game about the change that he wants to deliver and this Cabinet does signify that he is at least on the face of it trying to follow through on that,” he told reporters.

Marape also named an outspoken anti-corruption campaigner, Bryan Kramer, as police minister in a surprise announcement that was greeted by cheers and prolonged applause.

Kramer has enjoyed strong support among younger Papua New Guineans and campaigned heavily via his preferred medium, Facebook, to oust O’Neill.

“He’s the first to admit that police operate in the rule of evidence and the rule of law,” Marape said tongue-in-cheek to general laughter.

“So we will be asking of him, in the first instance, to restore credibility in the entire police hierarchy. It’s not only about the commissioner or about a few sections of the police. The entire police structure is dysfunctional at the moment,” he added.

In his remarks, Marape also signaled a drive to “rein in” state-owned enterprises that he said were not paying dividends to the government, but rather “creating empires of their own.”

He also vowed renewed investment in the health sector, which has been struggling with a polio outbreak and an HIV/AIDS crisis.

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