Somare refuses to back down amidst plea by unions to end stalemate or face stopwork

17/12/2011 09:22

Reinstated PNG Prime Minister Sir Michael Somare has refused to back down.


Supreme Court-reinstated Prime Minister Sir Michael Somare has refused to back down saying he heads the legitimate government of Papua New Guinea.

Speaking at a press conference in Port Moresby, the veteran MP warned that if his government stepped aside it would set a bad precedent for the country.

“If this government steps aside it means that we have allowed illegal actions to be legitimized and set a bad precedence in the years to come. As a legitimate government we must safeguard the future of our children by not accepting the gross manipulation of the law by the O’Neill-Namah regime,” he said despite reports that rival Peter O’Neill was now in charge.

The warning comes as reports emerge of behind-the-scenes discussion between his camp and that of the Parliament-elected Mr O’Neill, in a bid to break the deadlock which has entered its sixth day today.  

Policemen who blocked attempts by Mr O’Neill and his “cabinet” on Monday to be sworn in by the governor general Sir Michael Ogio also surrendered their firearms and vehicles, to the O’Neill government-appointed police commissioner Tom Kulunga.

Mr Kulunga said the move was aimed at addressing public perception about the role of police during the political standoff.

“This administrative action was taken in the best interest of maintaining stability and command and control within the force,” he said.

While the return of the armed robbery response unit to Mr Kulunga’s command was welcomed by the police top brass a handful of policemen continue to be seen accompanying Sir Michael and his entourage.

The PNG Defence Force has so far played no role in the political stalemate, though the government-owned radio Kundu has reported that Sir Michael’s cabinet got Sir Ogio to sign instruments for the military to be called out for three months.

Belden Namah, Mr O’Neill’s deputy PM and a former major in the army, reportedly told reporters that the callout was illegal and would be rescinded.

Mr O’Neill held a press conference yesterday at Morauta Haus, where the office of the PM is located, perhaps signalling a return to normalcy in the PNG capital though not until after 150 policemen reinforcements were flown in from Mt Hagen to take control of key government installations.

The PNG Trade Union Congress (PNGTUC) has warned that unions nationwide will withdraw essential services if the country’s political leadership does not resolve the stalemate.

PNGTUC president Michael Malabag advised via social media that their membership would take action if both camps do not resolve the crisis.

“Unions giving notice on withdrawal of essential services 4 (for) the safety of workers if this impasse is not settled,” he posted on Facebook.

But Sir Michael has warned the unions not to become embroiled in the political standoff, saying:

“I call upon the (PNG) Trade Union Congress and other organisations to recognise the calm that exists in the Capital and not to stir up sentiments by interfering at this present time.”

However, Mr Malabag countered saying they were concerned about the welfare of the PNG workforce and ordinary Papua New Guineans.

“This is not about Somare or O’Neill but the workers and the people of PNG. Job security amidst the current environment is not good for workers and already PNG Power workers have been affected by people taking sides. Unions have not been provocative but are applying pressure for both camps to reach some common ground – our reasons are genuine and not industrial in nature. We are also citizens and we have every right to voice our concerns backed by union muscle if we have to. Politicians (are) desperate to hold onto power from both camps in order to have access to the public till and we will remain vigilant that they do not lay their greedy hands for political convenience,” he said.

Lawrence Stephens, the chair of the PNG chapter of Transparency International (TIPNG), also appealed to both sides to talk.

“We need the politicians to put serious attention to talking with each other for the good of PNG. We are also sharing our thoughts with and hearing from members of the Community Coalition Against Corruption and church leaders. These people are an important part of the process,” he said.