PNG PM faces leadership test

Jonathan Barrett
·2-min read

Papua New Guinea Prime Minister James Marape faces a leadership threat after government ministers switched to the opposition, prompting a call for Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison to defer a planned visit next week.

The disgruntled PNG ministers have cited growing economic worries facing the indebted Pacific nation.

Mr Marape has been in power for just 18 months, after replacing long-serving leader Peter O'Neill in a similar process that involved prominent government ministers switching sides.

Deputy Prime Minister Sam Basil and Foreign Affairs Minister Patrick Pruaitch are among those who withdrew support for the government on Friday, as opponents used their numbers to suspend parliament and start drawing up plans for a vote of no confidence that could oust Mr Marape.

Mr Marape said in a Facebook post that he would not be easily removed.

"It's not over until it's over, leadership has its moments," he said.

Mr Morrison is due to meet Mr Marape in PNG next week but the visit has been called "highly suspicious" by Opposition Leader Belden Namah who has called for it to be deferred.

"It is bad diplomacy and is tantamount to an attempt to influence PNG's political process," he told PNG's The National newspaper.

"The visit should be deferred until the motion of no confidence has been tabled and the process of electing a new prime minister is completed.

"There are other matters that Morrison should consider before he comes to Port Moresby with cash and candy to support Marape's political survival," Mr Namah said.

Mr Marape has used his leadership to put some of the world's biggest resource companies on notice over a perceived lack of wealth flowing from their projects back to communities.

He has pledged to turn the South Pacific archipelago into the "richest black Christian nation" on earth and has battled to secure a larger stake in resource projects for the state that has led to delays in development.

PNG has been weighed down by dire levels of debt built up over many years, made worse by the novel coronavirus pandemic.

Member of parliament Charles Abel, a former deputy prime minister and treasurer, said there were concerns over the state of finances.

"There is deep concern about the way the economy is being managed, the escalating debt, erosion of the independence of the central bank, stalled projects, loss of jobs, anti-investment rhetoric, lack of consultation, unconstitutional laws bypassing landowners and provincial governments," he told Reuters.

Opposing sides will use the coming days to try to drum up support as parliamentary procedures won't allow for an immediate vote to remove a leader.

Several large mining and oil and gas companies have projects in PNG, including Exxon Mobil Corp and Newcrest .

with AAP