14 Nov 2013

Former PNG PM compares current leader to Zimbabwe dictator

5:36 pm on 14 November 2013

The Papua New Guinea prime minister has been likened to Robert Mugabe by a former Prime Minister and the Chairman of the Sustainable Development Programme.

Sir Mekere Morauta says the country is racked by fear and no one is speaking out against the Government.

He says the Prime Minister Peter O'Neill deported the SDP's media adviser Mark Davis to avoid further criticism.

He spoke to Alex Perrottet.

MEKERE MORAUTA: His intention, his objective, was to take control of OK Tedi and to take control of the Long Term Fund, which right now stands at $1.4 billion. I have referred him to the International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes in Washington and in that international arbitration I will be seeking either restitution of the shares or compensation or both.

ALEX PERROTTET: The civil society groups, and particularly those who are active on social media, have organised a protest which has been cancelled by police and they're planning a non-working sit-in protest for Monday. What sort of climate is there in society now around Port Moresby?

MM: This is Mugabe in the making. Papua New Guineans are scared, ministers are scared, MPs are scared, everyone is scared. No-one is saying anything, except me, and of course people who work around me are being victimised because of that. But I will continue to say what I'm saying.

AP: So the people who work around you, in what way are they feeling pressure from the government?

MM: The officers are harassed, all depressed. Everyone is taking over the offices and Mark is deported. Fortunately, there are not too many white people working for me. Mark was the last one and there's no others. But I don't know where this is going to end. We have this wall of silence falling on Papua New Guinea and everyone is so unhappy and worried, as evidenced by social media.

AP: How much of this action by the government do you think is an honest way of saying, no, there should never have been a pardon, and we want compensation for the people who are affected by it, or how much is it more of a cynical take-over because the government wants to do again what it did with Panguna mine in Bougainville and see the benefits from it?

MM: The environmental effect generated by PNG's operation of OK Tedi mine prior to its exit is undeniable, it's there. And gifting by BHP of 52% of the company is a massive compensation. OK Tedi pays about $1.2 billion in taxes, on average, every year. It's the biggest tax-paying company in Papua New Guinea. So the country is benefiting. OK Tedi, through saving of two thirds of the dividends, have now US$1.4 billion to be spent after mine closure. So the government's take-over is simply greed - raw, naked greed, to take over the company so it can access the money, the dividends, treat it like a government-owned state enterprise. And the record here is lamentable.