Full throttle lobbying ahead of PNG's no-confidence vote

7:27 pm on 18 July 2016
Papua New Guinea Prime Minister Peter O'Neill gives a talk at the Lowy Institute in Sydney on May 14, 2015.

Papua New Guinea Prime Minister Peter O'Neill gives a talk at the Lowy Institute in Sydney on May 14, 2015. Photo: AFP/Peter Parks

Papua New Guinea's government and opposition groupings have gone into respective camps as lobbying hits full throttle ahead of a motion of no-confidence against the Prime Minister Peter O'Neill.

Parliament sat on Friday for the tabling of an opposition motion of no confidence in Peter O'Neill, before being adjourned until this Friday when a vote will take place.

In the last few days a number of government MPs have defected to the opposition, adding to the chorus of public discontent with Mr O'Neill's handling of the economy and his refusal to stand aside to face fraud allegations.

This includes Bire Kimisopa and two other New Generation Party MPs, as well as government minister Ben Micah and his six People's Progress Party MPs, who crossed the floor to join the opposition just before Friday's dramatic parliament sitting.

The opposition has set up camp in Port Moresby to try and consolidate its numbers. Mr Kimisopa said several other MPs joined them over the weekend and he expected more to follow.

"The indications, of course, I think our people are quite confident in terms of what we've done," he said.

"The message is loud and clear. The party's made its decision, I've made my own decision. So we've made that move and I expect other members will do likewise."

Mr Kimisopa said it wouldn't be known until the last minute how many votes the opposition will have.

Government coalition in camp

Meanwhile, dozens of MPs in the coalition government are camped in Alotau for lobbying ahead of Friday's vote.

PNG's Sports Minister Justin Tkatchenko waits with the Foreign Minister Rimbink Pato

PNG's Sports Minister Justin Tkatchenko (left) waits with the Foreign Minister Rimbink Pato (right). Photo: Koro Vaka'uta / RNZ

The Sports Minister Justin Tkatchenko said over 70 of PNG's 111 MPs were in the camp and backing Mr O'Neill to stay in the job until next year's election.

"Peter O'Neill has led us through rough waters and through calm waters as well," he explained.

"As far as I'm concerned personally, I'll be supporting him all the way until the elections, and then we form another government again in the next ten months. But he is the best man for the job."

The South Moresby MP said Mr O'Neill's system of dispersals of districts funds had transformed PNG in the past few years, bringing "unbelievable results for infrastructure and development and education and health".

However the prime minister's critics have accused him of with-holding district funds to leverage support from MPs throughout the entire parliamentary term.

While some MPs had indicated that PNG's public finance woes had impeded delivery of district funds so far this year, it's understood the dispersals are starting to flow again for government MPs as the vote looms.

Numbers game

Many of those at the Alotau camp have turned off their phones as part of the lock-down nature of this week's lobbying.

However the Foreign Minister Rimbink Pato took a call and echoed Mr Tkatchenko's confidence that Mr O'Neill's leadership could survive the motion.

Mr Pato said he didn't expect to be moved from his portfolio in any cabinet reshuffle that may occur as a result of this week's lobbying.

There is expected to be at least one major change in the cabinet after the defection of the Minister for Petroleum and Energy, Ben Micah and his People's Progress Party last week.

The Minister of State Enterprise and Public Investment Minister, William Duma, is a possible replacement for the influential Petroleum and Energy portfolio, which he has held previously.

Mr O'Neill's People's National Congress party, with around 50 MPs, is still by far the largest party in the parliament, but appears to need to keep its main coalition partners happy in order for the prime minister to retain a majority.

Government sources say the coalition retains the support of Mr Duma's United Resources Party, with around 8 MPs, and the National Alliance party, with 14 MPs, which is led by Treasurer Patrick Pruaitch.

Members of parliament stand to the right of the speaker (R) to approve the vote of Peter O'Neill as prime minister in Port Moresby on August 3, 2012.

Members of parliament in Papua New Guinea approve the vote of Peter O'Neill as prime minister in 2012. Photo: AFP/Ness Kerton

Public pressure building

Public pressure continues to build on Peter O'Neill to stand down.

A strike by pilots and workers with the main airline Air Niugini has had a massive impact on transport links in the past several days, although government MPs were able to organise their own flights to Alotau.

But as of today, members of PNG's National Doctors Association are scaling down operations throughout the country.

The doctors' action is to voice opposition to prime minister Peter O'Neill, who they want to step aside over fraud allegations.

The association's secretary Dr Sam Yockopua told Loop PNG the decision was made after meetings with pilots, maritime workers and energy workers, many of whom have also been withdrawing their services in peaceful protest against the prime minister.

Dr Yockopua said doctors would only attend to serious cases and emergencies.