Airport disrupted, roads promised as PNG election nears

4:35 pm on 8 June 2017

Flights in and out of the main airport in Papua New Guinea's Highlands city of Mt Hagen have been disrupted by some election candidates.

Meanwhile, the prime minister's campaign trail has passed through the Highlands where one province is now without a Governor following a court ruling.

Air Niugini, Papua New Guinea

Air Niugini, Papua New Guinea Photo: RNZ / Johnny Blades

Mt Hagen airport disrupted

Supporters of 12 candidates for Mt Hagen Open yesterday followed through on a threat they made to close Kagamuga Airport unless the appointment of the electorate's returning officer was revoked.

The threat was delivered by petition to the Electoral Commissioner last week, even though the two-week polling period is due to begin on 24 June.

According to the Post Courier, the National Airports Corporation has had to scale down its operations at Kagamuga.

Airline operators like Air Niugini, Airlines PNG and Mission Aviation Fellowship cancelled some flights so as not to compromise safety in their services.

The protesting candidates said they disrupted the airport because the Commissioner, Patalias Gamato, failed to respond to their petition.

Mr Gamato said last week there would be no changes to any appointments of returning officers.

The group also wanted the assistant returning officer's appointment revoked.

Papua New Guinea Prime Minister Peter O'Neill on the election campaign trail in Chimbu Province.

Papua New Guinea Prime Minister Peter O'Neill on the election campaign trail in Chimbu Province. Photo: PMO Media

But the commissioner said evidence of transgression must be presented to the courts to change an appointment of any electoral officer.

Meanwhile, local police say the group of protesting candidates had breached the Civil Aviation Act by closing the airport.

Police said the airport will be opened again soon.

However the police commissioner Gary Baki said the disruption would affect the deployment of various police units to the Highlands for the polling period which begins on 26 June.

PM on the road

The Mt Hagen airport situation reportedly caused a change of plan for prime minister Peter O'Neill in his election campaigning as he sought to fly in to Western highlands from Chimbu province.

According to the newspaper, The National, said the candidates' actions showed a lack of leadership and maturity.

Meanwhile, a statement from the prime minister's office says the people of Kundiawa-Gembogl in Chimbu are to get an international standard highway in their district through partnership with the Asian Development Bank.

He announced this while speaking to a large crowd at a campaign rally for his fellow People's National Congress member Tobias Kulang, Kundiawa-Gembogl's MP.

"No government builds roads and highways like a PNC-led Government," said Mr O'Neill.

"We launched the project today, the upgrading and sealing of the road as the second phase from Gewa to Gembogl, and then we go beyond that again.

"We are rebuilding the Highlands Highway and other important roads as a National priority."

According to Mr O'Neill, the ADB is committing funding of around 900-million US dollars to the upgrade of the overall Highlands Highway system, including this Chimbu segment.

Papua New Guinea MP Sam Basil.

Papua New Guinea MP Sam Basil. Photo: Supplied

Double endorsements

The PNC is one of four political parties that PNG's Registrar of Political Parties and Candidates says have multiple candidates in one seat in the upcoming election.

The Registrar, Dr Alphonse Gelu, has urged the Electoral Commission to correct what he calls "illegal double endorsements" of candidates.

According to him, along with the ruling party, the PNG Party, the Pangu Party and the Triumph, Heritage and Empowerment Party each have dozens of such cases.

Pangu's leader, Sam Basil, said that during nomination period, many intending candidates wanted to run under his party's banner and declared as such.

But he explained that Pangu had given its final candidates list to Dr Gelu.

"And Gelu made the list available to the Electoral Commission, and it has all been acknowlegded and received, and I believe it's all administrative processes now, that they will honour the party's endorsed list," said Mr Basil.

"And the ones that didn't make it will automatically become independent or they have to find their own political parties to align with. Otherwise we welcome them to be pro-Pangu."

Papua New Guinea parliament facade.

Papua New Guinea parliament facade. Photo: RNZI / Johnny Blades

Hela election ruled invalid

The regional seat for another Highlands province, Hela, appears to be temporarily vacant until the end of the election process.

This is because PNG's National Court has ruled that the election of Francis Potape as Hela provincial governor last year was invalid.

Mr Potape had been elected at a meeting of the Hela provincial assembly in September.

However his rival, Philip Undialu immediately challenged the result.

Justice Colin Makail said the deputy assembly clerk Filbert Tuya failed to serve a notice of the meeting to four assembly members, including Mr Undialu

He ruled that this denied their rights to participate in the meeting and also to vote on who was to be the governor.

This is the latest chapter in a power struggle for the Hela Governorship which intensified when the late Governor Anderson Agiru died in April last year.