Freedom in the World
Papua New Guinea
During 2010, the government ignored public calls for caution and moved ahead with major energy projects after parliament weakened the environmental law. In December, National Alliance Party leaderMichael Somare resigned as prime minister in order to face a tribunal over allegations of submitting incomplete financial statements, though no proceedings had taken place by year’s end. That same month, the Supreme Court ordered Governor-General Jeffrey Nape to step down, claiming that he was not chosen according to constitutional requirements.
Papua New Guinea (PNG) gained independence from Australia in 1975. In 1988, miners and landowners on Bougainville Island began guerrilla attacks on a major Australian-owned copper mine, and by 1990, the islanders’ demands for compensation and profit-sharing became a low-grade secessionist war. Australia and New Zealand brokered a cease-fire in 1998 and a peace treaty in 2001, which called for elections for a semiautonomous Bougainville government and a referendum on independence in 10 to 15 years. To date, no referendum has been held, though parliament approved a new constitution for Bougainville in 2004.
While National Alliance Party (NA) leader Michael Somare secured a second term as prime minister in the 2007 elections, his government has been plagued by allegations of widespread corruption. Strong economic growth has been overshadowed by increasing levels of violence and poverty, while public health, education, and infrastructure have also suffered. Public discontent has been fueled by the apparent insensitivity of elected leaders. In 2009, parliament approved the purchase a $46 million jet airplane for Somare’s use and legislators voted to increase their annual allowances by $35,000. While the government claimed that it had no money to improve schools and hospitals, an outbreak of cholera led to 200 deaths between August 2009 and December 2010.
Natural-resource exploitation, including mining and logging, provide the bulk of government revenue. Disputes surrounding a government-sponsored liquefied natural gas (LNG) project in the Southern Highlands led to 11 deaths in January 2010 when violence broke out between tribes with competing claims to the land. Separately, villagers in February tried to block access to Madang province’s Ramu nickel mine, which is financed by a Chinese company. The mine had wanted to dump waste into Basamuk Bay, which provides drinking water and fishing grounds to local residents. Landowners filed suits to stop construction of the dumping pipe. However, Somare prides himself on this deal, and parliament in June amended the environmental law to allow the dumping to proceed. The government banned the media from reporting on the amendment, leading thousands to protest in July against the project and the amendment.In December, the government announced that all proceeds from LNG project will go to an offshore trust.
In January, 12 criminals escaped from a maximum security prison, including the notorious criminal William Kapris. Following his recapture, Kapris alleged during his court hearings that several prominent politicians and businessmen had set up the escape. The presiding judge banned the media and the public from the courtroom, claiming that alleged accomplices might want to kill Kapris to silence him. After the escapes, Somare fired the minister for correctional services and took over the portfolio.
John Momis—an elder statesman pledging to fight corruption—defeated the incumbent, Joseph Kabui, in the Bougainville presidential elections in May. Reconciliation, disarmament, and how to handle revenues from mining were the top election issues. Observers viewed the elections as free and fair.
Somare maintained his hold on power in 2010 with clever political maneuvers and deal-making. However, support for Somare within the NA waned following rumors that he planned to transfer leadership of the NA and the government to his son. In July, a Supreme Court decision lifted the 2001 law barring legislators from changing parties after elections; Somare openly supported the ruling, viewing it as beneficial to the NA and his power base. In December, Somare stepped down to face a leadership tribunal for allegedly failing to file complete financial statements in the 1990s. Deputy Prime Minister Sam Abal became acting Prime Minister. The tribunal hearings had not begun by year’s end. That same month, Governor-General Jeffrey Nape stepped down after the Supreme Court ruled his appointment invalid, claiming Nape had not been elected by secret ballot in parliament as required by the constitution.