A PNG insider writes:


Australia is not the only country where tensions between a prime minister and
his treasurer are dominating the political scene.

Papua New
Guinea’s Prime
Minister, Sir Michael Somare, last week sacked his
Treasurer, Bart Philemon, in a reshuffle that was long anticipated, and even
longer coming.

Philemon is a favourite of the business community and
has been credited with pulling PNG back from the brink of economic ruin when he
was made Treasurer by Somare after the 2002 elections.
The four years of the Somare Government’s latest term
have been characterised by sound economic and fiscal management – almost unique
for our nearest neighbour.

He was also Deputy Leader of the National Alliance Party
(NA), which Somare had established after a falling out
with the Pangu Pati also
founded by Somare in the period prior to PNG achieving
self government and independence.

Philemon believed Somare, who
is one of the longest serving political leaders in the world today, would stand
aside during the current Parliament and make way for Philemon to lead
NA into the next elections to be held in
mid-2007.

But the wily Somare had other
ideas, and, backed by the majority of NA Ministers and MPs, dumped Philemon
from the deputy leadership last month when it was clear Philemon was intent on
“doing his own thing” in the run-up to the elections.

Philemon was therefore hardly surprised that, while
attending a Forum Finance and Treasurers meeting in Honiara (where Peter
Costello started the Liberal leadership speculation running again), he was dropped from the
Cabinet and replaced as Treasurer by the Cabinet’s second longest serving
member, the Foreign Affairs Minister, Sir Rabbie Namaliu.

He had already begun the process of registering his own
political party even before he was sacked as NA Deputy Leader and is certain to
campaign on an anti-corruption, good governance agenda next year.

The business community was relieved that the experienced
and widely respected Namaliu takes over the national
chequebook. And it was relieved because it could have been much worse… some
of the Ministers lobbying for the key post would have more than alarmed the business community,
overseas investors, and major donors alike, had they got the
job.

Somare
himself has taken on the Foreign Affairs portfolio for the time being – and that
will cause consternation in Canberra. His relations with the Howard government, and Alexander Downer in particular, are hardly
warm and friendly!

Peter Fray

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