Prime Minister Peter O’Neill will face a motion of no confidence later this month in Papua New Guinea. Several members of parliament have switched to the opposition in the past week or so, complaining about a huge new natural gas project.
Defectors from Prime Minister O’Neill’s party include two cabinet ministers and the governors of four highlands provinces, all previously considered key allies. On his return from China’s Belt and Road Summit in Beijing, the prime minister summoned a crowd of MPs to greet him at the airport in a show of support.
“Our country has a bright future,” he said, “but only selfish politics will continue to derail the development agenda that our country truly deserves.”
The most important aspect of that development has been the huge project that exports about eight million tons of liquefied natural gas per year; earlier last month, PNG signed an agreement with a consortium led by the French giant Total that would double that output. The Prime Minister claims that the 13 billion dollar investment will aid local communities, create 20,000 construction jobs and increase the country’s GDP by three points.
Critics charge that the deal ignores the interests of landowners and provinces. One of the defectors, Philip Undialu, is the governor of Hela province, where landowners complain they have never received promised payments from the first LNG project.
“Believe it or not,” Governor Undialu told RNZ Pacific, “the second LNG is worse.”
Over seven years in office, Prime Minister O’Neill has survived several crises; if the opposition does manage to topple him this time, they say the first order of business will be to review both LNG agreements.