OPINION: Once again, the vagaries of Papua New Guinean politics are threatening to inflict more uncertainties and risks on the country’s already bruised upstream oil and gas sector.
This time around, Prime Minister James Marape is under significant pressure after predecessor Peter O’Neill, assisted by the leader of the main opposition party, late last week persuaded dozens of Marape’s government — including three cabinet ministers — to join the opposition.
Parliament immediately shut down and, when it resumes on 1 December, Marape will face a vote of no confidence.
The inference is that O’Neill is desperate for his old job back, harbouring resentment over his resignation last May following a long campaign by his opponents to unseat him.
O’Neill has been agitating and stirring all year, aiming criticism at Marape and his ministers.
Marape is clearly infuriated by the power grab, which comes at an inopportune time as he was just starting to make positive moves for the nation's upstream industry.
His mantra of “Take Back PNG” — which applies to improving the state's share of benefits from its oil, gas and mining resources — has unsettled the oil and gas sector, but Marape was starting to make the progress he demanded.
A new oil and gas fiscal regime was due to be passed in parliament this month, with a new and much-needed petroleum regulator also set to be established. Marape’s efforts to get the Papua LNG project moving forward in a standalone fashion were gaining ground too.
Last week he progressed the establishment of an anti-corruption commission and he seems determined to restore government systems and oust corrupt politicians.
The oil and gas industry will probably not shed too many tears if Marape is deposed given the radical changes in the petroleum regime that are proposed by him and Petroleum Minister Kerenga Kua.
But set against challenger O'Neill, Marape has relative youth and a reputation for more openness on his side.
The coming weeks will have international oil and gas players on tenterhooks.
(This is an Upstream opinion article.)