Politics

Sir Mekere, PNG’s reformist Prime Minister

For many Papua New Guineans, Sir Mekere Morauta will be remembered as the straight shooting politician and the  reformist  Prime Minister, whose work came to be appreciated more than a decade later.

Up until the 1990s, Mekere Morauta’s public life was rather low key.

He thrived behind the scenes, helping to develop, shape and implement  important government policies.  

He was the first graduate in economics from the university of Papua New Guinea and with it came important responsibilities both for his people and the country.

In 1971, he began a career in the public service as a research officer with the department of Labour.  A year later, he took up a job as economist in the Office of Economic advisor.

When Papua New Guinea became  self-governing in 1973, the government of Chief Minister Michael Somare sought out its best and brightest to help run the young democracy.  At 27, Mekere Morauta was thrust into a position of power and responsibility with his  appointment as Secretary for Finance – a post he held for  nine years.

He was  always an important influencer in the  banking and financial sector of Papua New Guinea. In 1983, he was appointed Managing Director of the Papua New Guinea Banking Corporation.  He held the position for another 9 years until his upward transition to a new job as  the Governor of the Bank of Papua New Guinea.

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It was during  this short stint as  the central bank Governor that he shot to prominence as an outspoken enemy of the  corruption that was infecting PNG Government institutions.

Sir Julius Chan was Prime Minister then and in a foreign documentary on corruption in Papua New Guinea, Mekere Morouta spoke out describing the rampant corruption and “systemic and systematic.” He  removed one year into the job.

The period from 1994 to 1997 were politically turbulent.

The international  attention on government institutions and the corruption highlighted by key figures in Papua New Guinea including Sir Mekere,  caused many Papua New Guineans to demand a change in leadership and management.

The seeds had already been planted.

In 1997, when the government of Sir Julius Chan opted to bring in South African mercenaries to end the Bougainville crisis,  PNGDF Commander, Brigadier General Jerry Singirok,  called for the prime minister, to step down and riots broke out.

It was months before the elections and when Sir Julius was voted out of office, a new group of  political leaders, including Sir Mekere Morouta  were voted in.
For the next three years, the  country faced  deep economic trouble.

The decade long closure of the Bougainville mine, a severe drought and high unemployment and government institutions in desperate need for reform… this was the scenario in 1999 when Sir Mekere took over  from Bill Skate as Prime Minister.

In the next three years, Sir Mekere had the most impact on Papua New Guinea’s Political and economic future.

In 2000, the Mekere government introduced  sweeping reforms in the finance  and banking sector.  He introduced legislative reforms that strengthened the superannuation funds and banks effectively eliminating much of the political interference that these institutions had long been burdened with.

Through the reforms, Nasfund and other superfunds  which were  on the brink of collapse, were revived and strengthened.

In the political sphere, constitutional changes were made to strengthen political parties and other institutions of state.

As Papua New Guineans come to grips with the void left by Sir Mekere’s passing, the impact of his decisions at the turn of this century will continue to be felt decades into the future.

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