SYDNEY, Aug 27 (Reuters) - The prime minister of Papua New Guinea replaced his treasurer in a surprise cabinet reshuffle on Tuesday that brought seven opposition members into government, while neighbouring Nauru declared Lionel Aingimea its president.
The Papua New Guinea opposition’s Ian Ling-Stuckey was sworn in as treasurer, Prime Minister James Marape said, replacing Sam Basil. He also welcomed six other opposition members of parliament into the government.
Commodity and energy firms with projects in the resource-rich archipelago, such as Oil Search, have been closely watching Marape’s agenda since his election, but it was not immediately clear what the reshuffle meant for energy majors.
The abrupt reshuffle comes just three months after Marape took office, and appears to be a consolidation of his leadership and nationalist economic agenda.
“This creates an opportunity for bold and like-minded leaders who can genuinely contribute to advancing the ‘Take Back PNG’ agenda,” Marape said in a statement.
Marape’s economic programme, “Take Back PNG”, has tapped into growing concern over governance and resource benefits not reaching the poor.
His government has re-opened negotiations with French oil major Total to try and win more concessions on a gas deal that had been settled in April.
Marape, who hails from PNG’s poor but gas-rich highlands, became its leader in May after winning a vote in parliament.
However, former prime minister Peter O’Neill criticised the appointment of Ling-Stuckey, saying Marape had “grossly insulted” government members who voted him into office.
“Surely, there must be one member in government with the credentials to fill the treasurer’s post,” he said in a statement.
In neighbouring Nauru, Aingimea defeated former finance minister David Adeang in a general election at the weekend, the government said. He will announce his cabinet on Wednesday.
Aingimea will be like a “father of the nation”, guiding and protecting the 12,000 people of the South Pacific island, he said in a statement.
Nauru hosts one of Australia’s detention centres for asylum seekers and is among a few Pacific Island nations that recognise the sovereignty of Taiwan, which China considers a wayward province.
It has never ruled out the use of force, if necessary, to return the island to the fold. (Reporting by Swati Pandey; Editing by Clarence Fernandez)