Peter O'Neill

Peter Charles Paire O'Neill CMG (born 13 February 1965) is a Papua New Guinean politician who served as the seventh Prime Minister of Papua New Guinea from 2011 to 2019.[2] He has been a Member of Parliament for Ialibu-Pangia since 2002. He is a former cabinet minister and the former leader of the People's National Congress between 2006 and 2022. He resigned his position as prime minister to avoid a vote of no confidence and he was succeeded by James Marape.[3] O'Neill won re-election to the National Parliament of Papua New Guinea in 2022 in the first round with a large majority, which is unusual in the country.[4]

Peter O'Neill
O'Neill in 2015
8th Prime Minister of Papua New Guinea
In office
2 August 2011  29 May 2019
MonarchElizabeth II
Governors-GeneralSir Michael Ogio
Theo Zurenuoc (Acting)
Sir Robert Dadae
DeputyLeo Dion
Charles Abel
Preceded bySam Abal (Acting)
Succeeded byJames Marape
Minister of Finance[1]
In office
27 February 2012  August 2012
Prime MinisterHimself
Preceded byDon Polye
Succeeded byJames Marape
In office
July 2010  July 2011
Prime MinisterSam Abal
Preceded byPatrick Pruaitch
Succeeded byDon Polye
Member of the National Parliament of Papua New Guinea
Assumed office
2002
ConstituencyIalibu-Pangia
Personal details
Born
Peter Charles Paire O'Neill

(1965-02-13) 13 February 1965
Ialibu-Pangia, Territory of Papua
Political partyPeople's National Congress
SpouseLynda May Babao
Alma materUniversity of Papua New Guinea

Early life

O'Neill was born on 13 February 1965 in Pangia, Territory of Papua, in the present-day Southern Highlands Province. His father, Brian O'Neill, was a magistrate of Irish Australian descent, while his mother, Awambo Yari, was of Papua New Guinean descent from the Southern Highlands. O'Neill's father moved to Papua New Guinea in 1949 as an Australian government field officer (also known as a kiap) and later served as a magistrate in Goroka until his death in 1982.

O'Neill spent the first years of his youth in his mother's village and, after attending secondary school, he stayed at his father's urban residence in Goroka. O'Neill was educated at the Pangia Primary School, Ialibu High School and Goroka High School. After leaving school he obtained a bachelor of commerce degree from the University of Papua New Guinea (UPNG) in 1986. He later received a degree with honors in accounting from UPNG. He obtained as well a professional qualification and became a Certified Practicing Accountant in 1989. A year later he became President of the Papua New Guinea Institute of Certified Practicing Accountants. O'Neill was then a partner in Pratley and O'Neill's accounting firm. He combined this with a substantial number of directorships, often as Executive Chairman, including at the PNG Banking Corporation when it was government-owned.[5][6]

Early political career

O'Neill entered politics in 2002 as Member of Parliament representing Ialibu-Pangia under Prime Minister Michael Somare. As a member of the People's National Congress (PNC), O'Neill was part of the coalition government, and was appointed to the Cabinet as the Minister for Labour and Industrial Relations, then reassigned in 2003 as the Minister for Public Service. However, in 2004, he was dropped from the Cabinet, and the PNC left the coalition to joined the opposition. Later that year, O'Neill became leader of the opposition, but Speaker Jeffery Nape initially did not recognise him and claimed Peter Yama held the position instead.[7][8] In response, O'Neill tried to mount a vote of no confidence without success since Somare and Nape used procedural issues to stop this.[9] After the 2007 elections, O'Neill rejoined Somare's government as the Minister of the Public Service. In July 2010, he was appointed as the Minister of Finance. When Somare was hospitalised in 2011, Sam Abal was appointed as acting prime minister, who demoted O'Neill to Works Minister in July 2011.[10][6]

Prime minister

Cabinet O'Neill/Namah (2011-2012)

In April 2011, Somare fell ill and flew to Singapore for treatment. O'Neill then led the opposition in ousting Abal as acting prime minister. He was then elected by the Parliament as prime minister with 70 of the 94 votes cast.[11][12][13] O'Neill's claim to the position was challenged by both the East Sepik Province, where Somare was also governor, and Somare himself when he returned from Singapore. The Supreme Court ruled that Somare was the legitimate prime minister but O'Neill retained overwhelming support in parliament. O'Neill and Somare both claimed the title of prime minister and thus arose the 2011–2012 Papua New Guinean constitutional crisis. It was resolved when the Governor General decided to call for new elections.[14][15][16]

Cabinet O'Neill/Dion (2012-2017)

In the 2012 general election, O'Neill's PNC obtained 27 seats, an increase from the 5 seats in the previous Parliament. A broad coalition appeared to support him, with 94 seats out of the 119-member Parliament.[17] This coalition contained three ex-prime ministers, among whom was Somare.

Cabinet O'Neill/Abel (2017-2019)

The PNC, which was headed by O'Neill, was the largest political party in the outcome of the 2017 elections. The election of former prime minister Mekere Morauta in the 2017 Papua New Guinean general election was a challenge,[18] but this did not endanger the position of O'Neill. His party had the most seats and this entitled O'Neill constitutionally to form the government. However, PNC won a mere 21 seats in the 106 seats strong parliament. This was substantially less than the 52 seats PNC had occupied at the end of the previous parliament. He needed to form a coalition from a weak base in a fragmented parliament.[19][20] O'Neill succeeded again in doing that: he gained the support of 60 MPs, with 46 MPs in opposition.The majority was smaller than before and it eroded particularly when a debate erupted in 2018 about the benefits of natural resources projects for Papua New Guinea. Cabinets in PNG are awarded a grace period during the first 18 months in office during which time a vote of no confidence cannot be mounted. The grace period had passed in May 2019 and the question of a no confidence vote thereafter became pertinent.[19][20] There were several attempts before the end of the grace period to replace O'Neill as prime minister. It was suggested to him to resign but O'Neill did not respond.[21] However, MPs defected from the government benches the crucial date approached. This group included prominent cabinet ministers, for example James Marape, minister of finance and Davis Steven, the attorney general.[22]

The replacement of O'Neill[23]

On 7 May 2020 the rebels lodged the intention to mount of a vote of no confidence with Marape as alternate PM. They claimed to have a majority behind them (57 out of a 111 parliament).[24] O'Neill resorted as before to parliamentary rules to procrastinate the vote of no confidence and suggested to adjourn parliament for three weeks. The opposition then mounted a motion to change the speaker of parliament who ruled in O'Neill's favour and this failed. Nevertheless, the vote split parliament (50-56).[25] O'Neill obtained a nine-vote majority (59–50) supporting his proposed adjournment to stave off the vote of no confidence.The opposition appeared therefore to be short of numbers.[26] O'Neill thereafter turned to the courts in an attempt to procrastinate with the argument that the no confidence motion could not be held as long as it was a case before the Supreme Court raising pertinent constitutional questions.[27] The political configuration changed fundamentally when William Duma and the Natural Resources Party made a deciding move and joined the opposition: This raised the number in opposition to 62 and therefore they had a definite majority in the 111-member parliament.[28]

Paradoxically, the opposition seemed then to be in disarray. First, they withdrew the vote of no confidence motion.[29] Second, they changed the leadership: Marape, the former finance minister was the alternate PM of the opposition until 28 May. He was then replaced by Pruaitch. This was announced by Marape and reported to be by consensus.[30] However, later it was evident that there was a vote between Marape and Pruaitch in the favour of the latter.[31] O'Neill then turned again to the courts asking for a speedy decision on his request to stay the vote of no confidence because of the urgency of a possible vote of no confidence. The Supreme court decided on 28 May that O'Neill did not have standing because there was at that moment not a vote of no confidence. That moment was in between the first one that was withdrawn due to the lack of numbers and the second one when the opposition had the numbers. The latter was mounted on the same day as the court decision in favour of the opposition.[32]

A Vote of No Confidence has to pass through two hurdles to be tabled. First, the Parliamentary Business Committee had to decide whether it is tabled in parliament. That committee was stacked with supporters of O'Neill. The opposition won a motion to bring in supporters of their cause. The support for changes in the Parliamentary Business Committee showed that the opposition had the numbers to be a majority. The Speaker is a second hurdle to be taken. The opposition tried to change the speaker, but he successfully withstood the move.[33]

O'Neill avoids then a vote of no confidence by following the suggestion that he had rejected earlier: he resigns and appoints Julius Chan as his successor. Chan first accepted the appointment and retracted this almost immediately in an ambiguous way: he was not interested in the position but would serve the nation in a caretaker position.[34][35] There was a flurry of arguments whether the selection of Chan was a constitutional possibility. The salient one against Chan was that the government must be formed by the leader of the largest party in parliament and that was PNC, the party of O'Neill.[36][37]

Marape then suddenly returned to PNC along with thirty MPs and joined the government bench.The opposition no longer had the numbers. O'Neill resigned again and handed over to Marape as prime minister, in line with the constitutional requirement that the largest party forms the government. Marape engineered a comeback as candidate MP when he was no longer the alternate PM of the opposition because he lost to Pruaitch as leader of the opposition. Marape was confirmed as prime minister with 101 votes against 8 for Morauta, the most prominent critic of O'Neill.[3][38]

Policies

O'Neill embarked on an activist development policy that he contrasted to the stagnation of previous years. He took a substantial loan from the Chinese Import-Export bank, to remedy the "sins" of the past.[39][40] He laid stress on the development of infrastructure, especially roads.[41] Free education and free health care were signature policies in the 2012 election. He maintained these policies after being re-elected in 2017.[42][43] The international stature of PNG was raised through the organisation of the 2015 Pacific Games,[44] and proposing Port Moresby as the location for the APEC summit in 2020.[45]

In August 2011, the O'Neill administration announced a new public holiday, Repentance Day, 26 August. The announcement was made eleven days before that date. The public holiday was established at the request of a "group of churches", which had approached Abal with the idea shortly before he lost his office.[46]

Australia

Relations with Australia were on an upswing when Kevin Rudd returned to power. O'Neill and Rudd brokered together the deal locating illegal immigrants to Australia on Manus Island. This deal came however to grief when the Supreme Court declared it unconstitutional.[47] PNG protested strongly when Australia opened a consulate on Bougainville, which could be interpreted as the recognition of Bougainville as an independent state.[48]

Indonesia

Relations with Indonesia were warm under the O'Neill government. A large trade delegation of 100 businessmen accompanied O'Neill on a state visit in 2013. It did however not only involve trade, but also border and West Papua region issues.[49] O'Neill stuck to two elements that had been central in PNG's policy towards West Papua from independence. Indonesian sovereignty over West Papua was never in doubt, and refugees from West Papua were not recognised as such.[50] However, in 2015 he made a break with previous policies: he continued to stress the sovereignty of Indonesia, but he mentioned the human rights abuses in West Papua: "Sometimes we forget our own families, our own brothers, especially those in West Papua. I think, as a country, the time has come for us to speak about the oppression of our people there." Talking about the population of West Papua as "our people" can be interpreted as foreign intervention by Indonesia.[51] During the Melanesian Spearhead Group meeting in Port Moresby in 2018, Indonesia was given associate member status, and the United Liberation Movement for West Papua (ULM) was given observer status.[52] The ULM has however signalled its continuing interest in full membership, which O'Neill has indicated he would only support if there was full endorsement by the Indonesian government.[53][54] O'Neill suggested that ULM brings its cause to the United Nations decolonisation committee.[55] This committee rebuffed, however, a petition of 1.8 million West Papuans on the grounds that West Papua was no longer a colony.[56] The Presidents of Vanuatu, Tuvalu, and the Marshall Islands brought the case before the UN General Assembly, but PNG did not join them.[57]

APEC and China

Hosting of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) meeting in 2018 was a highpoint in international relations for O'Neill as prime minister. The meeting was however dominated by disagreement. US president Donald Trump did not come to the meeting and sent his vice president Mike Pence. Pence did however stay in Cairns, Australia and flew daily to PNG. Russia's leader Vladimir Putin did neither attend the conference. China's highest leader Xi Jinping came and stayed in Port Moresby. China contributed massively towards organising the meeting, especially though the building of infrastructure in Port Moresby. The capital was also decked by Chinese flags. Chinese officials dominated the proceedings. They restricted, for example, access for the press to an important sideline meeting of China and Pacific nations. On the other hand, PNG officials reacted by taking matters in their own hand. Chinese officials were escorted out of the building by security, when Rimbink Pato, the PNG minister of foreign affairs was drafting a final communiqué with his staff.[58]

The meeting concluded without a joint communiqué because the US and China could not find common terms. That had not happened before at APEC. Australia was also wary of Chinese influence and moved in rapidly before the conference to claim the harbour of Manus Island to prevent this becoming a base for Chinese ships.[59]

The expenditure for this conference, especially the purchase of a fleet of Maserati and Bentley mororcars, played a role in the ousting of O'Neill as prime minister.[60] The conference was widely considered as a failure in diplomacy.[60] O'Neill considered organising the APEC meeting however a success.[61]

Governance

O'Neill was referred to as a controversial Prime Minister when he was returned in 2017.[62][63] There are laudatory comments on his tenure of office,[64][65][66] but overall it has been mired in criticism because of governance issues. These issues predate his appointment as Prime Minister. His supporters point to his success in business before entering politics as qualification for leadership. Opponents argue that his business success is permeated with influence in government and that his directorships in government enterprises prior to his success in politics is significant.[67]

National Provident Fund

The commission of inquiry in the National Provident Fund of 2003 recommended to prosecute O'Neill for extorting money in return for revaluing a contract to build a high-rise. A rise in the contract price was given because of rising costs as a consequence of currency devaluation and O'Neill was said to obtain a cut from this increase. O'Neill appeared for a committal court in 2005 but the charges were dropped due to insufficient evidence.[68] O'Neill had no objection to reopening the case.[69]

O'Neill's name was involved in an enquiry into the irregular disbursement of massive legal fees to the law firm of Paul Paraka. Paraka was arrested in December 2013 because of fraudulent payments up to 30 million Australian dollars.[69] Opposition leader Belden Namah mentioned O'Neill as responsible because he was Minister of Finance at the time of the payment.[70] Another irregular payment of 31 million Australian dollars occurred after the government had apparently cut ties with Paraka lawyers, when O'Neill was Prime Minister.[71] There were attempts by Investigation Task Force Sweep, an anti-corruption watchdog, and police officers from the Anti Corruption Unit to question O'Neill. He refused to be questioned and dismissed the Task Force Sweep and the police officers involved.[72] O'Neill challenged an arrest warrant against him before the courts, and the Supreme Court voided the warrant in December 2017 as defective. This was on formal grounds, as officers did not follow the regulations, information was missing and there were spelling mistakes.[73][74]

OK Tedi and PNGSDP

O'Neill nationalised the Ok Tedi Mine owned by the PNG Sustainable Development Fund (PNGSDF) without compensation. The O'Neill government had stated after taking power in 2012 the intention to obtain a bigger share of dividends from the mine, but nationalisation without compensation came as a surprise.[75][76][77] He mentioned environmental damage as the main reason. BHP Biliton was the owner of the mine when it was opened, but they wanted to close the mine as a consequence of major environmental damage due to negligence. The Government was faced with a great loss of revenue and a formula was found to continue mining. BHP transferred its shares to a trust fund for the local community, and BHP was in return granted immunity from claims because of environmental damages, while BHP continued to manage the mine. O'Neill considered that a mistake and revoked the immunity. One concern was that proceeds from the mine were disappearing abroad instead of staying within PNG. This is connected to a political rivalry with former Prime Minister Morauta, whose political base is in that part of the country. Morauta, as chairman of PNGSDF, challenged the nationalisation without compensation and refused access to the externalised PNGSDF in Singapore which is meant as a Social Wealth Fund for when the mine is exhausted. The case is continuing in the Singaporean courts. The government has gained the right to inspect the books of PNGSDP as it is a shareholder, but the issue of ownership is still undecided.[78] An arbitration attempt in Singapore failed as there was no written consent to arbitration from the PNG government.[79] Morauta brought a case before the courts in PNG as well. However, the Supreme Court decided that Morauta had no standing as a private person to bring the case and the court was also not admissible as the case was before a court in a foreign jurisdiction.[80] However Morauta won in Singapore. It was a disappointment for O'Neill that the Singaporean High Court decided against his claim on PNGSDP. He immediately announced an appeal and a Commission of Enquiry.[81] Controversies surround the unwinding of the affairs of PNGSDF's affairs within PNG under control of the government. PNGSDF owned the Cloudy Bay timber company. This involved extensive logging rights. This company has been sold far below its value to investors who are not above suspicion.[82] Greg Sheppard, a lawyer close to O'Neill has been charged with defrauding a trust fund established to aid communities impacted by the OkTedi mine. These charges also imply money laundering. Sheppard denies and considers the case politically motivated.[83] However, the public prosecutor has followed up the case with more charges.[84]

He also faced an alleged disregard for regulatory control and political procedure in arranging a loan from the Swiss banking firm UBS, to obtain shares in Oil Search. The intention of this loan was to become a part shareholder in the group developing the Elk Antelope Oil Field. O'Neill ignored such procedures in obtaining this loan.[85] Don Polye, his Minister for Treasury, refused to sign. O'Neill then appointed himself as Minister for Treasury. These issues led to an investigation by the Ombudsman Commission who recommended to bring O'Neill before a leadership tribunal. O'Neill welcomed the chance to clear his name. However, he delayed the appointment of a new Chief Ombudsman and appointed a controversial Acting Chief Ombudsman.[86] O'Neill's lawyers challenged the powers of the Ombudsman to investigate the Prime Minister as well as publish and distribute resulting information. The Ombudsman should first inform the Prime Minister in such cases. The Supreme Court ruled that the Ombudsman commission was under no obligation to inform the Prime Minister in such instances.[87] The report that O'Neill wanted to suppress came into the open in May 2019. It did not only indicate O'Neill but among others also his successor, Marape. He was Minister of Finance when the deal was concluded;[88] Preceding this information from the Ombudsman there was news that Swiss financial regulators would look into the matter,[89] Prime minister Marape has installed a Commission of inquiry under the leadership of the chief justice and with the head of the anti corruption Task force Sweep as council. Its brief is limited to the legality of the events and it has to report within three months.[90] The commission of inquiry materialised somewhat later in March 2021, O'Neill testified without any reservations: He welcomed the enquiry and considers it essential that the truth be told: "the enquiry is necessary. O'Neill was unapologetic: members of his former cabinet who deny knowledge of how the loan came to be approved were cowards.[91][92] He declared himself happy with the loan.[93]

The opposition to O'Neill on these issues was intense. University students went on strike demanding his resignation, which resulted in violent confrontations with the police and closure of the University of Papua New Guinea for the academic year.[94] Three former Prime Ministers, Somare, Chan, and Morauta supported a motion of no confidence and urged O'Neill to resign.[95]

When O'Neill resigned he was therefore on siege from several sides : not only his parliamentary majority that was at stake. He was also under threat from the Ombudsman Commission and a Leadership Tribunal may have resulted from the report.[96] Despite these issues, there was also praise for O'Neill after his resignation. Instead of facing a vote of no confidence, he was praised by Marape.[97] William Duma who had made the definite move against his premiership praised him as well.[98]

Economy

O'Neill presided over a period of economic growth attributable in the main to the commencement of the ExxonMobil-Total PNG LNG project, construction of which began in 2010 and production of LNG in 2014. 2014 was also the peak for economic growth in PNG, with GDP growth of around 15.4%.[99] Optimism regarding future revenues was buoyant, and resulted in a significant carry-forward in government spending which included scheduled wage increases for public servants and the construction of vanity infrastructure including Oilsearch Stadium and APEC Haus.[100] The buoyancy was short-lived; by 2018 an earthquake coupled with declining economic activity saw GDP growth fall to 0.8%.[99] Wage increases were postponed and became future year liabilities that the budget could not afford.[101] Faced with declining revenues, falling business confidence and poor prospects for recovery, a challenge to his leadership became inevitable.

O'Neill systematically defended his whole performance in an interview after he lost office. That is most notable and controversial with respect to the UBS loan meant to acquire interests in the Elk Antelope gas field through shareholding in Oil Search. He claims that investigations by regulatory authorities in Switzerland and Australia declared everything in order. "They've found that these arrangements were in order, except that nobody predicted the collapse of the world prices... I mean, nobody could predict it. So we were caught in a situation where we needed to sell down these shares". Oil Search is according to him a great asset for PNG and deserved to be supported.[61] He sees his policies for free education and health care as a success. He does not deny that there are problems in delivery of these services e.g. shortages of medicines or late payment of teacher salaries, but according to him "It is more of a management problem than government not prioritising",[61] His successor, Marape, described the economy when presenting his first budget as "struggling and bleeding", and also said that the country was in "a very deep economic hole".[102] O'Neill in response claimed that the budget was based on false information published for political gain. According to O'Neill the treasurer had created a higher debt to GDP ratio simply by changing the methodologies used to inflate the number. He considers the negative view of the PNG economy as IMF inspired and the budget made up by foreign academics who even had not lived in the country.[103]

O'Neill and Marape

It seemed that O'Neill would retain power after his resignation. He was the leader in parliament of the largest political party, the PNC. However, he seemed soon to be an isolated dissenter. At the end of August 2019 it came to an outburst: he protested strongly against the appointment of Ian Ling-Stuckey as Minister of the Treasury who opposed O'Neill as Shadow Treasury minister. O'Neill objected not only this appointment but condemned in general the appointment of MPS who had opposed the O'Neill-Abel cabinet. O'Neill predicted that "it will not be long before Morauta and Opposition Leader Pruaitch join Government so be prepared to make way for them."[104] This came true in November when Marape made another government reshuffle removing members of the O'Neill/Able cabinet. He appointed then Pruaitch to Minister of Foreign Affairs.[105] Morauta said not be interested in a Cabinet position but that he was willing to support the Cabinet as "deckhand" to the Captain Marape.[106] Marape told O'Neill in August already to leave the government benches and go into opposition. Marape declared himself no longer a member of the PNC, but of Pangu Party. He declared to be elected by people from all parties in parliament and was therefore not answerable to PNC. Marape was supported by the Speaker, Job Pomat, who nevertheless declared himself a member of PNC. O'Neill had therefore no longer a hold on his party. PNC was also no longer the biggest party as there were many defections to Pangu Party. The latter was now the biggest party and Marape could therefore claim the right to form the government as proscribed in the constitution.[107][105] On matters of policy, he condemned the repudiation of the agreement with the Energy companies about the Elk Antelope gas field. Second, he accuses the Marape government to give a false negative picture of the economy inspired by outsiders, the Australian economist Paul Flanagan and the IMF.[108]

Opposition

O'Neill continued to come under fire after his move to the cross-bench and subsequently in opposition. Accusations of impropriety were led by Member for Madang and Minister for Police Bryan Kramer MP. Kramer had, as a former member of the Opposition while O'Neill was Prime Minister, accused O'Neill of holding a dual (PNG/Australian) citizenship, which would disqualify him from Parliament. O'Neill maintained this was false and challenged Kramer to provide evidence.[109]

In October 2019 an arrest warrant was served to O'Neill on the basis of official corruption.[110] O'Neill was released on bail and in November 2019 travelled to Australia for an extended period of time.[111] He was arrested shortly after returning on 23 May 2020, again on charges of official corruption, stemming from the purchase of two generators from a company in Israel with which he was accused of having close ties. O'Neill said the allegations were politically motivated and that he had not personally benefitted from the procurement of the generators.[112] The accusation was originally on misappropriation and official corruption,[113] It was however turned into a more formal charge on following procedures instead of an outright criminal charge.[114] The National Court dismissed the charge.[115] O'Neill considered the case as an attempt to block him in the next general election and stated defiantly "you have to defeat me at an election".[116] Prime Minister Marape was Minister of Finance at the time of the purchase and stated in court that the generators were not suitable for PNG and were gathering dust.[117] In reply to a question by the MP Gary Juffa in 2019 it was stasted that the diesel generators were too expensive to run for PNG power and that only one was serviceable.[118]

Vote of no confidence in Marape government

He seemed to become more and more an isolated politician, but that appeared not to be true in the attempt to mount a vote of no confidence in the Marape government at the end of 2020. O'Neill was among several ex prime ministers and deputy prime ministers in the group asking for a vote of no confidence.[119] O'Neill was a vocal leader among them. He accused the Marape government of irresponsible management of the economy and especially mismanagement of the resources sector: "Over 80 per cent of our economy depends on the resource sector, when you mismanage that the economy obviously suffers," and "No-one in their right mind shuts down an operating gold mine (Porgera) when the prices are at the top of its peak".[120] O'Neill and Namah initiated the move towards a vote of no confidence, but they played no role in the vote for alternate prime minister. Both had to face court cases and this influenced their position. They were not contenders in the final vote that elected Pruaitch as alternate prime minister.[121] The vote of no confidence foundered because the opposition appeared to be too fragmented in the choice of alternate prime minister to muster a majority. They split between supporters of Pruaitch and Sam Basil. The latter rejoined the government.[122] Pruaitch rejoined the government in May 2021 and was no longer the alternative prime minister of the opposition.[123] Namah welcomed the move but insisted to continue with the court cases resulting from the attempted Vote of No Confidence and declared to name a new alternative prime minister to renew the attempt: The dire state of the economy demanded this.[124] The name proposed as alternative Prime Minister was O'Neill. The court cases of Namah as well as of O'Neill had been cleared and therefore the way was open.[125] The combination of Namah and O'Neill is remarkable as they had been on very bad terms when O'Neill ignored his former deputy Prime Minister after the 2012 election.[126] Nobody voted for O'Neill in the 2022 election of Prime Minister and he declared no longer to be a contender for the post.[127]

Personal life

O'Neill has been married to Lynda May Babao since 1999. They have five children: Brian, Travis, Joanne, Loris, and Patrick. It is his second marriage. He was appointed to the Order of St Michael and St George as a Companion in 2007 Birthday Honours List.[128]

References

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