PRIME Minister Peter O’Neill has maintained that the decision to sell the State’s shares in Oil Search last week was made in the best interest of the country.
O’Neill was responding to questions from Moresby North-West MP Sir Mekere Morauta on why the shares were sold at a lower price than what they were bought for.
“Our shareholding in Oil Search is a long story. Today, that shareholding has been held by Kumul Petroleum Holdings,” he said.
He said the whole process started when the Morauta government was in office.
“In 2000, when Santos made an offer to the Morauta government to buy all the Oil Search shares, there was a cabinet meeting in Lae where all the cabinet members opposed that sale. And yet the prime minister (Sir Mekere) bulldozed it through and sold it to Oregon Minerals,” O’Neill said.
“Oregon Minerals that time was the holding company for all the mineral assets for PNG on behalf of our people.
“In 2001, the same Morauta government sold those shares to Oil Search – the entire Oregon shares.
“At that time, Oil Search was a very small company, only an exploration company.
“As a result, we held some shares in Oil Search because of that sale.
“And in order for us to participate in the LNG project that we have now, the (Sir Michael) Somare government saw fit to go and sell all our assets. Mortgage all our assets. In fact, all the shares in Oil Search.
“We were led to believe that the shares will be bought back by the government for the people.
“In 2014, when the arrangement was due for government to take back the shares, they refused to give us the shares. This was the property of the people of PNG. What else can I do? As the head of the government it was my duty to secure the interest of our people.”
He said it was why he saw UBS “to give us the money to finance the purchase to secure our interest in the biggest employer and biggest taxpayer in our country and protect our national interest”.
“I am simply cleaning up (Sir) Mekere Morauta’s mess, Patrick Pruaitch’s mess, and (Sir Michael) Somare’s mess. Let the facts speak for themselves.”