Newly-chosen Prime Minister James Marape said the country was intent on "maximizing gain" from natural resources. Marape was appointed after maneuvering to topple his predecessor over a controversial gas deal.
Former Finance Minister James Marape was voted Papua New Guinea's new prime minister on Thursday, promising to review the management of natural resources after his predecessor inked a controversial gas export deal.
Marape was elected by parliament 101 votes to eight, a day after Peter O'Neill resigned following months of political turmoil.
In power for almost eight years, O'Neill faced pressure after inking a $13 billion (€11.7 million) gas deal with Total and ExxonMobil in April, aiming to double the country's gas exports.
Marape, from the gas-rich Hela province in the highlands, resigned as finance minister in April over the gas deal, arguing that gains from the project would not be fairly distributed.
Around 40% of Papua New Guinea's nearly 8 million people live below the poverty line, but the country is rich in minerals, gas and timber. Only 20% of the population has access to electricity.
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Maximizing gain 'from all natural resources'
Marape told parliament after being elected that laws on natural resource extraction would be changed to benefit citizens.
"Who says one conglomerate from outside will come and tell me I can change the law for my country?" he asked, in clear reference to the gas deal.
"I have every right to tweak and turn resource laws for my country," he said. "We will look into maximizing gain from what God has given this country from all natural resources."
Marape told a news conference later that any changes to laws would not be retrospective, in an apparent attempt to sooth investor concerns.
"We are not here to break legally binding project agreements," he told reporters.
However, he added: "If we find any project agreement ... that has not fully complied with ... provisions of law, then we are open to reviewing and scrutinizing them," he said.
Window dressing or substantive change?
It's unclear if Marape will bring substantive change to a country where more than 800 languages are spoken and politics must navigate complex tribal, regional and ethnic politics.
Opposition politicians say Marape's appointment represents little more than bringing a new face to the country's corrupt elite.
"Papua New Guineans are suffering," former Prime Minister Mekere Morauta warned Marape in an address to parliament. "You will need to address corruption and abuse, mismanagement of finances and mounting debt."
Lowy Institute analyst Jonathan Pryke told the AFP news agency that Marape's appointment signaled continuity, but possibly review of some policies.
"I don't think Marape is hostile towards the natural resource sector, but he is eager to see the benefits going to the Highlands, to landowners and to the PNG people to be maximized," he said.
cw/msh (AFP, dpa, Reuters)