PNG Making News Headlines Overseas

Come across this article recently…

Sydney – Australia is gearing up for what many see as the impending
collapse of Papua New Guinea, the colony it gave independence to 31
years ago and the troubled South Pacifics biggest country.

Prime Minister John Howard, announcing that two new battalions would be
raised to take the army's strength to 30,000, named PNG as the region's
next big security problem.

'Papua New Guinea is a country with a fair degree of instability,'
Howard said. 'I think it's been bad for some time and I think in some
respects it's got worse.'

It has indeed.

In a report published this month, leading Australian charity World
Vision described a country going backwards on almost every measure.
Rating PNG against 22 other countries in the region, it had the highest
proportion of the population with the HIV/AIDS virus and the lowest
proportion, 39 per cent, with access to clean water.

'Unlike virtually every other country in the region, the rate of primary
school completion has declined, and at under 60 per cent is the
lowest,'the report said.

The country is failing so badly that the United Nations is mulling a
downgrading from 'developing country' to a 'least developed country' status.

The World Bank, in a report released last year, noted that a greater
proportion, 70 per cent, of PNGs 5 million population lives in poverty
now than 10 years ago.

It's been an amazing fall from grace.

At independence in 1975 PNG had a competent Australian-trained
bureaucracy, was free from debt, had no external security threats and
looked set to bring prosperity to its 1 million people from a marvelous
array of natural resources that included gold, copper, silver, oil, gas,
timber and abundant fisheries.

Despite around 10 billion Australian dollars (7.5 billion US dollars) of
Australian aid since independence, PNG is now heavily in debt and unable
to protect, let alone develop, its natural resources.

At the root of the problem is corruption on a mind-boggling scale.

Said Allan Patience, professor of political science at the University of
Papua New Guinea: 'Since independence, most politicians have regarded
the national parliament as a means to amass personal fortunes. Most play
the system for what they can get out of it personally. A few have been
prosecuted. Even fewer have been imprisoned.'

Straight-out thieving by elected officials is commonplace. Last year
retiring head of state Sir Salas Atopare freely admitted that he
stripped the bedrooms and kitchen of Government House at the end of his
six-year term, taking away with him curtains, cookers, computers and
even his official vehicles.

Sheer wanton venality was again on show at the July by-election in Port
Moresby, the capital. Even though the winner would have been in the
parliament less than a year, candidates spent millions in the hope of
winning the seat.

The biggest-spending candidate, William Skate, the son of a former prime
minister, was accepted as a candidate despite being under the eligible
age of 25. He gave a false birth date on his application.

The crunch may come next year when the whole country goes to the polls.
Sir Michael Somare, 70, is running for re-election..

Mike Manning, the head of anti-corruption lobby group Privacy
International in Port Moresby, predicted that the coming general
election would replicate on a massive scale the corruption apparent at
the by-election in Port Moresby in July.

'How on earth are we going to run an election in the whole of the
country when we can't run a successful election (in Port Moresby)?'
Manning asked.

There are some who would welcome Australian intervention. Police
Minister Bire Kimisopa warned that 'we face the prospects of sliding
into anarchy if we choose deliberately to ignore our problems and
furthermore refuse assistance that only serves to enhance our independence'.

But Somare is antagonistic to Australia and last year rejected a plan to
have Australian police officers help restore law and order in his
country. Somare insisted he could deal with problems on his own,
pointing to the state of emergency he had declared in Southern Highlands
province where gangs armed and financed by Governor Hami Yawari had
taken charge and turned all roads into toll roads to amass personal
fortunes to match their boss's.

Yawari is still governor of the province and still sits in parliament
despite being accused of rampant corruption that has closed schools and
hospitals because staff have not been paid. Professor Patience warned
that the banditry in Southern Highlands might soon be replicated around
the country.

'Nothing short of a major international intervention can save PNG,' he
said. 'That PNG is a vast administrative and political mess is patently
obvious. It will soon be a major social disaster.'

(c) 2006 dpa – Deutsche Presse-Agentur

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