Sir Paulias challenges govt to pick up its game
PNG report: Almost every indicator in decline

Is PNG’s future here – and Australia bereft?

In June, after the high drama of anti-Asian riots and the low comedy of AusAID consultants paid salaries amounting to half Australia’s aid budget, I wrote that grassroots neglect and urban social dislocation compounded by low and high level corruption are gnawing at the very sinews of PNG society.

I also remarked the seeming inability of the Australian government to deal with the complex political and social dynamics of our nearest neighbour.

Now, concerns about where PNG is headed are increasingly being expressed at the highest levels in PNG itself.

On Friday, Governor-General Sir Paulias Matane, complaining of crime and corruption, said “ineffective leadership at the political, business, professional, church and community levels has crippled PNG.”

It was an elaboration of a theme Sir Paulias raised in an Independence Day address last month when he pondered aloud on what the future held. “Thirty-four years of ineffective government and public service delivery since independence has resulted in the unfortunate mess we are in today,” he said.

This was in stark contrast to Prime Minister Somare’s own words at about the same time, telling of his pride in the gains the nation had made despite the obstruction of unnamed “opportunists”.

Sir Michael blamed “loose talk” for “distracting us from the fact that we are growing our economy”. He reminisced how, in the sixties, he had “with my colleagues change[d] the course of our history and destiny as a people of one nation.”

In a recent interview on Al Jazeera, Sir Michael offered mixed messages. While saying he “didn’t think” the country’s leadership is corrupt, he admitted to serious corruption among public servants “below the level of senior departmental head” and called upon people “to reveal to us who are corrupt."

And in a statement that would worry our government, he said China’s presence in the Pacific could offset Australia’s influence in the region and foreshadowed that PNG will look to China to train its military.

What was even more noteworthy about the interview was his willingness to disparage his own nation. “Our people are like that – they like throwing stones,” he said dismissively, referring to the riots. And, in comparing the Chinese and Melanesian work ethics: “Chinese are workaholics. They’ll work all day and night; Melanesians work when we feel like it. Chinese don’t complain; my people do.”

The nub of the problem, of course, would seem not to be the people but Sir Michael’s government. “PNG needs leaders who are as clean and white as white paper,” says Morobe Governor Luther Wenge. “That is why we are going backwards. Leaders want ten percent under the table first before they work. Many leaders have dirty hands.”

Chief Secretary Manasupe Zurenuoc admits PNG is worse off than ever: “We have been independent for over 35 years and have not fared well in terms of delivering services to our people,” he says. “[Public servants] are running around Waigani without any understanding of the real problems in the provinces. They are out of touch with the real world. They just collect their pay and could not care about what happens out there.”

Councillor Mapun Papol of Mt Hagen condemns the “rot in the public service” that forces ordinary citizens to pay bribes. “If you want something to be done for you, you need to pay a bribe or else your enquiry or application will be ignored and then chucked into the bin. Bribery is a secret income for public servants.”

Treasury Secretary, Simon Tosali, admits that, even though PNG has experienced strong economic growth in recent years, unless drastic measures are enacted it “will never be able to address the economic imbalances in the country and empower people in rural areas”. People who, per capita, live on an income of around one dollar a day.

Academic James Chin – who researches the Chinese diaspora - forecasts an increase in physical attacks against mainland Chinese in PNG and makes the startling prediction that “it is almost certain that Chinese triads will establish a presence”.

He points out that, outside the oil and gas sectors, China is the biggest investor in PNG, with mainland Chinese and Malaysian Chinese predominant. The so-called ‘new Chinese’ number around 20,000 with more arriving each week mostly from mainland China, often without proper documentation.

Chin says the weight of mainland Chinese numbers and their important economic role mean they will soon dominate whole sections of PNG’s economy.

I’ve observed previously that there is high emotion in all this for many of us who lived and worked in PNG. It was once a territory Australia held in trust, and our people served and died there in peace and war. Many of us still feel a strong personal connection to its people, regarding them almost as kith and kin.

The present PNG leadership seems to have turned its back on its own people and to be drifting away from Australia. Discussions I’ve had with Australian politicians reveal anxieties about the character of a post-Somare PNG government. There are fears it could be very toxic indeed.

In fact, it’s possible that this future may already have arrived. PNG looks like it may be headed for an unstable period with outcomes inimical to Australia’s interests.

It’s not the kind of problem you want on your doorstep.


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How disgusting is that when a diplomat can abuse the system and the next day fly out of PNG, and they say we are corrupt.

Ray Baloiloi

Good afternoon and warm greetings from “up north PNG”.

After it got to me via emails here in POM, I read with interest the recent copy of The Attitude and noted some interesting and informative articles.

I would very much like to be included in your circulation list if you do not mind.

I very much love & treasure my beloved country of birth and am doing my best to assist in its nation-building with whatever capacity I have to the best of my ability.

Your newsletter interests me a lot and motivates me by giving some perspectives and insights into PNG from “people looking from the outside” and inside as well.

Thank you kindly and may God bless you.

Phil Charley OAM

A great edition of PNG Attitude.

Congratulations on your excellent lead article on the current situation in PNG. It's very clear that a quick, positive response from the Australian government to assist with PNG's problems is needed.

Also, good to hear that The National Library has accepted PNG Attitude for public access. Well done!

Finally -- Your story on young Highlander Kevin was hilarious!

Jesse Chee

I look forward to PNG Attitude. I find it most enlightening and, like all publications, there are some articles which reflect different opinions than your own.

Paul A Povey

As a long term resident of PNG, over 25 years, I find your comments most interesting.

I now reside in Tabubil, the safest town in PNG. I have several business interests and employ close to 600 people here and in the Western Province and Port Moresby.

My interest in POM as co-owner of a popular hotel and bar relates to your comments on bribery and corruption in government departments.

For the past 18 months I've been awaiting planning permission to develop the block next to the hotel which will also entail fencing to upgrade security.

To date...nothing. Why? Because I won't pay the middlemen their gambling monies.

Unfortunately I have 20 pokie machines in the main bar, which I loathe. Sadly, if they weren't there, neither would most of my PNG customers, who play them from opening until closing time.

As a pub owner I see many different sides and hear many versions of the same stories.

Recently my the hotel manager ended up in PIH having his nose reset and facial surgery after a governor of a highlands province decided he and his cohorts didn't want to leave the club bar after midnight and demanded a lock in.

When the manager informed them it wasn't possible and asked them to vacate, the governor beat him severely.

The police have yet to lay charges. The medical bill to date is almost K5,000.

Last year an Australian diplomat attended a luncheon and thereafter ended up in the club bar from five onwards where by he picked up several local ladies and got quite inebriated.

On leaving the bar he smashed his car into four vehicles in the car park, crushing an eleven year old girl between two cars. One of the vehicles belonged to the head of the Aussie High Commission security.

He claimed diplomatic immunity, was taken to a safe house, and to the airport the following morning.

The young girl was admitted to a grotty bed in POM General with fractured ribs and abrasions. The agency was informed and took two days to have her transferred to PIH. Her parents were Hanuabada village people who we assisted until the agency was advised it would be in their interest to.

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