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Dry docked in the desert & the excesses of Peter O’Neill

Freighter approaching Abu DhabiKEITH JACKSON

I write this aboard MV Nautica which is tied up alongside in Abu Dhabi, the richest of, and something of a banker for, the other Gulf emirates because of its vast oil wealth. Outside, the thermometer has just passed the 100 degree Fahrenheit mark.

The long voyage that will take us to Cape Town has just begun and at this first port of call I’ve consigned myself to my cabin, not because the desert sand doesn’t have its attractions but because of my need to visit the ship’s doctor with what turned out to be an inflamed ear drum.

Dr Florante Bejar is a pleasant Filipino, a rotund young man, and we joke that the great thing about impaired hearing is that there are some discussions you’d rather not listen to.

One I’d rather not have heard recently is the discussion in Papua New Guinea about a potential government crackdown on the media – both mainstream and social.

The situation is serious enough for Sir Mekere Morauta, surely one of PNG’s most credible political figures, to have referred to the O’Neill government’s “threats… to the right of free speech and to the freedom and independence of the media.”

Sir Mek said the threats are designed to “silence legitimate criticism – including criticism of the official corruption that appears to exist at the heart of government.”

He added that “the nation would seem to be moving step by step towards becoming a dictatorship.”

Now, while this seems to be emotive and even inflammatory talk, it needs to be considered against two matters of context.

One is that Sir Mek seems to be, by instinct and practice, no revolutionary: he's a man with a long history of temperate language and measured action.

The other consideration is that, whenever Mr O’Neill has been under pressure on questions of his own propriety, he has shown a tendency to want to lay waste to the perceived threat and all around it – even if this involves circumventing the Constitution, defying the judiciary, marginalising critics and, now, gagging the media.

In the Maldives Republic, where I am to visit in a few days and where I spent two challenging years in the 1970s, vice-president Ahmed Adeeb has just been arrested and charged with high treason in connection with an alleged plot to assassinate president Abdulla Yameen.

Mr Yameen has something of a track record in silencing opponents after he himself came to power in a successful coup against a democratically elected president.

I make this reference not only because I am heading to the Maldives where I will meet up with old friends, with whom I will not talk politics, but to draw a comparison, however odious, with PNG.

True leadership in a democracy – or anywhere - is not playing rough with opponents just because you have the power so to do. Leadership implies a great deal of tolerance to criticism – even though it may be offensive.

The law offers adequate remedies to turpitudes such as defamation and malicious lies. And it is the law, not the power of the state, that should be used to bring malevolence and wickedness into line.

My primary concern about this current PNG government is that Mr O’Neill has never acted like he was a man with nothing to fear.

He has consistently acted like a man who very much fears some consequences.


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mathias kin

O'Neil's actions so far in his 4 years of reign are testaments of "a man who very much fears some consequences".

Fidelis Sukina

I agree with the last paragraph he is acting like he has something to hide, some politicians step down because they put society first, some just don't have that in them, they just want to fight on even though its obvious that people have noticed the bad deeds you have done.

He should have just stepped down and waited for investigations into his alleged misconduct instead of fighting and delaying the process.

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