TUMBY BAY - Apart from yesterday’s proposal by East Sepik governor Allan Bird to shoot border crossers from Indonesia, the most astonishing recent Papua New Guinea government statement came from prime minister James Marape on Monday 31 March.
If the report by Glenda Popot of FM100 is accurate, the Covid-19 crisis has prompted the prime minister to admit that “the country’s health system lacks proper resources and care facilities including basic medical drugs”.
Ms Popot reported Marape as saying that the Covid-19 pandemic had “awakened the government to this reality and to make correct interventions to the country’s health system”.
Marape added that the government “will ensure PNG’s health care system after the Covid-19 pandemic is responsive not only to big outbreaks such as this but the everyday health care of Papua New Guineans in all provinces”.
It makes you wonder where James Marape and the members of his government have been for the last 30 or 40 years.
Didn’t they notice the furore over the Borneo Pharmaceuticals scam or the Port Moresby General Hospital sending out requests for people to donate basic medical supplies like bandages which the government had failed to provide?
Didn’t they notice the desperate pleas from hospitals for equipment to treat people with cancer and other diseases and to perform simple procedures like scans and x-rays?
Perhaps they were all in Singapore getting top notch medical treatment at expensive private hospitals paid for by funds ripped off from taxpayers and aid agencies.
PNG is an extreme case of a government callously ignoring the well-being of citizens, but similar realisations are also taking place in developed countries.
In Australia, as Labor shadow treasurer Jim Chalmers observed in The Guardian, “hollowing out the state hurts people. We’re seeing the cold hard consequences of years of cuts and closures dressed-up as ‘savings’ and the outsourcing and offshoring of services in the name of ‘efficiency’.”
Nowhere has this fact become more apparent than in the USA where the Covid-19 crisis is having a devastating impact.
And yet there are still people in the States with their heads buried firmly in the sand, not least their morally bereft and wilfully ignorant president, Donald Trump.
Many world leaders are reluctantly acknowledging, if not in words then in actions, that neoliberalism has been shown to be a miserable failure. All it has achieved is massive inequality-making rich people richer and poor people poorer.
Chalmers went on to say that “every facet of Australian life will be tested by this moment. The quality of our health system, the foundations of our economy, the strength of our democracy and the ties that bind us together are being challenged in ways we could not have imagined weeks ago”.
And yet we have leaders like Trump talking about getting back to business as usual once the crisis has passed.
Australia will find itself in massive debt when it is over. That debt is going to take generations to pay off. But at least our prime minister eventually threw caution to the wind and accepted that people’s lives mattered more than debt.
But where on earth is James Marape going to find the money to bring Papua New Guinea’s health system up to even a basic level of resourcing and efficiency? He is struggling to find the resources to tackle the current crisis let alone what happens after it.
Creating a healthy society involves a lot more than just upgrading a few hospitals. Basic stuff like access to clean water will have to be addressed. So too will housing and sewerage, especially in the towns and cities.
It is a monumental task.
Will it involve more loans, more aid, more grants and more Chinese influence? Is that even possible in a country hocked to the gills already?
And what about all the other sectors of governance that have been neglected? These things all have a knock on effect.
Surely if Marape is going to fix the health system he will need to fix other services, including the education system.
Acknowledging the problem is a good first step but it is going to take more than spin and prayers to genuinely address the task.