TUMBY BAY - “Papua New Guinea’s brew of debt-laden government, poor health services and social fragmentation means it is uniquely placed to suffer at the hands of coronavirus.” So says ABC journalist Melissa Clark.
What she is referring to is the possibility of PNG becoming a failed state because of the coronavirus.
It is worth noting that similar questions have been asked for different reasons ever since PNG became independent.
In a nation that is run by a political class with overwhelming propensities for kleptomania, bribery and a distinct lack of anything approaching a social conscience, this is not an unreasonable expectation.
What seems to surprise many commentators is the fact that whenever PNG reaches the brink it somehow manages to step back just in time.
Or perhaps, to rephrase that statement, someone always seems to come along to pull it back from the brink.
Usually that someone is Australia, which doesn’t want a basket case nation on its doorstep. At other times it’s international organisation like the International Monetary Fund or World Bank.
Lately, the rescue squad has included China.
So whenever PNG stuffs up it goes running to these countries and organisations like a spoilt child with a grazed knee.
So ingrained is that process that it has become the accepted modus operandi for successive governments and prime ministers.
Papua New Guinea doesn’t seem to be able to manage money, especially other people’s money. Its politicians regard the money it collects from royalties, taxes and aid as a honeypot. Their honeypot.
That, of course, is a malady affecting many developing nations.
It is what makes the difference between a well-run nation with fully functioning health care systems, extensive infrastructure and good educational facilities and one with a bloated elite surrounded by a poverty stricken populace.
Why this is so in PNG is a mystery given the friendliness, warmth and generosity of its ordinary people.
These people largely live in isolation from their government. What the government does is of little consequence to the average Papua New Guinean.
These fine folk just get on with life, cultivating their gardens, looking after each other and making do as best they can.
If the PNG government ceased to exist tomorrow it would make little difference to most villagers.
If coronavirus pushed the PNG economy over the brink, where it has tottered for so long, it’s hard to see it making any difference at all.
There is little doubt that coronavirus is going to ravage PNG. It will spill in from West Papua and run rampant through the nation. Many people will die.
But PNG will survive. It will develop herd immunity and pull through, chastened and bruised but still in one piece.
Whether its government and its economy crashes in the process is largely irrelevant.
That will affect relatively few fat cats and elites and the odd multinational rent seeker. People that PNG doesn’t really need anyway.
PNG might even come out of the other side of the crisis in better shape than it entered it.
The rapacious loggers have ceased operations because of the virus and so too have many other natural resource exploiters. That may be a good sign.
Maybe the virus will purge Papua New Guinea of such people.
It’s even being suggested that a knight in shining armour might emerge, a true leader of the people, to pick up the shattered pieces and craft a new nation which will serve everyone and not just the privileged few.
Maybe the coronavirus crisis is the crisis that Papua New Guinea has to have?