|From Kevin Lock 25/07/06
An account by David Wall who has just returned from PNG after a 'sentimental journey' to the Sepik .
My return to the EastSepikProvince in June 2006
|My friends said "don't go back, you'll be so disappointed." This view seemed to be reinforced by reading Professor Patience's article in the Sydney Morning Herald June 1, 2006**
|My desire to return to the Sepik, however, remained strong. This was an area I worked in the sixties and early seventies and I had many friends still living there.The few words I write are based on first impressions and appearances, but perhaps provide something of an authentic insight by one who saw stark contrasts between the colonial East Sepik District and the present East Sepik Province, but what had not changed was perhaps something most fundamental. This was the fine quality of the Sepik people. They were still essentially the same friendly, hospitable, accepting, and genuine people I knew of old.
Wewak is still a vibrant township, but with obvious signs of degeneration and decay that somewhat mar first impressions: pot holes in the roads, litter and the inappropriate dumping of rubbish. Existing buildings and structures appear to be in general poorly maintained.
|The Wewak hospital looks rundown and, I remarked to someone that maintenance in the last thirty years or so seems to have been at a minimum. The local people told me about the inadequate medical supplies in stock in the hospital, and the time taken to get a diagnosis. From what I could see, there has been a general breakdown of government health services. Aid Posts no longer exist in the villages. The anti-malaria campaign of the past has been stopped. The one rural hospital that I observed in Angoram is little more than a clinic with no in-patients. This is at a time when there is an emerging HIV/AIDS epidemic.|
| In Wewak, the stores in town seem to employ as many security guards as assistants. The fate of Angoram, a past vigorous and lively town on the SepikRiver makes me so sad for the people still living there.
Shortly before I visited Angoram, I met Sir Michael Somare, the Prime Minister, at a Yacht Club function in Wewak. Sir Michael was known to me in my younger days. We are both seventy years old and my first impressions of him were that he was a shadow of his former self, but then again, he may have been only somewhat tired and if he remembered me, he may have thought that I was a shadow of my former self. Anyhow, I told him that I intended to visit Angoram and he informed me that it was just the same.
|It was perhaps just the same as it was in the previous week, but it is certainly not the same town that I remembered in the old days.
Angoram no longer has a functioning airstrip, wharf, or power plant, in fact, there has been no power for four years. Buildings are in an appalling state of repair, and in many cases no longer exist. The people are disillusioned and distrustful of their politicians. The feeling I got was that if a referendum was held posing the question of whether the country should be returned to Australian rule, ninety percent of theSepik people would vote yes.
I did also visit Maprik and Dreikikir and I was much more impressed with what seems to be happening in terms of road building and in the erection of permanent structures in these towns and surrounding villages. Maprik is a bustling little township and a lot of
|dynamism I observed in the area is said to have sprung from an energetic local member, Gabriel Kapris who was elected in 2002.
I left the EastSepikProvince with a lot of troubling questions unanswered. Why was a Malaysian logging company allowed to start operations is such a sensitive ecological forest in the area behind Kaup and the MurikLakes? Why are priceless teak trees being sold to a Thai logging company for as little as K100 each in the villages around Yangoru?
The Sepik people deserve more than they have been given by their government and particularly my friends who are still living in Angoram.
** Sydney Morning Herald, June 1, 2006
|Papua New Guinea is a vast administrative and political mess, writes Allan Patience - Professor of Political Science, University ofPapua NewGuinea.The dreadful events that erupted in Dili last week followed hard on the heels of the burning of Honiara. Together, they constitute a dire warning for Australia. In both cases Canberra reacted to events. It seems not to have anticipated them
The simple fact is that all of the South Pacific states are struggling with increasingly intractable and dangerous problems of misgovernment. Nowhere is this more ominous than in Papua New Guinea. Australia has a serious Pacific problem, right on its doorstep.
There is incontrovertible evidence that the situation in PNG is worsening by the day. The systemic corruption that poisons the political system from top to bottom is well known Transparency International continues to downgrade PNG each year on its international corruption index. Late last year the PNG police force was strongly criticised by Human Rights Watch International for routinely imprisoning, bashing, torturing and raping children.
Crimes of violence are escalating, including bashings, murder and the rape of very young children, teenage girls and women. HIV/AIDS is out of control, as are malaria and tuberculosis. Health services are collapsing.
The education system has all but disintegrated Literacy rates are plummeting as schools close. Teachers are not being paid properly, or are not being paid at all. The higher education sector is fragmented and grotesquely under-resourced. It long ago ceased being the main builder of human capacity for PNG.
Over the past two years the United Nations Development Program has placed PNG successively lower on its Human Development Index because essential services are failing and governance is stalling. Now the UN has warned that PNG may be downgraded from being a "developing state" to a "least developed state", ranking it among the poorest nations in the world.
Canberra's befuddled responses to the looming crisis in PNG have been as reactive as its responses to the Honiara and Dili catastrophes. Its aid programs over the three decades of PNG's independence have, at best, held a shaky line between basic incompetence and total disaster.
It was stirred into renewed action in the wake of the intensifying US-led war against terrorism. It has stepped up aid to PNG and sought to intervene more directly to improve public administration. Yet the results are not promising.
The failed Enhanced Co-operation Program was a calamity waiting to happen. Even though many Papua New Guineans supported Australian police and bureaucrats coming to help deal with mounting law and order and governance problems, the scheme was ham-fisted from the outset. It placed well-paid, well-fed, well-uniformed, well-housed, well-equipped Australian police on duty alongside woefully paid, hungry, shabbily dressed, disastrously accommodated, hopelessly equipped PNG counterparts.
The contrasts could not have been sharper. The inevitable resentments erupted swiftly.
For a program such as this to succeed, a significant injection of resources into the PNG police force is needed, to improve pay rates (which are absurdly inadequate), to upgrade police bases, to increase mobility (outrunning decrepit police cars in Port Moresby is a
popular entertainment), to upgrade accommodation (most police officers and their families live in hovels), and to radically upgrade education programs.
|Many middle-level and senior officers need to be sent to Australia for training and to gain experience, which would radically improve capacity and morale.
There are many other issues that reflect the inadequacy of Australia's myopic and paternalistic diplomacy with PNG. These include the short-term working visa proposal at the Pacific Islands Forum summit late last year. John Howard bluntly turned the proposal down, promising instead to fund a major regional TAFE college somewhere in the region.
|Yet firm plans for this have yet to materialise.he non-attendance of Australian ministers at the recent Australia-PNG Business Council meeting in Cairns is an unfortunate indicator that PNG ranks low in Canberra's esteem.
There are very serious problems on the PNG side of the equation, too. Governments in PNG have long been managed by ministers who overestimate their leadership and administrative capacities.
Since independence, most politicians have regarded the national Parliament as a means to amass personal fortunes. Pitifully few have articulated a vision for nation-building and governance improvement. Most play the system for what they can get out of it ersonally. A few have been prosecuted. Even fewer have been imprisoned. Most are basically venal and many are seriously corrupt.
Good government has been swamped by the bad politics of political survival. This is especially true of the latest Somare Government. Although it has been in power for four years, it has achieved little in terms of policy reform for national development. Its main claim to fame is its handling of the economy. While this has hardly been a stellar achievement, some stability and discipline has been realized under the cautious supervision of the Treasurer, Bart Philemon.
|But Philemon is now a partial victim of the bad politics of political survival. In a recent mini-reshuffle of cabinet, he lost the finance portfolio, which was given to a minister who is unlikely to demonstrate Philemon's caution and discipline. It is widely anticipated that Philemon will lose Treasury as well in another reshuffle heralded by Somare. Given that the next general election is a year away, what small successes the Somare Government has achieved will be unwound in the pork-barrelling for which PNG is infamous.|
|That PNG is a vast administrative and political mess is patently obvious. It will soon be a major social disaster.|
|Does Australia have the resources or the foreign policy acumen to handle the problems that will flow as a result? On present indications, the answer would have to be "no". Nothing short of a major international intervention can save PNG. The real test for Australia will be whether it can assemble and co-ordinate a multilateral approach to PNG - and to all of the South Pacific|