Giving a post-mortem on the country’s progress as a nation in a speech to mark 36 years of independence, Mr O’Neill said Papua New Guineans continued to miss out on basic services and live in a country that lacked infrastructure.
“Regardless of where you are, if you look around you, our infrastructure like roads and bridges, airports and wharves are in a shamble. Our health and education facilities are in a deplorable state.
“Our poor social indicators reflect this, and it’s a shame that we continue to lag behind many of our small pacific neighbours,” Mr O’Neill said.
He added that Papua New Guineans continued to be observers in nation building despite the country’s “rosy economic growth”, warning that the marginalising of the people could be a recipe for disaster.
“These [growth figures] are meaningless unless the people contribute directly and become active participants. We have fallen short of our national goals and principles enshrined in our constitution.
“The sum of our budgets in the last three and a half decades shows that we are by no means poor. We have simply squandered wealth we have been blessed with.”
According to the Manila-based Asian Development Bank, PNG ranks last among its Pacific developing member countries on both the UN Human Development Index and Human Poverty Index.
The drop in PNG’s social indicators and the failure by the National Alliance Party-led government to address the deterioration was the major reason behind the change in government, according to Mr O’Neill.
“This has happened because control of the nation’s wealth was concentrated in the hands of a powerful and reckless few. A government lacking participation by all means the nation was going to suffer. Change therefore, had to happen, and Parliament voted overwhelmingly for change on August 2,” he said.
However, the O’Neill government is in a race against time to right the wrongs of the NA government before the 2012 general election, a challenge he is willing to embrace.
“My government recognises the tough challenges ahead. With seven months to go before the general elections, time is not on our side. But we will not deviate from our responsibilities. We came into government to do a job, and we intend to do it diligently.”
Source: PNG Perspective, 16 September