IN the midst of a storm of social media protest, an Australian friend of Papua New Guinea has told PNG Attitude he will “make up the Steamies deficit” to ensure the planned print run of the 2014 Anthology of the best PNG creative writing can be maintained.
The donor wishes to remain anonymous.
On Friday, after seven months of repeated commitments to fund the Crocodile Prize short story award, including advising that “payment is being raised”, Steamships Trading Company on Friday made the shock announcement that it was reneging on the agreement. No explanation was given.
Organisers made immediate arrangements to maintain funding for the short story award. This had to be done by diverting money from the production of the annual Anthology, reducing the anticipated print run from 1,500 to 1,000 books.
The Anthology, the only collection of its kind in PNG, features excellent creative writing by local authors and is designed to encourage the more rapid development of an indigenous written literature. Most of the books – this year’s Anthology will run to about 400 pages - are distributed free of charge.
Steamships’ last-minute action has been roundly criticised in social media.
“This is totally irresponsible for a major corporate citizen in PNG,” said political candidate and sometime poet Jeff Febi.
University lecturer Jane Awi said: “This is really disappointing when individuals voluntarily make efforts to build a literate PNG and big companies like Steamship do not live up to their commitment to the people of PNG. I thought Steamship was committed to improving the lives of Papua New Guineans, however this does not seem like it.”
Public affairs commentator Martyn Namorong said: “[Steamships] snubbing of the Crocodile Prize reflects their attitude towards PNG intellectuals in both public and private spheres of influence. It also raises questions whether Steamships can be viewed as a reliable partner not just in the development of PNG literature but in the growth and development of PNG as a nation.”
Scientist, poet and COG member Michael Dom wrote: “Steamships support was essential to getting our job done properly. The manner in which they have reneged their agreement is a betrayal of trust and indeed poor corporate behaviour.
“I thought that was what Steamships was doing, particularly with their category, the short story. Obviously I was wrong and this was only a passing fad to them. Well, thanks Steamies, very. We are disappointed in this indifferent dumping, but not devastated by it. The Crocodile Prize will not be a passing fad and its story will not be short.”
The awards and associated activities including the production of the Anthology, workshops and fellowships are run by the Crocodile Prize Organising Group, COG, made up of 15 Papua New Guineans and Australians who work without remuneration to administer the annual program, now in its fourth year.