Published under the headline ‘PNG waste stretches neighbourly concern’
GLOBE-trotting fashionista foreign minister Julie Bishop needs to explain why Australian taxpayers are bankrolling Papua New Guinea’s vanity projects when that nation is economically febrile — if it has not already fallen into the pit — and our own economy is wallowing.
Numerous companies doing business with the PNG government have not been paid monies owed, the government itself has not met bills for its own instrumentalities, and we are picking up the cheque.
Last week both the PNG Parliament House and the Governor-General’s residency had their electricity cut off because of more than $320,000 in unpaid bills.
A former prime minister, Sir Mekere Morauta, who retired five years ago, said he may re-enter politics at the election due in July-August to fight what he says is “the growing web of corruption, abuse, and poverty the country is trapped in” and deal with growing levels of public debt — more than 33.5% of GDP on conservative IMF figures.
He detailed a growing list of other concerns, including the mortgaging of future income to debt repayment, depriving basic services such as health and education of proper funding, the recession in the non-mining sector, with people losing jobs daily and businesses cutting expenditure to the bone, and poor job prospects for school leavers.
He said the government is not paying businesses for services provided, which in turn leaves companies struggling to pay their own bills and staff, the value of the kina is declining and prices rising and that there is nothing to show from LNG, oil, gas, gold and copper wealth, apart from glamour projects in Port Moresby.
“Where is all the money, people wonder,” he said.
Sir Mekere said there had been severe budget cuts to health and education, that teachers, doctors, health workers and policemen were not being paid properly or on time and that universities — UPNG, Unitech, Goroka and Vudal — were being starved of resources, yet the government is building a new one in Ialibu, where only the principal building contractors will benefit.
He said there had been a breakdown of the machinery and system of government, and a weakening, destruction and politicisation of institutions of state.
He accused prime minister Peter O’Neill’s government of dictatorship-type rule which threatened democratic principles and practice, with the PNG parliament being used as a rubber stamp and said there was a lack of respect for the rule of law with heavy interference in law and justice agencies, threats to media personnel and suppression of media freedom and a crushing of dissent and violent treatment of student protesters.
“People see no sign of the root problems being addressed. People are afraid that the situation will get worse if the roots are allowed to rot further.
“People are telling me that they want a new government after the election, with a new leader,” he said.
“I chose to retire from politics five years ago. I am enjoying my retirement.
“I am enjoying spending time with family and friends, boating, fishing, reading, travelling, maintaining a continuing oversight of PNGSDP (Papua New Guinea Sustainable Development Program) and contributing to society in other ways.
“But I feel the concern of people. I hear what they are saying. I share their fears.
“More and more I find it difficult to ignore the growing chorus everywhere I go — in markets, shops, offices, restaurants, from academics, business leaders, public servants, professionals, market sellers, policemen, former MPs, current MPs, intending candidates, men and women I pass in the street,” he said.
Australians should care, too, because despite PNG’s frequent claims of economic and political independence it is always begging for more Australian aid.
Most recently, Australia pledged an extra $100 million to underwrite a continuing Australian Federal Police presence in PNG during next year’s Port Moresby-based APEC conference.
Last week New Zealand Foreign Minister Murray McCully, the man who gave NZ’s backing to last year’s anti-Israeli resolution at the UN in December, pledged his country’s support to PNG for next year’s APEC summit.
Both Australia and New Zealand would claim that they are providing support to PNG to head off the massive inroads China is making into the economy of our nearest neighbour but neither government seems interested in addressing the problem of corruption.
Earlier this month two senior ministers were suspended after they were accused of benefiting from the purchase of land by a government corporation. The land, 10km from the sea, was bought for a naval base.
Both the Minister for State Enterprise William Duma and the Defence Minister Fabian Pok are being investigated by the police and the Ombudsman Commission.
Duma is the minister responsible for the government corporation which purchased the land but is alleged to also own or have a proxy interest in a parcel of land owned by the corporation.
Pok is accused of appointing his brother-in-law as the Secretary of Defence and of being inappropriately involved in directing the department to purchase the land. Both men deny the allegations.
Corruption claims in PNG are nothing new but Australian and New Zealand companies are complaining that their bills aren’t being paid while their respective governments are handing even more money to PNG.
As the number of PNG ministers investing in homes in Australia continues to grow, an investigation by Australia into the manner in which grant money is being spent is long overdue.