THE trajectory of Papua New Guinea as a failing state now seems fairly well established.
The dismal failure of successive PNG governments to deliver honest and competent government must inevitably have consequences.
The developments referred to in Michael Main’s article, ‘PNG gets a dose of resource curse as LNG project foments unrest’, may be the first major symptom of a developing socio-economic catastrophe.
Even if the PNG Defence Force and Royal PNG Constabulary had the will to seriously intervene in this dispute in Hela Province, they seem unlikely to have the capacity to usefully do so.
In this context, I note that two of the men in the photo accompanying this article appear to be carrying FN self-loading rifles, an assault rifle with which I am familiar.
If these are men from Hela and if there are many more such weapons in circulation, it bodes very ill for the PNG government.
With halfway decent leadership, a fairly small group of men armed in this way could inflict grievous harm upon even a well-armed, well trained and well-led military.
If they opted to pursue guerrilla warfare tactics, they could tie up all the PNGDF resources trying to protect the gas plant.
Of course, this is mere speculation on my part. It is entirely possible that angry landowners can again be bought off by empty promises and rhetoric, with a bit of ready cash thrown in.
However, this time, if the Hela people are smart, they will take over the whole show and only allow it to operate on their terms. Certainly, that is what I would do in their situation.
A shrewd leadership group could try to negotiate a deal directly with Exxon Mobil and simply cut the PNG government out of the arrangement.
This might lead to a more transparent and rigorously enforceable funding arrangement.
I guess time will tell.
Meanwhile, in Canberra .... silence.