Land, money & the contradictions of rural life
Born with a purpose

Life goes on at the bottom as PNG reels from the top

BY JO CHANDLER
THE AGE

ENLISTING THE MIGHTY MODERN EPISTLE of the tweet, and the old magic of a powerful image, the ABC's Port Moresby correspondent nailed the bleak, stranger-than-fiction reality his city woke to yesterday morning.

There in a stream - a rubbish-clogged drain, really - running just below the blockaded gates of the Papua New Guinea Parliament, unbothered and unnoticed by rebel police protesting against the latest twist in the Byzantine power play capturing the capital, a young woman scrubbed her laundry.

On her head she proudly wore the national colours. ''While the political storm rages, the lives of grassroots PNGeans continue unaffected,'' observed Liam Fox.

Whether that holds true this morning, following potentially explosive moves within the Parliament late yesterday to declare a state of emergency in the capital - the first in well over a decade, and the first ever provoked by political events - and in restive parts of the highlands, remains to be seen.

For several hours early in the day, the group of apparently unarmed police at the blockade refused to let anyone into Parliament.

No MPs would be allowed in until after the national elections, scheduled to begin late next month, they told reporters.

The action of the police in blocking the gates - trying to thwart any political moves that might derail the election - reflected the exasperation and yearning of people across PNG who are desperate to use their votes to bring about an end to seven months of crippling political impasse.

Such sentiments are shared by street vendors, rural farmers and the elite ''twitterati'' who have harnessed social media to campaign, all the while urging fellow citizens to keep a lid on their frustrations lest they provide authorities with an excuse to delay the poll.

Although Parliament had been officially dissolved almost two weeks back, for three days Prime Minister Peter O'Neill has been trying to rustle up a quorum to deal with the latest crisis - a controversial decision by the Supreme Court on Monday reaffirming its judgment of last December that his claim on power is illegitimate.

Despite enjoying the support of the bureaucracy, the majority of the police, military chiefs and a population largely disenchanted with the failures of the Somare era, the court has now twice determined the process by which Sir Michael was removed was unconstitutional.

O'Neill and his deputy, Belden Namah, accused the court of bias. Namah's tirades against the judges had already provoked them to whack him with contempt charges.

On Thursday, he displayed his contempt by charging into the Supreme Court with a posse of police and soldiers and demanding the arrest of Chief Justice Sir Salamo Injia for sedition. Sir Salamo secured himself in his chambers, telling reporters he feared for his safety and for PNG's democracy. The Chief Justice yesterday found himself before a court, and bailed until July 1.

By yesterday afternoon, the police blockade had been overcome by the momentum of the conflict between the nation's executive and the judiciary. The MPs made their way into the chamber and more than 40 of them voted to nullify the Supreme Court order and to declare the state of emergency across the capital and in the volatile Southern Highlands provinces, where the $16 billion Exxon-led gas project approaches completion.

Some experts say that under the constitution, a state of emergency does allow the deferral of an election, and this prospect ignited distress on PNG's social media political sites. Anxieties were also high that the crisis might provoke another attempted military intervention. It's understood military leaders are deeply divided over the events.

This was despite the PM's declaration the election would go ahead on schedule, and his assurance that people's movements would not be restricted.

Police would ''do their best'' to respect the rights of citizens, he said. But experts recall that previous emergency provisions have enlisted heavy-handed policing, harassment and abuses of human rights.

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William Dunlop

Vale Laurie Doolan late DC Chimbu. Read both books
from Laurie's personal library late 1969.

Laurie had great foresight, considered them mandatory reading for new chums.

Clyde Willis

Note some of these places have religious road blocks to development of lower castes and obviously aid money will end up with the upper or high castes, if the boundaries can be expanded in these then a developed or middle class/caste maybe.

Peter Kranz

I've just seen an interview on ABC with an Australian Aid worker who lives in Sudan/Ethopia with a Muslim husband.

She is a Christian and her faith has inspired her, but has not had a negative influence on her work - in fact quite the opposite. She is married to a Muslim Afar man and she has been working there for 40 years with the Afar people, who are nomadic and traditionally cross political frontiers every year as they have done so for generations - which of course makes them suspect when it come to national authorities.

The ABC interviewer asks her why so much Aid funding hasn't produced results in the last 30 years.

Her reply (paraphrased) - because this has not empowered my local people. Aid works within western frameworks of governance - this may be irrevelant to a nomadic and tribal people. If you give money to one Government organisation to help my brothers and sisters, and they move to another province, what good is that? Plus the local officials take all the money anyway.

You must empoower local people to control their lives as they see fit - health, education, welfare, agriculture etc. Sure they are 'developing', but they are calling out for education. Giving to Government institutions with all their vested interests is a recipe for failure. Which is what I see amongst the Afar.

You can't fight problems like HIV/Aids, female circumcision, malaria, starvation etc. from external sources. You must do it from within.

Granted there are few nomadic people in PNG (although there are some), but the messaage about empowerment of local communities and the waste of aid funding over many years I think rings true for PNG too.

And you can't enforce it from outside.

Paul Oates

‘Richer than all his Tribe’ was the second Monsarrat novel about that mythical African colony that seems for some reason, to resonate so well with somewhere very close to home. The first novel was 'The Tribe that lost its Head'.

Both novels were of course fiction and yet are so close to the truth that one would think Monsarrat must have lived through the whole experience.

Now what was the rare stamp from that colony that the old Administrator was trying to find? A purple 1 penny, I think, or was it a halfpenny?

Course it's been 40 years since I read those books. Thanks for reminding me Harry.

Harry Topham

These events seem to unfolding as if they have been following the script from a Nicholas Monsarrat novel.

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