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Heritagegate: Parliament for the people, by the people

EDITORIAL | PNG Post-Courier

The carvings (detail)THE PAPUA NEW GUINEA NATIONAL PARLIAMENT belongs to the seven million people of this great nation – not the National Parliament Speaker and Finschhafen MP Theo Zurenuoc. It is absolutely outrageous that one man’s religious affiliations and definitions of good and evil is allowed to take precedence over that of PNG’s 1,000 tribes.

Mr Zurenuoc might want to check out Section 45 of the PNG Constitution which is explicit on the freedom of conscience, thought and religion. Does his decision to remove and destroy those intricately carved decorations within and outside the National Parliament (without the vetting of the 111-seat National Parliament) amount to a breach of Section 45 of the PNG Constitution?

Does his decision to act unilaterally amount to an abuse of his powers?

The Catholic Bishops Conference (CBC) has become the latest organisation to condemn the actions of the speaker, describing it as ridiculous and the work of fundamentalist Christians.

“What’s happening to the parliament building is really ridiculous if true that behind the move are fundamentalist Christians who cannot distinguish between the novelty of the Gospel and what of the past needs to be preserved and treasured as least for collective and historical memory,” said the Catholic Bishops Conference general secretary Father Victor Roche.

Academic Craig Volker, a Professor of Linguistic Research at the Divine Word University, said a speaker of the PNG Parliament swore to uphold the PNG Constitution which states that the country was built on the twin pillars of Christian values and Melanesian tradition.

“A Speaker who is not Christian must nevertheless respect Christianity and its values. A religious fanatic must nevertheless respect the traditions of his ancestors. Someone unwilling to do either should not take on this job,” he said.

The decision by some of the world’s oldest practitioners of the Christian religion such as Greece, Armenia and Italy to protect and revere the art of their pre-Christian ancestors also raises questions about Mr Zurenuoc’s motives to remove PNG’s rich cultural heritage from the country’s highest law-making body.

“How is it that some of the oldest Christian countries, such as Greece, Armenia and Italy can protect and revere the beautiful art of their pre-Christian ancestors but Mr Zurenuoc cannot? Could it be they recognise beautiful art is beautiful no matter who produced it? Or do they understand that they do not have to follow outsiders who tell them their own culture and ancestors are demonic?” asked Professor Volker.

We support the moves by the National Museum and Art Gallery director Dr Andrew Moutu to go to court to stop this assault on PNG’s cultural heritage.

Every single Papua New Guinean has a right to have their traditional and cultural identity reflected in the National Parliament because it is that institution which ultimately determines our future and survival as a sovereign nation.

We appreciate the rights of all Papua New Guineans, including Mr Zurenuoc to practise religion at their own time and leisure, but that does not give them the authority to impose their rituals and definitions of a particular religious group on others.

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