Misinterpreting PNG: rhetoric, exaggeration & inequality
Death of Chris Owen – esteemed maker of films about PNG

Stop the misallocation of relief funds & fix things, prime minister

Sir Mekere Morauta
Sir Mekere Morauta

SIR MEKERE MORAUTA

PORT MORESBY - It is time for prime minister Peter O’Neill to stop talking and start acting; to stop blaming others for the mess the nation is in, and to introduce an immediate program of reform and reconstruction.

I have been warning for many years that Mr O’Neill has squandered opportunities for future national development and prosperity, and now we can see the devastating consequences every day, including the response to the earthquake.

The inadequacy of the government’s relief effort is obvious. Even Mr O’Neill himself recognised that when he said he was disappointed with the ‘slow start’.

It would not surprise me if the reports about the National Disaster Committee being locked out of its office due to non-payment of rent are true. There’s a hole in the bucket, Mr O’Neill, which needs plugging as quickly as possible.

Stop blaming public servants, stop blaming other people. Take responsibility and most of all take action to plug the holes.

The important point I am making is that the systems and processes of government have been incapacitated by Mr O’Neill’s corruption, waste and mismanagement.

If he had listened to my calls for a properly planned and funded program of reform and reconstruction, and similar recommendations from international experts, Papua New Guinea would not be in the dire straits that it is in now.

His failure to fix the economy and government finances, as I and others have suggested innumerable times, is the major factor in the cause of our current problems, including the slow and inadequate relief efforts. National emergency systems appear to have completely broken down.

Why did it take three days for the prime minister to declare a state of emergency? Why did it take him 10 days to visit the quake zone? Why isn’t there a full-scale international response led and coordinated by recognised experts?

The prime minister has failed the nation and he has failed his own people.

There are still thousands of terrified villagers reportedly sleeping in the open air, without shelter, or with inadequate shelter. They are hungry and thirsty, as their gardens and water sources have been destroyed or are polluted.

I am informed by reliable domestic and international sources that the medical response is not up to the task. Mr O’Neill’s corrupt medical supplies contracts have ensured that there are still not enough medical supplies to deal with the demand from medical relief teams and provincial health workers.

Relief sources say mobile medical centres and operating theatres are needed urgently, and that only international partners can supply them.

The national government’s inadequate response was in contrast to the effectiveness of efforts by NGOs, the private sector (especially Oil Search) and Australia and New Zealand. They are doing a first-class job but need to be able to coordinate their efforts with the government.

Non-government sources have told me that the emergency response would be much better if Mr O’Neill was able to provide proper assessments to them, and make specific requests for assistance.

I am also concerned at reports that money from Mr O’Neill’s relief appeal is already being misused, with contracts going to mystery suppliers with no record of achievement.

This was a feature of his drought relief fund, and Mr O’Neill needs to make details of his expenditure public in a timely manner, and reveal the measures he has taken to prevent this type of abuse and profiteering.

Likewise he should provide factual and detailed daily reports of the government’s relief efforts rather than indulging in sweet talk or attacks on me.

Mr O'Neill is constantly telling me - and others who question his misdeeds, mismanagement and maladministration - to shut up. I will not be silenced: it is my right and my duty as a member of parliament and citizen to speak out, and I will continue to do so in the national interest.

Parliament needs to meet to discuss this national emergency and appropriate the resources required. Resources are short, because of wastage and leakage, and Mr O’Neill must institute a broad program of reform and reconstruction. The usual ad hoc plugging of holes is not good enough.

Comments

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Lindsay F Bond

What Australians “expect of [their] prime ministers in times of natural disaster” is a topic taken up by Dr Rosemary Williamson. See: https://primeministers.moadoph.gov.au/topics/i-had-to-come-to-see-for-myself

Of Australia’s Prime Ministers, for Hughes it was a 1918 cyclone at Mackay, for Bruce it was the 1926 bushfires in Victoria, for Holt it was 1967 bushfires in Tasmania, for Whitlam it was 1974 cyclone at Darwin, for Fraser it was 1983 bushfires in Victoria and South Australia, for Howard it was a 2003 ‘firestorm’ at Canberra, for Gillard it was 2010-2011 flooding and furious winds.

As was reported, a survivor thanked Fraser: “People appreciate you coming in their time of adversity”.

That level of concern and response to empathy was lifted a level when Holt “understood the importance of being on the scene: ‘I had to come to see for myself and to assure you of prompt and ready help’…”

Australians had not always seen prime ministers in that manner, and even after Holt, Whitlam remained absent while his Deputy Cairns “visited Darwin and received widespread praise.”

“…in a 2009 article from Melbourne's The Age newspaper, associate editor Shaun Carney observes: "In 1974, Gough Whitlam was on holiday in Greece when Cyclone Tracy hit Darwin. He refused to break his vacation...Whitlam faced substantial public opprobrium"…”

For a measure of non-engagement, see item by David Nason at TheAustralian:
https://www.theaustralian.com.au/news/inquirer/the-art-of-managing-disasters/news-story/a53aa5c406b90e2af00d1e481e024a70?sv=ea46f8b5777c73275935fb7166fc392d&nk=1a7b142287d9bdf65872cb5014d7dd11-1521157589

In 2014, Baz Ledwidge recalls in “Cyclone Tracy: A full blown hangover”
“…Darwin in the 1970's was a crazy fun town, full of potential, excitement and adventure.”
See: https://open.abc.net.au/explore/83458

Most likely, to most Australians, ‘top end’ town Darwin was as foreign as is Komo to most PNGers.

Although these examples are from places foreign to many PNG folk, it ought be clear that Sir Mekere Morauta is valid in requesting answers to “Why did it take three days for the [PNG] prime minister to declare a state of emergency? Why did it take him 10 days to visit the quake zone?”

Lindsay F Bond

Michael's point about 'lead by example' is seen by following Twitter feed from Governor Gary Juffa, at: https://twitter.com/hunjara?

On 14/3/2018, Governor Juffa tweeted: "Today completed inspection of ongoing Operations at Collingwood, Oro Province. All equipment and logs impounded. Illegal logging operations stopped. Addressed community to inform them of actions taken on their behalf including engagement of lawyer to commence civil proceedings."

These are his words said after his actions. A leader by tradition is the one ahead in the fray, giving full measure to being the first and laying on as all followers ought.

Governor Juffa also tweeted: "It is very worrying that PNG FOREST AUTHORITY ARE NOW SO SILENT AND NOT ACTING AGAINST ILLEGAL LOGGERS IN ORO. This is totally hypocritical of the GOVTS claim that it is taking stringent steps against illegal logging."

The very lead that Juffa exemplifies and decries the silence from PNG Forest Authority, is the lead that ought to have come from PNG Forest Authority.

For readers unaware of scale, audacity and impudence of operations by this latest logging foray at Collingwood Bay, see photographs among the Juffa Tweets, and then check just to the North of Wanigela via Google Maps:
https://www.google.com.au/maps/place/Collingwood+Bay/@-9.3409617,149.1763341,4641m/data=!3m1!1e3!4m5!3m4!1s0x691d9314973314e7:0xad3fb226bb6f2c3!8m2!3d-9.4010438!4d149.3800105

It's as Juffa would say, amazing.

Michael Dom

Where ignorance is pervasive the first responsibility to educate and enlighten, to lead by example, belongs to the political leaders.

Examples abound, Bryan Kramer, Gary Juffa, Kerenga Kua, and by comparison with the current PM, the "founding fathers", who at least respected our laws and democracy enough to know when to stand aside.

No.

I'm afraid that ignorance, in this day and age, is an insufficient excuse.

Maybe I hope for too much.

But isn't that what a vision is supposed to be?

Daniel Kumbon

Michael, I wish the 85% of our population, who are mostly illiterate, understood what we are discussing.

We are in a crazy world of base level politics where pure logic and patriotism cannot be exercised.

Our people and leaders fail to learn from countries like America where Republicans and Democrats put their politics aside, stand side by side to face tornadoes or war against terrorism.

Michael Dom

Daniel, we can ignore politics but politics does not ignore us.

It's about time people in the rural areas, and especially the unemployed 85%, start thinking hard about the politics they promote because it's the employed 15%, their friends and family too, who pay for it.

In the end we all 'pay' for our nation's politics, whether we support our politicians or not.

That is the nature of modern civilization.

Daniel Kumbon

Port Moresby is one of the few capitals in the world which is cut off completely from the rest of the country. It would cost nearly a K1,000 to fly there one way.

Port Moresby is where the seat of power is. That's where our politicians live making regular trips down south or over to the east at will. No wonder it took many days for the government to respond to the 7.5 magnitude earth quark.

The people have grown thick hides already, so used to the government's inaction during times of calamity in the past. They have drawn strength from their ancestors who never needed a government to survive in the beautiful jungles of PNG. They were tough and resilient and their sons and daughters are too.

Our modern day elected leaders? well, they can continue to live in Port Moresby, run government and negotiate loans and make it appear to the world as if the rest of the country is like Port Moresby.

So no matter if Sir Mekere or anybody else tries to suggest ways to correct the situation, its all taken as politically motivated.

Max Phin

Spot on Michael. That's front-page assessment right there!

Michael Dom

What Daniel says about PNG is why our poor situation will stay the way it is, leaders will never change and democracy will never flourish; because no matter how 'tough and resilient' people are, as citizens in the modern Independent State of Papua New Guinea, we have relinquished power over our political class.

We don't keep the bast bastards honest: instead we worship and adore them.

We don't hold O'Neil personally responsible for this mess; instead we argue that others shouldn't blame him.

We don't understand that no matter what grand pursuits leaders take, if the very basic needs are not met at the village level, those grand pursuits are in vain.

We inadvertently agree that mothers can die in childbirth, children receive poor education and workers be screwed with low wages and high taxes, so long as our political leaders keep up a reasonable show, she'll be right mate.

We think that in the village we'll still survive even if the modern politics goes balls up.

Look again bro, the politics is already rotten.

And ask how 'tough and resilient' Hela villagers feel right now.

They can survive on their own, sure have before.

But that is not what's supposed to happen in a modern society that pays for a public service mechanism to take care of its citizens.

Leaders don't need to change when their society doesn't even know what the change means for them.

We're still mostly ignorant sods trying to show our colonial superiors that we know what we're doing, when clearly we don't.

Daniel Kumbon

Soon many of our leaders will be out and about officiating at ground-breaking ceremonies announcing this or that multi-million kina impact project in the best interests of the people.

PNG's worst earthquake victims, landowners around which sits a billion kina resource project, will soon be forgotten.

Look at the Manam Islanders who fled to the mainland when a volcano destroyed their homes and food gardens many years ago.

The people of Hela and Southern Highlands will continue to suffer in remote pockets of their beloved habitat where once they used to roam free, never in need of anything.

They depended on the environment for all their needs. Love and protection was guaranteed from their close-knit family units. They were happy as they were.

Now, it will be no more. Imagine the thousands of displaced children, the old and the injured shaking in the cold in need of medication, food and shelter. Their experiences will be like a bad dream forever..

But I'd say the people of PNG are resilient, tough and can manage to survive on their own. They are descendants of a brave and resourceful people who were never poor.

Nobody suffered alone, family units were intact - every member depended on each other for protection and survival. They fought their wars, buried their dead, made love and raised children. Life went on.

And life still goes on for Manam islanders and other people who have suffered tsunamis, volcanoes and frosts. The people of Hela and Southern Highlands will also pull through in time. Like I said, Papua New Guineans are tough and resilient.

What Sir Mekere is saying here is all politics.

And so the government must concentrate more on APEC which will all happen in Port Moresby anyway, far from the epicentre of the 7.5 magnitude earthquake that has killed over 100 people and displaced thousands of others destroying homes, food gardens, schools, hospitals, roads and bridges - the costs yet to be assessed.

Lindsay F Bond

Plug may become the go to word. Detractors urge PON to plug holes while pointing to PON retorts as plug on words.

Citizens despair of elected parliamentarians who plug pride and price instead of performance.

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