TUMBY BAY - “We will provide a secure environment where leaders, ministers and delegates can advance APEC's policy agenda, and can leave Papua New Guinea knowing they have visited a culturally rich, economically modernising country.”
Thus says the Honourable Peter O'Neill CMG MP, prime minister of Papua New Guinea.
These words are emblazoned in bold letters over an imposing and studious image (right) of the man himself on the PNG APEC website, which you can visit here.
In a recent article I itemised some of the many problems Papua New Guinea currently faces.
It was a long list included an economy out of control, unmanageable government debt, uncontrolled resource exploitation, unfettered corruption, massive environmental degradation, failing infrastructure, and more.
Health and hospitals in crisis, curable diseases out of control, schools without adequate buildings, books and teachers and positions on the lower rungs of every social indicator in the world.
A list that hardly describes a nation “culturally rich and economically modernising”.
Apart from most politicians and the wealthy elite, all these problems are clear to anyone who cares to look. They are also clearly written on the faces and in the minds of ordinary Papua New Guineans.
A walk through the streets of Port Moresby will tell you all you need to know about the state of the nation.
Talk to people outside the cities and towns and there is a palpable sense of pessimism. Talk to expatriate Papua New Guineans in Australia and they regale you with stories of how they had to leave their beloved country to experience anything like a satisfactory lifestyle.
The delegations coming to APEC in November are going to be very large. Apart from the talkfest they’ll be looking for an authentic cultural experience in this land of the unexpected. They’ve probably begun researching it already.
In other words, they will be out and about talking to people, be it business types or the waiters and cleaners in their hotels. They will quickly realise all is not well in Peter O’Neill’s Papua New Guinea.
They will also have the international media in tow. The reporters will be on the prowl looking for sensational stories to titillate their readers. Be prepared for a slew of cannibal yarns.
With all this in mind one has to wonder what Peter O’Neill is up to. Surely he knows the truth will come out. This won’t be like a cocooned royal visit. A few coats of paint and a carefully plotted route from the airport won’t cut it this time.
Even so, the National Capital District is planning to chase the street vendors out of town for the duration. Presumably they’ll also have teams washing buai stains off the pavements and walls.
The Post-Courier newspaper is currently conducting a survey about how people feel about this. Given that colourful street vendors are an attraction sought out by visitors to countries like Papua New Guinea the logic of shoving them out of sight seems terribly flawed.
However, tidy up as they might, the authorities are not going to be able to stop people talking and the delegates and the media are going to pick up on what’s going on pretty quickly.
And knowing Papua New Guinean people, they are going to be candid with the information they pass on. Friendly, unassuming, obliging, polite - but also very frank.
There must be a few politicians wondering how they got talked into hosting APEC. They’ll be asking themselves why it is necessary to expose Papua New Guinea’s dirty laundry to the world. They must be anticipating a public relations disaster.
Or are they?
What if these delegates conclude that Papua New Guinea is a third world nation of unaccountable riches ripe for exploitation, ably assisted by a greedy, compliant and naïve government easily bought off?
Is this O’Neill’s real agenda? Is this really what he wants the world to conclude?
He’s run the place into the ground and creamed everything off the top for himself and his cronies and now might be thinking it’s time to flog off what remains.
Maybe he hopes this APEC will be a special trade show for the world’s carpetbaggers.
Unfortunately, that’s a scenario I find easy to understand.