In a crazy world, can PNG have its own Age of Enlightenment?
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Interesting moves by a fresh prime minister. We wish him well

James Marape
James Marape’s new course for Papua New Guinea is laudable but its grandiosity has a touch of the unbelievable

PHIL FITZPATRICK

TUMBY BAY - Papua New Guinean politics has always been interesting to watch.

For anyone brought up under the Westminster system of government with its adversarial politics and strict rules of process what goes on in Papua New Guinea can appear both bizarre and quixotic.

On the one hand its politics conforms to the Westminster ideal but on the other it seems to owe much more to traditional clan politics.

Mixed in there too is an element of patronage and corruption imported directly from Asia.

This potpourri has now been stretched even further from the realms of possibility by the recent musical chairs surrounding the sidelining of Peter O’Neill.

The new prime minister, James Marape, has made some extraordinary choices that you just wouldn’t see in any other constitutional democracy.

He has appointed men from the opposition benches to his ministry. Imagine if that happened in Australia.

You sometimes get Australian governments appointing people from the minor parties to shore up their numbers but from the opposition almost never. The only time that has happened is during wartime.

It just happens that those men, Bryan Kramer, Kerenga Kua and Dr Lino Tom, were among O’Neill’s fiercest critics.

Has Marape given them ministries to silence or control them or has he recognised their undoubted talents? It’s an interesting question.

On top of that he has announced that he wants Papua New Guinea to become the richest black Christian nation on the planet.

Aspirations are fine, even if they are patently unachievable, but this one has some decidedly unpleasant connotations.

Why would he invoke the spectre of racism by referring to Papua New Guineans as ‘black’? Where does that leave all the other races living harmoniously in the country?

Why would he throw doubts over the separation of church and state by specifying that Papua New Guinea should be an entirely Christian nation?  What happens to all the non-Christians and those without any faith?

Why does he want Papua New Guinea to be rich? Surely he knows that wealth is no measure of a nation’s well-being.

A happy and contented people living in equitable relationships to each other is a lot more important than being merely rich. Maybe he needs to define what he means by rich.

Perhaps, like many politicians in Papua New Guinea, especially the last one, he thinks that words rather than actions are important.

Marape is still currently in a honeymoon period. He has built up the hopes of many people. On PNG Attitude we are seeing an increasing list of things that Papua New Guineans want their new prime minister to do.

These range from reinstating people treated appallingly by Peter O’Neill’s government to fulfilling some of the promises that he made but never delivered, including fixing the SABL mess, investigating the attack on students at the UPNG and setting up an ICAC.

Maybe even promoting a home grown literature in Papua New Guinea?

And, of course, the big one, finally doing something to combat the corruption that has become so ingrained it is accepted as a normal way of life.

This list is only going to grow as the months roll on and with it the pressures on the prime minister will also grow.

On top of that he’s got some pressing and unavoidable matters to deal with like the independence vote in Bougainville.

James Marape’s stated intention of charting a new course for Papua New Guinea is laudable but its grandiosity has a touch of the unbelievable.

All one can do is wish him the best of luck.

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