Social Concerns Notes – November 2018

The Catholic Church and APEC

The primary task of the Catholic Church in PNG is to bring the gospel of Jesus Christ to the people of PNG. As such the church adopts no particular position on political or economic issues except to bring gospel values to this part of life.

However, since the Catholic Church is known and expected to speak for those without a voice, and has a reputation for its concern for the rural poor of PNG, many have asked us for our position on APEC. We have addressed this issue many times in the past and more recently appealed for a return to the division of powers that could ensure that political power and eh equitable distribution of wealth are kept separate.

We share the concern of many about the huge amount of our limited resources being expended on this event which seems designed to entertain and impress the rich and powerful.

Given its inevitability, we can only hope for its “success”, which can only mean that the welfare of the poorest people of PNG will somehow indirectly be improved. Although we all would like to make a good impression on our visitors, this cannot be at the expense of the truth.

So we must now look to “life after APEC”. This has to be a life where we will see a return to the principles and values of our national constitution and the national goals and directive principles on which our nation was built. In our 43 years we have seen a serious decline in implementing of the principle of equity and participation. There is simply not an equitable distribution of the national wealth to all. Despite all the rhetoric, the rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer. APEC seems to be a manifestation of this gap as the whole of PNG watches billions being spent on appearances in Port Moresby while we experience teachers and health workers without pay and health centers without medicine, while all departments are to expect less than 60% of their official budgeted allocations. It is a fact that many people in the remote areas of Papua New Guinea, including those in the cites who are still economically “remote”, are suffering and dying on order to make APEC a “success”.

As we present ourselves to the world as a nation capable of pulling of major international event, we must still ask ourselves to what extent we are truly sovereign and self-reliant. We are very much aware, and our informal off the record conversation with some of our national leaders confirms, that PNG is now longer in control of its own economic enterprise and production. Those of us in the forefront of Provinces with extensive logging and oil palm know exactly how much we have sold out to foreign interests.

The big show of APEC is not the experience of the majority of Papua New Guineans. Though they may rightly hope to make a good impression on visitors, they also rightly hope for a return to true normality when it is all over and we are able to count the cost, start repaying our debts, and re-establish our priorities, that is to prioritize the rural poor and not the urban rich.  CBC 7 November 2018

It wasn’t meant to be like this: PNG’s hosting of APEC

When Papua New Guinea (PNG) put up its hand to host APEC in 2013, its economy was booming. Prospects were bright. And reform was underway, in particular to clamp down on the corruption that has been the country’s curse.

Fast forward five years and the environment could not be more different. PNG’s highly effective corruption investigator Taskforce Sweep no longer exists. It was abolished by the very same Prime Minister who set it up, Peter O’Neill, after it started pursuing O’Neill himself on corruption charges. The anti-corruption effort more broadly has been undermined via reducing the funding and/or autonomy of the remaining anti-corruption actors, such as the police fraud squad and the Ombudsman.Econo mic growth has stalled. Formal sector employment (the only sort of employment that is measured in PNG) has declined for each of the last four years. Excessive borrowing in the boom years has now come back to haunt the government following a collapse in revenue. The government has done well to avoid a debt crisis, but its economic mismanagement has intensified the downturn. PNG’s biggest economic problem is its overvalued exchange rate. The value of the Kina is set by the Central Bank, which has prevented significant depreciation for more than two years now. So far this year, the official Kina/US dollar exchange rate has fallen only by four per cent, a fraction of the 20 per cent or more depreciation called for by analysts and researchers alike.

What has really caught the public’s attention is the return of polio, eliminated in PNG about 20 years ago. PNG is one of only five countries in the world to be experiencing a polio comeback. That the other members of this club are the Democratic Republic of Congo, Niger, Nigeria and Somalia — all four wrought by violence — shows the extent of the health crisis that PNG is facing. The most recent symptoms include the resurgence of malaria and leprosy and reports of worsening drug shortages.

It is hardly surprising then that the hosting of APEC has become controversial in PNG, with accusations of both waste and corruption. After all, PNG is an extremely poor country. It is the second most rural in the world. Poverty is high and not falling, and child stunting rates are the fourth highest in the world (every second child under the age of five is stunted due to malnutrition). The opportunity cost of hosting APEC is high. Much of the financial cost is being covered by other countries, most notably Australia and China, but the meeting cycle is a heavy one for any country, and a significant tax on PNG policymakers, both elected and official….

PNG is one of only four countriesworldwide whose parliament contains no women, a symptombut also a cause of extreme gender inequality. Several years ago, it started tointroduce reforms to ensure female representation, but these have not actually been implemented, nor is there anycommitment to implementing them. [See the url above for the full article.]

2017 election was hijacked; ‘unprecedented violence & fraud’

Post Courier, 01 November 2018  Chandler

Analysis of the vote, led by the Australian National University, found failures in the electoral roll, the theft and destruction of ballot boxes, and “money politics” – payments by candidates for votes – on a scale that was“qualitatively different to previous elections”.

“The 2017 elections were marred by widespread fraud and malpractice, and extensive vote rigging,” Nicole Haley, associate professor at ANU and the lead author of the study, told a recent gathering of Pacific scholars in Canberra. The findings, to be published early next year, are based on records collected by258 election observers at 945 polling stations around the country. Many voters were denied genuine choice through block voting, coerced collective voting, violence, intimidation and pre-marked ballot papers in many locations.

One third of citizens surveyed reported intimidation, one quarter reported that they did not vote – significantly higher rates than in 2012. Less than half reported they voted freely.

Women fared the worst. Only two in five women reported voting freely, with about the same number reporting intimidation. Not a single woman was elected in 2017 to the 111-member parliament.

Call for fast processing of asylum seekers on Manus

November 2, 2018 The National

THE Catholic Bishops Conference (CBC) of Papua New Guinea is pushing for a date for Australia and PNG to settle the remaining 133 asylum seekers in Manus. The CBC said social and health issues and psychological, moral and physical issues in delaying the processing of refugees were of concern to the Catholic Church. The CBC and panel comprising of representatives from the Department of Immigration, United Nations human rights, human rights lawyer of the Catholic Professionals Society, NCD Governor Powes Parkop and Fr Clement Taulam, of the Manus Diocese, called on both countries to properly settle the asylum seekers.
Fr Clement said the process was taking too long for the refugees to be permanently settled.
“Now is the sixth year we are holding them in Manus. Some are getting frustrated, impatient and had taken their lives and the process is still going on.
“So what are we going to do?” Parkop said PNG did not have a culture to detain and confine people. “We helped Australia but she took us for granted and left the problem with us,” he said.

Polio cases confirmed, total now 22

November 2, 2018 The National

JIWAKA has confirmed three cases of polio, bringing the total number of cases detected and treated in the country to 22. The provincial polio awareness and surveillance team revealed this yesterday at a review of round two routine immunisation and campaign. Provincial surveillance officer and field epidemiologist Augustine Kumba said the three persons that tested positive were two boys and a girl under the age of five. Kumba said the two boys were aged two while the girl was four. They tested positive in the Banz 1 catchment area at Dumbola Health Centre in North Waghi.
Kumba said one of the boy had been treated and was now living a normal life.
The other boy was using one side of his limbs while the other had gone totally numb.
The girl was walking on one leg while the other is supported by a walking stick.

PNG Cathoics urge Australia to resettle refugees

The Conference along with the Catholic Professionals Society of PNG, hosted a panel discussion in Port Moresby last week about the refugees’ plight.

The panel, which featured about 100 people, including the governor of Port Moresby and students, teachers and professionals, declared Australia has a moral obligation to look after all refugees and asylum-seekers. The secretary of the conference, Fr Ambrose Pereira SBD, said Papua New Guinea is not able to care for the refugees. “We are hoping for an end to this refugee situation where all will be sent into Australia or to any other country. But it needs to be Australia’s responsibility to ensure that this happens.”

 “While Australia would hide behind the fact, saying it is now the problem of Papua New Guinea, and they also issued a statement before the panel which said, ‘We are ready to help PNG and this is an issue for PNG to handle,’ but I think what was stated very clearly was Australia needs to put an end to this because it is an issue they have, in fact, started.”

Fr Pereira said having the refugees resettled by Christmas would be a gift for all.


PNGmen find comfort in seeking help from online counselling

06 November 2018

Papua New Guinea’s first national telephone counselling hotline has had to broaden its service to cater for demand after receiving more than 15,000 calls over the past year.

The hotline was established by the non-government organisation ChildFund PNG as a service for survivors of gender-based violence, predominately women and children.

ChildFund’s Wesh Siku said more than two-thirds of women in PNG experience domestic violence.”When the project was actually designed, [it was] designed to assist survivors of gender-based violence and it just complemented those services that have already been established,” Mr Siku said. “The primary focus was to support survivors of gender-based violence, mainly women and even children.” But he said the service had allowed men to get assistance that they otherwise would not seek. Now more than half the callers are males who call as witnesses or perpetrators of violence. “A lot of men do not feel comfortable talking to a woman in a face to face scenario,” Mr Siku said. “So when this project was put up, it became comfortable for them to pick up a phone and call a counsellor for the issues they are going through. He said the hotline has eight staff on the phones but this may have to increase as the workload has doubled since last year.

China in the Pacific: Is China engaged in “debt-trap diplomacy”?
By Rohan Fox and Matthew Dornan on Nov 08, 2018 06:00 am
Recent media coverage has touted the rise of Chinese aid and lending as a threat to Pacific nations’ sovereignty and to the West’s influence in the Pacific. China, so the narrative goes, is aggressively lending to smaller nations who do not have the capacity to pay back the loans. Some commentators have even described such lending as “debt-trap diplomacy”, implying that lending forms part of an intentional strategy by the Chinese state to pressure Pacific island governments….

Most advocates of this argument have pointed to anecdotal evidence – high debt levels in Tonga, the case of the Hambantota port in Sri Lanka – rather than to hard data. In this piece, we look at international debt data to explore: (i) whether Pacific island countries are in debt distress, and (ii) whether this is the result of lending from China.

One issue we consider is whether Pacific island countries are at greater risk of debt distress than in the past. Using IMF and Asian Development Bank (ADB) risk ratings, we do see a rise in debt distress over the last five years (see Figure 1). We also see that over 40% of Pacific island countries are now classified as being at high risk of debt distress (see Figure 2, with countries singled out). So debt certainly appears to be a problem in the region.

Now for the second question: is this debt distress the result of lending by China?

The short answer is “no”.  [See url above for the full article]

Informal economy’s suppression driving people into poverty

Informal Economist

PORT MORESBY – With recentfigures showing that poverty reduction is decelerating globally, a recent World Bank report urges governments aroundthe world not to slack off in their efforts to combat it. However, critics argue that poverty measurement should not only be confined to the standard $US1.90 a day imposed by World Bank but should also include health indicators, education levels and standard of living.

The government’s policy to crackdown on the informal economy is a classic example of this as it directly affects the only source of livelihood for the majority of the jobless poor.

The implementation of anti-informal economy policies have seen widespread harassment and beatings of vendors coupled with a substantial loss of business. The loss of business means families are deprived of income to meet household needs and improve their wellbeing. Consequently, it takes a toll on people and induces them into poverty.

At a time when prices of basic goods and services are rising and formal sector job opportunities are declining, suppression of the informal economy can drive many families into destitution. The ramifications are huge for Papua New Guinea which is estimated to have 85% of its total population engaged in the informal economy.

That said, the government has introduced some reforms into its informal economy. The national informal economy policy of 2011-15 and its accompanying law (Informal Sector Development & Control Act of 2004) are landmark achievements that aim to nurture the positive aspects of the informal economy whilst tackling its problems.

Sadly though, the government has not been able to achieve this fine balance, opting instead to focus on curtailing the informal economy’s growth.The  implication is that, if the government continues to take a hardline stance towards the informal economy, many Papua New Guineans will not escape poverty in their lifetime. …

Papua New Guinea Is Rich in Resources but Poor in Health  ChandlerNov. 13, 2018

PORT MORESBY, Papua New Guinea — Polio was vanquished by the Pacific nation of Papua New Guinea 18 years ago. Now, as world leaders gather there for the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit meeting this week, polio has returned — on top of raging drug-resistant epidemics of tuberculosis, malaria and H.I.V., and deadly flash points of preventable diseases like whooping cough and measles.

All over the country, there are symptoms of a profound public health emergency; young and old are getting sick and dying unnecessarily, while facilities lack basic medicines and equipment. Doctors and experts say the unfolding crisis is the realization of their worst fears after years of deterioration and neglect. “We were expecting something like this,” Dr. Anup Gurung, a public health specialist with the World Health Organization, said of the polio outbreak at a news conference in the capital, Port Moresby, in September. He pointed to the erosion of vaccination rates, which are down to 30 percent in some parts of the country. “It’s like someone lit a paper castle where everything is on fire,” he said.

The return of polio is a clear indicator of the failures, with Papua New Guinea accounting for 21 of 109 cases found globally this year. …

Local and international experts point to three interlinked causes of the country’s health crisis: the collapse of the medical supply chain; changing relations with the country’s biggest aid donor, Australia; and rampant corruption….

Despite its immense resource wealth, Papua New Guinea has the lowest life expectancy in the Pacific at 62.9 years, according to the World Health Organization. And it may be getting worse. The number of people infected with malaria parasites, for example, grew almost ninefold to 432,000 in 2017 from 50,309 in 2014, according to the Papua New Guinea Institute of Medical Research. The survey blames the lack of treatment drugs in many parts of the country, together with a decline in international support.

Similarly, a decade ago, Papua New Guinea was being congratulated for its efforts against the spread of H.I.V.; now, infection rates are rising. A survey has also exposed “alarming rates of H.I.V. drug resistance,” said Dr. Angela Kelly-Hanku of the Institute of Medical Research. This is largely because H.I.V. patients are unable to secure reliable supplies of antiretroviral medications, she said.

Professor Mola said a colleague with extensive experience in Africa had observed that while corruption was common there, in Africa “they skim off the cream and still leave some milk for the people. In Papua New Guinea, they take the lot.”

 [See the url above for the full article]

Glimmers of change in the land that #MeTooforgot

PORT MORESBY – Ask people inPapua New Guinea about #MeToo and you are likely to get blank stares, but in a country with a reputation as the worst place in the world for women to live, attitudes to domestic and sexual violence are slowly changing.

The beatings started before Lucy Sausiniaka was married and didn’t stop even when she was pregnant with her daughter. Today the gentle 23-year-old and her quiet doughnut-munching toddler live in a women’s shelter by the shore of Port Moresby’s Ela Beach.

The paint is flaking and old bedsheets are slung as curtains, but the Haus Ruth refuge is peaceful and, more importantly, it is safe.

“He would beat me up, even in public” says Sausiniaka, her eyes darting around as if searching reluctantly for memories. “Usually under the influence of alcohol.”

It is estimated that two-thirds of women in Papua New Guinea experience domestic violence. But behind the shocking statistics and harrowing testimony, attitudes and behaviour appear to be slowly changing.

The shelter’s ebullient manager Monica Richards says 2013 legal reforms — imposing tougher prison sentences, fines and protection orders — have made a real difference.

“Five or six years ago” the police would not always take domestic and sexual violence seriously, she said. “That has changed a lot. The police are now helping us.”

Elsewhere in Port Moresby, trailblazing women are taking the initiative in other ways, including driving women-only buses. They offer a safer alternative for women who fear robbery, abuse, harassment or assault. “The city is not safe for women to get around,” said Gorame Momo, one of four female bus drivers in the capital. “We provide safe transport for them.”

As yet there are scant few Harvey Weinsteins in Papua New Guinea — powerful men felled for their bad behaviour. But there are plenty of Alyssa Milanos or Tanushree Duttas, women brave enough to speak out and try to nudge their society forward.

Increase in Security Companies

…The manifest inadequacies of state-provided security, pervasive feelings and perceptions of insecurity, and the economic opportunities presented to domestic and transnational companies in this field, have driven the massive growth of private security in PNG over recent decades. Figures from PNG’s own Security Industries Authority indicate that the number of licensed security companies increased from 176 in 2006 to 462 in 2014, with a workforce of around 30,000 guards. While omitting the large number of unlicensed operators, this number exceeds the combined workforce for the Royal PNG Constabulary, PNG Defence Force and the Corrections Service. Some estimates make private security the third largest employer in PNG. The industry has flourished around elite urban enclaves, the extractive industries and, albeit temporarily, APEC.

The tough job of fighting a polio outbreak inPNG

PORT MORESBY – After a long morning of organised chaos inside a crowded government compound in Papua NewGuinea’s capital Port Moresby, hundreds of health workers and volunteers are finally wrangled into teams, issued with instructions, and piled into a fleet of hard-worn four-wheel drives. As the first of four mass vaccination waves scheduled over October and November begins to push out across the Pacific nation, emergency teams are rolled out in the capital. The vehicles are loaded up with loud hailers and ice boxes full of oral polio vaccine. Before they head into the surrounding settlements, posters are hastily taped to the windows and doors: ‘Stop Polio in PNG’.

Just half of PNG’s more than eight million people have access to clean water and less than one-fifth to a toilet that disposes of waste in a way that it does not pose a disease risk.

Genetic analysis of stool samples taken from the victims reveals the virus has been circulating undetected for more than two years, Gurung said. “If you have one case, there would be 200, maybe 500,000 people circulating the virus.”

Waide dumping electrifies & outrages global admirers

26 November 2018

NOOSA – Readers of PNGAttitude have joined hundreds of Papua New Guineans and people internationally in voicing strong support for journalist and blogger Scott Waide who was suspended from his senior job with EMTV after the television station management received instructions from the Papua New Guinea government to do so.

Waide was linked to a story broadcast on Saturday 17 November which originated in New Zealand and mentioned that prime minister Jacinta Ardern would not be travelling one of the 40 Maseratis imported by the PNG government for use at APEC.

The purchase had generated great controversy and much criticism in PNG and in the overseas media. In a message to staff, the state-owned broadcaster said it had been forced to suspend Waide and told staff not to discuss the matter.

In the days before APEC, Waide, with the help of his audience, had investigated drug and medical equipment shortages in PNG hospitals. During the summit he had reported on Chinese restrictions on the media.

Radio New Zealand reports that in recent days he wrote about the police minister assuring disciplinary forces that no action would be taken against personnel who stormed parliament over APEC related payments, although this decisions has since been said to have been overturned.

Waide reinstated! People power gives PNG govt a wake-up call Scott Waide. 26 November 2018

LAE – Over the last 48 hours, I have been very  humbled by the incredible support my family and I have received from people  both here and abroad. Support also came from friends in the media, academia, law enforcement, the military and many other circles too many to name. I have since been reinstated to my job as deputy regional head of news at EMTV. …

I was suspended on Sunday 18 November, on the last day of the APEC meetings.  The  reasons for the suspensions are now public knowledge and I do not wish to dwell too much on them. However, I do wish to make the following points:

Papua New Guinea is a democracy and the media is free to hold those in authority to account. This means highlighting flaws in policy and making sure mistakes are pointed out and corrected. It is an essential part of our democracy.

There should NEVER be any interference at the operational level by board members. The media is an institution of democracy and must remain free and independent.  It is our constitutional right to report AND be critical.

Journalists of ‘state owned’ media are NOT government public relations officers nor are media organisations PR machines.

EMTV is ‘state owned’ which means the PEOPLE own this company through their elected government.

Journalism is an art… and art and creativity cannot operate in an environment of suppression and fear.

Papua New Guinea is a critical moment of its history with the growth and influence of China, US-China trade tensions and  challenges within our own country.

We are a largely rural nation. Many of our people still have no access to basic services.

We will continue to promote critical, proactive and transparent journalism.  The people’s voice has to be heard and the media must remain as the conduit and platform for opinions and debate and those who cannot accept it MUST step aside and let progress happen.

Note:  I will be on leaveDecember and January so the next edition of Social Concerns Notes will probablybe at the end of February 2019.  Peace, 

Philip Gibbs SVD

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