Social Concerns Notes – May 2019

Press Statement from Catholic Bishops Conference

30 May 2019

An appeal to the new government of Papua New Guinea

The Catholic Bishops of Papua New Guinea appreciate the peaceful development of the political debate on the floor of Parliament and hope it immediately turns to the benefit of the vulnerable people, of our society, and our environment:

  1. The rural poor and the urban poor expect improved public services, better education for children, medicines in the health centers, farm to market roads, jobs, entertainment and sport facilities to reduce the impact of alcohol and negative behavior among the youth. Resources and assets must now benefit the marginalized and the peripheries rather than the wealthier and the centers.
  2. The illegal detention of asylum seekers and refugees in Manus and Port Moresby since 2013, at the request of the government of Australia, is a cause of shame and embarrassment that the new PNG government must denounce in its first day in office. The Regional Resettlement Arrangement has proven to be unsustainable with people getting sick, depressed, suffering mental illness, and dying. Their transfer to properly equipped Australian on-shore processing facilities has to be effected immediately.
  3. The protection of the environment and the country’s natural resources needs a legislative review, particularly of the Special Agriculture Business Lease (SABL) and agreements with foreign companies in the mining, logging and extractive sectors. People and communities come first; capital and business follow!
  4. The legislation to establish an Independent Commission against Corruption should not be further delayed. The perception of systemic and systematic corruption in PNG is very damaging to the image of the nation and to the morale of its citizens. We renew our appeal for the restoration of the separation of powers so that our MPs can focus on making good laws and the public servants on the provision of services.

The Catholic Bishops of Papua New Guinea also ask from the new government an effective partnership in the planning and managing of the Education and Health sectors in the country. Other Churches share the same expectation.

It is with the contribution of everybody and the acceptance of public scrutiny that true wellbeing and prosperity is promoted and corruption defeated!

May God bless the new executives of Papua New Guinea and give them wisdom and steadfastness!

The Central Committee of the Catholic Bishops Conference of PNG-SI:

FR. GIORGIO LICINI, PIME. General Secretary

First public human rights report into PNG gas industry

BRISBANE – University of Queensland researcher Associate Professor Nick Bainton has co-written the first publicly available human rights impact assessment for a proposed gas project in Papua New Guinea.

You can download the full report here

Dr Bainton and Nora Götzmann from the Danish Institute for Human Rights were commissioned by Total Exploration and Production PNG to identify potential impacts on gender, security and conflict for the joint venture Papua liquefied natural gas project.

The assessment involved extensive desktop research, and interviews and focus group discussions with key stakeholders in Port Moresby and local communities in the project’s area of influence in PNG’s remote Gulf Province. The researchers met with some 400 Gulf Province community members over the course of their study, including about 160 women.

 Political meddling & poor training spur corruption in PNG 27 April 2019

SARAJEVO – A newly-published discussion paper on corruption in Papua New Guinea’s public sector has found that low-level officials are often poorly informed about laws and regulations. They are also under intense pressure to grant favours to businesses, politicians and clan affiliates, contributing to existing patterns of corrupt behaviour in the developing country.

The paper, ‘Governance and Corruption in PNG’s Public Service: Insights From Four Subnational Administrations’, was published this month by the Development Policy Centre, an aid and development policy think tank based out of the Australian National University in Canberra. Its author, Dr Grant Walton, drew on interviews with 136 public servants across four provinces in PNG in an effort to fill the empirical data gap on why public officials may support or resist corruption and poor governance.

PNG is one of the poorest countries in the Pacific, with nearly 40% of its population living below the national poverty line. While the country recently has started reaping the benefits of oil and gas extraction, its public health system is rapidly deteriorating—two-fifths of health centres and rural health posts have no electricity or essential medical equipment, according to the United Nations Development Program.

Political interference is also a great concern among officials, Walton found. In recent years, PNG has been pursuing a policy of decentralization, and in 2014 the parliament passed the District Development Authority Act, giving greater autonomy to local governments over how they allocate resources. However, as members of parliament are now “often personally involved in deciding how this money is allocated and implemented,” lower level officials have grown frustrated. “We may plan for something else but when political interference comes we need to divert our efforts to suit what [MPs] want,” one senior female public servant said.

While PNG improved its rating on Transparency International’s Corruption Perception Index last year, at 28 out of 100 (with 100 signifying “least corrupt”), it still scored well below the Asia Pacific regional average of 44.

Kidnapping reports affect classes

April 30, 2019 The National

TOKARARA Secondary School suspended classes yesterday because parents feared their children could be kidnapped for their organs as speculation continued on Facebook.
The school said Grade 12 student numbers had been down since last week because the fear was real.
Tokarara Secondary principal Gabriel Manga told The National that the school board had decided to send students away at 10.40am because parents were calling the school to pick up their children.
Manga said the school would assess the situation and see if the students should continue classes..
“Many have stayed (home) because of the fear they had from kidnapping – increased in the city,” he said.
Another Grade 12 student Abel Makele said absent students caused teachers to delay giving out tests and assignments which was dragging the whole process of term two assessment schedules.
“Our education is a priority and authorities need to assure us we are safe,”Makele said.

Moresi said the school had 2,046 students from grades three to eight but only 970 attended classes.

MP Hits 10% Drop In Living Standard

Post Courier May 3, 2019

The National Statistical Office (NSO) has revealed that on average, living standards in PNG have fallen by an extraordinary K516 per person between 2012 and 2018. This was revealed by Shadow Treasurer Ian Ling-Stuckey who described it as “a shocking result”.

“This represents a 10 per cent drop in living standards in just five years under the incompetent economic policies of O’Neill’s PNC government,” Mr Ling-Stuckey said.

“The Prime Minister continues to talk up the economy and keeps promising that things will get better – but his record simply indicates he cannot be trusted.”

Digicel’s overdue tower debts impoverish & anger landowners

PORT MORESBY – This is my seventh month of complaining about the failure of the Digicel PNG Ltd telecommunications company to pay the rent money it owes to the landowners of its digital tower locations. Some Digicel employees feel sorry for us and have said the people in charge of payments will ignore us and never try to help. The clauses of the agreement we made with Digicel are clear. No such thing should happen to any of us landowners. But because landowners are simple people and can easily be tricked, they continue to ignore us and cheat us. Only a few landowners who have help from their families and clansmen are now seeking legal advice while the one hope of the rest of us is to continue to complain at the Digicel office. But we cannot break through by complaining and therefore are losing hope….

The problem began when Digicel and its officers did not devise a proper plan for illiterate landowners to collect the rental payments. At first, Digicel should have found out who they were the legitimate owners of the land where the Digicel tower would stand.

This was not done. Digicel and its officers never put their feet on the ground to locate the boundaries and never even asked the people to confirm who the legitimate landowners were. Some landowners are paid through their bank accounts but not in full. It is clearly indicated in the agreement signed with landowners that payments will be made every six months. Digicel and its officer should know what the outstanding funds are and when they must be paid. To get their unpaid rental payment, landowners use their own funds to come to Port Moresby or, if they live in remote places, travel miles and days to reach their Digicel branch. This is despite the agreement with Digicel clearly indicating that the lessor will not need to spend funds due to the existence of the tower on their land.

Another problem is that Digicel is supposed to employ four security guards for the towers and to pay them every fortnight – two security guards should protect the towers for the night shift and two for the day shift.

But many of the guards are ghosts who are never seen, security is left to the landowners who live near the towers. So what happens to this money that would be paid in wages to protect more than 1,000 towers across Papua New Guinea?

St John bus robbed at gunpoint, staff attacked

May 8, 2019 The National

A ST John Ambulance bus was yesterday robbed by a group of men at Morata Two in the Moresby North-West electorate. It took place at about 5.40am, eight officers were on board. According to a statement from St John, the group of men blocked off the main road and threatened the driver with a gun to the head. They then smashed the window and helped themselves. They grabbed items including mobile phones, bank cards and money among other things. Two St John female officers were punched and kicked several times and indecently assaulted while being dragged out of the bus. They were ordered to lie face-down outside the bus and left there. “According to our team, the group of men appeared heavily intoxicated,” the statement said.
“As a result of this, St John will be suspending all services to the suburb of Morata for an indefinite period until safety of all our St John team can be guaranteed.”
St John Ambulance commissioner and chief executive Matthew Cannon condemned the actions of the gang, saying St John did not discriminate when attending to patients, whether hoodlums or not, and such actions by a few show a complete lack of human decency and respect for emergency service workers.

St John in the first quarter of the year responded to 670 emergency calls from the Moresby North-West electorate. Three-quarters of the calls were from Morata.

Bishops: Legal action an option

May 13, 2019 The National 

THE Catholic bishops annual meeting last week heard that legal action is probably needed to prompt the Government into action to meet its obligations in education through the church.
“If the demands are not met the following year, there will be an appropriate legal action taken to protect the rights of the people for quality education that has been destroyed by the current Government,” Bishop Rochus Tatamai told a press conference on Friday.
The president of Catholic Bishops Conference from PNG and the Solomons Islands and Kavieng diocese said sensitive issues discussed at the meeting affected people and the work the church used to do in PNG and the Solomons.
“One of the issues that really needs to be highlighted is regarding our partnership with the Government in providing basic services like education to the people,” he said. “We accordingly call for a fundamental re-orientation of our attitudes and the institutions of government, commerce, education and religion towards PNG forms of participation and consensus.
“We also call for a continuous renewal of the responsiveness of these institutions to the needs and attitudes of the people.
“These are the values that we believe should be the basis of our
partnership with the State in providing education services to our people.
“However, in the past six years, our experience in the field of education is that there has been no consultation, very little consensus and lack of participation in decision-making.”
Among many of the issues faced by Catholic church education agencies, Tatamai said, included:

  • Teaching council had not met since last year;
  • no consultation about the new school structure and cost analysis;
  • grand in aid to help church agencies with administrative costs not met since 2011; and,
  • Mistreatment by the Government and the Education Department of church schools regarding Tuition Fee Free funding.

In regards to those issues, Tatamai said that as a church, it is now asking the government to deliver what it needs to be.

Nurses in rural areas still working despite threats

May 13, 2019  The National

NURSES in rural areas continue to provide patient care responsibilities under extreme pressure and threat from patients due to inadequate drugs supplies, deteriorated facilities and without enough staff, an official says.
Nurses in remotest Huon Gulf and other districts are faced with difficulties in drug supplies, rundown facilities and not enough workers.
“Nurses continue to use kerosene lamps and torches at night to treat patients using local herbs and prayers to stabilise patients,” Paru said.
In Huon Gulf, out of 47 aid posts – 12 were closed, five were in Salamaua and four each in Wampar and Morobe patrol post. “These nurses walk for days or travel by dinghies or dugout canoes to buy drugs in Lae. “When clinics are closed over no drugs, nurses face the consequences being attacked by patients,” Paru said.
He said complications of pregnant women, critical axe or knife injuries, snake bites, bows and arrow injuries over land issues or adultery cases were a common problem.

Kenmore Catholics’ trash buys a new boat for Milne Bay priest

19 May 2019

BRISBANE – Kenmore parish has furthered its commitment to Pope Francis’ encyclical Laudato Si’: On Care for our Common Home by turning recyclables into foreign aid donations. The parish has collected more than 4,000 recyclable containers like bottles, cans and cardboard, which earn 10 cents per unit under the Queensland government initiative Containers for Cash. The funds collected by the parish were used to buy a boat for a Papua New Guinean bishop. “We had a parishioner come to us last year about helping buy a small boat for Fr Sam Phasz, a priest of the Province of Milne Bay in the Diocese of Alotau-Sideia,” said parish priest Fr Mark Franklin.

“The parish is mainly water, so it would enable the priest to get around the islands and see his diocese. “The boat is also used for delivery of food and medical items and taking people to hospital.” Fr Franklin said he started the project about two months ago as part of a communal partnership with Kenmore Rotary Club. “One of our parishioners who is a member of Rotary came to us a while ago about being in partnership with the Kenmore Rotary regarding (the parish) being a distribution point for Containers for Cash,” he said.

“There are distribution points all over the place in the city, but because we’re a bit isolated out here the Rotary (club) decided to take it on as a collection point in Kenmore.

“The parish keeps 50% of the funds, which we then hand on to the Diocese of Alotau-Sideia.” Fr Franklin said the Containers for Cash initiative was a practical way to raise money while also raising environmental awareness in the parish.

Call for apt facilities for disabled, homosexuals, foreigners

May 22, 2019 The National

THERE are no facilities and rehabilitation programmes in Buimo jail to cater for people living with disabilities (PLWD), homosexuals or foreigners, an official says. Outgoing Buimo commander Chief Supt Felix Namane said that the government and relevant agencies – Department of Correctional Services, Law and Justice Sector, Community Development and various stakeholders should draft policies to enable apt facilities and rehabilitation services and programmes. He said this in response to the National Court decision in Lae by Justice Frazer Pitpit who sentenced one Steven Bumang, 45, a PLWD to four years in prison.
Bumang was charged with raping an 8-year-old girl on Feb 27. “In Buimo, we have no facilities to cater for PLWD, lesbians, gays and foreigners and it is a great concern for lack of such facilities and services in jails,” Namane said.
Namane said Buimo had no separate cell block with toilet, shower and kitchens to accommodate various types of PLWD including rehabilitation activities. Namane said a gay who was sentenced to six months in Buimo was accommodated with female prisoners.
“However, people may think that accommodating gays and lesbians in a female inmate wing is possible but some of their characteristics varies and never suits normal female inmates”.

A new government must restore confidence in the law

28 May 2019

Francis Nii – “Laws must be strong, respected, upheld and they must work fairly in the interests of every citizen”

FRANCIS NII. KUNDIAWA – Public confidence in the police force and judiciary as independent and impartial state agencies of the state has drastically declined under the leadership of Peter O’Neill. Meddling in appointments and in the operations of the police and hard-to-understand decisions of the courts has raised serious doubts and mistrust in the minds of the people.

Increasingly the independence and integrity of the two institutions are being questioned.

As the political numbers game in the lead-up to a possible vote of no confidence intensifies and as a mass exodus occurs of government MPs to the opposition, prime minister Peter O’Neill had no choice but to relinquish his position.

Whether he actually does this in favour of Sir Julius Chan or thinks of some other escape tactic, it will be a last minute do-or-die manoeuvre for his own survival.

That O’Neill has not resigned but stepped down “for a few days” means he could resume his position anytime.

As of yesterday, the opposition had 63 members and the government 47. There were more defections expected from those who still remained in the government but the opposition said it had shut its doors to them.

As D-Day gets nearer, perhaps today, the formation of a new government looks certain.

Should this occur, one of its first tasks needs to be the restoration of the integrity and independence of the nation’s law enforcement institutions.

Under the O’Neill government, these vital state institutions have been severely impaired

There has been the dismantling of the corruption-busting Investigative Task Force Sweep and the termination of its members, Peter O’Neill’s parachuting of Gary Baki into the job of police commissioner and the Supreme Court’s quashing of the UBS loan case against O’Neill.

There has been the continuous suppression and eventual closure of the Parakagate affair by O’Neill and Baki without a proper trial, the storming of parliament by the ‘disciplined’ forces, never properly investigated and a much-promised anti-corruption commission never delivered.

These are just a few examples of malpractice that have contributed to the decline in public confidence of two vital state institutions.

If and when a new government takes office, one of the first items of businesses must be to restore the independence, credibility and integrity of the judiciary, the police and the public service.

This means that all heads who took political sides and practiced nepotism during O’Neill’s tenure should be replaced with neutral personnel through proper and transparent appointment processes.

All allegations of corruption that have not gone to trial must be resurrected and justice meted out.

Those found guilty must be punished by law both to restore confidence in the judiciary but also as a wholesome bid to rid Papua New Guinea of corruption.

To give credence to this effort is the passing of an ICAC – Independent Commission Against Corruption – bill into law. The bill must be looked at again to ensure it is totally free of political interference and manipulation both in the appointment of its personnel and in its operations.

The unpopular and unnecessary dual citizenship law must also be repealed to prevent law breakers escaping from PNG.

If the economy is to grow and civil society is to enjoy prosperity, peace and harmony, the country needs a vibrant, independent and impartial justice system and related law enforcement agencies.

The laws of a nation not only protect its citizens but they are the compass that directs the course of the nation. The laws must be strong, respected, upheld and they must work fairly in the interests of every citizen.

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