Social Concerns Notes – August 2020

PNG’s job crisis and COVID-19

There is no doubt COVID-19 is causing great economic damage all round the world, and Papua New Guinea is no exception. One estimate from the PNG Trade Union Congress is that more than 10,000 jobs in the private sector have been lost due to the pandemic and the subsequent state of emergency. Nambawan Super has recently indicated that unemployment claims are up by 25% in May and June.

There is no official data yet, but, if we accept the 10,000 figure, how big a blow is it? The sad reality is that PNG has been haemorrhaging jobs since 2013, the year in which PNG LNG construction was completed.

The Bank of PNG (BPNG) tracks formal sector employment every quarter. June 2013 was actually the highest that index has ever reached since independence. For the purposes of this analysis, we set that quarter equal to 100. Employment has fallen most quarters since. There was a brief recovery around the time of APEC at the end of 2018, but the index had fallen by March of this year to 87.6, its lowest since June 2013. This is a level not seen since 2009 – that is, more than a decade ago. In the meantime, the population would have grown by some 30%.

ANZ Research Pacific Insight 10 August 2020

PNG’s budget assumptions under threat, cuts inevitable

Papua New Guinea’s Prime Minister Hon James Marape said recently that he was handed a weak economy in 2019 and that’s the main reason government revenue in 2020 will be well below expectations.

PNG’s economic performance has been below par for several years. The economy has been bumping around the bottom of the cycle waiting for a recovery in construction, in particular resource investment, to come through. Without such an upturn, 2020 was never going to be better. With no recovery in sight, it is no surprise that government revenue will undershoot targets this year, notwithstanding the impact of COVID-19.

With a smaller revenue pool and a large component of budget deficit yet to be funded (see below), we believe the government’s goal of sticking to the record spend of K18.7bn in 2020 is ambitious. In our view, it will have no choice but to cut expenditure via a supplementary budget later this year.

Many dying from preventable diseases, says doctor

August 12, 2020The National

MANY people are dying of preventable diseases such as malaria, tuberculosis and cancer, while everyone is focusing on the Covid-19, a doctor says.
Deputy chairman of the PNG Health Board Dr Mathias Sapuri said while the Covid-19 pandemic was a major health issue that required the government’s focus, the health system must be strengthened to cope with the Covid-19 as well as existing health challenges.
Dr Sapuri said the government must be mindful of preventable deaths from other diseases due to the reduced availability of essential drugs and medicines while more attention was given to the Covid-19.
“Most of our routine health services have ceased or scaled down and significantly affecting our nation’s health service delivery,” he said.
“We do not know the actual figures yet but reports are saying (that) more deaths are occurring due to diseases like cancers, malaria, TB and others.”….
“Public must not be made to feel scared to go to hospitals and get treatment,” he said.
“People with existing diseases need care and treatment.”
Dr Sapuri said medicines from overseas and health consumable supplies for many other health conditions were way past the eight month deficit.
The non-availability of these medicines has resulted in patients not getting the treatment they needed.

Sea piracy a concern

August 17, 2020The National

Samarai-murua MP Isi Henry Leonard says that criminals are strangling efforts to deliver much needed government services and economic projects in his large maritime electorate in Milne Bay. “We are really at the mercy of the pirates,” he said.
“We are spending most of our funds, time and energy in chasing them instead of delivering our programmes. “We just spend K500,000 last month in deploying a mobile squad from Port Moresby to hunt them (pirates) down in our many isolated islands.” Leonard said this on Friday during the presentation of the Samarai-Murua 2018 DSIP acquittal report to the Department of Implementation and Rural Development secretary Aihi Vaki. “The increase of sea piracy is also another very important factor that has caused a lot of business confidence to drop in the district and also affected the movement of people,” he said..

Clinic on the verge of closing

August 17, 2020The National

THE Salvation Army Clinic at Koki in Moresby South, National Capital District, will close in the next two weeks if funding from the government is not made available, an official says.
Salvation Army land and property manager Bugave Kada said the clinic was operating with its own means to serve the community since March 31. “It has been very challenging for us with limited funds to continue the operation and has come to a state that we cannot continue anymore,” he said.
The clinic signed a memorandum of agreement in 2018 with the Health Department but were never given funding until Oct 2019, receiving only K200,000. The funds sustained the clinic for six months until March this year. “Even with the Covid-19 and the closure of other clinic commends we are still operating to serve the community”
Kada thanked their main partners, the Health Department, NCD Provincial Health Authority and Christian Health Services who supported the clinic during the last few months
According to SA acting director for health Charlie Clement the clinic served a total population of about 27,000.
Services offered include general outpatient, baby clinic, immunisation, post-antenatal care, people living with HIV and Aids and other services offered at the clinic free.
Clement said the closure of the clinic would make life harder for the people.
He appealed to the Health Department, NCD PHA, and NCDC to assist with funding for the clinic.

Lack of audit raises concern

August 27, 2020The National

TRANSPARENCY International PNG has raised serious concerns on the Government’s lack of follow through on its promise to conduct and table a proper audit of Covid-19 state of emergency funding. TIPNG chair Peter Aitsi said with the August sitting of Parliament commencing this week, the Government had 21 days left to produce and table in Parliament a report on SOE expenditure, as required under Section 8 (3) of the Emergency Act 2020.
Aitsi said an announcement by Police Minister Bryan Kramer last month on the completion of an internal audit report covering K45.3 million in funding released to the Health Department raised a number of questions:
What about the funds and emergency supplies donated, given or otherwise injected into Covid-19 emergency response operations (figures TIPNG based on available public records indicate an estimated total value of these external contributions at approximately K145 million)?;
If not the Emergency Controller, then who is responsible for reporting on this additional tranche of funding?; and,
Why did the Government not use an independent external auditing firm? “TIPNG has not been able to see a financial report which comprehensively captures all the various contributions (funding and in kind) provided by both the international and domestic community in supplementing government allocations for Covid-19 emergency response operations,” Aitsi said.
“Our country has seen the overwhelming support and contributions made by international and national organisations to Covid-19 emergency operations since February.
“These contributions are all publicised on both mainstream and social media.
“However, as it stands, the government has yet to fully account for the total value of resources received and expended under the Covid-19 SOE,” he said.

PNG to be officially declared a ‘Christian country’

12:55 pm on 19 August 2020

Papua New Guinea’s National Executive Council has approved a proposal to formally declare the country Christian under the Constitution.

The Post Courier newspaper reported the preamble to the Constitution said PNG was founded on two basic principles – of cultural heritage and Christianity.

Prime Minister James Marape said PNG had more than 20 different Christian churches.

“Many who claim to be Christian integrate their Christian faith with some indigenous beliefs and practices,” he said. “The influence of the church has over the years transformed many societies across the country to the extent of replacing some of their cultural beliefs, while some have merged culture with religion.

Marape also said the churches provided 60 to 80 percent of social and welfare services in the country. “Church networks are trusted by most people.”

He said the proposal of declaring PNG a Christian country was justified by the overwhelming number of citizens following the religion and the influence it had on Papua New Guineans.

However he added that while the preamble starts with “noble traditions and the Christian principles”, Section 45 of the Constitution recognised other religions as well.

“Every person is given the freedom of religion and to practice it as long as it does not interfere with the freedom of others, but this freedom is not complete freedom.

“It can be regulated or restricted by the government for purposes of defence, public safety, public order, welfare and public health as per section 38 (general qualifications and qualified rights) requirements.”

Marape said Section 55 also further promoted equality of citizens irrespective of religion.

He said therefore any amendment to declare PNG a Christian country would not have any major constitutional implications.

The unChristianity of becoming a Christian state

30 August 2020

PORT MORESBY – In a recent article, Dr Eugene Ezebilo of the Papua New Guinea National Research Institute asserts that “PNG’s Constitution does not recognise Christianity as the country’s religion”.

He proposes that if PNG wants to be a Christian state, Section 45 of the Constitution should be amended to specifically recognise Christianity as the state religion and a state church be established.

Following this, the PNG National Executive Council recently approved a proposal to formally declare PNG a Christian country under the Constitution.

While this may seem logical for a country like PNG where 97% of its people identify as Christians, the framers of the Constitution understood that it would result in religious authoritarianism, a pernicious consequence.

The PNG Constitution finds its origins in God. It protects every man, woman and child and gives them certain unalienable rights while simultaneously conferring upon them certain obligations and duties towards fellow humans.

One could certainly argue, and indeed I would, that the PNG Constitution is founded on objective moral laws, values and duties, and the idea that God is the source of objective moral laws, values and duties, and, therefore, that God is the source of the Constitution of PNG.

The Preamble to the Constitution states in no uncertain terms that this nation was established under the “guiding hand of God” and pledges to pass on to future generations the “Christian principles that are ours now”.

Beyond these references in the Preamble, however, Dr Ezebilo is correct that Christianity or God is not explicitly part of the PNG Constitution.

Section 45 deals with freedom of conscience, thought and religion, and makes no reference to Christianity. This omission is intentional.

First, an explicit preference for a particular religion in Section 45 would be a direct contradiction of that very clause.

Second, Section 45 emanates from rich Christian concepts that find their origins in God.

The freedom to choose was given by God so that humans can decide to love and obey Him freely, for without the freedom to choose a person cannot truly love.

It ultimately follows that a person can decide to not love and obey his fellow humans and God. Therefore, Section 45 when referring to the human right of freedom of conscience, thought and religion is not in contradiction with Christian principles and teaching. It is consistent with them.

The case of Somare v Zurenuoc 2016, regarding the removal of sculptures from the National Parliament, hinged on the National Court’s interpretation of Section 45 of the Constitution.

The court’s interpretation was as follows: that everyone has the right to practice, manifest and propagate their religion and beliefs.

However, they are subject to a number of restrictions including not interfering with the freedom of others, not intervening in an unsolicited way into the religious affairs of other persons who have different beliefs, and, finally, not forcing their religion on other persons.

This interpretation is in harmony with Christianity.

The unification of the church and state would present several significant problems. Throughout history, it has resulted in states usurping power by claiming divine authority for political use.

The inquisitions throughout Europe at the beginning of the twelfth century are evidence of states managed by tyrannical clergies and evil politicians.

Second, the separation prevents undue influence on the church by the state. Every government measure is compelled by the use of force, which stands in direct contradiction to the principles of the Christian church.

The union of the church and state would result in the latter corrupting the former. History is replete with the desecration of churches by the state, such as the infiltration and corruption of the early Christian church by the Roman government.

Third, which church would actually be selected as the state church? PNG is home to a number of thriving and in some ways competing denominations.

The American legislator Thomas Jefferson recognised the importance of the separation of church and state.

Thanks to his and others’ efforts, the First Amendment to the US Constitution states that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”

This ensures both that the government does not show preference to a certain religion and that the government does not take away an individual’s ability to exercise religion.

In other words, the church should not rule over the state, and the state cannot rule over the church. With the separation of church and state, the freedom of religion and conscience is assured, conflict becomes less likely and cooperation for the common good is much more likely.

Christianity contains the foundational principles that permeate the Constitution of PNG. A lack of preference for Christianity and establishment of any official religion in the PNG Constitution is crucial for the sustenance of order and harmony in PNG.

It would be unchristian to amend the Constitution to give preference to Christianity.

Robin Oge is a medical doctor and public health scientist at the Port Moresby General Hospital

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