University Students, Aid And Independence for Bougainville

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COMMENTARY

THE INDEPENDENT Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea October 14, 1999

Our University students are at it again. Who can doubt the ability of our so-called student leaders to organize a strike before they can manage to graduate and join the workforce if they do not go straight into politics? Take Pious Wingti, for instance. He left UPNG in his second or third year Arts and went straight into politics. We do not think he would ever regret that decision. Today he is known as the richest man in the South Pacific. It must be a well-paid job to occupy the PM's office.

Getting back to our students, we must sympathize with the sentiments that a 25 percent increase in the UPNG fee structure is a hell of a lot of money for the subsistence farmer and most of those kids out there come from the rural setting. The UPNG Administration must go back to the government and insist that more money is put into education. If the administration is slack on that account then they cannot look to the students and their parents to bear the cost of their slackness or incompetence.

The excuse by people like Dr. Waiko that education is too expensive is nonsensical. Who said anything is cheap in PNG? If successive governments can find the money to sustain their EDF slush fund then surely they can find the lousy K1.5 million (US$ 561,000) per annum to offer subsidized education for UPNG. Our MPs cannot go around telling us that there is no money for education in PNG. If they can find the money to pay themselves K1.5 million each year then they have to find a better excuse than that there is no money. We hope that the IMF and the World Bank will insist that the EDF is done away with before any loan funds are made available to PNG.

Talking about money, we acknowledge Australia’s timely offer of substantial financial assistance to PNG. Our only regret is that Australia has not demanded enough from our members of parliament or the PNG government for that matter. It is fast becoming a reality that we are now more like one of those banana republics in South America funded by the U.S. government because of their anti socialist or anti communist sentiments.

If the Australian government is serious about what is happening in PNG then it must make its concerns known and it must demand action from the PNG government. Why would Australia keep pouring money into PNG and not insist on certain fundamentals as the minimum conditions that the politicians must observe before the funds are utilized. We are aware of the magnitude of Australia's investment in PNG and PNG's strategic position considering Australia's defense against any military adventure from the North. However, despite that underlying interest, Australia must take a more keen and genuine interest in the plight of the ordinary people who are helpless as against our spivying politicians.

Let us take a look at the political scenario on the island of Bougainville. Sir Michael has offered them total autonomy except for Police, Defense and Foreign Relations and the answer is an unconditional NO. We cannot blame the Bougainvilleans for their determination to do it alone. Who in his right mind would like to be part of a country called Papua New Guinea? Who in his right mind would like to be governed by our politicians who are wheelers, dealers and spivs? Sorry, Sir Michael, Bougainville wants full and unconditional independence and that is a non-negotiable issue.

Bougainville must be independent. Why else did they fight a war with us for ten years and what is the significance of our acceptance of defeat? They did not ask for peace. We offered them peace and they accepted our offer, but they never compromised on their position that independence is a must. We offered peace on the assumption that they would come to a negotiated settlement on their political status and that is where we fooled ourselves into thinking that they would accept anything less than independence. We have to blame ourselves for being so naive as to doubt their position. Why else did the Bougainvilleans shed so much blood on the island? Yes, that blood was the price for independence and Bougainville must be independent. The alternative is to return to the battlefield, which the Bougainvillean is ready to do? Are we to fight them again? And if so, what for?

Let the Bougainville issue lead us into a serious debate on the question of political structure and public administration for the rest of PNG. Let us ask ourselves if the present political scenario is the most ideal and if not whether there are any alternatives. If Sir Michael's offer to Bougainville is any indication, then we suggest that the same offer be made to all the other provinces. Look at the Malaysian system for instance, where the provinces are fairly autonomous and they plan and develop at their own pace. It is now almost a quarter of a century we have come since independence and if we have learned anything, surely, it must be that we are incapable of governing ourselves as a country because we do not have a clue what public administration is all about; we do not know what due process and accountability is all about; we do not know what financial management is all about and we do not know that this country belongs to a larger number of people than the lousy 109 members of parliament.

We now have a government, which believes in the proposition of reconstruction and development. We ask what is reconstruction and development all about? What are we to reconstruct and what are we developing?

For additional reports from The Independent, go to PACIFIC ISLANDS REPORT News/Information Links: Newspapers/The Independent (Papua New Guinea).

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