A GLIMMER OF ECONOMIC HOPE FOR PNG FAMILIES

Editorial

PORT MORESBY, Papua New Guinea (The National, Aug. 8) - It may well be that the Papua New Guinea economy is inching back into more acceptable territory.

And there is no denying that the Somare Government has made at least two moves that have done much to give encouragement both to companies already established here, and those that have considered but previously rejected opportunities to invest in PNG.

Those moves were the surprise package of concessions to the agricultural sector, and the somewhat less dramatic concessions to the mining industry.

The benefits of both are already becoming apparent, and have been commented upon in these columns.

It may also be that some of the more doom-laden reports generated from within and outside this country take an unnecessarily narrow and rigid view of the PNG economy.

This country's ability to recover from recurrent economic and fiscal disasters, while undoubtedly impossible without the lashings of aid provided by Australia and others, have nonetheless periodically stunned some of those learned pundits.

But the fact remains - for the average Papua New Guinean, life has rarely been harder. 

Income has never been more difficult to achieve, and the social indicators suggest that the depressed economy has long since started to bite and bite hard into living standards.

Vacuous comments from certain spokesmen for interest groups such as youths scarcely help matters, with their persistent demand that the Government should somehow conjure up thousands of reasonably paid jobs for the young unemployed.

Real self-help schemes, commonplace in many of our S E Asian neighbours, are few and far between in PNG. 

There persists an attitude, particularly among our youth, that the Government should provide, and if it does not or cannot, then it is a bad government deserving of removal and replacement.

Instead of the issue being the subject of rational assessment and discussion, it becomes blurred with emotion, and in that form, incapable of solution.

It does not seem to occur to some youth leaders that full employment would certainly be the much sought after dream of any PNG government, and that massive unemployment can only produce extreme disquiet in the halls of Parliament.

There is no virtue in mass unemployment in PNG - not for the unemployed, not for their political masters, and not for the employers.

It is not some fiendish capitalist plot conjured up by rapacious profiteers to deprive our population of a decent life.

Matters have, however, reached the point where some action by the Government must be forthcoming.

Most observers believe that Treasurer Bart Philemon is doing his level best to douse the red ink in the national books, and replace it with black.

But few ministers or politicians seem to be aware of the state of the nation's people - their increasing inability to put food on the table for their children, send them to school, pay for the doctor, keep the power paid and switched on, pay transport costs, clothe the children....the list is endless and painfully familiar.

Despite the requested belt-tightening, and the most stringent economies, ordinary Papua New Guineans are slipping ever further behind in their struggle to keep some sort of balance in the equation of income and family expenses. 

It has reached the point where people are beginning to question the logic of seeking employment at all, for even if they are successful, their wages represent little more than a token for working. Certainly for most, those wages could never be stretched to provide even a basic level of survival.

It is time that this Government, one that has tried hard to return some kind of economic sanity to the country, specifically focuses on the nation's families, and devises some way in which they can be rescued from their current despair and desperation.

If nothing is done, and the gap continues to grow between supermarket shelf and trade store prices and the family income, there is a real chance of poverty becoming and integral and non-reversible feature of PNG, and of the creation and perpetuation of a large sub-class of permanently poverty-stricken citizens.

And in terms of social disorder and crime levels, if that were to occur - well, to use a Hollywood line, "you ain't seen nuttin' yet." 

August 8, 2003

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