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PORT MORESBY, Papua New Guinea (PNG Post-Courier, Sept. 19) -
Papua New Guinea economic ministers have given their backing to a controversial
proposal by Australia to put strategic advisers in key government positions.

Foreign Affairs Minister Sir Rabbie Namaliu yesterday denied
that this was "back-paddling" from Prime Minister Sir Michael Somare’s
opposition to the proposal.

Sir Rabbie said that once they got a clearer understanding from
Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer on what was being offered and in
what context, "it was not significantly different from what has been
happening" in PNG.

Mr Downer said on Wednesday that the concept was not an
indication of mistrust or declaration of incompetence against PNG public
servants but to make available technical expertise from systems of governments
in Australia.

He said the technical experts could be in the area of audit
control and financial management. 

"But without sustained and consistent economic growth at a
level frankly well above population growth, the ability of any nation to prosper
will be put in peril. Democracy requires the underpinning of prosperity,"
Mr Downer said. 

"Australia’s proposals are designed in close discussions
and agreement with Papua New Guinea to help restore Papua New Guinea to a
positive growth over a sustained period of time.

"Now there’s nothing particularly startling about our
proposals. We have offered to help improve financial and budgetary governance,
to provide in line assistance in key economic ministries and to similarly boost
capacities within the law and justice agencies. We are willing to assist PNG to
downsize its defense force to 2000 — to provide for capable, efficient and
affordable force that PNG itself said it wants."

Mr Downer said Australia wants this done in a strong policy
environment with leadership from the PNG Government but they were not seeking to
impose their views. 

He said: "It is free to accept or to reject Australian
assistance in the broad or in relation to specific programs."

Sir Rabbie said that when the proposals were put forward to Sir
Michael through Mr Cotton, he had not received any clarification on the package
and "he was not in a position to say yes or no". 

"But he felt it was necessary to ensure that at least the
discussions should be held to clarify those issues that we weren’t
particularly clear about," Sir Rabbie said.

September 19, 2003

Papua New Guinea Post-Courier:


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