The National

PORT MORESBY, Papua New Guinea (Dec. 29) - The year, with all its hopes and disappointments, is staggering to an end.

Given Papua New Guinea's current economic circumstances, businesses and workers alike will not mourn the passing of 2003.

But all was not doom and gloom.

There is a tangible sense of achievement at the end of this year, as if the usual expectations of a better year to come are firmly based.

The economy is improving - marginally perhaps, but the nation is clearly ahead of where it stood at this time last year.

As has become customary, our fellow traveler Australia has once again proven its commitment to PNG.

To ignore this would be simply churlish, and a denial of the truth.

And that support is warmly welcome.

No, it does not indicate that Papua New Guineans will be forever dependent on our wealthy neighbor.

Rather it is a realistic recognition that PNG needs all the help it can get, simply because it is a developing country, independent for only 28 years.

Unlike most of our peers, PNG has at least the chance and the means of growing in strength to the point where such massive assistance will no longer be necessary.

That is the point made over and over again by our Prime Minister, and misinterpreted just as frequently by many of his listeners.

The talks that have taken place between Australia and PNG have produced a most generous response from the former, yet left our pride as an independent people and our much-vaunted sovereignty intact.

PNG still has its self-respect, and can still hold its head up at all the international forums.

In a very real way, that has been one of the major achievements of this Government.

They have made it perfectly clear to Australia that aid and support are welcomed, even depended upon.

But that assistance does not indicate that PNG has abdicated its sense of identity, or its desire to be numbered among the truly independent nations of the world.

Australia, for its part, has underlined the purpose and the parameters of its aid program.

The purpose is to assist PNG to stand on its own two feet, and not to achieve some kind of back-door takeover of this nation.

And the parameters include accountability, an end to the seemingly endless retorts that have blemished the relationship between the two countries, and a return to the objective and practical friendship that has long been its character.

To the doubters, the superficial thinkers who condemn AusAID and for that matter any Australian initiative as self-interest concealed by a false cloak of friendship, we can only say that the facts speak otherwise.

Visit the provinces.

Talk to ordinary Papua New Guineans.

Gain some insight into the benefits that have flowed to community upon community as a result of AusAID's project-targeted aid.

That is the reality, and it is physically present for all to see.

The Somare Government has done very much better than critics forecast at the beginning of its term.

The adjusted and strengthened relationship with Australia allows both parties room to breathe, and both to recognize the strength and weaknesses of the other, yet remain firm friends.

That is a real achievement.

On the broader front the Government has its critics.

The forestry sector continues to hold its breath in anticipation of some real Cabinet recognition of its tremendous value and potential for this country - and time passes.

Mining presents a rosier picture.

Some projects will come on stream in the near future, and exploration is slowly showing some signs of resuming growth, after having languished in the doldrums for a decade or more.

Manufacturing remains depressed, but retailing and wholesaling are showing some signs of improvement.

The exchange rate, while scarcely capable of being compared with the fixed rate joys of a decade ago, has nevertheless enjoyed some months of relative stability, and forecasts in the medium term are quietly encouraging.

If we Papua New Guineans commit ourselves to the Government's plans for the future, particularly in agriculture, PNG will continue to make slow but realistic progress out of the swamps created by the ineptitude of previous governments.

It's almost time to greet 2004 with a measure of confidence and enthusiasm.

December 29, 2003

The National: www.thenational.com.pg/


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