The National

PORT MORESBY, Papua New Guinea (Jan. 23) – There are times when Papua New Guinea seems to court the worst possible overseas press.

The incident involving a senior and experienced PNG diplomat in the United States reported yesterday in The National, provides convincing proof of this unfortunate tendency.

The officer in question, with some seven years residency at his post, must now either be recalled in disgrace by our own government, or face the possibility of deportation or a jail term of up to ten years.

If this were some political gambit between two unfriendly countries, or some Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy drollery, it would be bad enough.

But the diplomat stands accused of wife bashing.

What kind of image does that portray of our country and its people in the USA?

One incident of this kind, particularly one hedged about with the finer points of diplomatic immunity and the status of the people involved, can set back a whole nation's perceptions of PNG.

Instead of holding our heads high in a city that is the diplomatic nerve centre of the world's most powerful nation, we cringe under the embarrassment of being labeled as a backward and primitive community that still indulges in wife-bashing, even at the highest level of diplomatic representation.

It is an ironic aside to note that reports of this kind are often slated as evidence of the lack of loyalty of the members of the PNG press to their country and their people.

If the media carries these reports there is a section of the community that castigates reporters for painting an unfavorable picture of PNG overseas.

Do these critics really imagine that a case such as this will pass unnoticed in the US media, or that diplomatic officials in that country will turn a blind eye to the alleged behavior of this diplomat?

An earlier incident in the US, involving a former diplomat and a road accident, came close to causing a definite cooling of the relationship between the two countries.

There are a number of factors about this case than requires immediate explanation.

We understand that the incident was made known to our own Foreign Affairs officials some three months ago.

Then in December last year a senior US diplomatic official wrote to our ambassador in Washington regarding the matter.

January 2004 will end in one week, yet it appears that the diplomat accused of wife-bashing remains firmly at his overseas post.

If this incident was referred to Foreign Affairs last October, what has been done to bring a major diplomatic embarrassment to a quick and quiet end?

It would appear very little, if anything.

For once, PNG should have abandoned any diplomatic niceties and acted quickly and decisively. 

The diplomat in question should have been recalled immediately for "consultations with his home government," a regular ploy used in such sensitive circumstances. 

Time enough then to investigate the veracity of the complaint, and if it were found untrue, the diplomat could have simply returned to his post, his "consultations" complete. 

Instead, a matter that ought to have been attended to with the greatest tact and discretion has become a public scandal. 

Then there is the domestic angle. 

At a time when it appeared that some headway was being made in denting male chauvinism and beginning the long journey towards gender equality, campaigners find themselves right back where they began.

For if it is acceptable for one of the nation's top overseas officials, a representative of his country, to allegedly bash up his wife and fight with his son, then why should the average husband take the slightest notice of moves to change matters in PNG?

This diplomatic incident must be attended to immediately.

If it is found that the diplomat has indeed behaved as accused, he should be stripped of any rights to diplomatic immunity he may hold, and be either brought back to PNG in disgrace, or be allowed to be arrested in the USA, and face whatever punishment the courts decide is appropriate.

For only by showing that this diplomat does not represent the beliefs of his nation and his people can PNG begin to salvage its civilized reputation and work towards restoring its credibility within diplomatic and government circles.

January 23, 2004

The National:


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