The National

PORT MORESBY, Papua New Guinea (Mar. 16) - Many important events are occurring at the moment in Papua New Guinea.

There is grave concern over the Manam disaster funds, with accusations flying around like feathers in a pillow fight.

On that score we have already expressed our sense of injustice over the treatment of the Regional Member for Madang, Sir Peter Barter, which can at best be described as cavalier, and at worst, a stinging rebuke to a man who least deserves such treatment at the hands of the Public Accounts Committee.

Members of that committee would do well to listen to popular opinion on the subject.

The people of PNG, and in particular Madang, are not fools, nor are they easily fooled.

Perhaps the members of the PAC should stick to its functions and leave the character assassination to those with a tad more expertise than the PAC has so far shown.

Manam aside, there is the latest brace of suggestions from the energetic Governor of Morobe, whose ability to cover almost any subject under the sun is in sharp contrast to some of his neighboring provincial Governors, whose silence over important matters approaches the quixotic.

More important than most of these transient events, however, is the visit of Sir Allan Kemakeza, the long-serving Prime Minister of the Solomon Islands.

It is a poor comment on the PNG senior primary education system that a group of students questioned yesterday about the Solomons had little or no idea of its geographical location, nor the name of its Prime Minister.

Not that there is anything new in this level of ignorance, which we suspect is shared by most of our population.

It is a matter for disquiet that despite various PNG prime ministers espousing the concept of "working the Pacific," most of us know little, and regrettably care even less, about the other nations of our wansolwara ["one ocean," in Papua New Guinea pidgin].

It is time that situation was rectified, time that the peoples of the South Pacific recognized the many similarities that will always bind them together.

Our interaction should not be left up to the occasional arts festival, groups of traveling dancers, nor isolated visiting students at our various universities and other tertiary institutions.

The peoples of the South Pacific share an urgent need to make their voice heard around the world.

For far too long we have either been regarded as a bunch of backward natives who have scarcely moved from the Stone Age, or amusing lightweights whose gracious dances, flashing smiles, warm hospitality and trusting generosity make us sitting targets for the scams and tricks of the denizens of the "sophisticated" world of "developed" nations.

We are neither.

Our historical range of cultures exists in a world where the loss of such attributes is universally, if secretly, mourned.

It sometimes seems that some Western nations react to our strengths by dismissing them as negatives, blocks to "development" and "progress."

We look at their countries, and wonder mightily at the price they have paid for their material pre-eminence.

And while some of their citizens treat our cultural heritages as a matter for derision, and make strenuous attempts to downplay their importance in the 21st century, their own societies wander in a morass of aimlessness, united only by the empty goal of making as much money as possible as quickly as possible.

In the face of that kind of influence, which today threatens to swamp our very existence, it is essential that the countries of the South Pacific should stand united, and make it crystal clear that the price of admission to that particular tawdry show is not worth the price that must be paid.

Neither the Solomon Islands nor PNG is a "failed state," to use a phrase beloved of Australian pundits.

Both nations have many attributes that are the envy of the "developed" world.

Our sense of family, our traditions of brotherhood, our knowledge and love of our environment, and the mighty stock from which we have sprung are matters for celebration, not for shame.

We warmly welcome Sir Allan to our shores, and we trust that the agreement signed between the two nations will prosper and produce much that is good for both our peoples.

March 17, 2005

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