The National

PORT MORESBY, Papua New Guinea (Sept. 11, 2008) - It is understandable that a senior Government minister should respond, albeit somewhat tardily, to the Unitech student protest. That the response should have come from the Minister for Works, Transport and Civil Aviation is somewhat surprising.

In some respects, Mr. Polye’s glossed over the main points made by the students, while showing great concern over the prospect of the union movement throwing its weight behind the protest.

The minister sought to reassure the students, and presumably the country at large, that the Government was at least aware of the problems.

While urging the unions not to join in the student strike, he claimed that, "the National Government had not turned a blind eye to the issues raised."

Later he stressed that the students should address their concerns through a petition because "the Government is not sleeping, we are addressing it ... the Government has accepted responsibility."

If those remarks provided some reassurance to the students, they were somewhat negated by the minister’s details of how the issues are being dealt with.

Polye said the Government was addressing the rising cost of living by "improving transport infrastructure for a more efficient transport system."

In broad terms, that is a commendable move.

But we imagine the students, the unions and indeed most of our people would like to know the time frame of such a goal.

Much the same query applies to two further examples given by Polye.

The minister added that the Government was "working closely with the Independent Consumer and Competition Commission to tighten up prices in stores", and was "looking at alternative fuel sources".

Both statements are so generalized as to be without much meaning and both are highly unlikely to be implemented in the near future.

Polye came nearer the truth when he agreed that the concerns raised were genuine and the question for the Government was "how do we alleviate the problems?"

He went on to add further relevant questions, among them "how did it happen in the first place?"

That would appear to have been the responsibility of the Government to have monitored the tell-tale signs of growing inflation, and having done so, acted swiftly to curtail them.

Indeed, the minister acknowledged that when he next asked, "How did we allow it to grow?"

Polye’s next query was, "How can we fix the problem?"

Few indications of the strategy required were supplied in the statement.

Finally, the minister commented, "the system is there, but it is the people in the system who can do their bit to make it work ... it is not the system that failed us, we failed ourselves."

That is indeed an honest statement and one with which the majority of readers will agree.

For their part, the students reported that they had finalized their petition, and that it contained "proposals specifically to the Central Bank, the Treasury and Planning."

In passing, and at the time of writing, we again commend the students for what has so far been an intelligent and relatively peaceful protest.

It has been a long time since a constructive protest with a specific set of goals has occurred in PNG.

All of which brings readers up to date -- and signally fails to address the immediate problems, the nightmares being faced by family shoppers each day at trade stores, wholesalers and supermarkets.

Even assuming that the Government "initiatives" alluded to by Polye come to pass, any benefits to ordinary people will certainly not flow until next year at the earliest. The real issue is how families and individuals and service providers and the private sector are supposed to survive until those doubtless commendable proposals eventuate.

We urge the Government to take action now to provide relief to the bulk of the people. We have had undertakings to look at the minimum wage structure, with the Prime Minister admitting that no-one could live on the base minimum wage as it stands. We now have a minister admitting that "the concerns raised were genuine."

When will this high level of concern, this recognition of the truth behind the student protest be reflected in reduced prices over the counter and more evidence for average people that we are living in a booming economy?

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