PNG Post-Courier

PORT MORESBY, Papua New Guinea (Sept. 20, 2010) – What is wrong with the people in Lae?

Can’t they learn to live with each other?

Obviously not if what we are seeing or hearing is true.

On Friday morning the PNG Defence Force soldiers and the security guards (they must think they are another security force) clashed. The next day, businesses were forced to shut down and residents were too scared to move out of their homes because fully armed soldiers were hunting down guards employed by a particular security firm. This fight followed close on the heels of an ethnic clash at the Papua New Guinea University of Technology. When we say ethnic, you might get the impression that a whole group of villagers from some of the most remote part of Papua New Guinea took their tribal fight onto the campus and fought it out.

Oh no! It was not like that. The fight was among university students, highly educated men, not boys, men who are undergoing training to take charge of the technical aspect of PNG’s growth in the near future. At the Kapiak Street or at Boundary Rd, the ethnic clashes continue. At 4-Mile, there is a clash almost every second month. People are killed or injured in all these clashes.

Lae is the second biggest city in PNG and it is, without question, the business hub of the nation. The city stands to develop further because of the Hidden Valley, Wafi gold and copper projects in Bulolo, Ramu nickel mine and Yandera gold prospects in Madang and the huge LNG project in Southern Highland.

Investors are already looking to Lae as the place to be but how can we possibly attract them when we can’t learn to live peacefully with each other. Three days ago, we celebrated 35 years of being an independent nation. Everywhere we went; we could not help but see everyone, from the young to the old, got in their red, black and gold colours and joined in the celebrations. There was this feeling of oneness in the air.

True, we may have 20 provinces, 89 districts, speak 800 languages, live in the coast or in the highlands but we all live under one flag, one National Constitution, one national anthem and we all live in one country and we have one God.

And this God tells us to love our neighbour as we love ourselves but we do not seem to worried about that at all. We cannot expect the police to keep law and order for us in Lae or anywhere else in PNG. We all know that police morale is now at its lowest since independence and needs very urgent attention from the government. At the current ratio of more than 2000 people per policeman, it is just impossible to expect the police to turn up every time you are in trouble and protect you. That is impossible. What seems to be the trend now is when somebody is attacked, the family members already know that the police cannot attend to their problems immediately so the only way they can solve the problem is to seek help from their immediate relatives or clansmen. The people divide into ethnic groups and fight over what is normally a small problem resulting in loss of lives, burning of houses, use of ammunition and guns. Is that the way we want to live our lives? That is what is happening in Lae. The one National Constitution we have, has allowed for the protection of the citizens through the use of police force and the judiciary system but the very citizens these institutions are tasked to protect are watching their efficiency fast eroding before their eyes with corruption and lack of support from the executive arm of government. We urged the government to take immediate steps to address the issues in the police force. We just cannot continue to allow ugly situations like those happening in Lae to continue.

Lae city or PNG, for that matter is big enough for all of us to live in. We must learn to be tolerant of our neighbours and when someone does wrong to us, let us take our problems to the appropriate authorities to deal with.

United in Diversity. We like to believe this.

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