Oct 20, 2017 Last Updated 8:27 AM, Oct 20, 2017

Red flag day

Police seize freedom symbol

ONE phone from the Indonesian Embassy in Suva was all it took for Fiji’s security apparatus to go into overdrive. Police officers descended on the Pacific Conference of Churches Secretariat and seized a Morning Star flag which had been raised in direct view of Jakarta’s Suva mission.

Around the same time the prime ministers of Papua New Guinea, the Solomon Islands, Vanuatu, and Fiji were meeting in Honiara. On the agenda were decolonisation and independence – including the right to self-determination in West Papua. Back in Suva, civil society organisations had organised activities in support of West Papua’s bid for full membership of the Melanesian Spearhead Group.

On July 12 the Morning Star flag – symbol of West Papuan independence from the Netherlands in 1961 – was raised on PCC property. The next day young activists took part in a display of poetry and art at the Fiji Museum under the auspices of the Pacific Network on Globalization (PANG). Indonesia responded by sending officials to the museum to take pictures of the artwork and the activists.

Fijian Ministry of Defence officials also took pictures at the museum. Minutes earlier the Indonesian Embassy had made an official complaint to the Foreign Affairs Ministry which in turn called Defence. Later in the day intelligence officers watched from across the road as young people gathered at a peace vigil to pray for the people of West Papua and an end to human rights abuse.

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Problematic Panguna

THE MINERALS in Panguna are owned by the people of Bougainville as they shed blood over them and it is certainly possible Panguna mine, once a major producer and one of the largest open pit mines in the world will not reopen, if landowners oppose it, or if Bougainville Copper Limited (BCL) don’t return and alternative developers can’t be found. BCL once operated the Panguna mine, which sparked a decade-long civil war in 1989 and remains a source of tension between the autonomous island of Bougainville and the Papua New Guinea (PNG) mainland.

Given the tortured history of the Panguna mine it would be completely unacceptable to virtually all Bougainvilleans if that 53 per cent equity were to be transferred to the National Government. It would be political suicide for the ABG, and potentially a source of conflict, if the ABG were to agree to the National Government becoming the majority shareholder in BCL.

The suggestion of conflict is a serious one, considering the large number of weapons still on the island and the highly factionalised population. Achieving agreement on revenue sharing with the island is vital because it was one of the prime reasons for conflict over the mine.

“The key issue is not Panguna reopening or any commercial consideration involved. In fact, given both low commodity prices and sovereign risk issues, there is little likelihood of reopening for a long time.

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Nation under siege

THE pressure from a nationwide university student unrest, union unrests and vote of no confidence against Prime Minister Peter O’Neill would not be as high if the economy were stronger. PNG’s economy is one of the most heavily resource-dependent in the world and the unforeseen collapse in commodity prices resulted in a 20 per cent drop in revenue in 2015.

In an attempt to protect the government’s big-ticket policies core services such as education, health and infrastructure were all cut by more than 30 per cent. Facing a significant cash crunch, the government is under growing pressure to live up to its lofty election commitments, and the strain on primary service delivery is hurting Papua New Guineans.

Had commodity prices remained high allegations of corruption and fiscal management, not to mention the major foreign exchange shortages now facing the country, would have been far more muted as the government continued to ramp up expenditure. For O’Neill, in a time when core services are being slashed, the dissatisfaction with government excess at the expense of everyday Papua New Guineans has become far more acute.

Poor physical management of the country’s economy formed part of the students’ petition calling on the Prime Minister to step aside, also citing multiple criminal investigations against him and attempts to shut down the police force’s corruption unit rendering him unfit for office.

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O’Neill survives vote

PNG PRESSURE Political turmoil, student unrest and strikes cripple economy.

PRIME MINISTER Peter O’Neill has convincingly defeated the vote of no confidence in him to remain in office despite uncertainties created by nationwide protests and strikes by pilots, transport workers, and doctors. The opposition moved a motion of no-confidence in his leadership but only managed to secure 21 votes – well short of the 56 required.

Parliamentarians debated for around 90 minutes in a special court-ordered sitting, broadcast throughout PNG. After more than two years of political crisis over a long-running corruption investigation culminated in police shooting at students at a protest last month, the parliament sat on June 22 to determine the future of Peter O’Neill.

The opposition leader, Don Polye, had been nominated as an alternative leader but both he and O’Neill were prevented from speaking after the parliamentary debate was shut down. The Supreme Court had ordered the parliament to be recalled to vote on the opposition’s motion, and huge crowds of Papua New Guineans queued on that Friday morning to attend. Police had been placed on high alert.

This was the opposition’s fourth attempt to hold a vote of no-confidence in Mr O’Neill but in the end it couldn’t convince enough governments MPs to switch sides. The Prime Minister has been under pressure since early 2014 when a warrant was issued for his arrest.

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Vanuatu steps up

GOVERNMENT and Opposition have both been on winning streaks in Vanuatu this month. And they have been appropriately complimented by Head of State Baldwin Lonsdale. In his attempt to open the First Ordinary Sitting of Parliament in June, following the new legislature’s installation after January elections, President Lonsdale congratulated new Prime Minister Charlot Salwai on his successful relations with the people.

The new PM is from Central Pentecost where he retains the huge goodwill of his community and electorate even though a long-term resident of the capital. People from his home rural constituency remained faithful to their leader, a successful businessman in town. The President also saw Leader of the Opposition Altoi Ishmael Kalsakau as one capable of providing a role in the governance. The government would find him a capable guide, said Lonsdale, following Kalsakau’s long term as an Attorney General and knowledge of the workings of government.

The Opposition Leader is from the island of Ifira, in the harbour of the capital, and well known in Port Vila. The winning streaks? Reform has been on everyone’s minds since many of the previous Cabinet in Port Vila are in gaol following court cases concerning bribery. The new Council of Ministers had arranged a Special Sitting of Parliament prior to the First Ordinary Sitting for the second week of June.

The Government had arranged this sitting to make some 25 constitutional changes to stop perennial motions of no confidence, prevent MPs changing affiliations, regulate political parties and create stability.

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