Time to look after the underprivileged

Editorial, Normal

The National, Monday December 28th, 2015

 CHRISTMAS is a time of great joy for many Papua New Guineans, especially those who can afford to celebrate this special occasion.

As the well-to-do get into the festive spirit and jam the shopping malls in Port Moresby, Lae and other major centres, spare a thought for those who cannot afford to buy gifts and other goodies.

Thus, Christmas means little or nothing to the under-privileged people who struggle each day to survive in a harsh and cruel environment.

The nation’s capital is teeming with beggars, many of them young children. These unfortunate children roam the city streets every day begging for a few kina or leftover food.

Most well-to-do people ignore them believing that helping these poor and hungry children will only encourage them to go on begging.

But it is sad to see young boys begging for a few kina at the traffic lights near the Vision City mega mall while the well-to-do are busy buying, eating and entertaining in the country’s most modern shopping complex.

For a lucky country like Papua New Guinea, it is a disturbing trend that reflects poorly on the nation’s ability to look after its poor and under-privileged people.

While the Government preaches about its billion-kina budgets and the billions more it will receive from the liquefied natural gas (LNG) projects, our leaders seem to have turned a blind eye on helping our poor and under-privileged citizens. 

Their attitude seems to be – we have bigger and better things to do than worry about some helpless and hopeless children whose parents should take better care of them. 

Unfortunately, the parents are as helpless and hopeless as their children.

For a relatively small country with about seven million inhabitants, PNG has a lot to learn about looking after its poor and under-privileged citizens.

Of course, the politicians will always blame urban drift as the major cause of poverty, unemployment, crime and other social evils that have plagued our cities and towns in recent years.

Rural folks who migrate to the cities and towns without proper employment or other means of sustenance risk drowning in a melting pot of poverty and crime that is the norm in cities like Port Moresby and Lae.

It is easy to preach about poverty alleviation but to put food on the table for these impoverished people requires more than lip-service.

PNG currently does not have social benefits programmes, such as the dole system, where welfare payments are made by the State or other authorised bodies to unemployed or under-privileged people.

In Australia and other Western countries, unemployment benefits are generally given only to those registered as unemployed, and often on conditions ensuring that they seek work and do not currently have a job.

While there have been previous discussions on a dole system for PNG, it was generally considered inappropriate at the time with critics saying it would encourage the “handout” mentality that is so prevalent in this country.

That may be the downside but the dole system actually puts food on the table for families whose breadwinners are on the unemployment list. 

Until they find new jobs, it is the State’s responsibility to look after them and their families. 

Our colonial masters did not think the dole system was appropriate for PNG but the circumstances have changed and it may be time to consider if the system will work in this country. There are various models, including the Australian system, which can be used as a basis for a PNG dole system. 

Affordability should no longer be an issue because PNG is currently earning the kind of revenue that other developing nations can only dream of. 

The country’s first LNG project, which began production in May last year, and other existing mining and oil projects ensure the Government has sufficient funds to implement its major development policies and projects. 

Therefore, there should be enough money to cater for social welfare programmes such as a dole system.

If the ancient Romans needed a dole system to combat unemployment and poverty, why can’t modern Papua New Guineans do likewise?