Time to stand on our own

Editorial, Normal

The National, Thursday November 12th, 2015

 WORLD War 1 ended 97 years ago.

It ended on 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month in 1918. 

This prearranged time – 11/11/11 – ended on the Western Front the slaughter and chaos of a world war that had raged for more than four years. 

Called the Great War, the conflict was so disastrous it was thought to be the “war to end all wars” as it was believed that mankind would not be so foolish as to fall into that abyss again. 

World War II, which lasted from 1939 to 1945, was the deadliest in history and involved 30 countries. 

More than 50 million people, both military and civilians died in that global conflict.

Yesterday also marked a significant milestone in Papua New Guinea’s political history as it signaled the end of Germany’s colonial rule in the Pacific and the beginning of Australia’s involvement in the former German territory.

However, it wasn’t until after the Treaty of Versailles was signed six months later on June 28, 1919, that Germany lost all its colonial possessions, including German New Guinea. 

It became the Territory of New Guinea, a League of Nations mandate territory under Australian administration until 1949 (interrupted by Japanese occupation during World War II) when it was merged with the Australian territory of Papua to become the Territory of Papua and New Guinea, which eventually became modern Papua New Guinea on Sep 16, 1975.

Thirty-eight years on, Australia continues to be heavily involved in Papua New Guinea’s development and growth, pouring millions of dollars into social welfare programmes by maintaining PNG as one of the biggest recipients of its overseas aid assistance. 

Proponents of Australian aid to PNG, which was until recently spearheaded by AusAID, firmly believe that Papua New Guineans are still incapable of managing their social welfare issues and other affairs.

They say that despite positive economic growth rates in recent years, PNG’s social indicators are among the worst in the Asia Pacific regions. 

According to Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, “approximately 85 per cent of PNG’s mainly rural population is poor and an estimated 18 per cent of people are extremely poor. 

Many lack access to basic services or transport. Poverty, unemployment and poor governance contribute to serious law and order problems. Improving the lives of poor people and promoting stability are central to Australia’s interests”.

That was reason enough for Australian aid to be increased to K507.2 million for 2013/14 from K500.7 million in 2012/13. 

As well, Australia had invested $1.372 million in PNG’s development over the previous three years (2009 to 2012). 

As it is, Australia’s assistance is directed to four priority areas jointly agreed and reflected in the PNG-Australia Partnership for Development. 

These priority areas are: education (including higher education); health and HIV/AIDS; law and justice; transport infrastructure. 

These priorities are in line with PNG’s Medium Term Development Plan 2011-2015. 

Australia also continues to support initiatives to strengthen democratic systems and economic and public sector reform at national, provincial and local levels. 

This support is essential to improved service delivery in the agreed priority sectors. 

Australia also promotes gender equality and disability inclusiveness across programmes in PNG.

Whilst Papua New Guineans appreciate such generosity, the country still needs to grow up and start learning to live within its own means. 

There’s little or no doubt that PNG will have the means, especially the cash factor, to fund these social welfare programmes and projects.

With a booming economy, spurred by the full production of its first liquefied natural gas project since May 2014, PNG is in the pole position to run its own race.

However, we need to manage these programmes and projects as well as or better than the Australians.

Unlike other Pacific Island nations, which will continue to rely on Australian and other foreign aid for a long time, PNG has both the capability and ability to stand on its own feet.

This country is blessed with an abundance of renewable and non-renewable resources as well as its human resources that augur well for the future.

Indeed, it is time for PNG to start reducing and phasing out Australian aid and our heavy reliance on our former colonial master.