Unrest gives valuable lessons

The National,Wednesday June 15th, 2016

THE recent shooting of unarmed University of Papua New Guinea students by police personnel in Port Moresby is a lesson in activism that needs to be learned from by all parties involved.
The students, who were intent on marching to Parliament House had stated clearly what their intentions were and that theirs was a peaceful demonstration against Prime Minister Peter O’Neill.
That being said, one has to question the solidarity and unity within the student body that would qualify their actions as truly one behind the protest movement.
There were claims by some from UPNG and other observers and those close to the goings on of the student body that the protests were bring driven by a faction of students – some say from a particular ethnic group – and their sympathisers.
This cannot be discounted but it must be said that those were the voice of a few, perhaps a silent majority or a handful, who were perfectly within their rights not to join any protest or mass demonstration.
Moreover, despite not getting the approval of the university’s governing board to stage and continue their protest, the students, who protested, were still within their rights to peacefully demonstrate against what they believed to be corrupt and questionable actions by O’Neill.
A commission of inquiry has been called for by all sides into the cause of the student protests as well as the shootings.
The inquiries must be conducted by independent bodies and its recommendations must form the basis for affirmative action.
At present there are claims and counter claims being made by Members of Parliament both in Government and the Opposition about what should be the appropriate course of action to bring closure to the matter.
The call by O’Neill that an inquiry will be made into the students and their motives as well as their backing is relevant. But only so as to prove that theirs was a movement carried out with the best of intentions by a group of citizens of PNG who were concerned and were only practicing their right to voice their displeasure at the state and to call for the head of government to face up to allegations of corruption.
The students, however, this in no way should deflect from the actions of the police.
They acted in a manner that was entirely disproportionate to the threat posed by the students.
Yes, it can be claimed that aside from the students there was an element of opportunism by dissidents and perhaps a handful agent provocateurs.
An inquiry into the student protests and how they came about will clear anyone of wrongdoing and/or shine the light on those who instigated it and what their intentions were.
The very thing the students are asking of their prime minister is what they must now submit themselves to.
Likewise an inquiry into the police and how they handled the march to Parliament will reveal their intentions and whether they were competent in carrying out their duties.
The police, who have had a poor track record in dealing with students and other forms of public demonstration, have a lot to answer for.
Their continuous inability to control events of this nature points to an ineptitude that permeates through the Royal PNG Constabulary from the beat cop all the way up to the office of the commissioner. This is one of the reasons why the police cannot be allowed to investigate themselves.
As was suggested by Sir Michael Somare last week, the commission of inquiry into the shootings must be done by an independent body and there can be no negotiation on this point.
It stands to reason that any investigation must be done by an external party, not one which is implicated or may have a bias in the matter – that being the PNG police.
Questions must also be asked of the role the media and in particular social media had in inflaming the situation prior to and immediately after the shootings.
Everyone, regardless of their political affiliations, ideologies and stance on the matter must realise that the students, those who chose to risk their education and lives, did so out of concern for the country and where it is heading.
They chose to make a stand despite the dangers to their schooling and prospects because of what they believed in.
It would be encouraging to see other citizens ask themselves the same question the protesting students did: Am I happy with what is going on? What am I going to do about it?