An intolerable situation: Disasters in Governance

9 02 2012

by Gary Juffa

In the last few months, Papua New Guinea has experienced a spate of disasters in rapid succession. It is as if the elements of nature have spewed out their anger and Papua New Guinea experienced disasters from the air, land and now water. Yet it is not nature that cost the nation the lives of Papua New Guineas sons and daughters so much as human errors in judgment by those who had the opportunity to prevent the terrible events from occurring – humans.

In these instances, human beings employed in foreign owned companies operating in PNG. Yet even these agents are not to be blamed so much as the persons who direct and urge them to act and employ them and do so for profit.
These are of course the owners of the company, those who reap the profits of the business activities that generate the revenues for their bank accounts.

But even they are only partially to blame. For there are those who sit above these rampant profiteers in so far as responsibility is concerned, placed there by “the people”. The government, its elected officials and the departments and agencies and their agents, developing policy and providing check and balance, regulatory and monitory oversight in strategic and tactical efforts to protect the interests of those who need the goods and services provided by the profiteers, “the people”.

The events that occurred in the last few months are instructive examples of how the people have been ignored, left unprotected to the whim and will of corporate interest. While no one doubts the use and need for corporate activities and their benefits, their taxes, which they reluctantly pay and only if asked, they are in need of controls and regulations so that their fundamental ambition, their mission, to generate profit, often driven by the greed of those who own them, must not interfere with human life in so far as reducing it to mere costs on a profit and loss statement. That responsibility is placed firmly every 5 years on a select group of individuals chosen from among the people themselves, to act as guardians of the interests of the people and essentially the nation, creating and implementing laws to ensure that the peoples interests are carefully taken account of and protected. The consequences of the representatives ignoring their responsibility are severe. The people end up paying more then they bargained for.Sometimes with property, blood and lives…

In October 2011, an Airlines PNG plane crashed into the jungles of Madang killing 28 on board with only the crew of 4 surviving including the Australian (formerly retired) pilot, recruited nonetheless for one last stint. The entire country grieved for the victims who not included those that perished but those that were left behind with the sad memories, those that have been left will now have to endure the vacuum created by the loss of their loved ones and the consequences of their absence in their lives.

In January 2012 Papua New Guinea went into collective shock and mourning yet again when news of a landslip that occurred in the Highlands reached the rest of the country and indeed the world. This awful tragedy killed an estimated 68 Papua New Guineas living in the vicinity of a quarry operated by a contractor of the giant LNG Gas Project Exxon. Entire families were buried, fathers, mothers and children along with their simple hopes of a better life.

Whilst the nation was still reeling from the loss of lives in both disasters, a ferry overladen with passengers mainly women and children, capsized and sank off the coastal waters of Northern Province and Morobe. An estimated 100 people are missing, feared dead. Tales of horror from survivors tell of an ordeal that lasted mere minutes when the old leaky tub overladen with passengers returning from holidays, many to school was submerged by giant waves on a patch of rough sea and went down. Lower decks were filled with sleeping women and children. According to reports the ferry was overloaded beyond recommended capacity. Even more alarming is that the Captain claimed bad weather but had been forced to set sail by the ships owner or face termination of his employment. Merchant ships nearby reacted to distress signals and managed to save many. According to a report, a few persons were cut to pieces by the giant propellers of one of the merchant ships in the melee. The Australian government reacted swiftly and dispatched its navy and coastguard saving many lives from a watery grave. The Australian Political landscape also reacted swiftly, not missing a beat and Gillard took no time in claiming credit and offering condolences laced with condescending statements all in the same paragraph.

Lack of proper attention to the development, implementation and monitoring of laws and regulations, policies and procedures designed to protect human life continues to allow deaths of Papua New Guineans. The perpetrators never ever punished, merely stumble in their march towards greater profits, momentarily pausing to recover losses and regain momentum…and march on…seemingly untouchable…their investment worth far more then the lives of the citizens of this island nation, constantly and consistently in a state of non development.

The blood of these innocent victims drips not only from the hands of those employees, the pilot, the ships master and the quarry manager, but also from the executives right up through to the boards of these organizations that avid seek profit in Papua New Guinea with little concern about standards or regulations as demonstrated in those events…but drenched and soaking, congealing even in clots, are the bloodbaths that our leadership over the years have languished in, the blood of our people, constantly filled up by the inaction of those who we have elected into positions of power to guard our interests…our future…ourselves victims, our children lining up to become…. The worst disaster that continues since September 16, 1975 to this very day, is that of our lack of good governance…

Last moments of Rabaul Queen

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