"We declare our first goal to be for every person to be dynamically involved in the process of freeing himself or herself from every form of domination or oppression so that each man or woman will have the opportunity to develop as a whole person in relationship with others".

- Papua New Guinea National Goals and Directive Principles

Sunday, 5 February 2012

The O'Neil Government is Playing with Fire

The O'Neil government is playing with fire. To date, the traditional landowners of Tumbi, the PNG Trade Union Congress, LNG Watch, the International State Crime Initiative, landslide experts in Australia and the UK, have all demanded an independent and transparent inquiry into the Tumbi disaster.

The O'Neil government has incredibly claimed that an independent investigation is under way. Yet to our knowledge no information has been released on who will conduct the inquiry, what their expertise are, whether there will be independent oversight, what are the inquiries parameters, and whether there will be an opportunity for public consultation with landowners and other community groups affected by the disaster.

LNG Watch fears the O'Neil government plans to sweep this tragedy under the rug without justice being done. Whatever inquiry is being conducted at present, it is covert and opaque. Sadly, this is reflective of a state whose dealings are rarely transparent, much to the lament of the Auditor General and Public Accounts Committee, who rarely find records in order.

Were the O'Neil government in the business of inciting hatred, then they are at present excelling. To ignore the cries of landowners in one of the most economically critical areas of Papua New Guinea is sheer lunacy and is demonstrative of the hubris with which these men act. Like those before them they seem to believe the best way forward is to placate ExxonMobil, and attempt to pull one over on the landowners.

The Bougainvillean revolutionary Francis Ona did not suffer this sort of elite criminality lightly. We do not want to see matters reach the stage where people feel so aggrieved and so angry that they emulate his example. But if the cries of the landowners are ignored, this is exactly what could happen.

Nothing unreasonable has been asked to date. Dozens of bodies lie dead beneath the rubble; we want to know if humans factors played a role in this event. Civil society must be brought into this investigation; that is landowners, unions, NGOs, community groups, scholars i.e. the sort of groups and individuals people trust. Through democratic, popular participation we can  constructively channel tensions and grievances that would otherwise find more unfortunate expression.

It is our sincere hope that the O'Neil government is simply overwhelmed with a series of disastrous events and that they will soon come to the fore with a just proposal that will bring some comfort to the victim's families.

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