What can PNG learn from Solomon Islands riot?

Political leaders should NOT take people for granted. In this article, we argue that PNG has a history of civil discourse, and therefore the government should have people at heart when dealing with them and their land.

The Solomon Islands riot is a wake-up call for Papua New Guinea to relook its laws on forest, logging and extractive industries.

PNG learn from the past protests

For the sake of the young people, there were significant events that we need to remind ourselves about as a nation. We heard about the Bougainville Crises, Sandline Affair, university protests and regional autonomies.

At present, we also heard about resource allocation, political indecisiveness & favours and bribery. (See this Global Witness video of oil palm executives admitting to bribing PNG politicians)

These are similar trends in the Solomon Islands. People are fed up with their politicians siding with foreigners in the logging and extractive industries. Read this article – it resonates perfectly with politics and the exploitation of land and people.

These events, past and present, should be reminders that the government, political leaders and especially the Cabinet should not take the people for granted.

And importantly, logging and mining companies in Papua New Guinea should NOT take the people for granted either!

Why is the Solomon Islands riot relevant to PNG?

Papua New Guinea lonely planet
Papua New Guinea is a Melanesian country with strong ties to the Solomon Islands

The uprising against the Solomon Island government was not surprising though it happened very quickly.

Many commentators pointed to the diplomatic relation with China as a cause of the recent riot in Solomon Island, it is certainly a recent issue including the COVID19 control measures.

But there are more long-standing issues such as the high youth unemployment, unequal distribution of the country’s wealth and regional rivalries.

The DevPolicy Blog clearly points to the loggers and mining companies as the main driver behind corruption in the Solomon Islands. The writer identified several important facts that are relevant to PNG such as:

  • giving the logging companies special tax by Parliament Act.
  • government ministers getting favours from logging companies.
  • ‘alienation’ – no cooperation between ministers and provincial government leaders.

Above all, political oversight, complacency and indecisiveness within the government is the main cause of protests and riots both in PNG and SI. It’s like leaving the pressing issues to solve themselves out.

Does that ring a bell? Read more on DevPolicy Blog.

impacts of deforestation
Forests and land are people’s assets. They must be protected, not destroyed.

PNG government must respect the people and land

PNG is following a parallel trend where laws such as the SABL are enacted for the interest of the loggers and oil palm developers. The country and its people’s status quo remains the same:

  • High unemployment.
  • High schools dropouts.
  • Political indecisiveness.
  • New tax laws.
  • Logging and deforestation,
  • Politicians getting richer while the people are struggling.

These are recipes for civil discourse. Political leaders should really get this in!

Will riot happen in PNG?

We’ve seen protest marches by students during late Mekere’s term, Sandline Affair protest led by a section of the PNGDF and lately another protest by UPNG students turned bloody. These protests (note I use the word ‘protest’) were the results of unpopular politics by past and present governments. Read these notes on Sandline Affair.

Unrest similar to Honiara’s unrest is unlikely to happen in PNG. And by all means, it should NOT happen in PNG (or the Solomon Island) or anywhere.

Nevertheless, the provincial governors have shown their frustrations over the government’s indecisiveness in a non-confrontational (Melanesian) way by opting for provincial autonomy. In fact, several provinces wanted complete control over their internal finances and resources.

Having said that, we must not forget the civil uprising on the beautiful island of Bougainville. This crisis is, and will always be, remembered for a long time. The intention is very much alive.

What is happening in PNG?

PNG is not immune to separatist movements since the Independence. There were local ideologies propelled by dislike of the One Central Government System we see today. It was seen as a foreign agenda.

Sir Julius Chan recalled some examples of separatist movements in the early years of PNG’s Independence in his book Playing the Game.

  • Papua Besena Movement (Josephine Abaija, separate Papua and New Guinea),
  • United Party (Tei Abal, delay Independence),
  • The Mataungan (John Kaputin, Autonomy for East New Britain),
  • Bougainville (align with Solomon Island) and
  • New Hanover (Johnson Culture, align with the US just like Hawaii).

As a country, we should ask the question, what are the children of these ‘separatist ideologies’ see in today’s leaders, do they see the One Central Government System working?

Sir Julius Chan
Separatist movements pre-independence were active. These ideologies are intrinsic.

Solomon Islands riot is a call for PNG’s self-assessment

PNG politicians, government and foreign businesses should respect the people and their land. Politicians should be upright as leaders, they should not bend the laws to suit their political interests and or business portfolios.

PNG politicians should get this in.

We hope that the situation in the Solomon Islands calms down and their politicians realise that people are much bigger than their political and business interests.

PNG, in a likely event, should NOT go through civil discourse, protest marches and civil-led riots like what’s happening in the Solomon Islands/Honiara.

We cannot disregard the parallel trends, though.

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