PNG bishops: many challenges even after 45 years of independence
By Robin Gomes
Papua New Guinea (PNG) achieved its Independence 45 years ago but the nation has still a long way to go in addressing the many challenges that people face. The Catholic Bishops of Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands, who together make up a single bishops’ conference, made the remark in a message ahead of its Independence Day on Wednesday.
Papua New Guinea’s journey of mastering it’s destiny and self-determination began on September 16 1975, noted the Catholic Bishops Conference of Papua New Guinea & Solomon Islands (CBCPNGSI) in a message for Papua New Guinea’s Independence Day. “But the struggle for universal education, health care, end of gender and domestic violence, personal honesty, prosperity for all, development and necessary infrastructures is far from won,” wrote the bishops’ conference General Secretary, Father Giorgio Licini.
Papua New Guinea achieved its independence at midnight between September 15 and 16, 1975, ending 69 years of Australian rule. It also signalled the end of 90 years of colonial rule under British, German and Australian authorities.
In the message, Father Licini noted that people are happy with the “simplicity of village life”. But he lamented that “tribal fights and family conflicts push an increasing number of individuals out of their place of origin and their ancestral land”. While urban centres boom, he said, “opportunities for employment are scarce, the streets are dirty and filthy and petty crime is hardly contained”.
Responsibility of authorities
Alluding to those in authority, the PIME priest called for unity and cooperation to overcome the country’s challenges. He urged the government to be more pro-active in reaching out to civil society for input and scrutiny. “Democracy does not end on election day, after which Members of Parliament are hardly seen back in their constituencies, and government Ministers hide behind locked doors in the parliament building and offices, reducing as much as possible interaction with the public,” Father Licini said.
“Only transparency and participation,” he said, “lay the grounds for a new level of national progress and freedom.”
Coping with Covid-19
The bishops of PNG and Solomon Islands noted that this year’s Independence Day celebrations are taking place amid the Covid-19 pandemic. “Death, sickness, strain on the health system, loss of jobs, and anxiety,” they said, “are the most visible effects of the virus that has attacked mankind at the beginning of the year.”
The bishops expressed gratitude to God and to nature that PNG is coping well with the crisis and their weaker and older citizens have been spared. They thanked countries and development agencies that came to their rescue in providing medical equipment and expertise, saying countries need and support each other especially in times of difficulty.