Minister’s response to UN on Frieda mine ‘undignified and evasive’

Poject Sepik Awareness on the Frieda Copper and Gold Mine, Upper Sepik River Village, 2018

First published on ACT NOW! Blog

By Duncan Gabi/ Project Sepik

Response to the Minister for Environment, Conservation and Climate Change MP, Mr. Wera Mori’s Statement regarding Ten United Nations (UN) Special Rapporteurs Letter to the Government of Papua New Guinea on the Frieda River Copper and Gold Mine in the Sepik Region of Papua New Guinea.

On behalf of the plants and animals of Sepik River, The Sepik River, the people of Sepik River and Environment and Climate Justice advocates of PNG and the world, the Project Sepik, a local NGO in Wewak request that Mr. Mori in his Ministerial role reflect more and respond constructively, seeking solutions and providing answers rather than standing by his statement on Radio Australia on the 30 September, 2020 in response to the United Nations Special Rapporteurs Letter to the Government of PNG on the proposed Frieda River Copper and Gold Mine in the Sepik Region of Papua New Guinea.

Mr. Wera Mori warned the ten Special Rapporteurs, “do not forget that Papua New Guinea is a sovereign state and we cannot be dictated to by opinions of people from other countries. As an independent state, the government has the prerogative to make decisions in the best interest of the country”.

While it is important for the country’s international standing and reputation, that Mr. Mori has responded to the United Nations, it is embarrassing to observe his shallow arguments and the evasive nature of his comments.  Politicians must understand how the larger world works.  The Minister’s response is harmful to PNGs international relationships and the respect we enjoy from international donors and financiers. Minister Mori’s concern about maintaining Papua New Guinea’s integrity and sovereignty as an independent state fails to address the content of the letters; instead he directly told the UN experts to keep their noses out of the Human Rights issues in the country. His counterpart from Australia who received the same letter responded with a detailed response in a professional manner addressing the content of letters.

The response by Mr. Mori can be seen as ignorant of the issues that were raised. Mori must not forget that these letters came from the United Nations of which PNG is a member and the United Nations Human Rights Council to which Papua New Guinea is a signatory, meaning his government has an obligations to uphold human rights. 

Wewak 2018, Middle Sepik Soccer Tournament. Competitors on their way to Korogu from Wewak Town. Photo: Project Sepik

The letter from the UN is not designed to undermine our country’s sovereignty or to dictate to the PNG Government on how it should handle its affairs as the Minister claimed, but to raise the concerns on issues regarding human rights violations in the country that the government needs to look into and address.

PNG as a member of UN has ratified six of the core human rights treaties. These include the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), upon which the ten UN Special Rapporteurs based their observation. These same human rights are also enshrined in Papua New Guinea’s Constitution and in the National Goals and Directive Principles.

Papua New Guinea has also made voluntary pledges and commitments which include the pledge to uphold the highest standards in the promotion and protection of human rights. PNG has also ratified International Environmental Treaties, including the Ramsar Convention, Convention on Biological Diversity, United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, Paris Agreement and the Vienna Convention.

Mori also stated that, “as an independent state, the government has the prerogative to make decisions in the best interest of the country.”

Project Sepik is however concerned and are questioning in whose best interest exactly will the government make decisions regarding the proposed Frieda mine, the Government and the investors or the people of Sepik, Papua New Guinea and the environment?

This statement is also concerning coming from the Minister for Environment who has largely ignored the 2019 Ramu Nico Basamuk Bay Spillage. The PNG Government has no proven track record of putting the interest of the people first nor does it have the people’s best interest at heart.

The people of Sepik have made their stance known that they are all against the mine, their call was heeded by the United Nations who sent out the ten Special Rapporteurs. They did not send out the letter all on their own , they were supporting the call made by the people of Sepik to ban the proposed Frieda Gold and Copper mine which will destroy the Sepik River and their livelihood.

Special Rapporteurs are independent experts appointed by the UN Human Rights Council with the mandate to monitor, advise and publicly report on human rights situations in specific countries  and on human rights violations worldwide. The functions of Special Rapporteurs include responding to individual complaints, conducting studies, providing advice on technical cooperation and undertaking country visits to assess specific human rights situations.

Ten UN Special Rapporteurs, along with the UN Working Group on Human Rights and Transnational Corporations, wrote to the PNG Government to raise the concerns about the proposed Frieda River mine and the risk of failure of its proposed tailings dam.

The letter raised ‘serious concerns’ about the human rights impacts of the project, including the rights to life, health, bodily integrity, water and food, and the right to free, prior and informed consent. The letter also raised concerns that the people of the Sepik River ‘will be forced to bear the costs of the Project in perpetuity.’

Sumgilbar people in PNG triumph over foreign sand mining company

A sandy beach on the North coast of Madang

First Published in Independent Australia


A mining company’s withdrawal from mining sands in Papua New Guinea is a testament to local activism and solidarity, writes Duncan Gabi.

NIUGINI SANDS LIMITED, a Singaporean mining company withdrew its application for an exploration license (EL) to explore and mine 38 kilometres of unique beautiful black sands on the shoreline of Sumgilbar in the Madang province of Papua New Guinea (PNG). 

On 26 February 2021, the Acting Mining Tenement Registrar at the Mineral Resources Authority (MRA), Patrick Monouluk, accepted the withdrawal letter from Niugini Sands Limited for an EL.

Mr Monouluk stated in his letter to Mr Wenceslaus Magun, an environmentalist leading the campaign:

‘Pursuant to their request I have today officially withdrew the application from our Register of Mine Tenements dated 26th February at 12.10 noon, the matter now remains closed for all purposes.’ 

 Sand mining entered the spotlight in PNG in the middle of 2020 when the company applied to explore and mine sand. The people lacked an understanding of the uses, income, and negative environmental and social impacts of sand mining. 

Luckily, an environmental group in the area called MAKATA carried out educational awareness to the people of Sumglibar on the environment and social impacts of the project. The proposed exploration and sand mining posed an imminent threat to the coastal shoreline, the nesting grounds of endangered turtle species called leatherback and the livelihood of the people.  

 MRA and Niugini Sands did not carry out education and awareness programs with the people on the impacts or benefits of the project. Their consultations were carried out with a few ward councillors and only two per cent of the Sumgilbar population who were to be directly affected.

Therefore, an interim injunction was filed at the Madang National Court by former Chief Justice of PNG, Sir Arnold Amet, who was part of the campaign. The injunction was to order MRA to listen to the peoples’ request and conduct more hearings. MRA had earlier rejected the request by the people and had proceeded to submit their reports to the mining advisory council. MRA claimed that they have met all necessary requirements.

This was a violation of human rights of the communities who were denied their right to information and fair hearing under Sections 57, 51 and 59 of PNG’s Constitution

 At the time of the withdrawal of their application for the EL, the company director, Marcus Ong, said: 

“Bad publicity was pivotal in their decision.”

He added that information showed the Madang sands were of poor quality, according to Radio New Zealand. Mr Magun responded that the people will not accept the company’s justification for exiting.

Mr Magun added that the company did not consider the views of the people and the negative impacts of the project. Foreign corporations push this narrative when Indigenous peoples reject their activities. 

The unsubstantiated claim of poor sand quality was considered misleading because the company was yet to have carried out exploration to determine the quality. It was interesting in that prior to the resistance, the company was adamant to explore and mine.

 Niugini Sands stated on its Facebook page that:

‘It is easy for one to put down and criticise a project simply because it brings about a change which is undesirable in their personal view. We should not always look to oppose the change but rather embrace it.’  

The people used scientific facts and their lived experiences to hold to account their own Government and the company. Not all changes should be embraced, not the kind of change proposed by Niugini Sands.  

 Niugini Sands also stated:

While we recognise that nature, which is something God gave to his people, is to be conserved, it may not be fair for the people of Sumgilbar to be deprived of a better life just because of some comments made by environmentalists, activists or NGOs who do not even reside in that area. Such actions are deemed to be very selfish towards their own fellow countrymen.

Papua New Guineans must not believe that what foreigners think is necessarily the best for them. While the company recognised that God gave nature to be conserved, conservation is not at the top of the company’s priorities. 

Companies also should not define what Indigenous people see, feel and value. On many occasions, Papua New Guineans have seen and heard of these lies by such foreign interests. 

The exit by Niugini Sands from PNG is a remarkable and heartfelt win. This should encourage other groups to join the fight against many such destructive and exploitative, so-called economic development activities in PNG. Mr Magun has been very vocal on this issue since the “get go”.

He stood firm to allow the people of Madang, Sir Amet and others to stand alongside him to ensure the fight was taken to the national level. This shows that such a collective concern and sustained activism against foreign corporations who were there to plunder their homes cannot be underestimated.

The battle is far from over. In an interview with Radio New Zealand, Mr Magun said there was an insatiable demand for sand around the world. It is a concern that PNG has no relevant laws to govern the sustainable development of sand. Wenceslaus continued that the Government must develop and have stricter monitoring and enforcement in place should it welcome this industry.

Papua New Guineans must harness the strength of their culture and their Melanesian roots which acknowledges all life forms that dwell with them in their time and spaces. Papua New Guineans are best at sustainable development and conservation. 

The victory of the people of Sumgilbar will inspire those in Sepik, Morobe and across PNG to carry on their challenges to protect their rivers, seas, mountains, rainforests and cultures. The lessons are great, the stories of bravery and solidarity only cements more battles across PNG.

Duncan Gabi is an environmental activist and campaigner for “Save the Sepik” campaign in PNG.


SKULLS UNCOVERED ON FISHERMAN ISLAND

By PNG National Museum and Art Gallery

Skulls, skeletal remains and bits of old pottery, have been uncovered on a beach at the edge of the Fisherman Island in the last two weeks following the visit of a king tide.

Fisherman Island is located to the southwest of Port Moresby and is inhabited by six clan groups who originate from Hula in Central Province.

The Museum received report of this ‘chance exposure’ from Joel Keimolo, an inhabitant of the Island and works for the PNG Tourism Promotion Authority.

So we made arrangements with UPNG archaeologists, notably Mathew Leavesley and Vincent Kewibu, the anthropologist Linus Digim’Rina and the historian Keimelo Gima so we made a short reconnaissance trip to the Fisherman Island last Friday.

The trip included three of us from the Museum including our archeologist, Kenneth Miamba, and two young female archeologists from UPNG, Joel Keimelo and an intern from UPNG attached to Tourism PromotionAuthority.

Some village leaders took us to the site where the skulls have been exposed under a reef on the eastern beach side.

From observation our archaeologists were able to tell the age distribution of the skeletal remains by looking at the jaw bones and teeth structures. So we are left with the remains of very old and very young people which are kept in this site.

We don’t know if its a burial site or just a convenient place to keep the skulls and skeletal remains. We don’t know too if it is part of a ritual or the remains of war or headhunting in the past.

What we can tell is that Fisherman Island is an important transit point that connects the east to the west and north to the south. It is where people and things find a temporary sojourn before the next move. It is an important node in the traffic of the Hiri trade for instance.

So the details and provenance of the skulls and skeletal remains are not immediately known. A bit of oral history might help and archaeological investigations will tell us a bit more about the history of these remains.

We are working to layout a research and management plan of these discovery and to work with the Fisherman Island to look after these finds in the future to come.

Give Ok Tedi back to the people, or at least give them a big piece of the pie

The Ok Tedi Gold and Copper Mine has been in operation since 1985

One of Papua New Guinea’s biggest Gold and Copper Mine Ok Tedi will be shutting down operations in 2025. Western Province Governor Taboi Awi Yoto made a call that I believe is also the call of the people of Western Province to the Prime Minister to return the mine to the people.
The Governor asked the National Government to give the 66 percent of shares to the people of Western who have missed out on their resources.

Prime Minister James Marape agreed that the mine has no permanent legacies in the Province in terms of infrastructure and human development but said that the revenue generated from the resources must be shared equitably as stated in the Constitution.

I have to agree with the Governor and call on the National Government to hand over the 66 percent or at least some of it so they can develop themselves and prepare for the closing of one of PNG’s biggest mines.

The only permanent legacies of the mine in Western Province is the environmental destruction that killed the Fly River and is affecting the people.

The people of Western must now rise up and demand their fair share from the exploitation of their resources.
They must also demand compensation from the lasting environmental destructions.

Mining Minister lies to European Union Ambassador about addressing Environmental impacts of Mining

Minister for Mining Johnson Tuke and European Union Ambassador H.E Mr. Jernej Videtic during a meeting on Sustainable Mining.

PNG Minister for Mining Johnson Tuke in a recent meeting with the European Union Ambassador to PNG His Excellency Jernej Videtic on Sustainable Mining highlighted that the PNG Government is mindful and aware of the impact mines have on the environment and people’s livelihood and is addressing these issues by updating the regulatory framework and by demanding from investors to introduce new modern and sustainable technologies to diminish the negative impact of mining on the environment.

This is total bullshit coming from the Minister. The government has made no effort to update the regulatory frameworks to regulate current and potential mining companies operating and wanting to operate in PNG.
The Government has not made any demands to the to the mining companies to introduce new modern and sustainable technologies to diminish the negative impact of mining on the environment.

The extractive industry has been detrimental to the environment and the people of Papua New Guinea. Large scale extractive activities like mining and logging have resulted in the loss of biodiversity and loss of life.

Waste disposal from process plants and sediment runoffs from open cut mines are dumped into rivers and oceans. Smothering of riverbeds and oceans, heavy metal contamination and acid mine drainage are consequences of mine waste disposal into the environment. (McKinnon, 2002)

PNG is currently using mining waste disposal methods that have been outlawed in other parts of the world because they are destructive to the environment and the people. 
PNG embraces the waste disposal methods like Riverine and deep sea tailings that dump waste into rivers and oceans have been detrimental to the environment and the peoples livelihood.

The Fly River is DEAD because of Riverine Tailings.
The Basamuk Bay was polluted because of Deep sea tailings placement. 
Recently the people along the Fly River made a call to the Government to help them because the only source of their survival is dead.
There was also a pipeline failure at Simberi, in New Ireland province recently, a mine which uses Deep Sea Tailings Placement (DSTP).

Deep Sea Tailings Placement (DSTP) has been in use since the 1970s but is currently banned in many countries due to its controversial nature. It is now only in operation in a few countries, including PNG. The many risks posed by DSTP include smothering of the seabed, chemical re- actions that release toxic metals into the ocean ecosystem, tailings upwelling and contaminating inshore marine environments that locals rely on for subsistence and livelihoods. 

There is also no regulatory frameworks for new mining activities like Sand Mining.
Recently, the people of Sumgilbar in Madang kicked out a Singaporean company called Niugini Sands Limited who wanted to mine sands in Madang. The coastline which was planned for sand to be extracted from is nesting ground to the endangered Leatherback turtle species. 
Thanks to Wenceslaus Magun and Sir Arnold Amet who mobilised the people to resist the environmental terrorists.

Nautilus recently pulled out in their venture to mine the depths of the sea in New Ireland in the controversial sea bed mining, thanks to the fierce resistance and people like Jonathan Mesulam , Oigen Wandalu Schulze and Nat Lowrey among others.

PNG Government and Mayur Resources are also pushing for Coal Mining in PNG, an extractive industry that is out of date and should not be even. All the while, the government keeps talking about so-called responsible and sustainable mining. There is no such thing as a responsible and mining mining.

New mines that the government is planning to open will use the environmentally destructive methods like DSTP and Riverine Tailings or Dam Tailings. 

These new mines include Wafi-Golpu, Woodlark and Frieda Mine.

The Wafi-Golpu Mine waste will be dumped into the Huon Gulf while Frieda Mine will see the company storing waste at the head of the Sepik river in a dam, which according to experts will collapse and destroy the Sepik river. 

The Save the Sepik campaign in East Sepik is fighting to protect the Sepik river.
People in Morobe are also against the DSTP.

The European Union is also pushing their ‘Green Deal‘, also known as ‘The Green Mining Concept’. We must not be blinded by greenwashing and allow this environmental terrorists to plunder our resources and environment.

The Government and companies people do not care about the environment or the people that will be affected.
We have seen and witnessed many environmental destructions.

LET US END THIS MADNESS!

N’gego: Melanesian House of Governance

Papua New Guinea National Parliament Haus. Picture by Mellah Kilangit

The Parliament Haus of PNG is one of the most fascinating architectural structures in the world. The building incorporates different structures in PNG but the design that stands out is the architectural structure style of Maprik in East Sepik province. Sepik boasts some of the world’s finest architects of the ancient world, this can be seen in the magnificent structures they erect. One of the structures that was incorporated into the architectural design of the parliament haus is what we have come to know as the Haus Tambaran, Spirit House or Haus Man.

The parliament haus is commonly referred to as the haus Tambaran in reference to the original structural design it was borrowed from.

The building has received wider criticisms from the people of PNG. We often blame the structural design and the carved figures in the parliament house for our politicians’ shortcomings, widespread corruption and moral decay in our society.

And so, as a son of Melanesia, I am obligated to clear any misconceptions and defend my cultural heritage by writing from a Melanesian perspective.

What do the people of Sepik call their magnificent structure?

I have often argued that the names “Haus Tambaran” or “Spirit House” carry a negative connotation and does not truly reflect/portray the house. Of course, spirits and the deities dwell in there, carved into beautiful and scary figures and totems but that is just one aspect of the building and everything that goes on in there. 

It is important to define terms before we go any further. Tambaran in Tok Pisin means evil spirit or demon if you are religious. Calling the building Haus Tambaran gives you a clear picture that evil spirits inhabit the building and that those who go in there go to do magic and cast evil spells or engage in some evil rituals. 

The building has a name in the local languages, interestingly I have discovered the name have no bad connotations associated with it like Tambaran. (Refer to my other article)[i].

Foreign anthropologists have studied our cultures and written about them including the Sepik house from what I would say, an etic approach. I employed the emic approach to understand this structure and its functions during my stay in one of the villages in Middle Sepik river region where I was given the privilege to sit in the house and talk about the issues concerning the society.

In Iatmul culture of Middle Sepik river, the building is called “N’gego”. Other parts of Sepik have their own names. N’gego is a place of meeting/gathering.


The house is a governing body, a complex system of governance that was developed over thousands of years.

It is a Melanesian school of thought or rather a university, where the learned men of the society impart to the younger generation the knowledge of their ancestors and traditional values that weave the moral fabric of the society. Philosophy, politics, law, art among others are the main subjects. 

The building also serves as a temple where the spirts and deities are honored. It houses the spirits of the ancestors and the deities which are carved into wooden figures or totems, some are beautiful and some fierce and frightening to look at.

The most notable practice in the N’gego is the initiation ceremony. This involves young men transitioning into adulthood by acquiring the knowledge of the land and undergoing the painful scarification practice. The initiated have pass to sit in the N’gego and talk among men and discuss matters of importance. Those who have not been initiated are not allowed to enter the N’gego.

In my time in Sepik, I found out that the building has different functions in the society. However, in this write up, I will only be talking about the Melanesian governance function of the N’gego. 

As a governing structure, the N’gego is a single chamber legislative body consisting of male members of different clans. Each clan is represented by their chief with other initiated men of the clan. In the N’gego, each clan has a platform. In the village I was in, there were four platforms in the house for the four big clans, it could be more in much bigger villages. The big clans share their platform with their sub-clans who come under them. The Chief of the village is the overall chief in the house and is seated at the north end of the house.

The debating or speaking stool is in situated in the middle of the house. It is a carved human figure standing almost one and a half meter high. The carved figure has a stool carved just above the groin. On the stool are clusters of coconut leaves tied in a small bundle. Anyone who wants to speak in the house walks up to the stool, picks up the clusters and starts talking. After speaking, he uses the cluster to strike the tool. He leaves the clusters and returns to his platform, the next speaker is expected to do the same.

This allows order in the house and ensure’s there is respect for the speaker. Those in agreement with a speaker usually say ‘huuuuuu’ in a chorus. I have not heard someone in the house make a sound of disagreement yet so I would not know.

Only the initiated male members of the village come to meet, debate on issues and look for solutions to address issues in the society. Laws of the land are also enforced in the building to punish offenders and maintain law and order so justice and peace prevails.

The N’gego is recognised as the centre of the village and the Iatmul society. It is regarded as the pillar of the society, for without it, a society would collapse into a state of anarchy (refer to my other article).

To ensure that the men in the N’gego do not have too much power and control like an authoritarian government, the women are there to keep checks and balances.

Even though the women are not allowed into the N’gego, they are an important part of the whole system and therefore are not excluded in decision-making. 

In Iatmul culture, the women are referred to as ‘Niamun’, this translates to elder. This is because in the Iatmul culture, the women are regarded as older and wiser than the men. 

The men on the other hand as referred to as ‘Suambu’, translating to young or small. The men are regarded as young and sometimes lacking wisdom.

To maintain checks and balances, a ‘Niamun Suambu Bangra’ takes place during the big meetings/debates in the N’gego. When the house is in session, the women sit outside the N’gego and listen in on the meeting. The men are inside talking and debating, when a matter cannot be resolved quickly and requires special advice on the matter before the house, the chief of the village splits a betel nut (Bangra) bunch in half and sends it out of the N’gego to the women. 

This is for the women for chew the betel nut and speak. This practice is referred to as ‘Niamun Suambu Bangra’. translates to ‘older, younger, betel nut’. The younger gives betel nut to the elder so the elder can advise him on what to do or how to approach the issue so there is no conflict between different parties on the matter.

The women as the older and more wiser of the genders are full of insight and knowledge and so are in a better position to advise on the matters and provide counsel to the men. The women address matters pertaining land and other issues.

This is paints the picture that the N’gego has no gender associated with it. That women also have a voice in the house and are important part of decision-making and governance in Iatmul culture.

Coming back to the structural design I introduced in the opening lines, the parliament haus is rightly designed after the Sepik house of Governance. The architects I would say were not wrong in their planning though I do not know if they understood the significance and importance of the Sepik governance structure and the significant decision of incorporating the Melanesian government structures into modern government systems.

The name of the structure is not ‘Haus Tambaran’ and therefore I call to remove the word from our vocabulary and stop referring to the house as such. It is a disrespect to our Melanesian heritage and way of life.

I finally also would like to note that the Melanesian values of the house are no longer held in high regard and practiced by those who go in there to make decisions on behalf of and for the people they represent. 

With the current government, there is also no representation and voice of women to advice men on important national issues and correct them.

But then again, cultures, traditions and values in Melanesian societies are not uniformed.


[i] https://www.pngattitude.com/2021/01/the-day-the-crocodile-god-walked.html

LET’S TURN UPNG INTO A REAL UNIVERSITY

By Dr. Joseph Ketan

The University of Papua New Guinea is easily the leading tertiary institution in this country in terms of the considerable number of graduates it has produced in the last 50 years. UPNG graduates have consistently dominated the public service, the biggest employer in the country, for many years. Some great Pacific Islanders, like the prominent lawyer and former Pacific Fisheries boss Transform Aqorau, have also benefited from education at UPNG. Professor Ted Wolfers, Professor John Lynch, and Dr Bruce Yeates are among the expatriates who have obtained their PhDs from UPNG.

Significantly, the integrity of the academic programs at UPNG is on par with similar programs offered by other universities around the world, which means that a good Honours degree in the sciences or the social sciences would get you into a postgraduate program at a recognized university in the UK, US, Australia or NZ. A UPNG degree can also get you a teaching job in any university or employment in any organization in the world.

All universities compete for excellence in order to attract students and dollars. Reputation is what counts. The reputation of a university depends, principally, on quality output in research, publication, and teaching. The first two depend on the recruitment and retention of good academics. The third is dependent on both the quality of lecturers and the aptitude of students.

Most lecturers at UPNG conduct fieldwork at least once a year to update their own knowledge in order to teach effectively. Nearly half of them make an attempt to publish papers. Only a handful has published books. The situation at PAU, UOG and DWU is not good. Apart from producing teaching modules, lecturers at these minor universities do not publish and, therefore, cannot be taken seriously as academics, even though many of them have promoted themselves to professorial levels.

Generally, lecturers at all universities do a good job in teaching. They do well in the preparation and delivery of programs, assessment of students. A distinct lack of a reading culture in high schools and universities, however, prevents students (and teachers) from realizing their full potential.

In the 1970s and 1980s, with only four national high schools, the two national universities (UPNG and UNITECH) received the cream of the national education system. Students who came through the national high school system benefited significantly from a superior public education system, based on core subjects with a clear emphasis on literacy and numeracy skills. Most of the teachers in those days were expatriates from English speaking countries (the UK, Australia, NZ, and Canada).

The top-up system and the now discredited OBE system have produced a mixture of good and bad students. The cream of the education system might still be rising, but it is now coming through with impurities. Clearly, there are many second-rate students entering universities with fantastic grades that do not match their academic capabilities. An aptitude test might be needed to weed out the riff raffs. Our dysfunctional education system has been churning out thousands of mediocre students with woeful language skills annually. Plagiarism is now a widespread problem. In essays, smart phones and the internet are being used by students to copy the work of other people, often word for word, paragraph by paragraph, without acknowledging the source. Library research, reading, and writing skills seem to have been replaced by the copy-and-paste method of passing courses at universities these days. Among the good students are the lazy, deceitful, and corrupt ones getting out of universities and into the workforce – with their devious habits!

Crime and violence on campuses is a worrying sign. Sexual harassment of female students, theft of property, and other criminal behavior at universities indicate that we now have criminals masquerading as students. After graduating from university, some of these criminals will enter the workforce – with their felonious habits!

Despite the apparent problems at our national universities and colleges, UPNG has the greatest potential to become a genuinely premier university in the Asia Pacific Region. In the words of long-term UPNG lecturer, Dr Linus Digim’Rina, UPNG is the place to launch a rocket. I think I know what my friend from Kiriwina meant. UPNG has the core academic prerequisites for excellence. It has a tradition of academic distinction. With a bit of strategic planning, visionary leadership and good governance, we can turn this place into a great university.

The conditions are right. Key people in government, the public service, and in financial organizations are graduates of the University of Papua New Guinea. Government officers at the Department of National Planning and bankers dealing with project proposals were trained at UPNG. The UPNG Council is headed by Mr Robert Igara, a distinguished public servant, and a decent man who is widely respected for his exceptional intellectual capacity. The Vice Chancellor, Professor Frank Griffin, is a man of high integrity, with a reputation for academic excellence. They form a formidable team. Together, Mr Igara and Professor Griffin can turn UPNG around. They need all the support they can get from within UPNG as well as from outside. There are some outstanding academics and competent admin staff at UPNG. All decent men and women at UPNG must now work with the UPNG Council and Administration to convert this sadly struggling institution into a real world class university. Let’s convert potential into reality!

Prime Minister James Marape obtained a MBA from UPNG. This institution is his as much as it is ours. I think this prime minister will not ignore the plight of the university. He will come to the rescue of UPNG if Mr Igara and Professor Griffin were to put a proposal to his government. Such a proposal should contain a plan for the future of this university. The proposal should contain (a) short-term, (b) medium-term and (c) long-term plans, with itemized costing, for infrastructure development, staff recruitment and training, and academic program strengthening.

Issues that require immediate attention include: security (both emotional and physical) for staff and students, as well as for visitors; living conditions of staff and students; the quality of food for students; and better employment conditions for staff (better pay rates under a single salary structure for national and expatriate staff).

In the medium and long term, the objective of the UPNG Council and Administration ought to be on viability and strengthening of academic programs. Some thought should be given to the idea of converting the UPNG land adjacent to Morata into real estate to make money. UPNG could build apartments and office complex, supermarkets, bookshops, conference centres, recreation centres, motels, guest houses, restaurants, beer gardens, pubs, gymnasiums, and other social and recreational facilities for students, staff and for the public.

The quality of the academic programs can be strengthened by a careful recruitment program. The best candidates to recruit are, first, world recognized academics to provide leadership and to lift the game and, second, academics who have just completed their PhD programs. Both categories of academics tend to read widely and are well-versed with the key debates in the literature in their respective disciplines. This recruitment drive ought to be accompanied by a retrenchment program aimed at getting rid of the old and broken furniture at UPNG. There are lecturers and professors at UPNG who have yet to publish books in their fields. They should be sent packing forthwith.

Jointly run programs and partnerships between local and international universities is the way to go in future. UPNG has a good partnership with the Australian National University in research and teaching. This partnership has yielded good results in the past and must therefore be continued across disciplinary fields.

The current behvaioural problems at UPNG are the cumulative result of societal decay, failing national educational system, poor governance and corruption of state institutions at all levels. We have allowed our universities to become corrupted by thugs and their children with money, so we need to work hard to get rid of corrupt thugs in our institutions. We have neglected our education system, which is collapsing, along with the national health system. We have reached crisis point in both health and education.

We still have many good students at UPNG. It is the few who are giving our premier university a bad name.

Let’s work with Mr Igara and his team to restore order to that university. It is the only genuinely reputable one we have in the country. The others (PAU, DWU and UOG) are still growing. All suffer from teething problems, but we need to have confidence in the future of our universities.