Protesters say 'Hands off PNG'



SYDNEY — On October 22, Klaus Rohland, the World Bank country director for Papua New Guinea, East Timor and the Pacific Islands, addressed a lecture at Sydney University on instability in PNG and the Pacific. The abstract of the lecture read: “As the 'great power' of the region, what role should Australia play? When should Australia intervene and how?”

Showing their opposition to World Bank and Australian policies in PNG, 30 protesters held up banners outside the meeting emblazoned “Hands off PNG”, and handed out information to those attending the lecture, which was held for ABC Radio National's Open Learning program, to be broadcast from December 27. The information was prepared by the protest organisers, PNG Solidarity Action, Action in Solidarity with Asia and the Pacific (ASAP) and AID/Watch.

In a wearisome speech packed with World Bank rhetoric, but touching little on reality, Rohland avoided controversy. He talked of “helping the children of PNG” and “reducing poverty”, but failed to explain why the World Bank funds gas, mining and road maintenance projects at the expense of health and education programs.

PNG's adult illiteracy rate is over 35%, and is much higher for women. Life expectancy is less than 59 years. Yet the World Bank has opted not to play a leading role in lending to the educational sector or providing adequate health funding, despite a plea from the PNG government.

Through structural adjustment programs, the bank has introduced higher fees for public education and health, abolished price controls on basic foodstuffs, repealed the minimum wages act and demanded the privatisation of state-owned enterprises. The World Bank is also pressuring the government to privatise all communally owned tribal land, jeopardising a crucial safety net for PNG people, who have traditionally relied on the land for subsistence.

In a message of solidarity with the protesters, Dr Julienne Kaman from the PNG Melanesian People's Forum highlighted the irony of poverty in such a resource-rich country: “We would be the richest country in the Pacific … with gold, copper, oil and gas… yet PNG is the poorest country… All resources are being shipped mainly to the shores of Australia. In exchange, a gift is given in the form of aid which all works to the benefit of the aid donors.”

A recent World Bank report evaluating its “assistance” in PNG found a mere 8% of “development” projects were likely to have a substantial positive impact on PNG. It seems the only “reward” from over a decade of SAPs and World Bank development projects, is that PNG is now eligible for low-interest loans from the International Development Agency (the “soft-loan” arm of the World Bank) because its GDP per capita has decreased so substantially.

Far from “reducing poverty”, the real aim of the World Bank is to globalise neo-liberalism, allowing big business to extend into, and extract profit from, export, investment and labour markets.

Whether or not the World Bank believes these goals will lead to poverty reduction, reality shows they don't. Instead, together with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Trade Organization (WTO), the World Bank serves to ensure that the interests of the rich countries are imposed on the poor.

The World Bank, the IMF and the WTO are increasing their cooperation, thus making it even harder for countries like PNG to reject their free market and “free” trade policies. The World Bank already uses the lure of aid to enforce privatisation and free market reforms. Currently, the World Bank and the WTO plan to tie aid to “trade opportunities” through a new, jointly established fund, called the Standards and Trade Development Facility.

The upcoming protests against the November 14-15 WTO meeting in Sydney will express solidarity with the Melanesian people struggling against these global institutions, even at the cost of their lives. Four anti-privatisation protesters were shot in Port Moresby mid-June last year.

From Green Left Weekly, October 30, 2002.
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