Coronavirus: We need to shut down our borders and prepare our people

coronaThere is no other way to say this to the Government of Papua New Guinea.

Prime Minister,  you need to issue the orders to shut down our borders starting with our international airports.

While every other country is initiating  lockdowns, Papua New Guinea is still receiving flights from Singapore and the Philippines knowing full well, we cannot adequately  screen and track suspected cases.

There appears to be no sense of urgency.

We need to shut down our borders and prepare our people before there is an outbreak. Our efforts will be uphill if we allow the global crisis to arrive on our doorsteps.

I know for a fact that passenger traffic has dropped significantly. If Air Niugini is operating, how much of a revenue has it made in the last two months? How much of a loss will it be if shut down is ordered?  How much of a cost will be for this country if an outbreak happens because we kept our borders open?

Philippine President, Roderigo Duterte, has locked down Manila City due to the Coronavirus. Australia has banned public gatherings.  A travel ban may soon follow.  US President, Donald Trump, has banned travel from Europe for the next 30 days.  Smaller Pacific Islands have issued orders for  their own travel bans.

The amount of investment going into this emergency globally is massive. Fiji has opened a new biomedical lab. Australia has announced a 17 billion dollar stimulus package for its economy.

We are yet to see an outline of a economic strategy to cushion the effects of the corona virus. If not, there has to be some clarity and certainty on what we as a country can and should do.

We understand there has been an “allocation” of K45 million for this operation.  None of the provinces have a fully functioning coronavirus isolation center yet.  Morobe’s Angau Hospital response team is still waiting for the money to come. They are ready to work.

We appreciate all that is being done so far. Your hard work is highly commended.

However, members of the National Executive Council (NEC)  need to show the leadership and ensure there is trust and confidence by maintaining dialogue with the media.

We, the media,  don’t desire a standoff around coronavirus related  information gathering and sharing. We want to help. But it is absolutely frustrating when we get no answers at all or  the answers come with little clarity and direction.

Information needs to be shared and people need to be reassured through  its timely release at  both at the bureaucratic and the political levels.

This is my personal view.

Scott Waide 

My short statement on Friday to PM, James Marape, on health & education

mediaOn Friday morning, the Prime Minister, James Marape called  members of the media and the public relations practitioners to a breakfast meeting in Port Moresby.  It was the first time in  which the media was allowed to interact  with the PM outside of  our usual operations.

Below is a short transcription of what I conveyed to him after an address by  Neville Choi, EMTV’s  Head of News & Media Council President.

“Prime Minister, thank you for this opportunity to talk to you directly.

“I want to raise a few issues that we have raised and continue to raise.  I want to also points out a blockages that need to be addressed.

“First on health and education… The Free Education policy has failed our people.  There are still many, many schools that do not receive funds on time. Many more do not receive it at all.  Our teachers have been intimidated and threatened  by provincial and school administrations  to not speak out.

“The problem continue to linger because people are too afraid to speak out.

“For health…The people tasked to deliver medicines to our hospitals and clinics continue to fail.  You don’t have to go far to see those failures. In our five urban clinics in Lae, there are shortages of  anti-malarial drugs, antibiotics,  TB drugs and family planning drugs.

“Even the consumables needed for health workers to do their jobs are in short supply.  The gloves,  needles and other supplies. If urban clinics have shortages, what about rural clinics?

“Our health workers are also being intimidated and told to shut up.  What we need, Prime Minister, is an admission that there is a problem. Not a cover up! We don’t need department secretaries who are too afraid to face the facts and admit publicly in the media that there is a problem.  Many are too timid.

“I want you to use the information that the media has available during natural disasters.  Use the information available. Journalists are specialists in information  gathering and dissemination. Use that mechanism that is available free of charge.

“We were in Tari during the earthquake in 2018. You were in the conference room when we walked in. We were putting out information and making it available. And while the death toll stood at 63,  the  government mechanism chose to ignore the first hand information and were quoting a figure of 100 plus.

“We need aircraft for our defense force for disaster operations. I’ve spoken to the senior members of  the PNGDF Air Transport Wing, there is an aircraft that is sitting idle because it needs a gearbox replacement that will cost K2 million.

“…there are many in government who have been unhappy with the recent coverage that has been embarrassing for them.   But I want you to know that We will continue to challenge you and the government on the issues that matter.”

Life after #Marape: PNG’s political ‘glass men’ still trying to work out what’s next

marapeThe last 48 hours has  had Papua New Guinean  forums have been buzzing with excitement.

Before  James Marape, announced his resignation,  very few people expected a crack  in the PNC ranks that high up.

Marape  said he was leaving  because Prime Minister, Peter O’Neill, had lost trust him and that the PM’s associates  contributed to it.

Until Thursday this  week,  James Marape was one of the  top men in the Prime Minister’s inner circle.   As Finance Minister,   he was  a major player in the formulation of six national budgets and oversaw various  finance related policies by the O’Neill-Abel Government.

While on the surface things appeared smooth, there was a turbulent undercurrent largely kept under wraps until this week.  His  exit has also  given a glimpse into the inner workings of PNG politics.  The open secret of cultural ties and the non-elected  political influencers that  remain hidden from public eye.

Marape revealed  publicly what many other  Members of Parliament  had previously expressed – that the faceless  political hangers-on  had a hand in  affecting and influencing political decisions in the country.

Marape said he had lost trust of the Prime Minister and part of  it was because ‘associates’ of the government  contributed to that distrust.

“The decision is not easy to make and despite the cultural  and personal ties, the level of trust between the Prime Minister and myself is at the lowest after his office and associates continue  to send negative signals on the lack of trust on me,”  Marape said.

With talk of a  vote of no confidence,  the political ‘glass man’  peering into the murky crystal balls of Waigani   attempting to  interpret  James Marape’s resignation  are  coming up with  different results.  Marape’s resignation is certainly a blow,  but how damaging  is it?

Behind the scenes, insiders say the numbers  on the fringes of the coalition appear fluid while the core remains largely intact.

The Prime Minister was in New Ireland  on Thursday when  James Marape  announced his resignation in Port Moresby.  Attempts to get a response from the PM were delayed by a few hours.  A close aid, sent a text message saying the PM would release a statement  after meeting with  other members present at the meeting in New Ireland.

Just before 6pm, his office send  a short  statement in which the PM acknowledged  Marape’s resignation.

“I have not heard from the Minister today, as a matter of protocol, I expect that he will be in contact soon to convey his intentions.”

Like many political statements,  Marape’s  has to be also  read in between the lines. He said  his disagreements with the PM stem from various, what he called, work related matter including concerns over the amount of  participation  Papua New Guineans had in the resource sector.

He went  on further to echo what other ministers like  Planning Minister Richard Maru, has repeatedly raised previously – that agreements and legislations governing  the resource sector are  not configured to  allow the people and the country  to generate wealth.

Marape’s resignation comes  days after the signing of the Papua  LNG project – a deal that fanned more dissatisfaction when the media reported  that landowners would get just 2 percent of the USD13 billion project. Weather  that contributed directly to his resignation is a question Marape is yet to answer himself.

Like most political situations  involving numbers on the floor of parliament,  it’s best to read between the lines, study the undercurrent, and listen to what politicians aren’t saying.