24/09/2013 06:17

Catholic Bishops disapprove of government takeover of OTML; fear shut down of PNG Sustainable Development Program

Statement of the Catholic Bishops of Papua New Guinea about Legislation concerning Ok Tedi Mining Limited (OTML) and PNG Sustainable Development Program


23 SEPT 2013. Were he alive today, would not the great Papua New Guinean from the Western Province, the late Ebia Olewale, be overcome by an immense sadness at what has transpired over the past few days?  In his biography of this revered first generation leader of a newly independent nation, Jonathan Ritchie writes: “...Ebia’s participation in the work of the PNG Sustainable Development Program gave him his first real opportunity to become involved in the developing opportunities for the beneficial participation of the people of this country, as a whole...  Now, with the SDP, he was able to help contribute by making use of the revenue coming from the mine...to carry out a range of activities that supported business, infrastructure, health and education.  His time with the SDP was one of happiness and satisfaction... The greatest cause of his unhappiness was what he regarded as the failure of government, both national and provincial, to respond to the needs of the people.  The Sustainable Development Program allowed him a way to continue his lifelong mission of doing something for his people...” (Ebia Olewale: A Life of Service, Jonathan Ritchie, University of Papua New Guinea Press, 2012, pp. 262-263).

The Catholic Bishops of Papua New Guinea, in solidarity with the thousands of ordinary people throughout PNG who, over many years, were beneficiaries of PNG Sustainable Development Program projects, want to express profound disappointment with what our leaders in Government have done by appropriating OTML, which could result in the cancellation of PNG Sustainable Development Program.  What the late Ebia Olewale felt about this program, we too have experienced in it, as we have worked to promote human development that fosters community participation, self-reliance and partnership.  Papua New Guinea will lose one of its most important and effective development agencies if PNGSDP is shut down and its funds diverted to government programs.

PNG Sustainable Development Program has supported hundreds of projects nationwide, partnering with organizations and communities to bring assistance where it is most needed, particularly in disadvantaged remote rural areas largely overlooked by government.  It has done this with integrity, avoiding the stain of incompetence and corruption.  Local organizations and communities know that if they are honest, willing to work hard and do their part in a spirit of self-reliance, they are likely to attract the attention of PNGSDP and receive assistance.  Now it seems this will end.

In contrast, government, by itself, often struggles to successfully carry out community-based and even larger development projects.  Why is this so?   People who read the daily newspapers are able to form their own opinion. Politics plays a large role in this and corruption is a truly serious problem.

Development and community-minded NGOs, charitable foundations, as well as faith-based organizations (the churches), even big-hearted individuals, who have as part of their mission a fervour for promoting development, integral human and economic development, are extremely important for the progress of a nation.   Government should be happy to have many such organizations and individuals operating within the country.  PNGSDP is one of the premier development organizations in PNG.  It has done so much good.  It would be foolish to terminate it. The people at PNG Sustainable Development Program should fight to continue their good work and we should support them.

The Catholic Bishops of Papua New Guinea