OCEANIA/PAPUA NEW GUINEA - Social tensions and violence: the government declares a "state of emergency"

Friday, 12 January 2024 politics   civil society   society  

Port Moresby (Agenzia Fides) - The Prime Minister of Papua New Guinea has declared a two-week "state of emergency" and announced that the police chief and other senior officials in the finance and treasury ministries have been suspended. The measure announced yesterday, January 11th, was preceded by unrest and violent protests that kept the country in suspense for 48 hours. The escalation came after complaints about incorrect salaries paid to security officers sparked severe social tensions. Yesterday, the capital Port Moresby was devastated by the demonstrators who took to the streets on January 10th: shops were burned, stores looted and innocent people attacked.
The protesters stormed Manasupe Haus, which houses the prime minister's office, and tried to set fire to a guard post and other objects outside the gates. Port Moresby General Hospital confirmed nine deaths and seven deaths in the town of Lae, the country's second largest city, which was also affected by the unrest. Local businesses suffered severe economic losses and around 5,000 citizens were affected and became victims of the protests.
The government said it wanted to “ensure security for our people, our country and our families.” Because the protests were led by police and civil servants - who would normally respond to such events - the government deployed the military, who are now patrolling the streets.
Tensions began when civil servants went on strike over payslips showing "unexplained" deductions of up to $100 a month, half the salary of a junior employee. The massive deduction, initially interpreted as a "tax increase," sparked outrage among workers who stopped working and took to the streets. In a deteriorating situation, the Tax Commission denied any tax increase, while the Interior Ministry spoke of a "technical problem" in the payroll system and the Finance Ministry said it would review and resolve the anomaly. In response to the violence, Marape said the government would correct the payroll error, but added that there were other ways to respond to such grievances, although the demands made were "legitimate."
According to the prime minister, the protests were instigated for political reasons, indicating alleged "political influence on these events in our city and our country," he said. The unrest comes at a politically and socially sensitive time for Papua New Guinea. Citizens suffer from the high cost of living and high unemployment, which observers say are the reason for popular discontent and protests. Marape's government appears to be weakened: under current law, the prime minister cannot face a vote of no confidence after elections in the first 18 months of his term in office, in order to ensure some stability in the system. For Marape, who leads a coalition government, those 18 months expire in February. According to observers, the Prime Minister could soon face a no-confidence motion from the opposition, which, if passed by parliament, would lead to new elections. Papua New Guinea has around seven million inhabitants and is a Christian country, as stated in the preamble to the constitution, although Christianity is not the "state religion". Ninety-five percent of the residents profess the Christian faith. Christians are mainly Protestants (64%, mostly Lutherans), Catholics are about 26%, and 5% belong to other denominations. (PA) (Agenzia Fides, 12/1/2024)