The Guardian July 4, 2001

PNG students, workers, soldiers battle IMF policies

PNG trade unions are threatening to close sea and air ports in response 
to the police shooting of three students during an anti-government protest 
in Port Moresby last week.

Fifteen other protesters were wounded and some are in a serious condition 
in hospital. The police shooting happened on the 5th day of a peaceful 
student demonstration against the proposed "economic reforms" dictated by 
the IMF and the World Bank and being implemented by the conservative PNG 
Government. The demonstrators were specifically protesting against the 
privatisation of the publicly owned PNG Bank and Air Nuigini.

A crowd of about 3000 students wanted to present a petition personally to 
the Prime Minister. During the protest the police set up roadblocks and 
essentially stopped public transport from moving. Public servants stayed at 
home and schools were closed. The police moved on the protesters with tear 
gas and shotgun blanks to disperse the crowd.

The general secretary of the PNG Trade Union Congress, John Paska, said 
that the Morauta government had blood on its hands and the union movement 
had no choice but to take industrial action.

"We are entering serious discussions in terms of the possibilities for the 
closure of the ports throughout the country, the closure of Air Niugini and 
if necessary to close power supply".

Troop rebellion

The student protests follow the Defence Force rebellion in March this year. 
At that time, troops seized arms in their barracks in protest over 
recommended cuts to the size of the force. During the ten-day crises, 
soldiers made explicit connections between their plight and the structural 
adjustment programs being carried out around the Pacific and supported by 
the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank.

The rebel soldiers called for the expulsion of World Bank and IMF advisors 
from the country, together with Australian military advisors. "Their 
foreign ideas have completely destroyed the nation. The World Bank, the IMF 
and Australian influences, I repeat  Australia influences  have denuded 
the nation's vast resources under the guise of assistance", stated the 
Army's spokesperson Stanley Benny at the time. Students and trade unionists 
expressed their support for the soldiers at the time.

A joint statement from the PNG Trade Union Congress and students' 
organisation stated: "The soldiers struggle here is part of the people's 
global fight against the `wanwol gavman' (global government). The Morauta 
Government is cutting back the public sector and introducing privatisation 
of public assets such as Air Niugini and Telekom PNG, in return for US$200 
million in soft loans from the international financial institutions".

The government's cost-cutting under World Bank programs meant that the 
poorest were hit the hardest. For example, in 2000, the PNG Government 
rejected recommendations from the Minimum Wages Board to increase the basic 
wage 160 per cent (the current level was set in 1992). At the same time, 
the Salaries and Remuneration Commission increased the basic salaries of 
judges, civil servants and Members of Parliament by between 33 percent and 
100 percent.

Nothing has changed since March. The Morauta government is still keen to 
follow the destructive policies of wholesale privatisation. There is also a 
strong suspicion that the Government, though it denies it, is about to 
start reforms' in land ownership. This signals that there will be more 
troubles ahead for the PNG people.

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