The Catholic Church and APEC
The primary task of the Catholic Church in PNG is to bring the gospel of Jesus Christ to the people of PNG. As such the church adopts no particular position on political or economic issues except to bring gospel values to this part of life.
However, since the Catholic Church is known and expected to speak for those without a voice, and has a reputation for its concern for the rural poor of PNG, many have asked us for our position on APEC. We have addressed this issue many times in the past and more recently appealed for a return to the division of powers that could ensure that political power and eh equitable distribution of wealth are kept separate.
We share the concern of many about the huge amount of our limited resources being expended on this event which seems designed to entertain and impress the rich and powerful.
Given its inevitability, we can only hope for its “success”, which can only mean that the welfare of the poorest people of PNG will somehow indirectly be improved. Although we all would like to make a good impression on our visitors, this cannot be at the expense of the truth.
So we must now look to “life after APEC”. This has to be a life where we will see a return to the principles and values of our national constitution and the national goals and directive principles on which our nation was built. In our 43 years we have seen a serious decline in implementing of the principle of equity and participation. There is simply not an equitable distribution of the national wealth to all. Despite all the rhetoric, the rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer. APEC seems to be a manifestation of this gap as the whole of PNG watches billions being spent on appearances in Port Moresby while we experience teaches and health workers without pay and health centers without medicine, while all departments are to expect less than 60% of their official budgeted allocations. It is a fact that many people in the remote areas of Papua New Guinea, including those in the cites who are still economically “remote”, are suffering and dying on order to make APEC a “success”.
As we present ourselves to the world as a nation capable of pulling of major international event, we must still ask ourselves to what extent we are truly sovereign and self-reliant. We are very much aware, and our informal off the record conversation with some of our national leaders confirms, that PNG I now longer in control of its own economic enterprise and production. Those of us in the forefront of Provinces with extensive logging and oil palm know exactly how much we have sold out to foreign interests.
The big show of APEC is not the experience of the majority of Papua New Guineans. Though they may rightly hope to make a good impression on visitors, they also rightly hope for a return to true normality when it is all over and we are able to count the cost, start repaying our debts, and re-establish our priorities, that is to priories the rural poor and not the urban rich.