PNG’s Basil calls for defence of free speech in student unrest

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Deputy Opposition Leader Sam Basil ... filed no-confidence motion. Image: LoopPNG

By Freddy Mou in Port Moresby

Opposition Leader Sam Basil says the freedom of speech that is enshrined in the Papua New Guinea constitution must be exercised freely without fear or favour – including  outspoken university students.

Basil told Loop PNG in an exclusive interview yesterday that funding committed by the government for various projects or commitments must be condition-free.

He was responding to questions about the free education policy which some MPs are threatening to remove if students at higher institutions take part in a protest to petition Prime Minister Peter O’Neill to resign.

He said when MPs make commitments or sponsor students through various scholarships, the money used was public funds and so could not be given with conditions.

Basil replied to Enga Governor Sir Peter Ipatas’ decision about the Engan students that it was the provincial assembly’s prerogative, therefore he could not make any comments on that decision.

However, Basil still maintained that such funds must be condition free.

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Plea to PM
Basil also called on Prime Minister O’Neill to make himself available and receive the petition from the University of Papua New Guinea students.

Classes were disrupted last week with students boycotting and calling on O’Neill to surrender to authorities investigating corruption allegations.

However, O’Neill called on students to go back to class and “resume normalcy” at their various campuses.

O’Neill said in a statement he had the greatest respect for the students, their rights and all the academic institutions in the country.

When his government came into office in 2011, they committed to invest in education for the children because investments in quality education, and giving every child an education, was vital for the economic health, prosperity and unity of the country.

He urged them to “think before they act” and not to allow others to use or influence them.

EMTV News reported that the president of the UPNG Students Representative Council (SRC), Arthur Amos, had confirmed that students would not not stage their peaceful protest on Monday following directives from National Capital District (NCD) police divisional commander Sylvester Kalaut, but their boycott of classes would continue.

UPNG students at a forum on campus discussing national politics last week. Image: EMTV
UPNG students at a forum on campus discussing national politics last week. Image: EMTV

Awaiting students’ ballot
Amos said they were awaiting the students’ ballot to be conducted anytime this week.

“Unitech students [in the second city Lae] have already conducted their referendum and most students have opted for classes to be boycotted,” he said.

Amos said UPNG was at the forefront of this issue and the students’ legal team was working around the clock to have the Electoral Commission conduct a vote to make it legal for students to continue boycotting classes.

He said they had collected almost 90 percent of the students’ signatures, which was more than 4500 signatures, to enable conducting the poll.

On Friday, UPNG students set ablaze on campus 800 copies of The National and Post-Courier newspapers, which they claimed were biased against them.

Freddy Mou is news editor of LoopPNG.

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