A Papua New Guinea provincial governor has defending his actions for speaking up in Parliament yesterday on the government’s mooted proposal to extend the state of emergency (SoE) for two more months.
Writing on social media, Governor Allan Bird of East Sepik cited instances of police abuse under the SoE implementation and the lack of comprehensive and relevant government data on covid-19 in PNG as reasons for his argument, reports the PNG Post-Courier.
“If women who market food are beaten up by police and money collected from them and they have to report to me, then I have serious issues with [the] SoE and the way it is being implemented,” he posted on his Facebook account.
Using East Sepik provincial government (ESPG) funds, Governor Bird asked provincial administrator Dr Clement Malau to commission a study to determine if Sepik people had contracted covid-19 and recovered before testing started.
A team comprising four IMR staff and three PHA medical doctors sampled 1153 people over 10 days in six locations. Fifty people were detected IgG and IgM positive. A total 4.3 percent showed covid-19 antibodies.
Bird said all testing for covid-19 during the SoE returned negative.
“This is a clear indication that covid-19 passed through our population long before we started testing for it. This means our people had covid-19 and recovered. Nobody got sick and nobody died from it. This is important data which at the very least deserves to be factored into our decision-making process,” he said.
‘It is their duty’
“I expected senior ministers to commission similar studies and inform Parliament. That is their duty.
“Members of Parliament have to make very important decisions for you, on important matters like this. We can’t simply rely on government numbers. And we can’t be using US, China or Australian infections as a justification for our response.
“We are not Americans, Chinese or Australian, we are PNG. We must expect and demand PNG data.”
Bird further stressed that such decisions were important as they would take away the people’s constitutional freedoms and stop people from working to earn money to feed their families.
He said it was emotional hearing of a mother getting beaten by police for selling market goods to feed her children.
“I have reports of police collecting fines at road blocks. My people report these things to me through their councilors and LLG presidents. And when the Police Minister defends that, it’s simply unacceptable,” he said.
“The police are fast becoming the enemy of the people. When police take away our people’s right to liberty, who do you report to? The police station? Their minister? Who?”
Many police work tireless
At the same time, he also acknowledged that many policemen and women worked tirelessly for the safety and security of the people while a few did not and continued to hide in the uniform.
“PNG can’t afford a prolonged SoE where civil liberties are curtailed and abused. We have rioting in America against police brutality. How long will our people remain silent here?
“These are relevant and pertinent questions. I had no desire to speak in Parliament today, I had not planned to. I only did so because I heard a proposal to extend the SoE for another two months.
“That is unacceptable based on what is happening on the ground,” he said.
In response to critics, Bird reiterated that the East and West Sepik provincial governments had used provincial taxes to pay for soldiers’ allowances to patrol the borders, helicopters and hire cars used by soldiers and medical personnel to protect the nation’s borders.
He said this was done without complaint and in full support of the national government, adding they would do that again even though they only received national government funding last Friday.
“I am grateful that [Prime Minister James Marape] proposed a 14-day extension rather than the two months being mooted. PMJM justified that this period is necessary to comply with legal requirements of passing an emergency bill.
“This new bill will be heavily scrutinised because that is the job you elected us to do. We are not sheep, we have a brain, we hear and we feel and we must do our best for you,” he said.