The bleak and black covid year that shook Papua New Guinea to the core

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PNG Grand Chief Sir Michael Somare's state funeral in 2021
The late Grand Chief Sir Michael Somare's casket arrives at Sir Hubert Murray Stadium, Port Moresby ... "So many of our fathers and forefathers left us last year." Image: Raksy Heron/PNG Bulletin

ANALYSIS: By Patrick Levo in Port Moresby

In all of the meandering years in the life of Papua New Guinea, 2021, which ended on Friday has to be it.

The colours were there, the love and laughter were there, the sadness, emotions, losses, highs and lows, the bleakness of our long-suffering population and blackness of ethereal poor governance were all intertwined with making 2021 standout.

In a nutshell, 2021 will be remembered as the year that shook PNG to the core.

The biggest and most enduring life changer was covid-19. Like a thief in the night, it descended on our lives. It robbed our children of their innocence. It stopped our businesses dead in their tracks. It stole our bread. It stole the breath of our nation builders.

This year, we will still be waking, walking and wandering with covid-19. It was and is the most tumultuous health issue ever, hovering over the gardener in a remote valley to a bush driver in a town to a business executive in the city.

Big or small, rich or poor, we all face the same anxiety.

Covid-19 was on everyone’s lips and in everyone’s ears. It is a global event that is still unraveling and we cannot predict what it holds for us in 2022.

The Kumul will fly
Now you can’t go anywhere without a face mask. But we must rise to the occasion. We must be resilient like our forefathers. We must face it. The Kumul will fly.

So many of our fathers and forefathers left us over the past year. Men, who walked and talked with giants, whose dreams and aspirations – covid-19 or not – we must carry in our hearts and move forward. That is the challenge that awaits our bones in 2022.

Sir Mekere Morauata (2020), Sir Pita Lus, Sir Philip Bouraga, Sir Paulias Matane, Sir Ramon Thurecht, Sir Ronald Tovue and the Chief of Chiefs, GC Sir Michael Thomas Somare.

One could only wonder as we wandered, tearfully from “haus krai” to the next mourning house. Why?

In one swoop, 2021 took our history book and shook the knights of our realm out of its pages.

Men whose colourful and storied existence led to the birth of our nation. How said indeed it is that a country loses its foundation so suddenly. Shaken to the core.

While mainland PNG mourned the loss of Sir Mekere, Kerema MP Richard Mendani, Middle Fly MP Roy Biyama and recently Middle Ramu MP Johnny Alonk, Bougainville was not spared.

The island is reeling from losing its Regional MP Joe Lera and just two weeks ago, Central Bougainville MP Sam Akoitai. Our leadership shaken to the core!

Historic year for PNG
This is also a historic year for PNG. Sixty-four years after Sir Michael shook his fist at Australia and demanded: “Let my people go,” Bougainville has done the same, voting overwhelmingly to secede from PNG in a referendum.

Two weeks ago, its president declared: “Let my people go!” Shaken to the core!

Ethnic violence — 1000 tribes in distress with violence becoming an everyday happening, Tari vs Kerema, Kange vs Apo, Kaimo vs Igiri, Goi vs Tari, threatening the very fabric of our unity. Our knights in their freshly dug tombs would be turning in their graves.

Family and Sexual Violence against women and children and the ugly head of sorcery related violence.

I mean, how dare we call ourselves a Christian nation and tolerate such evil? How dare you men accuse our women, mothers, sisters and daughters, and murder them in cold blood?

What more can we, as a newspaper say? We have spent copious amounts of sheet and ink, more than enough on these issues, we have raised our anger, we have commiserated with those in power about these issues. The message is not getting through to the men of this nation. Where have all the good men gone?

Spectre of ‘pirate’ Tommy Baker
Law and order wise, the name Tommy Baker raises the spectre of piracy, armed robbery, shootouts with law enforcement and a million kina manhunt that has failed to corner Baker.

Until he was shot dead by police, the self-styled pirate was still out there in Milne Bay, hiding, abiding in time, waiting to strike again.

The Nankina cult group on the Rai Coast and its murderous rampage also shocks us, as a reminder of the Black Jisas uprising gone wrong, two decades before.

Add the consistent and constant power blackouts in the major cities and towns. This is hardly a sign of progress, especially when the management of the major power company PNG Pawa Ltd has been changed three times!

However, yes, we need to remember this too. In our topsy turvy perennial spin, some of the major positive developments need to be mentioned.

The giant Porgera Mine was shut down and promised to be reopened, Ok Tedi, Kumul, BSP and IRC all handed the government a gold card standard in millions of kina dividends.

And the government has signed for a gold refinery in PNG for the first time.

22 billion kina budget
The passing of a 22 billion kina (about NZ$9.2 billion) budget. That is, in the finest words of my best friend Lousy, preposterous. Never before has the budget being built around such a humongous money plan.

Spending is easy but raising it sounds very challenging. Therein lies the challenge.

The most important part is to ensure this money plan reaches the unreached, that service delivery will go where the ballot boxes, somehow manage to reach on election days.

One noticeable explosion of knowledge is the awareness of social communications platforms. For better or worse, Facebook has taken a stranglehold of the lives of ordinary Papua New Guineans.

Communication around the country has changed overnight at the touch of a button or dial of a mobile phone.

In sport – the heart of the nation missed a beat when star Justin Olam was overlooked in the Dally M awards. A major uproar in PNG and popularly support down under forced the organisers to realign the stars. Justin easily pocked the Dally M Centre of the Year.

The good book the Holy Bible, says there is a season for everything. Maybe we are in a judgement season, being tried and tested and refined. Only we can come out of that judgement refined and define the course of our country – from Land of the Unexpected to the Land of the Respected!

We will remember the 365 days of you, as the jingle fiddles our imagination, we were “all shook up!”

Patrick Levo is a senior PNG Post-Courier journalist. Republished with permission.

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