Why PNG’s students are protesting against the O’Neill administration

The groundswell of discontent with Papua New Guinea’s Government, and more specifically the administration of Prime Minister Peter O’Neill, provided the tinder for today’s violence around the nation’s main university campus.

A widespread student boycott of the university and higher education term kicked off in the first days of May, with the University of Papua New Guinea’s Waigani campus at the epicentre of the protest.

One of the student leaders, Samuel Apa, told the ABC’s PNG correspondent last month that students were sacrificing their own education because other groups in society had been stopped from expressing their anger about the current conflict.

“If we do not do it, nobody will do it and others outside us will not do it,” he said.

“The students, we have this power, this time, to do it and we will do it.”

Organised existing student groups, such as the UPNG Student Representative Council and other tertiary student councils across the country, were increasingly aligning with groups such as UPNG Focus and broader coalitions such as the Community Coalition Against Corruption.

The groups were many, but the students’ message since the early days of May was singular: the Prime Minister must face the long-stalled and overly-lawyered corruption allegations brought by a range of official corruption squads.

Prime Minister avoids facing allegations

Mr O’Neill has been in and out of court with slip rules, stays, interim orders, and the setting aside of appeals.

Along with the shortening of parliamentary years, the defunding of anti-corruption police, and the locking of the gates of the fraud squad, the Prime Minister’s accountability to the nation’s robust courts has been repeatedly stalled, while Papua New Guineans have watched on.

The students, in boycotting classes from the start of tertiary term from Moresby to the Highlands, have been clear in their call for Mr O’Neill to be accountable to the charges.

On May 19 thousands of them met on the Waigani campus with their parents, citizens and civil groups to put a petition to the PM through National Capital District Governor Powes Parkop.

He promised to deliver it to Mr O’Neill immediately.

The very next day, Mr O’Neill published a lengthy response, saying: “I wish to state clearly that I have no intention of either stepping aside or resigning from the Officer of the Prime Minister.”

It is unclear what caused today’s shooting violence, but it was the student movement that laid the path.

That, and the sudden heavily armed police presence that happened early in the morning on May 17.

Port Moresby police chief Benjamin Turi told Pacific Beat police were present “to make sure there is normalcy back in students’ classes, going back to class, and stop all the encouragement by any other students stopping others from going to class”.

“We’re here as friends, as peacemakers. We’re here on request of the [university] council to protect lives and property,” Superintendent Turi said, letting slip he was a student protester when he was young.

Originally at ABC News