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Anti-Privatisation Alliance in Papaua New Guinea

United Front Against Privatisation Formed in Papua New Guinea (PNG)

A new coalition of trade unions, NGOs, women's groups, churches, student organisations and grassroots activists was formed in August this year to campaign against the PNG Government's program to privatise State-owned assets.

The coalition, called the Anti-Privatisation Alliance, was officially announced on 22 August at the office of PNG Trade Union Congress as a result of a long consultation process after a couple of false starts. Since March this year a few issues of national concern had been discussed amongst different organisations and individuals and it was decided that privatisation was an issue that needed most attention. The Government was seen as "hellbent on going ahead with privatisation" without listening to voices of concern about the negative effects of the policy.

The Alliance has thus embarked on an awareness campaign to inform and educate the public with the intention of stopping the sale of State assets.

The first public forum was held on 6 September at the Institute of Public Administration (a government-run education facility) in the National Capital District (NCD). About 200 people attended the one-day program during which leaders from trade unions, NGOs, women's groups, churches and student organisations along with concerned grassroots aired their views and opinions and questioned the purpose of the privatisation program. All speakers were totally opposed to the program going ahead.

The campaign of the Anti-Privatisation Alliance has then gained momentum. A full-page public notice was published on 27 September in one of the daily newspapers to state the position of the Alliance opposing the propaganda of the Privatisation Commission, which only aims to 'sell' the idea of privatisation as something desirable and good for PNG.

A two-hour anti-privatisation rally was held on 19 October at Sir John Guise Indoor Stadium, which is within the main sports complex in the capital of PNG, Port Moresby, with the attendance swelling to almost 1000 people. Prior to the rally students from the University of Papua New Guinea conducted awareness programs at public markets around NCD. There was also a rally in Lae (the second largest city in PNG) on 21 October and in Madang (another major centre) on 11 November.

To put pressure on the Government to drop the privatisation policy, the PNG Trade Union Congress led a nation-wide stop-work on 13 November. The members of various trade unions walked off their jobs to attend meetings and protests held in a few major centres in the country, notably Port Moresby, Lae and Madang. The stop-work affected mainly the waterfront and air traffic, although other services also experienced disruptions throughout PNG.

The Prime Minister of Papua New Guinea refused to meet the Anti-Privatisation Alliance representatives, who wanted to present him a petition to stop privatisation, thus the rallies continued in Port Moresby for four consecutive days until the Deputy Prime Minister and the Privatisation Minister agreed to receive the petition on behalf of the Government. The PM has been defending the privatisation policy saying it is 'the only alternative' for PNG. He is unlikely to yield to the pressure yet, but at least now the Government seems to be ready to hear the views of the Alliance.

The Anti-Privatisation Alliance is determined to continue the campaign until it gets a favourable answer from the Government.

The members of the Alliance continue to voice their views through press releases, letters to the opinion pages in newspapers, talk-back shows on radio and during public gatherings. The trade unions are ready for industrial action, if or when it becomes necessary.

The Anti-Privatisation Alliance in Papua New Guinea is appealing for help to run their campaign more effectively as they don't have much resources. You could help by coming to PNG as a volunteer to assist in organising programs or by donating funds or equipment, such as computers, printers, scanners, photocopiers or portable amplifiers/sound systems.

The Alliance welcomes any ideas or information. You can contact them by telephone on 675- 325 7642 or 325 2619, by fax on 675- 323 0887 or 325 7642, by email through mitrananda@fnmail.com or by writing to PO Box 6371, Boroko, NCD 111, Papua New Guinea.


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