Hundreds of police officers have stormed the parliament building in Papua New Guinea. After hosting the Asian Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit this year, the police officers and security services were outraged when they discovered they were not going to be paid for their work at this major international event. Several ministers were assaulted during this incident and much of the property inside was damaged.
This has not been the first event of public outrage in Papua New Guinea in relation to the APEC summit. In October, two nation-wide strikes were held due to government spending on the event which included infrastructure projects and the purchase of several Maserati and Bentley cars. For a country that has already been struggling to pay debts and has significantly cut wages for their public servants, this was seen as an abuse of political power.
The Papua New Guinea Police Association has appeared to support the riot, deeming it unfair that government workers did not receive a fair income for overseeing such a significant event, attended by top-level dignitaries including US Vice-President Mike Pence, China’s Premier Xi Jinping and Russia’s President Vladimir Putin. Australian and New Zealand defence were also deployed in Papua New Guinea during the event to ensure a high level of security. Representatives stated that “it was a disgrace that these efforts are not adequately recognized.”
However, this incident is not just about police receiving their bonuses, but puts into question whether Papua New Guinea should have hosted the APEC summit in the first place. Papua New Guinea is the poorest member of APEC and is currently facing a multitude of social issues as well as recovering from a 7.5 magnitude earthquake. Port Moresby, the capital city, has been rated one of the least liveable cities in the world according to The Economist due to rising crime rates. Hosting APEC has called into question the government’s priorities. The country already has a cash-strapped budget and rather than spending it on improving healthcare, education and other social services, they have chosen to upgrade their infrastructure in preparation for the event.
The Papua New Guinea government has hoped for APEC to be a marketing opportunity in order to sell their country as a viable economic investment. There is no doubt that having strong trade partnerships will be beneficial to the small island nation. Yet social problems remain, and hosting expensive government events will not eradicate the pressing needs of the country’s citizens. The country’s leaders must recognize that a country’s prosperity is not achieved merely through economic means, and the wellbeing of its people must consistently remain a priority.
As indicated by recent riots, violence will only increase unless the government prioritizes the wider population.