A matter of innocence

By PNG Echo.

Graham Romanong did not deserve to die.
Graham Romanong did not deserve to die.

For the tragic death of student Graham Romanong and the subsequent ransacking and burning of property, blame is being apportioned to almost anyone and everyone.

The opposition are blaming the government, the government are blaming the opposition while some are blaming non -student opportunists.

They all seem to agree, however, that the students themselves, and especially the dead student, are all’ “innocent.”  They’re not!

How do you plead…?

Students hold a meeting on campus
Students hold a meeting on campus

To suggest that the country’s recognised young intellectuals, who were politically agitating for a legally and democratically elected Prime Minister’s downfall, are sweetly “innocent,” is drawing a very long bow.

God help PNG, if these students, the future leaders and hope of Papua New Guinea –all young adults – were not aware of the possible consequences.

If they weren’t aware, then they are abjectly stupid, if they were aware, then where is the innocence?  Neither scenario is exactly desirable – there’s no third alternative.

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Kenneth Rapa “My students are but human.”

In his press statement, Kenneth Rapa, student leader at UPNG, went to great lengths to condemn the murderous actions, yet he couldn’t resist the mitigation “…my students are but human…” while urging the public to have an “empathetic understanding” of what happened.

He at least didn’t use the word ‘innocent’ but that’s what he meant.

If you are not an infant and you commission an act – you are the one responsible. Not the 40-years-ago-exited colonial government for being…well…colonial, nor the beaten and murdered woman for being a woman, nor the government/opposition/police for urging/suppressing/provoking you.

No one was holding a gun to the students heads – in fact, it was the students holding the gun (metaphorically, in the form of blackmail – more on that later.)

The students provoked, intimidated and from there went on to commit murder – in an act of free will

Victim status

A campus building set alight.
A campus building set alight and burning

The word on the street is that the killing was retaliatory for the earlier stabbing of an Engan student. In other words, it is highly likely that the murdered student was not all that innocent.

The targeting of this student was not totally random – they knew who they were after.

Nevertheless, he did not deserve to die and the murderers must take responsibility for their actions.

A murder is a murder, and is not more horrifying because of the status of the victim’s virtue. One life is as precious as the next.

It is why I am against state-sanctioned murder (ie – the death penalty). It is the slippery slope. If we can happily agree to this type of penalty to legally kill a human being that is judged not worthy of life, how long is it before we start to decide outside of legal processes who should live and die?

And that’s exactly what’s happened here, it seems.

Enter the Commission of Inquiry

A popular British political satire called ‘Yes Minister’ that ran from 1980-1984 had the wily and savvy Permanent Head of Government (Public Servant) educating the forever bewildered Minister on Commissions of Inquiry thus:

The terminally bewildered Minister with his public service advisors in the political satire "Yes, Minister."
The terminally bewildered Minister with his public service advisors in the 1980s British political satire “Yes, Minister.”

Take an honorable retired judge, a doddering old fool, and put him in charge of the inquiry, with a sizable honorarium. Help him to arrive himself at the required conclusions. Feed him the appropriate facts and hint at a peerage. From there on, everything will work out as desired.

This is an overly-cynical parody of what is about to happen in Papua New Guinea.

And while there will be, no doubt, people uncovered whose role, behind the scenes was less than exemplary – ie vested interests – let’s not get carried away.

If there were those, in the political opposition, that will be proven to have bankrolled the students, inspired them and urged them on with promises, threats or whatever, then they should be brought to account. But, as my mother used to say,  “would you jump off a cliff, if she told you to?”

It all comes back to free will.

For while I suspect that the students were merely collateral damage to someone’s political ambitions, it’s not as if they were conscripts, they joined up.

As for the accusation that all this could have been stopped if the Prime Minister had stepped down – as per their demands. That argument is fatally flawed.

Demanding that the Prime Minister step down (or else) is blackmail. Blackmailers are never satisfied.

This is in evidence when the Prime Minister answered all the students’ queries and issues, in a very comprehensive statement – but they still weren’t satisfied. They wanted more.

Had the Prime Minister acceded to their demand and stepped down there would have surely been yet another demand.

The Prime Minister is right to protect his office from these sorts of extra-legal, unreasonable political demands.

All the students would have achieved is political mayhem and anarchy – a scenario that would have favoured the political opposition but not Papua New Guinea as a whole.

They need to wait until next year and try to remove this Prime Minister legally, if they can. It’s only then we’ll see who this ‘silent majority’ is that keeps being bandied around as justification for their actions.

The inquiry may well find that the students have been used by the unscrupulous and I concede that the finding of ‘cannon fodder’ wouldn’t surprise me – but make no mistake, ‘innocent’ they’re not..

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9 thoughts on “A matter of innocence

  1. What an irony! Given the situation now, what next? Let it all play out? Is anyone willing to take the fall? Nope! COI is only option regardless of its composition.

  2. Well put. The murderers need to be brought before justice. Let the court decide the punishment for a brutal, well planed and executed murder on a defenseless young man.

    Rapa and the band of UPNG SRC members need to be investigated thoroughly; their accounts, their family accounts etc.

  3. The Yes Minister quote is spot on. The head of the CoI must be over 70 by now, he will be paid more than K10,000 a day and he was included inn the Honours List after the last CoI he did. The PM has set up a CoI headed by someone with a track record of telling him what he wants to hear in order to get the answer he wants. We can be sure that answer will be based on the evidence but that answer may not be the truth? Plus, will there be another order stopping the publication of the report of this CoI?

    • I too am most sceptical of the veracity of anything that might come out of this COI – what amazes me is why wasn’t Sir Rabbie Namaliu given a gig on the COI, after all, he has had a wealth of academic experience in all of its facets as well as much in the dynamism of PNG Politics and government.

  4. I believe the Political leaders, Statutory heads, other high level leaders and the prime minister and his ministers and rhe oppisition are all responsible for this mayhem.
    In addition, it is evident that students to are not innocent. They should have properly and thoroughly investigated the issue at hand before petitioning the Prime Minister.
    The allegations against the PM were clear cut corrupt yet he used the nation’s money and the justice system to protect himself and evade justice. With these allegations obvious, the workforce population were so ignorant to support the student crys and suspicions. The ignorance of parents, elder brothers and sisters, police hirarchy, other social organisations have led to this blood shed.
    Above all, I think Prime Minister, Honourable Peter O’Neil is a staborn person who has no heart for this country. If he did we’d already see some major and much needed basic services improved and maintained. Til now, only a minority have seen and benefited from these overseas borrowings.

  5. Dr Merrell said “if they (students)were not aware,then they are abjectly stupid,if they were aware,where is the innocence?Neither scenario is exactly desirable_there is no third alternative”

    Dr Merrell sounds powerful, on one hand,by even engulfing O’Neill’s dirt on white cloth with strong bleach and on the other hand she has DIRECTLY condemned the students…

    But my simple question to her is:To what sort of extent does she actually know about situations in PNG’s governance..?

    • How much do I know about governance in PNG? Probably more than most, including you. However, I do not recognise your name, so you may be O’Neill himself writing under a pseudonym – in which case, I do not know more than you. I mean, how long is a piece of string?

  6. Since day one, I have been following this issue, all proper processes were not followed, all avenues were not exhausted prior deciding on the protest. Stephen Rapa and his cohorts are directly responsible for all this mayhem.

  7. Now..these lunatics (students) are demanding the government to intervene so that they can return to class. This is after UPNG Management terminated the 2016 academic year. More hard times ahead for poor students..Government plans to withdraw their scholarships next year.

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