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PNG student leader has no regrets about boycott

Thursday 7 July 2016 | Published in Regional

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PAPUA NEW GUINEA – A student leader from the University of Papua New Guinea says he has no regrets about the protest that led to the cancellation of the academic year.

Two other universities in PNG have been affected by the student boycott but are planning to resume classes.

The student boycott of classes started at the University of Papua New Guinea at the beginning of May, amidst demands for the Prime Minister to face fraud allegations.

It led to the police shooting of protesters in Port Moresby and the death of a pupil in Lae from suspected in-fighting among students.

Following the UPNG’s decision on Tuesday to abandon the academic year, the youngest member of its Student Representative Council, Gerald Tulu Manu Peni, told Radio New Zealand’s Dateline Pacific he has no regrets.

“As a patriotic citizen I still think that it was the right thing to do, but it’s unfortunate that it’s only students that stood up for this cause.

“Civil society groups, NGOs, trade union groups, that should be at the forefront of such protests and expression of dissent towards the government, they have been silent since day one.

“I still feel that this was the right thing and this was the last defence, the last voice of the country against corruption.

The Prime Minister, Peter O’Neill, says his government is not happy with the decision to shot down lectures and is working with UPNG in an attempt to reverse the decision and resurrect the academic year.

However, O’Neill is out of the country and his Minister for Higher Education, Malakai Tabar, could not be reached for comment.

However, opposition leader Don Polye is responding vocally to the university crisis calling for the Prime Minister to come home.

“I’m asking the prime minister to come back. The answer is not in Paris, not in London, not in New York and not in China. It is here in Papua New Guinea.

“The three major universities of Papua New Guinea have closed the doors. They’ve shut down. The university administration have run out of ideas. The minister of higher education is not even there to play his role.

“The Prime Minister is running away from his problems. He needs to come back to the country and show leadership. This is where the prime minister has failed.”

The University of Goroka says it’s hoping to resume classes next week, while the University of Technology in Lae has considered two options. The first was for classes to resume as soon as the arson destroyed mess hall was rebuilt. The other was to cram three semesters into 2017.

Unitech’s vice chancellor is Albert Schram: “So standing committee instructed management to develop a combination of the two, which would mean a partial reopening in August and then a full reopening next year.

“So some people will miss out and we’re sorry for that, but we have to face the reality that the dorms were destructed in part.

“There are still risks as to the security of the students and the staff. So we must manage that carefully and then decide which groups can be readmitted under which conditions.”

Meanwhile, student Gerald Tulu Manu Peni says UPNG students are in a state of shock.

“We’re in total confusion. Normal exit procedures we sign some form of papers to formally know for sure that we’ll be coming back next year.” - RNZI